Edible Plants Provide Double Benefit: Unique Niche and Food

Edible Plants Provide Double Benefit: Unique Niche and Food

"Estoy listo para cortar este rama." Eduardo Santos calls down the 60- foot maple tree in an Arlington backyard to Tom Hayes who is waiting on the ground. Santos has tied himself off with a white safety rope. He is ready to begin sawing the big limbs and Hayes will grab the large branches as they are cut and lowered.

This is the beginning of the busy season. Hayes is the owner of We Recycle Trees which he started about ten years ago to serve the metropolitan area although, he says," I have gone as far as Baltimore and Frederick." As soon as it warms up slightly, about the beginning of March, yard work begins, "It takes surprisingly little for people to get outside and discover they have a yard--just one 60 degree day."

Although We Recycle Trees does mostly home landscaping and clean up work, last year Hayes' company was hired by the Arlington Park Authority to create the kid's play space in Long Branch Nature Center in Arlington. He reclaimed fallen trees to turn into benches, built a boulder pile for the kids to climb on, removed invasive plants, put in ornamental and edible plants and made a giant play space for kids. In addition, he worked on erosion control for the dry bed to channel water out of the area when the creek is full. "And it's a fun place for kids to flip rocks."

Hayes started his company as a landscaper but the tree work "grew out of everyone asking me to do tree work." He has three full-time workers who are like family. "I have been down to El Salvador to visit their families and I know their parents,"

His passion is edible gardening where the landscape includes an interesting variety of edible plants like fruit trees, mushroom logs and berry bushes interwoven. "It's all interrelated and part of a plan to keep things out of the landfill and that has become a popular concept."

But when you plant fruit trees, he adds, "i realized you need pollinators and this led me to bees." Hayes says this winter his workers built components for 75 new hives to sell. This kept his workers busy and therefore happy during the downtime months. In addition, Hayes has over 100 bee colonies of his own. Hayes harvests bees from the wild that have been able to survive and combines them with other wild colonies "to make a better bee, more parasite free." Hayes says he has finally been able to sell some honey. "People forget that bees eat honey, too, and you have to get enough to keep them going before you can sell it." He has branched out into giving lectures on bees to local herb groups and garden clubs."

In his own yard he has " everything, 15 kinds of Asian pears, 7-8 persimmons, apricots and peaches plus a lot of different highbush and lowbush blueberries." He plants a little bit of this and a little bit of that so they don't all come out at the same time. But Hayes doesn't have time to make homemade jam. "I take baskets of berries to my neighbor and they magically blend into jars for me." In addition, Hayes has "every vegetable you could possibly imagine." He says that the economy goes up and down but people are more inclined to plant edible choices because they get to eat what they've planted. "I have a neat niche--you get something back, giving them more enthusiasm and helping kids understand. It's more rewarding."

For instance, Hayes offers many different kinds of mushroom logs. Since they grow at different seasons, you can have fresh mushrooms for 8 months of the year.

"Those shiitakes and oyster mushrooms are really great. All you have to do is take the mushroom log home and put it in the shade and forget about it," and, he points out,"we are using the tree again. Very fun."

Hayes points out one issue with edible gardening is all the critters, like squirrels and birds, eat their way through the yard, stripping out all of people's hard earned work. He has developed a garden cube concept which is an 8-by-8-foot raised square completely enclosed with a chicken wire fence and a raised bed to protect the plants. He says this a fairly simple and affordable way to "defeat the critters." In addition, when you have edible plants in your yard "you don't blend into the boring landscape. It has a unique curb appeal to set your house apart from others in the neighborhood."

Hayes is on call 24/7 for emergency tree work and remembers a 2:30 a.m. panicked call for tree work right after a hurricane. But his passion remains edible landscaping and of course his honeybees.