Episode 31, Top Plants for Temperate Climate Permaculture with Bryce Ruddock
Today’s guest Bryce Ruddock, is an author, educator and avid forest gardener from Wisconsin. Today Bryce shares his favorite plants to grow from among the hundreds of species that he’s experimented with at his home. I definitely recommend getting your notebooks out for this episode because Bryce shares so many great species and resources that deserve a closer look by anyone interested in gardening like an ecosystem.
This episode was recorded back in April of 2016 to give you some temporal context.
Hope you’re all keeping warm and safe out there this winter. See you next time.
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Red Dust by Zero 7
Levi: Hello and welcome to the permaculture realized podcast where we’re learning about tons of different plants, how they can be used for food or medicine or other uses, and how to grow them in a complex, somewhat, wild pattern just like nature does. This is Levi, broadcasting at a realized homestead on Sunday, January 14th 2017. Today’s guest is Bryce Ruddock who’s an author, and educator, and an avid forest gardener from Wisconsin. Today, Bryce shares his favorite plants to grow from among the hundreds of species that he has experimented with at his home. I definitely recommend getting your notebooks out for this episode because Bryce shares so many great species, and resources that deserve a closer look by anyone interested in gardening like in ecosystem. This episode was recorded back in April 2016 just to give you some temporal context here.
Levi: I’m curious, where are you based out of at right now?
Bryce: Same place we’ve been since 1984, South Milwaukee, Wisconsin. That’s 3 towns or 3 cities, South of City of Milwaukee. We’re about half a mile of Lake Michigan.
Levi: Ah okay nice, so…
Bryce: Very, very dominated by a large body of water directly to the east, that moderates the climate.
Levi: Do you guys have any snow right now?
Bryce: Nothing on the ground but snow flurries have been something that’s been happening regular now here for the last couple of days. We’re not really happy about it. We dropped down at 23 degrees on Saturday morning. It’s like the T.S. Elliot poem, The Waste Land, where he says, “April is the cruelest month.” It teasers in March then April comes along and whacks you up on the side of the head.
Levi: Have you started going outside and working on your forest garden much yet?
Bryce: We’ve been doing that since February. We had a canvassing that we had to do of hazels and willows, and a little bit of cutting down on some plasters of vegetation, shredding that, breaking up some of the leaves, getting marching and started shredding that. I did get 3 Haskaps planted and unfortunately, they arrived way, way early like 2nd week of March, and I held them for like a couple of weeks before planting them. But then okay, I just can’t hold these pots any longer but I have to get them to the ground, and now they’re losing their leaves so I hope that the bugs would come back. Otherwise, I’ll start over.
Levi: And the Haskap, is that the same as Honeyberry?
Bryce: Yeah, that’s the honeyberry and the edible honeysuckles. These are 3 of the varieties that were developed up at the University of Saskatchewan so they should have a surely good pot hardiness for springtime.
Levi: I’ve never actually gotten to try Honeyberry yet, so I’m pretty curious.
Bryce: Me either. I’ve been procrastinating in that for about 5 years now but I wanted to see what’s going to happen because there was 2 different types of Honeyberries, the Russian ones and then the Japanese ones. The Russian ones have a tendency, if you’re too far south, to break dormancy a lot quicker and then the bugs freeze out. And whereas the Japanese ones, it doesn’t happen that way. It’s a little bit slower to break dormancy.
Levi: And do you see this as kind of just like a nice little edible snack on the side or is this something that’s serious?
Bryce: Oh no, it’s going to be something that we process into jams, jellies, juices, dried fruits, stuff like that.
Levi: Okay, so it’s a pretty significant craft.
Bryce: Yeah, it’s supposed to yield a, I think about, 5 gallons per mature plant of berries.
Levi: Oh and how big is the plant?
Bryce: It’s going to be about 5 ft. across by 5-8 ft. tall depending upon the cultivar. And so with 3 of those, that’s about 15 gallons worth of fruit, tops.
Levi: Is that something that you got to worry about wildlife like birds getting the berries before you do? Or is it fairly–
Bryce: Well, I would imagine just about everything you got to worry about wildlife to some degree, there’s only a few things that birds don’t get into, and the squirrels too, and the chipmunks. They get into everything around here. But the more you plant the stuff, the more there is and then what happens is, you get to share some of that with the wildlife and if it gets to be too much, you can always net the things, they’ll probably get some of the outer stuff. But the stuff a little bit further, they won’t be able to reach through the netting.
Levi: Got you. Is that typically your practice with your other plants that you’re growing around there?
