To grow healthy trees, it is good to remove rhizomatic weeds like quack grass before planting. I tried the method of "tarping". In September, I put large plastic sheets to cover blocks of the newly fertilized and tilled field. The plan was to solarize (block sunshine) the soil to get a head start over the quack grass and seed other forbs like clover around the trees.
However, before planting the trees, I wanted to check how the quack was doing, and I got a lesser shock. I removed one of the tarps and found the ground completely penetrated by vole tunnels.
The holes in the ground were massive, much larger than mice or mole tunnels. My glove as comparison:
I started to read up on the ecology of voles (Arvicola amphibius) and how to manage their population. I had heard of tree planters who lost most of their apple trees to vole damage. The voles make underground tunnel systems and eat the roots of fruit trees. They love apple trees, but most other fruit and nut trees are also appreciated. I don't need to mention what happens to trees when someone eat their roots...
The tree planter and food forest expert Philipp Weiss has written about vole safe cages for tree planting.
We started right away to make cages for the most important trees, that I want to plant right away:
The long term solution will involve owls, netting and a dog. Maybe a rat terrier? I have never had a dog before, so I am humbled by the challenge to taking care of one. For the last year, we have had a cat, and that was also a first for me, and I like it more and more. My life is developing in a good direction. Less computers and more animals every year.
We planted out the forty most important trees into the nursery, and the rest we planted in the indoor sandbox system, where they can wait until I have solved the vole issue. The trees we planted out are the trees that I will use as "mother trees" later. (I cut branches off these trees for grafting new trees.) And some hazel bushes that I will "layer" to make new trees.
The hazel bushes look healthy and strong:
We removed the plastic, but did not plant any trees in the area where the voles have had their party...
A whole group of family and friends came over to help out with the tree planting. It is great to plant trees together.
We planted the trees in cages made of 19mm mesh, which was the only size available at the local hardware store. Philipp recommends 12 mm nets, and I have ordered two rolls of that size, for the next round of vole protection.
We had a good day with many friends working together. Planting trees for an abundant future is one of the most meaningful things that we can do in these strange times.