This blog post was written by Camille Ingressa and Spencer Christian.
On Saturday, April 23, to celebrate Earth Day, eight volunteers gathered at Piper’s Orchard to label, weed, and mulch 12 fruit trees from 10 A.M. to 1 P.M. Referencing maps, City Fruit volunteers worked with the Friends of Piper’s Orchard to hang metal tags on trees to make it easier for future harvesters to quickly know what apple variety the tree would produce.
The group included sisters Mira and Juliette, who plan to read portions of the Torah aloud during their Bar Mitzvah ceremonies that are centered around the environment. In keeping with this theme and honoring the service component of their Bar Mitzvahs, the sisters and their teacher found themselves volunteering to help the trees.
Other volunteers included Aaron, an amateur cider maker who wants to learn about holistic fruit tree care and terroir, and Americorps volunteer Marisol, who was excited to see this side of our local food system. Andy, a long time Friend of Piper’s Orchard, shared exciting plans to help revive some grape vines that were planted with the original orchard by the Piper family.
After the job, volunteers enjoyed a tasting of some pear cider. The efforts of last Saturday should increase water retention of the soil, aid with the harvest later this summer, and stay in the memories of all that were there.
In addition to Saturday’s event, on Tuesday, April 26, City Fruit staff went to High Point Orchard in West Seattle to begin sheet mulching fruit trees in Commons Park. High Point Orchard, an orchard created by City Fruit last Earth Day in coordination with Seattle Housing Authority, Neighborhood House, and Open Space Association of High Point, consists of 18 fruit trees, including Belmont and Sunrise Magic apples, Italian plums, Asian pears, various cherry varieties, kiwi, fig and persimmon.
Sheet mulching is a very productive method of suppressing weeds and introducing more nutrients to an area. Adding a layer of cardboard around the bases of trees, the “sheet” in sheet mulching, discourages weeds from growing back because they cannot get sunlight. The mulch locks in water, boosting water retention by slowing evaporation.
To sheet mulch, first you weed, then lay down a layer or two of cardboard, and top off with a layer of mulch. The cardboard can be replaced with newspapers or burlap sacks, if either are more accessible. The mulch also helps with water retention so layers of wood chips can keep water from evaporating during hot summer months, helping trees stay cool and happy.
This style of mulching is also conducive to “nutrient cycling”, which introduces organic matter to the orchard floor. This provides habitat for earthworms, mycelium, and other decomposers that will work together to break down the cardboard and mulch, turning it into a rich soil layer through which the trees can access important nutrients! Through this piling on of fertile, decomposing material, organic matter is introduced and retained on the orchard floor. This encourages worms, mycelium, and other beneficial things that promote healthy soil and a healthy orchard.