Bryce: No, because normally like the bush cherries and stuff like that, and the plums, they’ve all been fine. The [00:04:58] usually go after those because the time that those are ready, is about the same time that the hazelnuts are ready and the squirrels are really busy with hazelnuts and with the neighbor’s black walnuts at that time. Maybe the cherries will get picked on by robins and blue jays and a couple other species but that would be about it. It’s not too bad. My biggest problem would be when I had apricots, just wonderful crops of apricots for a couple of years and then after that the squirrels suddenly discovered that, “Hey, there’s an edible nut inside there (an edible seed). All of a sudden it gets to be July (about a month before these things would ripen, early July), they start taking everything off the tree. They would just be small green fruits at that time but they were going for the pit. They didn’t care about anything else. So I was losing the entire crop once that they discovered that that was good to eat.
Levi: Wow. So what did you do about it?
Bryce: Well, once we developed the Cankerroots in the center, I just kind of leaned that one day and the whole day fell over and it was about six inches thick of a trunk at that time and I thought, “Well, this isn’t good.” So I looked at the other one and I thought, “Well, you need a pollinator”. I didn’t have one so I cut it down. I planted the different stuff in its place but not apricots again. Something more ornamental. I put in ornamental dogs into those spots just because it was flanking up a sidewalk and I figured it would look very nice. Those are finally coming along a lot better. It’s been, I think, about 15 years since I snuck those in and it’s been taking them that long to really get going.
Levi: How big is your forest garden and how long– when did you start it? How long have you been working on it?
Bryce: The forest garden is technically the entire yard and its 1/6 of an acre. It’s kind of an odd shaped lot where it’s narrower at the back than it is at the front. That’s because it’s a major highway, about 100 yards to the east. It runs with a slight angle so everything on the side street is coming off straight east-west but that main street Highway 32 is a slight angle off to the north-northwest. It’s kind of an odd shaped lot on the side street. So its 1/6 of an acre. The garage is located weighted off at one corner and at the complete opposite corner (southwest corner) is where the house is, almost at the property line. So I’ve got all this side yard and backyard to play with. We moved there (here) in 1984 and started putting up a fence and planted a hedgerow just inside the fence and started a vegetable garden and this gradually started having other species in here. I always wanted to have it as a forest garden. It took a while to talk my wife into seeing the wisdom of that, especially when the kids were little and they needed place to play and stuff like that. They have a volleyball set up and things like that. Well, the volleyball has long since gone. In the location where we used to set the volleyball net up is a pond. A dual level pond where they grow a wild rice and watercress in the upper portion and we had fish in the lower portion.
Levi: Wow, that’s pretty cool.
Bryce: The water crest and wild rice act as a filter for the fish waste.
Levi: Is there sort of a pump?
Bryce: I don’t have to use any kind of filtration. Yes, there’s a pump. I use a waterfall pump to pump water up to the top and then it cascades down to the bottom. The drop is about 2 1/2 to 3 feet from the upper pond to the lower pond.
Levi: Do you shut that down in the winter?
Bryce: I shut the pump down but then we’ll use an air pump at that time and if it gets severe enough to ice up, I’ve got an air exchange thing that I can use, too. Then I can shut the air pump off at that time and just use the air exchange. It’ll freeze right into ice but could go all the way down into the bottom of the pond sucking water up, exchanging any ammonia gases from fish waste with the air and then taking oxygen back down to the pond so it’s continuously recycling water up enriched with oxygen and with the exchange gases.
Levi: Cool. What kind of fish do you have growing in there?
Bryce: Just basically goldfish and golden shiners and one other bait species of fish. I thought of going with something like bass or bluegills but then you have to have a completely different type of a feeding regimen for them. Perch and bass are all kind of carnivorous so you can’t use them with other things. Normally, a farm pond would have bass and bluegills, with the bluegills being a prey species through the bath. But in this case, the pond is about 8 feet across. The other pond is about the same – 8-10 across. You’re not dealing with a lot of space and I want to keep it so that it’s going to be amphibian friendly, too, because there would be frogs and toads there, as well as a lot of insect life and dragonflies, [00:10:05] things like that.
Levi: I see. So if you put in like a carnivorous fish predator, it’ll probably just eat all the minnows and eat all the tadpoles and you have to have a–
Bryce: Of course I can eat it. Technically, goldfish, carp are edible but I don’t know. I’m not much of a carp eater. I can’t get the regular food carp fish here in Wisconsin, it’s grass carp or outlaw here.
Levi: I’ve really been interested in planning somebody to put in some ponds around us but we’ve got really, really sandy soil. It’s almost like beach sand. So it doesn’t really hold water like you can dump some–
Bryce: Well, if you got livestock, what you do is you throw some alfalfa hay down into the hole where you grow the stock but then you throw some livestock in there. Figs or cattle and the manure-enriched silage that’s in there is going to form a gluey layer which will be more impervious to water. Then after that you go and pack that down with compact bulldozer or however and then you end up having the layer that’s going to hold water for a lot longer.
Levi: I might have to try that.
