Fertilizer Trees

No, fertilizer as we normally think of it doesn’t grow on trees! But agroforesters and other agriculturalists are using this term for any tree that helps improve the quality of soil. One great example is the Apple ring acacia (Faidherbia albida).

The Apple ring acacia is an unusual tropical nitrogen-fixing tree in that it drops its leaves in the rainy season thus adding some fertility to the soil underneath. It then leafs back out in the dry season. That would sort of be like our temperate trees losing their leaves in the summer and leafing out in the winter!

We have publicized this tree at ECHO (see EDN #107) and encourage planting it as part of a farmer’s strategy to keep land productive in a sustainable way.

ECHO intern alumni, Noah and Katie, have these trees on their site in Senegal and have some more information for us:

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Apple Ring Acacia in Senegal

photo by Noah Elhardt

March 30th, 2015 — Faidherbia albida, or Apple ring acacia. This deep-rooted Sahelian tree is famous for leafing out in the dry season and dropping its leaves in the wet season, unlike the vast majority of trees which do the opposite. (In fact, the term “reverse leaf phenology” is most often associated with this species.) This trait has saved this tree from the fate of most Sahelian trees. Its value to farmers is at least threefold: 1) The plentiful and tasty seed pods and foliage provide valuable forage to livestock during the long dry season. 2) Livestock, attracted by these treats and by the shade created by the dry-season foliage, spend a lot of time underneath these trees, fertilizing the field as they do. 3) The nitrogen-rich leaves, dropped just at the start of the rainy season, provide another source of organic inputs for the crops grown underneath.

This tree, near the farm where I work, is providing shade for cattle, sheep AND goats. 3 months to go till rainy season!


Apple Ring Acacia in Senegal's rainy season

photo by Noah Elhardt

Nov. 7th, 2015 — We’re back in lovely green Senegal! Remember that picture I posted a few months ago of an Apple ring acacia (Faidherbia albida) providing shade for livestock in the dry season? Here is the same species in the wet season.


photo by Noah Elhardt

May 31, 2017 — Faidherbia albida: the Giving Tree. Shade when you need it, none when you don’t. Forage to feed your animals in the dry season or, when you want to keep them out of your garden, thorny branches to build a fence with. This farmer is fencing in his mango trees at the beginning of fruiting season.


Faidherbia at ECHO

ECHO Apple ring acacia understory

At ECHO these trees are growing  where they are highlighted on our public tour as one of the sustainable practices we are “echoing” out to our global network.

Fertilizer Trees!

Apple Ring Acacia at ECHO

Apple ring acacia at ECHO

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Just a few pictures

How about a few pictures from the last half of 2016 until now?
Click on any photo for a larger version.

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Summer 2016

The main event of this summer was a cross-country move for our son and family to Boston for seminary.
We started in Abbotsford, British Columbia (near Vancouver)
[click on photos to enlarge]

loaded moving truck

Loaded and ready to roll. (photo: James Hargrave)

We crossed the Cascades, the Rockies and the Great Divide.

the continental divide

In Yellowstone (photo: James Hargrave)

And visited many rest areas!

Montana rest area

Montana welcome station.

We did take some time to sight see and also came across some interesting places.

Grand Tetons

The Grand Tetons

world's largest truck stop

Self explanatory! (Photo: James Hargrave)

After 12 days and 3,660 miles we unloaded the rental truck at Hellenic Holy Cross Seminary in Boston where James has started graduate school.

unloaded

Unloading at seminary housing.

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This and that from March to June

Bob date 24132

I only had my cell phone with me while birding so flowers instead of birds 🙂

phlox

A species of phlox

helianthus

Relative of sunflower

Connect Week

I have been in Peachtree City, Georgia this week at AIM’s US headquarters. Ellen arrived back from Kenya on Sunday and I drove up from Florida to meet her here. We’ve met some great people and I have enjoyed reconnecting with friends.

Isaiah

Our grandson Isaiah, who was born in March (14 weeks early) was released from NICU in Orlando on Monday. Everything looks good at this point. For more about this young fighter see Craig and Laura’s blog “A Way in the Wild“.

Next grandchild

So Ellen and I have been together this week after her two and a half weeks in Kenya but tomorrow we head in different directions! She is going to Albuquerque to be with our daughter Ginny who is expecting our 7th grandchild any day now. Actually, labor will be induced on Sunday if nothing happens before then.

ECHO — Climate change initiative and crop selection tool

One thing we have been working on at ECHO recently is how to help small-scale farmers deal with uncertain yearly weather and long-term climate change. We worked up a proposal to develop a strategy for tracking changes in any country. We also plan to develop a crop selection tool that would indicate which crops would be best suited for a specific location, both at the present and in the future based on reliable models of climate shifts. Of course all of that depends on funding!

Birds

For several years now I have taken up the “June Challenge” to see how many birds one can find in a specific county in the month of June — basically the worst month for birding in Florida. So far I’ve seen 16 in Lee County (haven’t had much time for birding there yet) and 30 in Fayette County, Georgia where I’ve been this week.

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Death and Birth

My 88 year old mother-in-law passed away on Sunday, March 6th after a long decline. Although her passing was expected it is still hard for Ellen, her sisters and especially my father-in-law Bob Wheeler. They had been married for 65 years, raising the three girls and enjoying their six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Speaking of great-grandchildren, another was born prematurely the next day (March 7th, 2016). Our grandson Isaiah Owen Slezak appeared weighing 2 pounds, 4 ounces and mostly breathing on his own. His remarkable story can be found on Craig and Laura’s blog “A Way in the Wild”.

And then that evening my dear Aunt Liz (Mom’s sister) went to her eternal reward after emergency surgery for extensive cancer that had remained undiagnosed. She was 85 years old. I was unable to be with the family for her memorial service because I was, of course, in Ohio with Ellen and her family.

What a start to an eventful week! Ellen and I drove up to Columbus, Ohio and along with grieving for her mother we enjoyed really good times with the family. Our other three kids and two of our grandchildren were able to join us there.

As the years roll on we will continue to experience and embrace more of these life events.

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2016 starts with surgery

On January 27th I had surgery to repair an abdominal hernia. Pretty straight forward, not serious. It was supposed to be outpatient but ended up being a little more involved and so I spent the night at Cape Coral Hospital. The staff took great care of me there and then it was Ellen’s turn when we got home Thursday. I am blessed to have her by my side through these adventures that come with aging (I’m 65, Ellen is younger :-).

I was able to work from home most of the next week and return to a normal routine at ECHO that Friday (Feb. 5th). I’m still limited in what I can (should!) pick up but otherwise back to great health.

Reflections:

  • grateful for excellent medical care and adequate health insurance
  • grateful for general good health
  • Ellen’s bout with cancer and this remind us we are mortal and aging
  • We are happy to be able to continue in full-time ministry at ECHO and with AIM
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