Garden And Gardener

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Got an alder tree near you? This bloke is interested

by Sarah - September 26th, 2011.
Filed under: General Gardening.

I have a project to develop alder (Alnus glutinosa) as a grain crop.
My reasons for this are:- Britain cannot feed itself because half its land is
too high and cold
for grain production. This is not because this land is infertile, the
tree-line is much higher than the crop line. It is because the main
grain crops originated in the Mediterranean and they are at the limit
of their range in Britain. To make use of this land we need to take a
plant which grows well in British upland conditions and breed it into
a suitable grain crop. There are many possible plants, and some sedges
show potential, but it would be a huge task to even evaluate them all. Instead
I have seized on the idea of alder because:-* It is a tree; it can be more productive
than a herb crop.
* Birds and small animals eat alder seeds and I know from many reports
and personal test that they are not harmful to man. Like other seed
crops, wheat, rice, oats, the taste lies in the preparation.
* It fixes nitrogen. Nitrate fertilisers are expensive and a big
source of CO2 production.
* It is a tree, once established it is insensitive to weather
* It is a tree, it does not need weeding and chemical weedkilling.
* The harvesting waste, chiefly cones, but also twigs, may be a useful
fuel, it comes in handy-sized pieces. The fallen leaves may also be
used as a fuel, they are plentiful.
* It is a tree, ground does not have to prepared for it every year
nor seed sown. This saves on the CO2 output of ploughing with heavy
* Over its commercial life (50 years?) a tree will store a lot of
* Alnus glutinosa grows in Tunisia and Algeria, the latitude of China
and Northern India. It could be useful there in holding back erosion
on steep slopes.But alder needs to be improved to become a grain crop. In particular
it needs bigger seeds. I spent the whole of last autumn going round
alders on Tyneside (You can’t do it in the rain, it is pleasant
work.), pulling cones off trees, breaking them open by rolling and
crushing them between two plates and sieving them. I found six trees
with SIGNIFICANTLY bigger seeds. They obviously weren’t the top end of
a bell-curve, they were a STEP bigger. I germinated these bigger
seeds, germination was poor, partly because of my inexperience with
this species, but partly also because many bigger seeds are
deformities or are stuffed with "cork". Nevertheless, some germinated
and produced cotyledons which were noticeably bigger than standard,
showing that they contained more food.I grafted these seedlings onto "adult"
trees on places on the branches
which should produce catkins and cones this year for fruiting next
year, but my grafting technique was poor and none of them took. I have
taken advice and I now know how to do better next year. (To hold such small stems
together I found it best to use
Hellermann sleeves, put over the stock end with a Hellermann
tool. These are normally used in electronic wiring. I came
to the belief that the usual grafting sealers contain
fungicides and alcohol which actually kill such small green
pieces. Vaseline seems to be the right stuff, we put it on
baby’s bottoms!)Grafting the products of hybridisation will shorten the breeding
from 7 years to 2 years.I went to the trees which had produced the bigger seeds,
covered their
cones with plastic bags to stop their neighbours from fertilising
them, and fertilised them from the other big-seed producers. I will
collect the results in the next few weeks.Bigger seeds are one thing I want, but
also I look at the cones and
think "They are too big. The tree wastes too much on them. I want
flimsier cones, although rolling and crushing the cones is fairly
efficient, I would like harvesting to be even easier." And so I would
like flimsier cones, something which can be seen just walking past.I would also
like trees with different growth habits. This could make
a big difference to harvesting methods. In this I have been lucky, I
have already found :-* Varieties with all-cone branches, producing very many more
* Varieties with almost all cones and no or very few catkins.
* A dwarf variety. What might be the harvesting use of this?
* A variety which has grown to 2.7 metres in 3 years.It would be asking too much
to ask people to break open cones and
sieve the seeds to find the biggest, though I would be grateful and
provide equipment and help to anybody who does want to do this.What I feel I can
ask is for people who walk past trees to look at
them with my needs in mind;-CONES – Do they look different to usual?GROWTH HABIT
– Does this tree have a different shape and branch
layout?You could tell me by phone – 0191 266 6435
You could tell me by e-mail –
You could write to me –
20 Cambridge Avenue
Forest Hall
Newcastle upon Tyne
NE12 8ARWe could meet at an agreed place and you could take me to the tree you
have found and go to a pub after.You could send the Ordnance Grid reference.Thank
you for reading all this!Michael Bell–