Articles written by Darryl McCullough (unless otherwise noted)

Sunday, February 12, 2017

A Warm Day In December

Readers know of my fondness for heavy mulch in fruit tree groves. I won’t say it’s the solution to all fruit tree health problems, but throw in good root pruning when you plant a tree with a root system distorted by living in a container--- that is, any tree that has spent time in a container--- and you’re getting close. All those trees growing out in the woods, doing perfectly well without any babying from us, have at least two things going for them--- a natural root system and a rich soil ecology.

Early in the sequence of East Bradenton Park Grove project organizational meetings, I began my lobbying effort for mulching the future grove. The County people, bless their hearts, think of mulch as something that comes a cubic foot or two at a time in a plastic bag, and makes things looks pretty, while controlling weeds. We fanatics think of it as something that comes in a huge orange or white truck, costs next to nothing, and after a month of weathering makes things look pretty, while controlling weeds. And after a year of decomposition, nourishes the tree and gives rise to that marvelous explosion of soil life.

Starting this far apart, the goal was not a full meeting of minds, but only some truckloads of wood chips in the grove. The county does trim trees and chip the wood into big trucks, but it’s not used to taking the resulting “waste” anywhere except the specified dropping area. Of course bureaucracies are hard to change, and that’s to be expected--- no one wants to be responsible for something that turns out badly, and the safe thing to do is what you’ve already been doing. But in my experience, most people really do want to do what’s best, and you just have to persist until you find the right combination of authority, willingness to listen and understand, and a bit of courage, and then change can happen.

So eventually, piles of mulch started appearing next to the grove. As autumn unfolded, MRFC member and East Bradenton Park super-volunteer Josh Starry moved vast quantities of it in his double-wide orange wheelbarrow. Once in a while, I showed up to move one load to each three of his.

The grand finale, at least for this season, was on December 27, the day of the Palma Sola tour for MRFC and Tropical Fruit Society of Sarasota members. After the enjoyable walk in Palma Sola, four of us gathered our armloads of black sapote and starfruit, then drove over to East Bradenton. Josh and I, along with MRFC and TFSS member Kevin Hook and Susan Jennifer Griffith of the Manatee Extension, set to work.

Even at its lowest point, the Florida sun packs some punch, and I was glad it was late in the day. Shadows were long by the time we finished, but the nineteen remaining trees now sit comfortably on their irrigated mounds, roots happy under their protective mulch layers, looking forward to spring and a vigorous 2017 growing season.

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