Bryce: There’s a lot of stuff out there in literature on that. I know it’s something that’s– one of them is video that Jeff Lawton talked about that about 5 years ago.
Levi: For your ponds, what type of soil do you have and how did you end up lining it?
Bryce: I use an EPDM pond liner, just like you use for an ornamental fish pond. If not, a rigid liner. It’s flexible so you can form other shapes. But the soils here are a clay loam (silky clay loam) so the further down, the more you get clay there. So you go down about 3 feet, you’ll find a significant clay portion to the alum and higher up across is silky loam.
Levi: from what I’ve read, that’s a pretty nice soil for growing in.
Bryce: Oh, gosh yeah. It’s a very fertile soil for growing stuff in. We’re technically in the eastern woodland biome here along the Lake Michigan shoreline and you don’t get out oaks Savannah type biomes with slightly sandier soils until you get almost to the edge of Milwaukee County and even then, it’s out in the cattle marana area in Waukesha County. It’s not too bad but then you go further out and you start seeing a lot more sand components of the soil. Although it’s not real sandy but it’s just that the sand is looser. They make up for that by having a high water table bouncer, too.
Levi: Yeah, that helps. So originally, I wanted to ask you about your top perennial plants for your forest garden but I’ve become so fascinated by hearing about your forest garden and that idea of all the plants you’re growing, and I know you’re growing over 150 species there on that 1/6 acre.
Bryce: More like a 300 or something. That was when I last counted it. Poor Bill Wilson when I gave me a tour of it the first time (he like to joke), it took an hour to get back into the gate. We were just covering the outside and was just swimming with information. After that, I needed to shorten the list down and not get too deep in this stuff because it can be intimidating when people look at it.
Levi: It sounds like a really, really diverse ecosystem there.
Bryce: Have you had the chance to look at the book “Integrated forest Gardening” at all?
Levi: I have not. No.
Bryce: That’s the book that I co-wrote with Dan Halsey and Wayne Weiseman. It came out in August 2014 and in it we each detail 10 guilds that we have designed on our own properties for others. My section on it is page 264 about gills. So we’ve got 10 gills each and there was 5 guilds each, a total of 15 plant guild in our chapter. The gills are sternly well outlined in there, if anyone want to pursue that further, they would be able to check it and check it in that spot.
Levi: Maybe just really quickly to follow up on that discussion. Can you describe what a plant guild is?
Bryce: What is a plant guild? How about I give you a short version. I wrote up a little thing for that. Part of that is the basis for one of the sections in the book but it’s also one of the hand out that I give when I do classes. So a guild an association of living organisms of species that co-exist in an environment and they share resources or they act as resources for one another. So they can be supportive resources as in shade, or they can be nutritional resources such as nitrogen fixation. So there’s a whole– everyone’s going on about what a resource is and just that they– it goes beyond companion planting. The simple companion planting ideas that they use in organic gardening are just one little bit of plant guild is. They can also be designed around specific nutritional needs, too. You can find things that grow well together like some people come up with what they call as salsa guild. Everything that they would use to make salsa. Other people say, “It’s an apple tree guild”, and then they’ll have an apple tree and a couple other things around there. Some of which I don’t think are necessarily good ideas. Comfrey is one that people like to plant around the bases of apples, around the dripline of apples but if you dig that country right up and you could be damaging the apple tree’s shallow roots somewhat and that can cause a problem if disease these organisms get in there such as fire blight.
Levi: But what about just using the comfrey, just chopping the tops and using them for–
Bryce: Chopping comfrey is great but when people want to use roots of comfrey, they should it someplace where when you dig it up, it’s going to be more accessible without damaging them. They’re a woody species of pears, quints, apple, olive which are highly susceptible to fire blight.
Levi: That makes a lot of sense.
Bryce: I lot a pear and two apples in the last couple of years to fire blight.
Levi: So even having the plant guild around them to provide a stronger ecosystem wasn’t enough?
Bryce: Well, in the case of the one apple, I was shallow cultivating around it with other things like putting sweet peas there and a little fence I had around to keep the mice gnawing and the rabbit gnawing in the young apple. That may have disturbed the roots enough that these organisms got an impulse. We’ve had wet and cool springs here but the other tree, it’s major problem was (we didn’t have that one for over thirty years was) it was supposed to be a dwarf tree. Only thing is it got to be about 25 feet tall, which is pretty darn tall for a dwarf. I had that side of the tree planted too close to the alley so that as the canopy spread, when the garbage truck go down the alley, it would brush up against that tree so I had to keep pruning it to please the city and doing that caused (the wet, cool spring) a lot of (over the last couple of years, especially) fire blight infection on the tree until it got to the point where I couldn’t prune it off anymore and I just noticed that I was losing major branches so we cut the whole tree down a year ago. But it’s last crop it gave us for the so-called dwarf tree was five bushels of apples.
