In this blog post I talk about the different functions trees can have on a natural farm.
Beyond a tree just giving either food, wood, or medicine which are the basic resources trees give, lets think of more roles trees can have.
The functions are as follows. Note that trees can fulfill multiple functions at once.
- Buffer trees
- Placeholder trees
- Biomass trees
- Windbreak trees
- Shade trees
- Support trees
Lets explore the first function..
When we think of forest we often think of strata or layers in the forest. Sun loving trees are the tallest and are in the top layer.
While shade loving trees grow below in the medium or lower layers.
However this is not entirely true, because even the sun loving trees used to be sma trees that grew in the shade. In fact the forest floor is filled with small trees having different light requirements.
As long as the canopy gives a dense shade the trees below will not really grow, nor will they die.
I call these trees buffer trees. Once the canopy opens up through a disturbance such as a tree being cut; a tree dying from disease; or a tree falling down from a hurricane then the sunlight will suddenly reach the lower trees and they quickly start growing to fill the canopy gap.
Buffer trees are useful, because when a disturbance happens, causing a canopy gap we do not want to wait to first sprout seeds and let them grow. This would take decades and in the meantime the weeds would take over. Besides many trees also require some shade to sprout and are fragile in full sun.
Buffer trees are already sprouted and already have an established root system. All they need is light and once they get it, they will grow very quickly.
This way buffer trees add resilience and safety nets to the ecosystem.
Sometimes we have gaps in the farm that need to be filled by a specific tree, but that tree is unavailable at the time. However we might have other trees available that are abundant and easy to grow.
In these cases we cab fill the empty spots with these abundant trees to act as a placeholder for a different more important tree.
Once the important tree is available the placeholder tree is cut down and used as biomass / fertilizer for the new tree.
Why would you use placeholder trees?
Because having gaps or empty spots in the farm makes it vulnerable for weed growth and soil erosion. The placeholder tree also conditions the soil to make it better and more fertile.
Biomass trees are usually, but not always nitrogen fixing trees or fast growing trees.
These trees are specifically grown to be cut down or periodically pruned.
When these trees regularly cut back or pruned their biomass acts as fertilizers for other more important trees such as fruit trees or for vegetables.
Biomass trees are one of the most important trees in natural farming, because they can reduce the dependence of external fertilizers to zero. This increase the self-suffiency and resillance of the farm and the ecosystem as a whole.
Windbreak as the name implies is to “break” the wind which reduces the speed of the wind behind the windbreak.
Windbreak trees are usually grown at the edges of the farm and are strong trees that will not break easily in high wind speeds such as storms or hurricanes.
Windbreak trees protect the interior of the farm where the more fragile trees are located. Windbreaks can also protect structures such as houses or barns.
Shade trees are grown quite purely for the shade they give. Al tho every tree gives shade, some cast more shade than others.
Shade trees often have a wide horizontal canopy with abundant or big leaves.
There can be multiple reasons for having shade trees. One reason to grow shade loving vegetable and trees or mushrooms underneath or to place a nursery underneath.
Shade trees can also be used to stop weed growth as most fast growing weeds are sun loving.
Another reason may be to give a cool and pleasant environment to farm or wild animals or to human beings.
Support trees fit many functions that are not mentioned above. Support trees as the name implies is to give support to the overall ecosystem and the farm.
Some of the functions of support trees include:
- Attracting pollinators.
- Attracting wildlife such as birds or bats.
- Attracting insects.
- Living poles for growing vines such as black pepper.
- Erosion prevention.
If you can think of more functions for trees or wish to expand more on this then do not hesitate to message me.