How often have you heard a farmer say something like this? “When we first lived here, we could just walk outside the door and pick up dry wood. Now, I have to walk for a whole day to find enough firewood to keep my family for a week. Soon I will have to walk 2 or 3 days a week just to get firewood.”
Other, older farmers say, “We remember that 40 or 50 years ago there were many trees on our hills. We are sure that cutting the trees has made the climate less pleasant.”
Trees give us firewood. They shelter our gardens and fields, protecting crops from damaging winds. They also protect our homes and keep them cooler. Trees prevent erosion, they purify water in the ground and they stop deserts from spreading.
Many people plant one new tree every time they cut one down. If everybody did that, there would be a never ending supply of wood.
It may be that there’s an agency in your area that will supply you with trees to plant and will help you do it or at least show you how. If there’s no such agency, or if young trees cost too much money, you could grow trees from seed or from cuttings, the same way you grow other crops.
Many farmers start by planting the kinds of trees that grow naturally in their part of the country. They might find them in a wooded area where young trees are already growing and where they have a right to take them. That way, they save the time it would take to develop those trees from a seed. If you do this, be careful not to damage the roots when you dig the tree up.
If you transplant trees from a forest, try and take them in their resting period when they have the fewest leaves. If you are going to be planting the trees in an open area, it’s best to take the trees from the edge not the middle of a forest.
Transplanting is not the only way to get trees started. When you cut down some big trees, new shoots come up from the stump. Trim off all but two of them on opposite sides of the stump. When these two shoots are 2 or 3 metres high, cut off the weaker one and you have a fine young tree growing where the old tree used to be.
Other trees will grow from a piece of wood as long or longer than your foot and at least as thick as your thumb. Cut the pieces from the ends of branches. Collect these branches during the dry, cool season when there are no leaves on the tree. Keep the branches from drying out until the rainy season begins. Then stick them 10 or 12 inches deep in moist ground. Some species such as Gliricidia sepium can be cut and planted immediately. Growth will be vigorous right away.
You can propagate some species by root cuttings. Again, the roots should be at least as thick as your thumb and 15-30 cm long. Once you have dug up the roots, keep them moist and cool until you plant them.
Another technique you could consider is called air layering. Strip the bark off a branch at its base. Cover the bare area with moist material such as sphagnum moss and then wrap in tin foil. Roots will begin to grow from the cut edge of the bark after several weeks. Then is the time to cut down and plant the branch.
Grafting is a method of propagation used on fruit trees where only specific varieties yield good fruit. In this technique, healthy branches from the growing tips of a tree are bound to the rootstock. Grafting technique will be described in a later script. You may want to try several methods to see which work best for the species of tree you prefer and the conditions where you farm.
Most of the time young trees are grown from seeds. The best seeds are at the top of the tree or at the ends of the side branches. Seeds from middle aged trees that are producing lots of seeds are better than seeds from young or old trees.
You might want to plant the seeds as soon as you have gathered them if you live in a warm climate where trees have no dormant period. In these conditions, fresh seeds will generally germinate better than old seeds. In fact, the seeds of many tropical species rapidly lose their ability to germinate.
In cooler climates, seeds may have to rest before they start to grow. So, if you pick seeds directly off the tree, or seeds that have fallen onto the ground recently, make sure they are dry, then store them in a dark, cool place for a few weeks before planting. The seeds of some trees that grow in temperate climates may need to be stored in moist, cool conditions for several days or weeks to maximize germination.
There are other ways to help the seeds get ready to grow. Spread the seeds in the sun on a metal sheet or on the ground and let them dry out. If they have a husk, the husk will crack. Peel the husks off and those seeds should be ready to plant in the nursery.
You might also put seeds in water. Watch them to see if the outside covering will start to crack or open up. Seeds that sink to the bottom will likely germinate. Seeds that float are generally sterile and can be skimmed off and discarded. You could also soak really tough seeds in the juice from green papaya for two days.
Many seeds have a hard cover that you must break before the seed will sprout. To crack the cover to allow the seed to grow you can nick the seed with a file or a knife, use a hammer or a stone, or rub the seed on a rough stone. Many seeds with a hard outer coat can be placed in boiling water for a few minutes and then left to soak over night.
- This script was reviewed by Bob Morikawa, Agroforestry Consultant, Toronto, Canada.
- Tree planting in Africa south of the Sahara, David Kamweti, 1982, 75 pages. The Environment Liaison Centre, P.O. Box 72461, Nairobi, Kenya.
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- “En viveros, nadie nace aprendido”, (Tree nurseries learning for everyone), Enlace, Number 23, Revista Enlace, Apartado A 136, Managua, Nicaragua.