Levi: I think they might have been mislabeled.
Bryce: I think so, too. It was (at the very least) a semi-dwarf. But that particular cultivar of apple also happens to be what they a precocious grower. It wants to do what it wants to do. It wants to be a big tree. That may have been a part of the problem, too. That variety was Baldwin. I want to encourage everybody who wants a tasty apple (hardy from the north to grow Baldwin apple. They’re pretty good. They might not do as well as at 40 below zero or 35 below zero because it used to grow a lot in Maine but then they have a particular cold winter about 80 years ago. It knocked off a lot of the Baldwin apples they so that’s when they switched it to growing mackintosh over that. Although unfortunately, we didn’t have pictures that we were putting in in that section of the book. But if you want to know some of the species are what I would call the top 10, I could give those to you.
Levi: I want to hear your top plants and I’m not going to say 10 because if we have time to get through 10. But I will say that the top plants and maybe let’s stay away from the common ones that most people have heard of like the apples and the apricots and pears but getting more into some of the that folks having heard of but you are finding are super, wonderful, useful plants.
Levi: Was it that? Where did it grow?
Bryce: It will grow in just about most soils. The types that I grow are basically European blackcurrants, not any American species. The Europeans ones, there’s been a lot more breeding done on those, especially for flavor so you’ll find great Swedish varieties, Hungarian varieties, Dutch varieties and English varieties of blackcurrant. I’ve got about 5 or 6 different types here.
Levi: Okay, so that look like a little berry bush.
Bryce: Yeah. It’s like redcurrants, only it’s about the same size or smaller (cause they can be anywhere from the 3 feet up to about 5 feet tall but very vitamin-rich fruit, high anti-oxidants and it produces– the seeds can be used to make (a very high in nutritional components) oil. you’ll actually find blackcurrant seed oil capsules as a nutritional supplement at the stores.
Levi: That’s cool.
Bryce: Strawberries, of course. Strawberry is another great one but specifically we’re not growing so many of the regular strawberries. Although we do have some of those still scattered around in the (we used to call them herb garden) persimmons garden. But the strawberries that mostly growing are musk strawberries (another European variety) and those were going to be understory for apples, only that particular apple tree is the one that died so that area is going to be getting cornelian cherries (the edible dogwoods).
Levi: Is that another one of your faves?
Bryce: That’s a favorites, yeah, because I don’t have any of those but I heard good things about Cornus mas. That’s a species name. I have a friend, John Holsworth, up in the Sheboygan Wisconsin area, who grows these and he’s just crazy about these things. He says they’re the best. So I think John’s word for it and I’m going to give them a try this year.
Levi: Yeah, my buddy actually came across some in landscaping and we were actually not that impressed. We tasted some but it was just– it could have been that that variety didn’t have a good flavor or it was the wrong (not quite the right) time of the season. But I’ve also heard good things from other folks about it.
Bryce: Yeah, it depends on the variety. Again, most of the breathing work on this, because it’s a European species, has been done in East Germany and Ukraine.
Levi: How big is that one?
Bryce: That got to be the same size as the haskaps the most, so that would be about 5-8 feet tall, maybe 5 feet across (maybe bigger across). It depends but they are both that and the haskaps are able to be pruned to maintain a shorter, more manageable height. Because what I do is I grow these on a soiled garden, about a 5 or 6 foot wide berth. So that gives me approximately the size I need for that then I’ve got an understory in those spots of a saffron crocus and some wild onions, specifically the perennial leeks.
Levi: Like the wild types that grow in the woods?
Bryce: That would be ramps. I’ve got ramps, too, but they like to grow in a damper spot so the perennial leeks are a little different that they’re much taller. It’s much taller. It’s got the flatter leaf and it has an edible bulb to it also so that’s Allium ampeloprasum variation sectivum (which is probably meaningless to most people). It’s a hard to find plant. I found it at the Southern Seed Exchange (I think), the name of the company was. The other strawberries that I grow ate the Woodland strawberries. It kinds of grow wild in the woods and I pick those up from Oikos Tree-crops in Kalamazoo, Michigan. So those are great.
Levi: The musk strawberry, what’s unique about how those grow? Is it like an ever bearing or are they big berries, small berries?
Bryce: It’s about a little bit smaller than a regular strawberry. So the ones you get at the store, it’s about half that size. There’s one that I got from the store, it’s that huge strawberries and I don’t think I grow anything that’s kind of a fruit that large. They’re main quality is in this– the odor of the fruit has a slight aromatic (a nice aroma) and the flavor has got that also. I tried them last year and I wasn’t that enthusiastic about it but I’m going to try them again this year and see how it works. We put them in (I think about) 3 or 4 years ago and then we didn’t get any for quite a while so last year I researched it better and I thought we need both male and female plants so then I ordered a couple of male plants and put those in. Then last year we first some (assuming that was what the problem was).
