The Best Laid Plans

The Best Laid Plans

June 25 2021

“The best laid plans of mice and men, often go astray,” paraphrased from a Scottish poem ‘To a Mouse’, written in 1786 by Robert Burns. And so it goes. Three years ago, I planned and planted a small orchard with a lot of small berries filling in the spaces. It was my version of a food forest, an age old idea; to this day some exist in South American rainforests created by escaped slaves hundreds of years ago. Well, mine didn’t last that long.

The site I chose on our new farm was the old existing garden space. Though it was weed infested, they were mostly annuals which are not as difficult to get rid of as some perennial weeds like thistles and bindweed. And it wasn’t thick with brome grass which is a challenge to dig up. So I hoed out the weeds, planted apples, pears, cherries, currants, raspberries, haskaps, elderberries, grapes and strawberries; then mulched the whole thing with wood chips. It sure did look nice.

It went downhill from there-‘failure to thrive’ are the best words I can think of. The leaves on almost everything turned yellow with brown crispy edges. For some reason the raspberries, one haskap bush, and two grape vines are growing happily. These are in random locations in the about 40’ square space. Thinking it was a high pH problem creating an iron deficiency, I fertilized accordingly. After all, it had probably been a garden for a long time and perhaps the soil was simply depleted. No improvement.

My next thought was that there was an herbicide residue. I inquired at our local extension agency and found out it would cost several hundred dollars to test for this. That’s not happening.

The second year everything looked the same in spite of more fertilizer and manure worked into the soil around every plant. By then we had expanded the garden outside the original boundaries and everything in that new area was thriving. I had planted a pear tree just outside the sick garden and it was growing wonderfully.

By the end of the third summer, I admitted defeat. I pulled up every ailing plant, including two apple trees about eight feet tall. Some things just don’t work out the way you wish they would. My trusty farmer, aka husband, put down a fairly thick layer of manure and used a tractor and ripper (this cuts foot deep lines in the soil) to mix up the manure and loosen the soil. All I can do now is hope.

I should note that some annual flowers I had planted in the original garden grew just fine with the addition of manure. My conclusion is that there is probably herbicide residue deeper in the ground and it will take time for it to resolve itself. In the meantime, I will grow annual plants in there. And that blessed ‘Golden Spice’ pear tree. Though I will have to get another pear for cross pollination. On another note, Tongue River Winery in Miles City, Montana produces a delightful wine from this pear. I see a road trip in the future-that’s a plan that can’t go wrong! Wine at the end and all.

‘Golden Spice’ Pear, Pyrus ussuriensis, zone 3-7, 15-20’ tall, 10-15’ wide

Photo credit to Richard Krott, Tizer Gardens