The other day I was having a conversation with some new friends at one of the great Wilkinsburg community gardens, the topic of the conversation was yield. You see... Community gardens are often plots of land with very few perennials, shrubs or trees... Recently some of the community gardens in my area have begun planting fruit trees. The issue we are running into is the fact that people want to plant things that will produce food "NOW", they don't want to wait 3 or 4 years, most of the time they don't even know if they will still be living in the neighborhood in 4 years. Some grants will even specify the size of the trees that can be purchased and planted using their money, the idea is to get trees planted that are as close to fruiting as humanly possible... Once again we are being told to plant something for the sole aspect of creating food quickly, and the trees wants and needs are completely overlooked...
Obviously people expect a fruit tree to yield, well... fruit. Because of this the other qualities of the tree are overlooked, trees also produce wood for fuel and building materials. The leaves create a protective mulch in winter, and in the spring break down into nutrients that are not only taken back up by the tree, but also benefit all of the plants in the general vicinity. Trees with deep root systems have the ability to mine nutrients that would otherwise be to deep to benefit shallow surface roots, these nutrients are then released into the soil surface when the leaves fall and break down... kind of a give a little, get a little system that continuously repeats itself until the tree dies... starting another life system...
A single tree has the ability to create a micro climate, many trees have the power to change climates. Once you travel in from the coast, forests comprise the majority of the surface water available, inland rainfall contains no traces of the ocean... It's actually comprised mainly of water from the trees... A forest can be thought of like a giant inland lake... Because of this trees, epecially forests, can increase rainfall by as much as 40%.
Trees also filter dust and pollutants from the air, the simple act of a tree slowing the speed of the wind down is enough to allow it to deposit the heavier sediments it is carrying. Often at the edge of a forest you will find highly fertile small mounds located a few feet inside the tree line, this is a direct result of the wind being slowed down by the trees and depositing its payload. It is partly because of this phenomenon, trees on the edge of a forest are taller and stronger than the trees located within.
I can honestly say without a doubt, I have learned something before, during or after every tree I have ever planted. The simple act of planting a tree is an educational opportunity spanning all aspects of modern academia, everything I really needed to know in life, I learned while planting trees. Think about it for a second... Math, literature, science, history, they all relate to planting trees in one form or another. If you are reading a book to your class and a specific type of tree is planted, plant that type of tree (whenever possible) and I promise your class will never forget it.
Trees lift peoples spirits, an old tree can bring back fond memories of the past. I find planting a tree to be a highly spiritual act, it takes a bit of faith to plant something to benefit future generations... not just yourself. In my own personal "tree planting" experiences, I have noticed that when I am in good spirits, the tree or plant tends to do better. But when I am not feeling good, the trees and plants that I plant do not do nearly as good as they would of had I been in good spirit.
In my neighborhood when we plant perennials or trees it becomes a neighborhood event, people come out of their houses with their chairs and we all get together and garden. I can't begin to tell you how much of a spirit lifter this activity is for the whole neighborhood, not only do we get a physical and mental yield, we also get a spiritual yield that most people don't get to see, many of the yields I am speaking about may not be apparent at the immediate time of planting, consider them long term yields... I still have people come up to me and tell me how good it makes them feel to walk past a garden or tree that we planted as a neighborhood... after hearing comments like this more times than I can count, the spiritual aspect of tree planting has become my current primary focus, with food closely behind it. My "focus" has a tendency to evolve over time, I like to embrace the evolution.
I used to consider myself a "food farmer" exclusively, when I built an urban farm all I was interested in was food. I was only interested in the physical yields that my plants could produce, it wasn't until years later that I began to spiritually feel the power that a tree or plant can yield. I would like to see all gardeners recognize the true yield potential of a plant or tree, to look beyond the physical and begin looking at the meta-physical yields. We have a unique opportunity as gardeners to sculpt and shape the landscapes of our future, we are after all, installation artists.
Although I am a gardener and farmer, I am also an artist... the land is my canvas and plants and trees are my medium. I do not just create my artwork for the physical yield i recieve, I do it for the mental and spiritual yield I recieve from it... and that is one of the things that will set me apart from the rest... one day atleast... I hope... being a starving artist is not easy... well I guess I can't say "starving" artist!
Originally posted at transitionpgh.org
My name is Chris Condello and I live in Wilkinsburg, PA. Wilkinsburg is arguably the most dangerous neighborhood in the city of Pittsburgh, but places that experiences great decline, experiences great renewal. I am a member of Transition PGH urban gardener/farmer, guerilla gardener, author (that can’t write), photographer, Penn State Master Gardener, activist, and most importantly an artist.