Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Regenerating forests in cooperation with nature

A Custard Apple Tree

While many forests on the planet have been removed over the last century for various human needs, many now realize that it was a mistake. Forests are an essential cover of Mother Earth, support life, help to stabilize climate extremes and absorb excess carbon year after year. Their fallen leaves help to improve fertility of soils. Aside from all this, forests are beautiful and while food feeds the body, forests feed the soul. The need is being felt acutely now to restore as much forest cover on the planet as possible and such efforts are underway in many parts of the world that have governments and citizens who are environmentally conscious and socially responsible.

It may be pointed out that nature on its own replants forests on barren land that have some moisture over time if they are not disrupted by humans or much grazing. However because the natural process is a slow one and climate change needs more urgent, human effort is needed.

While replanting forests, if cooperation of nature is invoked then the task becomes much easier. No where did this become more apparent to me than in my small urban garden. I had purchased the urban lot 33 years ago on barren outskirts of the city bereft of trees. Soon after, even before building a home I planted a few trees and watered them from time to time. Over the years, a home was built in three or four incremental steps. What I noticed was that many trees came up on their own with seeds perhaps brought in by birds that came to nest or rest in the original trees. Realizing that these trees are local and useful ones, I have left several in and let them flourish although many had to be removed too from time to time. In the initial years, the trees were largely Mulberry and Neem trees but in recent years several Custard apple (sita phal) trees keep popping up. Being small trees, they are ideal for an urban lot and some have now become large enough to produce fruit. One is shown in the photo snapped this morning.

Returning to our original topic of planting forests, the same principle can be invoked. Plant some trees well spaced apart initially, say fifty feet apart in all directions. Do use at least four or five different types of trees for bio-diversity. Most of the chosen trees may be native ones while a few others not native to the area may also be planted as an experiment. A few years later many other trees natural to the area as well as other growth will begin to come up on its own in the area to create a natural forest.

Protect the area by fence or moat in the initial years if needed, while also providing supplementary moisture in the first two or three years if the area does not have frequent rains. Once trees become large this watering is not needed because the roots then go in deep and the larger tree provides shade. Moats are cheaper over large areas then fences because they can be dug out easily with modern equipment. The soil dug out may be used to fill in ditches if any in the area or make some artificial hills covered with top soil from digging. Such moats may collect rain water and improve moisture availability of area while forming natural barriers to excess grazing. Do connect the moat to a small lake at the lowest point in the area to be forested. Creating a lake in a forest is essential for a healthy forest because they bring up ground water table of the region badly needed by trees. The moat together with the lake would collect rain water and store it for dry months to keep the forest thriving. Moreover they would slow or stop a forest fire from spreading, if ever there was one. Do keep some trails in the forest leading up to the lake for those come for a picnic or fishing on a holiday.

It is best that initial trees are fruit trees or other rapidly growing trees suitable for the area. Over a period of 25 years or so many more trees, shrubs, and wild flowers, medicinal herbs, fruits, berries and grasses natural to the area would spring up on their own, to fill up the forest, into a completely natural one. Growing more forests on the planet is a sure way to mitigate adverse climate changes and improve the planet in many other ways.

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