Levi: Okay, Is there a reason why you don’t use more the standard garden varieties that are the bigger berries?
Bryce: I’ve got those because they’re all over the raspberries, which are underneath the persimmons. So those are part of a prop that has a ground cover in there as it is. We just want to try something different and then in the forest garden itself. If you’re actually growing a garden as a forest garden, your regular strawberries aren’t going to do as well. We use a lot of wood ship motes here and mostly we’re trying to re-enable native habitat as much as possible with a few editions of non-natives into the system, too, to fill up any other niches. We’re trying to go and make it as bird friendly, chipmunk friendly, critter friendly, kid friendly. Strawberries I can get at the grocery store but I cannot buy musk strawberries and I cannot buy the wild strawberries. The flavor spectrum is different on those than it is on a conventional strawberry. So same thing with apples. If a person wants to grow honey crisp apples, everybody’s got them. So the best to do with apples is to look for heirloom apples. It’s the same thing with pears. If it’s the same variety as they got at the store, then there are so much more that you can choose from in apple varieties, pear varieties, strawberry varieties. To grow the same thing that’s readily available at a local orchard or at a grocery store year round is– the flavor is not going to be that much better.
Levi: Do you see your place as, in a way, a place where you’re preserving these different unique varieties so that they don’t become lost from cultivation?
Bryce: No. On a sixth of an acre that would be almost impossible to do. If I had the acre, yeah, I could definitely do something like that. I’ve got friends who’ve got much more land than they’re able to do something more with the conservation of species. I have noticed that some of things that we have done have spread elsewhere to the neighborhood. Different plants, particularly some of the spring bulbs that the seeds somehow (I don’t know if the chipmunks move these stuff or maybe the squirrels are digging the stuff up and been planting it in the neighbor’s yard). The blue codium, it’s a species from the spring bulb that’s blooming right now is popping up all over the place and 30 years ago there was not one in this neighborhood until we put it in and now they’re all the way down to the end of the block.
Levi: What’s the– what function does that plant serve for you?
Bryce: For one thing, pollination for early pollen-dependent flies and bees (when they first come out). That’s one major function. It’s not edible for us (that I know of). But one of things about the spring blooming bulbs is that many of them, particularly like the dogtooth violet, the erythronium species, hold phosphorus so it does not wash out of the soil during the rainy seasons.
Levi: That’s interesting.
Bryce: I’m not sure if that holds with all bulbs that bloom in the spring but it does hold for those that are taking the phosphorus and pulling it up and pulling it into the leaf and into the flowers at a time when otherwise it would be (because it’s very water soluble) washed up into the soil. That’s why in the woodlands, a lot of time at this time of year, usually around here to be about maybe a month from now, you see an awful lot of dogtooth violets blooming under the trees and say, like a maple beach or an ash woods. We have a site about two miles west of here where there are some community gardens where we also do some vegetable gardening out there. That’s 1,800 square foot garden that we have and have about 400 something gardens that are out there. So that’s a lot of people gardening. But at the woods right next to there is growing is these dogtooth violets and they’re holding that phosphorus. That’s some very wet soil there and that it takes a long time for them to dry out and we can’t even get there and work. Usually, until sometime till beginning of May.
Levi: I guess moving on to another plant. Is there a plant that you get the biggest crop from or the biggest harvest every year?
Bryce: Wow. In pounds, it would have been that apple tree (that Baldwin apple) but that’s not anymore. Now, it’ll probably something like a spare asparagus. Both of the asparagus are not growing here. We only have a few plants here. I have a roll of asparagus in the community garden. Hazels would give us a decent crop except that the squirrels take it all every year.
Levi: Is there anything you can do about that?
Bryce: Well, I can shoot squirrels but that’s not allowed. So we just learn how to live with it if they’re going to take it and then they’re going to take. I think I’ve gotten one or two hazels in the last 25 years but 1 thing we have noticed is some of the hazels (or the nuts that they take) actually when they’re buried and germinate and become new trees so we have a couple of new hazels out of this and they’re hybrids because we have 3 types that were growing, one that just started flowering, one’s from Arbor Day Foundation (some of their hybrid hazels which have been really slow for us). Years ago we put in trazel, which is a cross between a European hazel and a Turkish tree hazel. That gets quite tall and then we out in another one called filazel, which a filbert, hazel cross. Filberts and hazels are practically the same plant. In fact, people say they are but this one’s called filazel because this was a hybrid between the two and got that from the whole Miller nursery in Upstate, New York. But those have been doing quite well for us and of course, these squirrels have been loving it but I get to compress those every 8 or 9 years so I get a good supply of wood to use for projects around here whether it be fencing, arbors, anything like that, as well as the nuts. Probably our biggest yielding (single species with the biggest yielder) would be black elderberry. We get about two bushels of berries per year of one black elderberry shrub. A shrub is like a small tree and it gets to be 10 feet max with an equal spread. That’s the European black elderberry which has higher medicinal components that in the American elderberry. It’s the same stuff that they make in the children’s cough syrup, Sambucol, out of. So we used to make Sambucol a lot of times for our grandkids using wildflower honey and the black elderberry juice. We also make a black elderberry liquor out of that, black elderberry juice which then we mix with lemonade or apple juice and jams and jellies and you can use it for pies, too.
