Next Level Agriculture

Jiaxian traditional Chinese date gardens are some of the earliest jujube cultivation centres in the world, with jujube trees planted as long as 1,400 years ago. Over years, local people have developed a system of jujube-grain intercropping, orchard management and date cultivation and processing techniques and have brought jujube into the local customs, tradition and culture. These gardens were designated a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System in 2014.

The intentional incorporation of trees into the landscapes where we grow food is a practice we have found great benefit from and have come to admire in cultures that do it better than us.

Trees are important growing climate stabilizers here in the Rio Grande Valley of the high desert SW, an important feature in face of the inherent extremes of climate in the place where we live and grow. And because trees grow upwards, occupying space at a level above where crops are grown, they offer a unique opportunity for intensifying our growing practice, with both the ground level and tree canopy level in support of each other. 

The most obvious way in which trees provide stability for us is by decreasing surface temperatures and solar radiation. Tree shaded surfaces can be 20-45°F cooler than surfaces in the direct sun. An enormous benefit, both for the crop and the farmer, in a region where sun is so plentiful.

Trees also continue to release water through their leaves as an evaporative cooling mechanism during periods of extreme heat. So while they are cooling the surface temperatures of the crop below, trees are simultaneously creating a favorable microclimate by increasing humidity levels for the crop to grow in.

The landscape of Jiaxian has been shaped over centuries by the cultivation of Jujube trees. Cultivating trees, and growing up livestock and vegetables has been made possible on dry lands thanks to the microclimate created by jujube trees.
A lesser known way that trees benefit the understory crops that they grow with is through a process called hydraulic redistribution. Tree roots can transfer water between soil layers, redistributing soil water from deep in the soil to dryer surface layers, where shallower crop roots can access it. Tree roots can also move water in the reverse direction during wet times, essentially helping to stabilize soil water availability for the crop below. Since this process was first studied, it was found that plants are assisted in this process of water sharing by fungal networks which grow on the root system and promote water redistribution. Which brings us to the next way in which trees help…Tree roots offer a more permanent home and food source for soil life in comparison to short term annual crops. The result is more diversity of life in our soils, which leads to better soil structure and stability. Factor in the leaf litter and mulch provided by trees to the soil life, and the effect is even greater.

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