Book Notes: The Permaculture Handbook :: Chapter Seventeen

Continuing my highly personal notes on Peter Bane’s The Permaculture Handbook (2012), here’s Chapter Seventeen: Productive Trees and Where to Grow Them, a short chapter. Any misrepresentations of Bane’s words or work are mine alone and completely unintentional. Notes on each chapter linked here.


“No one quite understands how morels grow: they are saprophytes (wood-eating fungi) but seem to exhibit mutualism with trees as well. We have had them simply appear in our garden beds mulched with coarse shredded wood and sticks. You don’t have to be religious to consider that a blessing!” — Peter Bane


Trees and shrubs are valuable elements in the food garden, but they’re also essential or helpful in many other places: to enhance the productivity of pastures or row crops; to benefit aquatic systems, including ponds; with polycultures of perennials in orchards; as windbreaks, hedgerows, living fences; and simply for beauty and economic yields.

Living Fences, Hedgerows, and Windbreaks, i.e., “strip forests.” They can confine or exclude animals, buffer against wind, provide habitat and shelter native pollinators, provide reserves of fodder, timber, biomass, help define boundaries, screen bad views, buffer noise. Weedy, unmanaged trees can be harvested for firewood, fungi inoculation (undamaged hardwood of 4-7″ diameter), stakes, mulch, to make a hugelkultur (raised garden beds built on a base of woody debris).

hugelkultur with green beans (and weeds) at a friend’s, Sept. 2013
hedge made of Itea virginica (Virginia sweetspire), Longwood Gardens, PA, Aug. 2015

Designing Boundary Woodlands, including mixed-species borders: Shrubs and trees can make a living fence. Thorny plants welcome: quince, hawthorn, roses, blackthorn, honey locust. Thorny shrubs and trees also make good habitat.

thorn of a flowering quince, Sunapee, NH, June 2017
hawthorn tree thorns, NH, Oct. 2013

Alley Cropping Trees: “Arable crops of grain, oilseeds or vegetables are grown in broad alleys between lines of trees, called production hedges[;] … the annual crops bring in cash while the trees grow to a harvestable size. It can also be a way of supporting the fertility of the land and of stabilizing microclimates to improve yields of the arable alleys.”

Pasture and Fodder Trees: Silvopasture: “growing trees in livestock paddocks or … grazing animals in woodlands.” Trees complement productivity of pasture grasses, which die back in the hot summer months. Species to use could include mulberry, black locust, false indigo bush (Amorpha fruticosa), bladder senna (Colutea arborescens), willow, alder, hazel, poplar, rose family fruits, basswood (Tilia americana), ash, and elm. You can pollard to keep the leaves in reach without allowing animals to damage the trunk. To reduce damage to young trees in a pasture, you can fencing the animals out from a block of trees, protect individual trees with some kind of structure,or spray trees with repellents to keep animals away until the trees are large enough to tolerate nibbling.

hard to see, but there are two large cows hanging out in this wooded area abutting the northern rail trail in Danbury, NH, March 2016 (one is laying down)

Trees in Aquatic Systems: Trees are useful along flowing water but problematic near ponds due to leaf fall. [We had a small pond under trees at one house and it wasn’t a big problem.] Trees that like water include willow, sycamores, southern bald cypress, alders (which fix nitrogen), birches, and witchhazel.

our pond in Maine, July 2002 — note maple leaves above it
witchhazel flowers, near lake in Sutton, NH, April 2017
alder with catkins, growing beside pond in NH, March 2016
weeping willow, Boston Public Gardens, June 2012

Tree Cropping in Orchards: Two pages on this. “Some excellent heritage varieties may be discovered in older orchards: don’t get rid of anything until you know what it is.”

old crabapple trees at the Fells, Newbury, NH, Oct. 2015

Trees for Small Situations: In pots, on wires (“cordon”), espalier (along wall).

trees planted by patio, Rutland Nurseries display, Boston Flower Show, March 2016
tropical planter, Jekyll Island, GA, Dec. 2016

Trees for Fuel: “The ethics of burning wood are first and foremost that you must plant trees. Secondly, cut no living tree for wood unless you are doing a necessary job of pruning or removing a tree that is dying, diseased, damaged, or in the wrong place. Thinning woodlands to improve the health, vigor and productivity of the remaining trees (resulting in a net increase in standing wood) counts as virtuous action. Thirdly, respect all wood” (i.e., don’t waste it, use it for its best purpose). Never put wood in a landfill. A forest can grow 1 cord per acre per year. Highest heat value trees come from hard woods: black locust, dogwood, osage orange, hickory, all of them denser than oak.

black locust tree (Robinia pseudoacacia) trunks, Sutton, NH, March 2017
a cord of wood, Laudholm Farm, Wells, ME, June 2016

Growing Fungi: You can generate $1,600 in wholesale income growing Shitaki mushrooms (Lentinula edodes) on logs — taking up about the space of a large room, in dense shade, with just the $100 cost of incolation and diverted rainwater — that would be worth $60 as firewood or $200 at a sawmill, and more for medicinal fungi like Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), a polypore mushroom, or Maitake. Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus spp) also grow on logs, but they’re aggressive and pretty common in the wild. Besides Reishi’s, other stumpsprouting polypores include chicken-of-the-woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) and hen-of-the-woods (Grifola frondosa). Morels (Morchella spp) are delicious and can go for $40/lb at a shop.

a true morel mushroom (a little blurry), NH northern rail trail, May 2016
oyster mushrooms on tree, NH trail, Nov. 2014
black trumpet mushrooms (Craterellus cornucopioides), along a trail in NH, Aug. 2014
honey mushrooms (Armillaria), NH, Sept. 2014
chicken of the woods way up a tree along a bike path, Jekyll Island, GA, Dec. 2015
you can grow mushrooms in a pail, too (at Boston Flower Show, March 2015)


I did some of my own research on willows (Salix spp) in northern New England (those species at least hardy to zone 4). All willows are dioecious, meaning that male and female catkins appear on separate trees:

Shrubs and small trees:
purple osier (Salix purpurea), a shrub, 8-10 tall
coyote willow (S. exigua), a shrub, 6-15′ tall
pussy willow (S. discolor), 6-20′ tall
dappled willow (S. integra ‘Hakuro nishiki’), shrub or often grown in tree form, 4-6′ tall. We had one but it had myriad problems with pests and with leaves reverting to non-dappled state in a couple of years. I don’t recommend.

pussy willow (I think) buds, Sutton, NH, early March 2017

Taller trees:
goat willow (S. caprea), 12-25′ tall
bebb willow (S. sebbiana), a grey willow, 10-30′ tall
corkscrew willow (S. matsudana ‘Tortuosa’), 20-40′ tall
peach-leaf willow (S. amygdaloides) 30-50′ tall
white willow (S. alba), 50-100′ tall
weeping willow (S. babylonica) — Sadly, zone 6, so only in a very warm microclimate in northern New England. I see them in Boston but not in central NH or in Maine. 35-50′ tall and wide.


Featured image (top image) is a winterberry (lex verticillata) hedge, Bedrock Gardens, Lee, NH, Oct. 2015.

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