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My Dehesa

Last week, I placed an order for a small forest—1,015 trees to be exact. Why did I do that? Well, it starts with a love of ham.

I have always loved the story behind traditional Jamon Iberico. It starts with the black Iberian pigs roaming the ancient dehesa of the Iberian Peninsula. Dehesa, which roughly translates to “meadow” in English, is typically a mixture of oak and cork trees, grasses and aromatic plants like rosemary and thyme. The pigs forage on the grass, herbs, roots and acorns. After the pigs are slaughtered, the meat is aged and cured for as long as 48 months. When the finally ready, it can be some of the most incredible sliced ham you will ever taste.

I dream of one day having my own version of the dehesa. When I look out at the open pasture of our farm, I picture rows of trees and shrubs bending along the contours of the land with cows, sheep and pigs wandering the land. The first step towards realizing that dream begins with planting the trees. Planting the trees offers at the farm host of benefits. Many of the tree varieties that will be planted offer food and forage including chestnuts, hazelnuts, apples, mulberries and elderberries.

Planting the trees offers at the farm host of benefits beyond my Iberian fantasy. Many of the tree varieties that will be planted offer food and forage. They include chestnuts, hazelnuts, apples, mulberries and elderberries. Planting the trees also helps retain more water on the farm. Furthermore, the trees will help fight soil erosion on the hill.

The biggest drawback to growing trees is that they require time to mature before you can reap the fruits of your labor. Because we are still years away from living on the farm full time, I see that as an opportunity to work hard now and let the trees mature. Almost like a wooden retirement plan.

After a few weeks of planning, we finally placed our gigantic order of trees last week. And just so you don’t think I’m crazy, we don’t plan to plant all 1,015 trees ourselves. To get a break on pricing, I found a nursery that was willing to offer the trees at wholesale prices. To get my order size up to the necessary scale, I put the call out to my neighbors in the greater St. Johnsbury area to see if they would be interested in ordering trees at wholesale prices. Roughly a dozen people raised their hand and got in on the action. (I’m really thankful for that!) The final order ended up with the following tally:

The trees are being supplied by Twisted Tree Farm in Spencer, NY. Twisted Tree is a relatively small nursery run by Akiva Silver. I first found Akiva through a Permaculture Voices podcast he did last year. After looking at a few other vendors, I came to the conclusion that Akiva was the best option. He has been great to work with so far.

For Year One of the tree project, I plan to focus most of the tree planting on the hill portion of the pasture. It’s currently facing some erosion challenges and the trees will help address that issue. The trees will be planted in mixed rows. Some of the trees and shrubs that we are planting (e.g., black locust, Siberian pea shrub, comfrey) help fix nitrogen into the soil. By mixing the plantings, it gives the nitrogen fixers the ability to help the other trees. It also helps protect against some forms of disease and pests.

I’m looking forward to planting the trees. It’s going to be a ton of work, but it will feel good to make some progress and actually grow something on the farm. The plan is to do some earthworks this summer, carving swales and berms along the contours of the hill to better retain water as it flows down the hill. In the fall, once the seedling trees have gone dormant and they are delivered, I plan to take a week off of work and start planting a massive amount of trees. I’m definitely going to need some help, so if anyone is interested in spending a day or two in Peacham, let me know. Free room, board and blisters come as part of the deal.

Now if I can just keep the damn deer from eating the leaves off the trees, this plan is going to work out great.

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