Trees of Power

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 01 Mar 2019

Member Reviews

If you're interested in permaculture, regenerative farming, sustainability, food forests, or want to enhance your organic gardening skills, pick up a copy of this book. The author shares his love for and talents with cultivating trees harmoniously with nature. I appreciated his focus on stopping to pay attention and learn from trees rather than merely learning about them, and also the emphasis on how trees are sentient beings.

Readers will enjoy the comprehensive look at the allies--he offers an entertaining and informative blend of stories, differences between species and varieties, propagation, harvesting, dealing with pests and disease, wildlife value, and commercial possibilities for each tree. He focuses on ten trees--Chestnut, Apple, Poplar, Ash, Mulberry, Elderberry, Hickory, Hazelnut, Black Locust, and Beech.

I love that he ends with ideas for creating awareness and plenty of resources to explore.

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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This excellent book from a tree propagator should be read by anyone concerned about climate change, feeding the people of today and the future, biodiversity loss, atmospheric carbon. 
Maybe you have seen the YouTube video of a TED talk about restoring desertifying land using mobs of cattle, bunched and moved regularly. What the cattle do is eat up dead grasses and put organic compost, including seeds, on the ground. Traditional mixed farmers and organic farmers know this already. In just the same way, this book explains how plants naturally put carbon, humus and moisture in the ground for microscopic life to break down. By flattening fields and tilling them humans destroy the structure and biology of the soil, until there is nothing left but bare clay that needs chemical fertiliser, watering, then weedkiller and pesticide because there are no predators for the pests. 

The author gives us the benefit of all the lessons he has learned. The trees he plants grow fast, healthy young stocks for planting out elsewhere. While the author doesn't like selling potted trees, preferring bare roots, I would point out that his wish not to sell his soil with a tree, means the tree has none of the microbes with it in its new home. 

I like the section on how old forests are full of pits where a tree uprooted and mounds where a tree trunk lay and rotted. Amphibians will live in the pits but a good point is that fish can't because they dry up, so the life that fish would eat can thrive. In redwood forests, not mentioned, the seedlings grow on the length of a nurse tree like this, roots reaching down for water and nutrients provided by fungi. Mixed stands of trees are also favoured by any sensible forester, because of the possibility of disease and squirrel strike; deciduous trees with their annually shed, fast rotting leaves are mixed through conifers to fertilise and improve the soil. In Ireland, UCD studies proved that biodiversity shoots up from five bird species to twenty-three when a soft edging of shrubs and smaller native trees are planted around a block of spruces. 

The author takes us through budding, grafting, rooting and growing from seed, with many recommendations including a list of what is good to add to soil, from wood chips to comfrey tea and cardboard. Biochar is presented as the best long term way to add fertiliser and sequester carbon.  

Then the author presents his 'allies' the major types of tree which can feed us and replace ground crops to a great extent. Sweet chestnuts (we are more familiar with horse chestnuts here) produce vast quantities of rich nuts and the author suggests hybridising Asian varieties with the American varieties to impart resistance to Asian fungal strains. This is being carried out on European trees. He tells the story of the American chestnut, a keystone species and supporter of many farm families, wiped out by disease. We learn of the attempts to save it by outcrossing, still under way. And as the young pure trees die after 15 years but have produced seed and sprout from the root, they can be kept going, which is what happened with elm trees here after Dutch Elm disease. I am hoping the coppiced trees will develop resistance which they pass on to seeds.  

Apples; poplar, which is only good for paper and matches but helps with biodiversity and draining water; ash; mulberry; elderberry (perfect edge of forest shrub); hickory; hazelnut; black locust; beech; these are the core trees the author advises us to plant, for wildlife and ourselves. We don't have all of them here (I'd put in walnut, oak and rowan) but I'd take any of them over a sterile stand of Sitka. We are given information about each species and its benefits, how to grow it.

The author tells us some exercises to help us relax, open to the natural world and see better. He mentions one called 'owl eyes' or seeing with peripheral vision (he calls it wide vision) and he says this can help you find things at night. The reason would be that the focal vision is handled mostly by cone cells in the eye, which see colour, but the peripheral vision sees with a good mix of rod cells which see black and white, so they have an advantage in low light and spot movement. 

Last we get a list of books on trees, farms and pre-Columbian culture which the author recommends. I would add the excellent The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben about the apex beech forests in central Europe and how they and other trees communicate and support life. 

I enjoyed this read very much, as a tree surgeon and ecologist, and it is packed with colour photos and some old b/w ones, so we get a good understanding of the subject matter. Gardeners, tree lovers, ecologists, farmers and those mentioned at the start who want to reverse climate change, need to read this book. 
Notes P273 - 276. I counted three names which I could be sure were female.
I downloaded an e-ARC from Net Galley (but will be getting my own copy). This is an unbiased review.
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Akiva Silver is a tree crops evangelist. I don’t think there is a tree he hasn’t thought about to make meals, and money out of. That’s the main difference between Trees of Power and other nature, gardening or farming books. Everywhere he looks, Silver sees the potential for new markets. Throughout, he looks at everything as a cash crop. From perennial spring medicinal flowers to fall chestnuts, the forests provide sellable crops, often in ways we have yet to master.

The book is a brain dump from someone who lives for his trees. Silver moves 20,000 bareroot cuttings and seedlings every year. He knows how much and what kind of mulch is best, how to apply nitrogen fertilizers, and when to water. He knows where threes prefer to be, and depending on where they are, how much they grow in a year. Mostly, he knows what he can make of them in terms of food, shelter, income, and also peace of mind.

There are two sections. The first deals with propagating trees by seed, grafting, layering and cuttings. These apply to different degrees with different trees. Silver prefers selling bareroot trees that he grows, storing them in and on the ground and in his unheated basement. He dislikes selling potted trees because they are unnaturally rootbound, which can girdle and kill the tree, and because he is basically exporting the rich soil he needs to grow the trees with every pot that leaves the farm. They also take up too much floor space, compared to the piles of bareroot specimens he accumulates. He can produce those 20,000 trees a year in less than one of his 20 acres.

The second section is profiles of his top ten trees. Unlike most such books, there are no portraits of mature trees or detailed paintings of leaves, seeds and flowers. There are plenty of totally nonprofessional color photos, mostly of clumps of plants he identifies, but are hard to appreciate on the page. Lots of shots of his three kids too. The trees are appreciated for their fruit, their lumber, their unique approach to survival, their contribution to the ecosystem, and their ease of propagation. 

The ten trees are chestnut, apples, poplar, ash, mulberry, elderberry, hickory, hazelnut, black locust and beech. All are native to his upstate New York farm.

Along the way, there are some interesting insights:
-In his forest walks, Silver noticed it was never flat. There were pits and mounds everywhere. Step in a pit, and it was wet and squishy. And there were always trees growing on the mounds. The mounds were the stumps of dead trees, and the pits were the holes left by older trees falling over. Trees thrive on the high ground of the mound, with the ability to tap the moisture of the pits as needed.
-When Europeans came to farm, the first thing they did was flatten the land, filling in the pits and clearing the mounds. Nature required the variety, while farmers needed the convenience and symmetry of flatlands. Convenience won.
-Glyphosate is not simply a herbicide, but actually registered antibiotic. This means it kills the naturally needed bacteria in the soil, not just the weeds. It can leave fields totally sterile. And help create new antibiotic resistance.
-Today it is common for agricultural fields to contain around one percent organic matter. 

David Wineberg
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At first,I thought there would be more trees of different varieties and thought it would not be as interesting as expected. But in fact, I liked how the first part about technical information is really well-written and gives step by step how to.
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