Mulberries are a permaculture favorite,
and there are lots of theories zipping around the internet about how
best to integrate them into a homestead. When it comes right down
to it, all of the methods revolve around pruning — do you prune the
tree at all, and if so how?
Mark’s the one who
brought this issue to my attention, because he’s been watching our two
year old Illinois everbearing mulberry grow like a weed in the chicken
pasture all summer. “Do you think we’d end up with more fruits
for the chickens if we pruned our mulberry small and mashed a lot of
trees together, like in a high
density apple orchard?”
I’m glad Mark raised the
question, because I’d been assuming we’d just let the mulberry grow to
tree size and do its thing. Various websites explain that it’s
not really essential to prune a mulberry tree, and I know of several
big, unmanaged trees that I stole fruits from as a kid — they seemed
to bear heavily.
Despite not needing to prune a mulberry tree,
there are various reasons you might want to. In permaculture
circles, lots of folks coppice
mulberry trees, using the wood and leaves as a source of organic matter
(and as fodder for herbivorous livestock). A
fascinating report by the FAO suggests that you get the
most leaf production if you cram mulberries close together and cut them
often — optimal spacing seemed to be 2 feet apart, with cuttings
every 112 days. This study was carried out in a tropical setting,
so you probably wouldn’t see the 8.5 tons of dry matter per acre here
in the U.S., but mulberries still might beat the average 3 to 5 tons
you’d get from a grass and clover hayfield.
Of course, as I’ve
mentioned previously, chickens aren’t really leaf-eaters. Another
study (included in the FAO report) found that you can replace up to 9%
of your chicken’s daily ration with dried mulberry leaves without
lowering egg production, but I read the same thing about duckweed, which our spoiled flock was
supremely uninterested in. Instead, I want to focus on fruit
production since I know our chickens will scarf down lots of berries.
Mulberries produce fruits on
last year’s wood, so straight coppicing is out if you want fruit
production. On the other hand, if you remove only half the
branches each year, your mulberry bush can produce fruits on the old
wood while growing new branches for next year’s crop.
For even more
efficiency, I’m considering pollarding, which is just like coppicing,
but keeps a trunk and three to five branch stubs instead of cutting the
tree to the ground each year. Annual pruning involves removing
the twigs on half of the the pollard stubs, while leaving the other
half to bear fruit. This way, I won’t have to worry about
chickens damaging the tender young growth that would come up from a
traditional coppice each spring.
What will I do with all
the wood I cut out? I plan to try rooting
next year, which will let me fill the chicken pastures with little
mulberry bushes. Or so I hope! Stay tuned for more posts on
my pollarding and propagation experiments.
pasture keeps the flock spread out so they don’t scratch any one spot