The permaculture principle of “stacking functions” (plus a tree farm recommendation)

This past weekend we cut down a bunch of enormous invasive shrubs on part of our property.  I decided I wanted to plant some sugar maples in their place, with dreams of homemade maple syrup dancing in my head (despite last year’s sad attempt at making syrup after tapping one lonely tree).  I looked on Stark Brothers and on the sites of several other large nurseries I’ve ordered from, and 3-4′ trees run around $18 a piece.  I decided I could afford four of them.

But!  After a bit more searching around, I located a nursery named Cold Stream Farm in northwest Michigan in a very small town called Free Soil.  Check out their sugar maple prices:

Options 1-3 4-24 25-99 100-499 500+
5-12″ $4.22 $3.20 $1.10 $0.78 $0.59
1-2′ $4.81 $3.83 $1.64 $1.10 $0.98
2-3′ $7.83 $5.11 $2.29 $1.83 $1.54
3-4′ $9.03 $6.37 $3.60 $2.47 $2.43

I’ve never ordered from this farm before so I have no idea how the quality will be, but I went ahead and ordered 25 of the 3-4′ trees.  At that price, I could lose half of them and still come out ahead.

While I was on their site, I started reading about some of the other trees they offer, browsing through the section on Jack Pines Pinus banksiana.  As you may know, Kirtland Warblers are an endangered bird that only nests in 6-14 year old Jack Pines in Northern Michigan.

Kirtland Warbler

They eat bugs and blueberries.  Why blueberries?  Well, according to Cold Stream Farm’s website:

Mature jack pine forests are usually open, and the fall of their needles creates acidic soil, so blueberries are often abundant in the understory.

This fact caught my interest because a while back reader bg and I were discussing why the blueberry bushes I had planted by the pond aren’t thriving, and our conclusion was that the soil there is too basic. Blueberries need acidic soil, and one way you can create this is by planting them in a raised bed with soil that has been heavily amended with peat moss in order to lower the pH to the necessary level of acidity between 4 and 5.

But now I find that Jack pines make a nice companion to plant with blueberries because they acidify the soil!

An attractive woman picking wild blueberries in a Jack pine forest in Marquette, Michigan. Doesn’t everyone wear a black miniskirt to go blueberry picking in the woods? (image source)

Guess what my next order from Cold Stream Farm will be?  If you said 25 Jack Pines, you’d be correct.  I like to eat blueberries and I like evergreens because they make great windbreaks in the winter.  We happen to live on top of a hill comprised of somewhat sandy soil, so I’m going to put those Jack Pines on the northwest slope of the hill to provide our home with protection from the cold north wind, thereby reducing our winter heating bill, and I’ll plant my blueberries among them, where the berries will thrive thanks to the Jack pine’s acidic dropped needles.  This is called stacking functions in permaculture:

Stacking functions – In permaculture we speak about getting many yields (outputs) from one element (thing) in your system.

For example, a tree might be an element in your system. A tree can provide shade, shelter wildlife, produce mulch and building materials, be a wind break, fertilize the soil, prevent erosion, raise the water table, etc. A tree can do a lot of different work for us in our system, and that’s what we mean by stacking functions.

The more I study the natural world, gardening, small-scale homestead farming, permaculture principles, and humane ways of raising animals for food, the more in awe I am of how God created things to work together so well.  It takes studying, planning, thinking things through, and always always always learning, but working within God’s created order rather than against it just makes sense.



11 thoughts on “The permaculture principle of “stacking functions” (plus a tree farm recommendation)

  1. My wife loved food production, we had four productive blueberries, the season that lasted for maybe six weeks. Another one seemed to be a failure. But the four produced literally gallons of berries, the gobblers( ‘dopted kids) truly loved them, but she still froze many. All she did was put them in a single pan, freeze them, then put them in vacuum bags. They were then good for a year and probably more.

    We always had acidic duff from Douglas fir to mulch her blueberries. I expect your pines will have the same positive result. Remember if you do resort to artificial fertilizer, only use Rhododendron and Azalea fertilizers, because almost all others have a basic result.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. While the Jack Warbler may be endangered, do you think it could be about competition for blueberries?
    Yes, she is attractive! However, while a lot is revealed in the photo, her left hand is hidden. Married women should not tease.
    Speaking of teasing, look at what Yoda linked for me.

    It may not appeal to anyone else but, the bear suit makes me crazy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is a youngish Annie Lennox. Who can SING. What is not to like?

      Sunshine. check the maxiumum height of your trees and if they are rot sensitive. You do NOT want your shelter belt coming down in a storm. In NZ we are moving away from macrocarpa and Pinus to natives (again).

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s the bear suit and it is still making me crazy!!! It doesn’t hurt that she is easy on the eyes and can sing too.


      • Yrs, Yoda, she is quite pale but, she is also wearing a bear suit. I am typing withone paw as I bite down on the other.


  3. I wonder if the berry picker is following the trend of female runners wearing skirts. Still doesn’t make sense for picking berries, though.

    And it’s hard to overstate the importance of paying attention to synergies while growing things.


    • It’s not very practical but, it could be part of revival of “Keep America Beautiful”.
      I still think she is married because she obscured her left had. Married women shouldn’rt tease. They’re playing for fun and single men are playing for keeps.


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