About two weeks ago, we finished the planting of the first trees for Permaculture Research Institute Jordan Valley. We dug 87 holes about .5m deep, 1m wide and 3m apart above and below the three rock walls. A few of the trees are closer that 3m, because of large rocks that would often get in the way during digging. It took just over one week to get all the holes finished. During this time things really started to heat up down here in the Jordan valley. Work was confined to the morning and evening. The site is on a very degraded piece of land and the soil is hard and compact with almost no organic matter. Digging the holes was hard work, and we often found ourselves using a pick axe to chop through a calcified layer of soil. This calcified layer of soil is commonly known as a concretion. When planting trees in such conditions it is very important to get through this layer, as the trees have difficult time pushing roots through on their own.
The cardboard in the hole also works to hold water and act as a fungal food. Many types of fungi are important to the growth and healthy development of young trees.
Once we planted a tree a thick layer of mulch was piled around it. The whole planting process was very labour intensive. We often put more that 40 minutes into the planting of each tree, and this is still not taking into account all of the hours spent getting materials together. It is a massive investment of time and energy into just a few trees. However, the shade that these trees will offer in five years will more than amortize our efforts.
Mulch can reduce water demand to one fifth what it might be without mulch. It also keeps the root zone of the plants cool and provides habitat for all kinds of beneficial organisms.
Under very difficult circumstances, we have only lost about 20% of the trees we planted. The weather is getting very hot and dry and we where about 2 months behind on the planting season. We planted only hardy pioneer trees and, all that are still alive, shouldn't have much trouble getting establish. For the moment we are hand watering once every week, and the moisture seems to be holding. Before we leave, next month, it is important that a drip irrigation system be installed so the plantings can be easily water by one person. The really challenge to the survival of these trees will be goats. At the moment the site is not entirely secure and small goats seem to come and go as they please. While on the site, the goats provided us with unnecessary pruning services. Unfortunately the project does not yet have any real budget and it cannot afford to build a new fence or wall. All we can do is patch up holes and hope for the best.
Nothing is easy 400m below sea level!!!