Levi: That sounds good.
Bryce: One caution. Don’t eat the berries raw.
Levi: That’s what I was going to ask. So how can you press it and drink the juice?
Bryce: You shouldn’t drink the juice raw either, I’ve tried that, too. You didn’t have any incredible gripping sensation and you need to be new somewhere. We’ve actually seen that happen with animals, too because we had some raccoons that were getting into it at one time. That raccoon was in pain. An hour later, it was just howling out there. It was quite messing out in the compost which is about 10 feet away from the black elderberry. [00:32:42] it’s something that people should know. Black elderberry, to neutralize that compound, you have to heat it up a little bit. You have to boil it or something just to neutralize that. Then it’s fine, it’s digestible. I’ve heard other people say no problem at all but it was based on personal experience and observation of even wild animals. I have to say that birds can deal with it. They can eat this stuff that way but not good for people to do.
Levi: My mind just jumped back to that thing with the hazelnuts. I remember vaguely hearing about a strategy that was used (I wish I could name the source of this idea). Basically, they take a one-foot long PVC tube (that’s maybe 4-6 inches wide) and then put a little cap on it and then bury a bunch of those in the ground around their nut trees. Then the squirrels when they go and collect all their nuts, then they’ll find this little hole in the ground and then they’ll stash all their nuts into these little PVC tube holes that are buried and then bury it. Then the nut tree owner can go back and just take up all these PVC tubes that are full of nuts. So it’s like all these squirrels harvested the nuts for them.
Bryce: Well, that works mainly for peccaries and walnuts and such but it appears that most of the time when squirrels are going after the hazelnuts (or chipmunks for that matter because they do it, too), they’re going to eat those things right off the bat. I find that shells all over the place. Within a week, I’m staring at the trees and it’s only a few that they actually bury. Next story, we have a black walnut tree in the neighbor’s yard and there’s so many nuts that come off of that tree. It’s essentially a biennial bearer. It masks every other year which means you got a huge crop every other year. But then it’s got a light year. So hopefully, this is supposedly a light year which is good because I have metal roof on this house. That tree probably overhangs my house so its sounds like a shotgun blast in the middle of the night in September when those nuts are falling because those black walnuts get pretty heavy. But those, those I’m going to bury. They’ll also eat some of them but there is so much nutrition packed into the black walnut and I wouldn’t want to grow them here because they’re growing wild everywhere. My neighbor has them so I just go over there and pick them up off the lawn. But along the parkway here, there’s a parkway that runs along Oak Creek in South Milwaukee. There must be a hundred of these trees out there growing along there. All I got to do is go up there and pick up nuts. If there’s food, I pick them up. The problem is it’s hard to process because first you got to get that fruit off the outside of it. Then you got to get the nut cracked.
Levi: And then the nut is intermingled with the meat quite heavily.
Bryce: So it’s a little harder to get out. I’ve never been a good nutcracker for that but the hardest part is, people say the best way is leave them in your driveway and drive your car over them. Well, I don’t have a driveway like that. I have a very short driveway and it’s gravel so it wouldn’t work for me. So I used to just try to cut the fruit off the thing and then rinse the nut but then all that is juglone toxin-enriched water. So what do you do with it? You got all this pulp left. What do you with it? I just throw it in the garbage and then I discovered that it doesn’t affect hazels at all. The hazels are located right at the back of the property, right along the fence line. Underneath the hazels we had (in our stupidity years ago) put a nice ground cover just outside the fence line and that was bishop’s weed which is really hard to get rid of once it gets established. So we got this bishop’s weed, I keep digging it out, digging it out, it keeps coming back three times harder. But this stuff will actually slow it down a little bit if you take that bit of pulp and rinsed water from processing black walnuts that has actually allelopathic effect on that stuff. But then I found out something better about bishop’s weed. In Italy, they eat it. They put it in lasagna. It takes like spinach, they put it in lasagna. I like lasagna so I guess you could say that’s my lasagna garden.
Levi: Cool. Are there any other plants that you really just want to mention and highlight?
Bryce: Oh yes. Asparagus and Hops. Both of them are used the same way as the spring growth (about 6-8 inches tall). You cut it and you cook it the same, the asparagus or hops. The hops even taste like asparagus but the hops of course are a vine. And then you could use up those hop cones or strobules for either beer making or for tea or stuff a pillow sack with them and use it as a pillow because it’ll help to induce sleep, things like that Then there’s another one also, solomon seal. Similar plants but not related to each other and then it’s a spring shoots on those that you just like you use asparagus. So at this time of year, say starting at about a month, I’ll have false solomon seal hops and asparagus.
