Bird-Cloud Germplasm and Research Site

Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Ashe County, North Carolina, the Bird-Cloud Germplasm & Research Site is a living-experiment in ecological, low-tech, high-elegance forest gardening of fruit trees, nut trees, and perennial herbs.

Specific ongoing projects include:

Global Temperate Fruit Variety Trials

Over the course of 2011 and 2012, we have planted out hundreds of fruiting trees and shrubs, establishing one of the high country’s most diverse fruit-forest gardens, with a collection of over 60 species of fruit spanning 10 plant families and 20 genera (full list of cultivars and species forthcoming).

Our vision is to maintain a diverse germplasm of fruit and nut cultivars to keep alive these precious selections to propagate them across the bioregion to other growers, farmers, homesteaders, schools, civic organizations, and enthusiasts.

Willow Wattle & Basket Coppice

Basket-weaving has never been mechanized. Human hands must pull from thickets of shoots, messes of splits, and tangles of vines a woven order that might carry not only the harvest of gardens, orchards, and wild places but also the pieces of wisdom and stories worth telling that surely exist even now among the tangled mess of modernity. For the art of basket-making and fence-weaving (wattle), willows (Salix spp.) offer us generous gifts of strong, lengthy, flexible and fast-growing shoots, but only if we play with them in a way that suits them

The practice of coppicing — cutting at the right time and place to encourage straight shoots to grow — is a relationship that has roots in many traditional cultures, and coppicing willows has been a long-standing practice in places like England where traditional forestry practices set out to manage woodlands for fuel and building materials.

We have planted out the first in a set of willow coppice fields with three selections of Willow — Salix alba ‘Britzensis’, Salix alba ‘Vitellina’, and Salix purpurea ‘Streamco’ — and will make a large expansion to the area planted in willow in Winter of 2012-2013. Our goal is to establish a willow coppice for producing materials for local artisans to hand-craft baskets as well as to grow shoots for woven fencing that we’ll construct to protect young trees from herbivory.

Eleagnaceae/Sea Buckthorn Reforestation

The Eleagnaceae family has significant potential in reforestation and ecological restoration efforts in Appalachia and elsewhere. The family forms a mutualism with  actinorhizal soil bacteria to fix nitrogen, a critical element for plant growth. This allows them to grow on poor, degraded or disturbed lands. Additionally, members of this family produce fruit that typically offer antioxidant and medicinal value to humans and wildlife.

We are especially excited about Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides; note: not related to the expansive opportunist called “Buckthorn” or Rhamnus spp.), which is a member of the Eleagnaceae family that has a native range spanning Eurasia from the Himalayas across the Caucasus Mountains to Continental Europe and Southern England. Found growing naturally at the site of steep landslides or other degraded land and tolerant of poor and salty soils, Sea Buckthorn has been suggested as a species well suited for mine reclamation.

Sea Buckthorn also has generated buzz for its medicinal properties. The fruits, which are high in Vitamin E and antioxidants, have shown significant activity when made into creams and salves in helping repair damaged tissue from severe burns, cuts, and even radiation. Studies have even found that the fruits contain radioprotective properties which can help mitigate mutagenic effects of exposure to radiation! (See notes for citations and further reading)

We’ve planted out nearly 100 Sea Buckthorn bushes last winter and they are growing phenomenally. Their golden buds broke from silver stems in early spring and have settled into a lush dark green here in late summer, many of them already doubling and tripling in size. We have planted them on some of our poorest, over-grazed soils as a perennial “nurse-plants” to trees in our reforestation efforts. We have high hopes for this work!

View of Bird-Cloud Hill from neighboring ridge. It’s a little knoll barely visible in the distance.

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