Levi: Wow. So a lot of shoots coming up.
Bryce: Yeah. Exactly. Then of course there’s ground nuts or hopniss, the apios americana. That’s a nitrogen fixing vine and emerges in the soil. Beautiful flower! It’s in the bean family but it also produces edible tuber that’s extremely nutrient dense and high in protein. It grows up trees.
Levi: I have not success growing that. I have ordered that a few times from Oikos and I don’t know if our soil is just too sandy and lacking in nutrient and organic matter.
Bryce: The kind of soils that we have around here are really well suited for that so this is its northern portion of its territory, probably. Then we also grow spice bush, which gives you little berries that you can use as flavorings for meat but then the leaves can also be used to make a tea. So that’s dual use plant. The berries also feed birds but then get to be about 8 feet across by about 12 feet tall. Then there’s June berries, the Amelanchier species (maybe 5 or 6 different species of June berries). Ours are ready to pop flowers but if we get 3 warm days in a row, that things will be in full bloom. Then in June, you’ve got edible berries and the robins and the cedar waxwings will try and beat you to those. In fact, the cedar waxwings come as soon as it blooms and they start looking at it. If you get two or three of them together, they’ll discuss for a while and then they’ll start taking the blossoms off and dropping the blossoms here and there. What they do is they’re pruning the shrub for a larger fruit size. At least that’s what it seems. So it’s like farming my food forest.
Levi: That’s awesome.
Bryce: Yeah. We get to sit and watch them do this because the picnic table is right there on the patio, about 6 feet away from the trees. So we’ll just sit there and watch it. They’ll be up there spinning things. You’ve got Sandra vines. That called the five-flavor fruit. It’s a Chinese edible fruit vine. It grows in the forest in the colder region in China and eastern Siberia. It has medicinal uses and it can also be used for fruit juice and you mix it with something else. It’s got a very different flavor, almost a resinous flavor to it, as well as being mostly sweet and sour.
Levi: Sorry, I have a quick question. Jumping back a little bit to the shoots that you were talking about. Since they have like rhizomatous roots system and they’re sending up new sprouts and that’s what you’re harvesting, are those suited for plant guilds or are you doing more like a patch (one whole are that’s all on the field.)
Bryce: It’s a patch. In the case of the Solomon seal and the false Solomon seal, these are patches beneath deep rooting trees such as persimmon and pawpaw’s so that they’re forming an under story element of a woodland (of an edible woodland). Then the patch of the Solomon seal is about 5 feet across right now. It’s starting to bloom. So it’s not being planted like apples trees or anything like that but deeper rooted trees that’s going to disturb. Pawpaw’s have a natural tendency to sucker so the pawpaws are actually spreading rhizomatously themselves. So I’m ending up with a pawpaw thicket.
Levi: So that’s something that you keep in mind when you’re planting.
Bryce: In nature they grow together. One of the things with permaculture is that we’re supposed to be replicating patterns that we’re finding in nature making the adjustments, accordingly defined as substitute species, if we want to. We’re looking at existing patterns and then trying to replicate those patterns. In this case, some of the patterns were good enough that we didn’t have to mess with them too much. We could just say, “Well, okay. We’ll just restore that particular thing and see what happens with that.” Then there’s also another one that we like to grow called Rosa Belosa, also the apple rose. This plant is supposed to get five feet tall. I have a problem with plant on soils and that it always gets bigger than it’s supposed to like that apple tree did. This thing is 10 feet tall. It’s twice as tall as it’s supposed to be. We put her then back when we first put the fence it, which was 1985 and it’s just been doing great every year, every start to self-sow now in places.
Levi: Does that have edible rose hips?
Bryce: Yes, the fruit is edible and the seeds are also edible. What I’ve done with that is I’ve mixed it with crab apples to get a bit of higher pectin content and make a jelly out of it. We also made a syrup. We’ve also taken the fruit and dried it and then powdered it and used it as a nutritional supplement added to juices or anything where you just want to pop a spoonful of the stuff and pick up extra vitamin C and minerals.
Levi: Sounds good. Is that a thorny one?
Bryce: Yeah, it’s got thorns but it’s not how Rosa Belosa is. The thorns are a little bit easier to deal with so it’s not like you’re walking past it and then it reaches out and grabs hold of you and stuff like that. We made a mistake years ago when we first moved in. When the kids were little, we had blackberries planted just inside the garden gate. So they nicknamed the blackberry plant, “the slasher”. They said it would reach out and grab them when they came in. Well, about two years after that we took out those blackberries. They were just getting a bit out of hand. It wasn’t a good location.
Levi: Yeah. You can try some thornless blackberries, maybe.
Bryce: Yeah. I’ve got those. Unfortunately, they don’t do well here. We’re right at that point in the hardiness zones where they don’t do as well. I’m finding that they’re dying to the ground now every year. I can’t really bury because I have stuff growing beneath them that would suffer and those plants would probably die. I’m starting to think that they’re not as good as I thought they would have tasted. The Triple Crown variety. I’m finding that they’re a little sour and some of the blackberries like what we would get at the grocery store. So I’m not quite sure I’m going to keep those on those locations or just move a bunch of blackcurrants to that spot. I like the blackcurrants but I’m not too fond of these blackberries. This is their fourth or fifth year there. The chipmunks love them. They eat them all the time.
Levi: We have to wrap it up here. We’re getting limited on time but where can folks find out more information about what you’re doing and just in general about permaculture and forest gardening?
Bryce: One of the best sites to go and get some information on these stuff is, of course, from Midwest permaculture.
Levi: Which is midwestpermaculture.com?
Bryce: Yes. Also, the Ning site: midwestpermaculture.ning. If you go there, there’s a bunch of different sections that you can go to that different categories. There’s a plant guild section, there’s a section on rocket stoves, after graduate section. My wife, Debbie, and I are the hosts of the plant guild section there. If you go all the way back in there, to some of the early archives, you will actually find pictures of our wild rice pond posted in there. It goes back probably to about 2009 or 2010, I think. So it’ll be some of the older entries. There’s a lot of stuff on what to grow under black walnuts. People will be asking questions or answering questions back and forth on this stuff. A lot of great conversations in there. People sharing information and resources, it’s a wonderful place. Then there’s another site called the natural capital plant database. This is out of the Minneapolis area. This is the site that you can go to get information on different plant species and what they’ll grow best with. It’s not just a glorified companion plant site. This is a little deeper than that. It’ll give you information on the funds or relationships of the platform, whether it’s endo or ecto mycorrhizae, as well as the uses of a plant, both in the environment (the functions that it does) and then human uses also. That’s at the permacultureplantdata.com.
Levi: Oh, I haven’t actually heard that one. I’m going to have to check that one out.
Bryce: I do some work for the occasionally on data entry. One of the best places to get information on woody species, as well as some of the other species that are actual forest type plants, including some of the edibles. You’re going to find our government is a wonderful place to get information from the United States Department of Agriculture US Force Service. There is this site called the fire effects information system: FEIS. It’s at www.FEIS-CRS.org/FEIS/. That site, if you go in there, it’ll take you to a page right up the bat. This is fine species reviews, find fire studies, and find fire regimes. All the way up to the right on that under fine species reviews, you click find all, it’s going to give you a list of thousands of species of plants. If you click instead on fire regimes, it’s going to give you a list of different plant associations. Say, like Lodge Pole Pine Association or White Oak Association. There is everything that you would find in that type of plant grouping. Or let’s say something like Alaskan coastal or black brush shrub lands. Well, this is California but there is a lot of Midwestern stuff in here also. Easter Mixed Hardwood Swaps. There’s a section there. If you click on one of the entries there, it’s going to give you information on the types of things that would grow there. Eastern glades and barrens, eastern black spruce, great lakes. It’ll tell you that you have that kind of sandy soil if you live close to Lake Michigan. This will tell you what actually grows in those areas and then you can use that as a basis to get something established. It’s going to give you a plant successional food force going.
Levi: Thanks so much for all the great information. I feel like I’m talking to a walking encyclopedia here, it’s pretty cool.
Bryce: It just barely touched the surface in there.
Levi: Oh, I’m sure. I’m sure.
Bryce: But thanks again for having put out that plant guilds booklet from Midwest. That was great to see that making the rounds. Again, the book “Integrated Forest Gardening” is by Bryce Ruddock, Daniel Howsey, and Wayne Wiseman. It’s called “The Integrated Forest Gardening: The Complete Guide to Polycultures and Plant guild and Permaculture Systems.” It’s available from Chelsea Green. It may also be available from local libraries. In the Milwaukee area, it’s available at 5 different libraries. In the Seattle area, it’s available at every one of the libraries in the King County Library System. I think that there’s 20 libraries. I was shocked when I found that out to see that they have a copy at every one of their libraries.
Levi: That’s great. I’ll include all these links in the books and everything that we talked about in the show notes. So thanks again Bryce, it’s been a pleasure talking to you today and I will definitely be in touch.
Bryce: Okay, thanks back.
Levi: Thank you for listening to today’s episode. If you found something valuable in this episode then please consider helping us keep this podcast on the air by supporting us on Patreon. You can find us at patreon.com/permaculturerealizepodcast. I hope you’re all keeping warm and safe out there this winter. See you next time.