January 20, 2018

Archives for June 2011

Brookdale Environmental Science Lab Visits Wolgast Tree farm

Students taking the summer session Environmental Science Lab at Brookdale Community College went on a farm tour of Wolgast Tree Farm this past week to learn about wildlife on our farm, River-Friendly farming practices, beekeeping, Integrated Pest Management and how we grow Christmas trees.

One of the things we talked about was the different types of manmade nesting structures that certain kinds of wildlife will use. To the left of Len on the ground is a roofed nesting platform that can be used by Eastern Phoebes, American Robins and Barn Swallows (far left), and a larger nest box for American Kestrels, which  can also be used by Eastern Screech Owls, Gray Squirrels or Flying Squirrels, depending on the habitat where it is placed. 

Of course, no farm tour at Wolgast Tree Farm would be complete without mentioning one of our favorite cavity nesters, the Eastern Bluebird. 

A few minutes before the class arrived, Len checked a nearby nest box to make sure the fledglings that were inside weren’t old enough to be flushed from the nest box.  Confident that the nestlings would stay put if students took a peek, he placed the roof back in place, but accidentally left behind the screwdriver that he used to open the top.  It certainly didn’t keep the adults away as they returned with food to offer the nestlings.

When the class arrived and it was time to look at the nest box everyone was instructed to quietly walk up to the box and take a quick look at the nestlings.  Many of the students had never seen an Eastern Bluebird before, let alone young bluebirds still in the nest.  It felt good to be able to provide a new experience with nature in this way. 

The same thing goes for tree farming.  Many people aren’t aware of what goes into producing a Christmas tree so we provided an overview of some of the things that must be done, including shearing.  We had finished shearing our pines a week before the class visited, but we saved two so we could demonstrate how our shearing machine works.  Here Len shows how he uses a SAJE shearing machine to trim back extra growth and produce that perfect “Christmas tree shape”.  The backpack that he’s wearing has a motor with a flexible drive shaft that comes around the front and plugs into two 8-foot long blades that are sandwiched together and move back and forth to cut excess growth.  It must have made an impression since several students took out their phones and recorded his demonstration.

Said one student when Len had finished shearing, “There’s a lot that goes into growing Christmas trees.”

Indeed, there is!

Pollinators On Parade At Wolgast Tree Farm

In honor of National Pollinator Week, we’d like to show a tiny portion of the many pollinators that make Wolgast Tree Farm their home.  

Pollinators are creatures (bees, butterflies, birds, etc,) that move pollen around either within flowers or carry pollen from one flower to another.  This causes fertilization which leads to the creation of seeds and fruit.  Producing seeds and fruits is how a plant reproduces, and without pollination the plants would not be able to reproduce as well or provide the seeds, fruits and other products that we depend on.  Around the world, about 1000 plants are grown for food, fiber, medicines, spices and beverages, that need pollination in order to produce those goods.  Many popular foods that need to be pollinated include apples, strawberries, peaches, blueberries, coffee, chocolate, almonds, pumkins, tequila, vanilla and many others. 

Having a wide variety of pollinators is needed for a healthy ecosystem, too.  

Unfortunately, it seems pollinators of all kinds are declining for a variety of reasons. 

Here on the farm we try to help pollinators in a number of ways.  We allow a variety of flowering plants that provide pollinators with nectar to grow among our Christmas trees, in our our River-Friendly stream buffers and in our hedgerows.  We also made brush piles to provide various native bees with nesting sites.  We never mow the whole farm all at once, but rather do small sections at a time so pollinators have a better place to hide from predators, forage for food and reproduce. 

All of these farm practices not only benefit a wide variety of native pollinators, but benefit our own honeybees, as well.

Everyone can help create a better environment for pollinators.  Visit Pollinator Partnership at www.pollinator.org to learn about the many ways you can help reverse this trend to help these important and interesting creatures.

The Bluebird Bonanza at Wolgast Tree Farm

Among our most favorite species of birds seen here at Wolgast Tree Farm are Eastern Bluebirds.  Their gentleness, heavenly color and soothing song guarantees a smile.

It’s been a banner year for nesting bluebirds on the farm.  We’ve seen bluebirds foraging around our Christmas trees that have fledged this spring, and have at least two other nest boxes with nestling bluebirds that are getting close to fledging.  Just yesterday we saw another female bluebird bring nesting materials into another nest box.  Bluebirds usually produce two broods of young, though sometimes they’ll produce as many as three in a nesting season.

Although a variety of bird species will build nests tucked in the branches of our Christmas trees, bluebirds are one species that doesn’t.  They are known as cavity nesters and build their nest in an enclosed structure like a wooden fence post or tree with a hole that had been excavated by another bird species (like woodpeckers), or in nestboxes created by people.   We’ve put up at least ten bluebird nest boxes on the farm like this one.  They are used by bluebirds, as well as American tree swallows, tufted titmice, Carolina chickadees, and house wrens. 

Bluebirds usually build their nests by weaving together grasses or pine needles.  Most of the bluebird nests on the farm are made with needles from the white pines that we grow.   It feels good to not only give bluebirds housing by putting up nestboxes, but to provide the “furnishings” by growing Christmas trees.

Here’s a look inside one of the bluebird nest boxes that we put up on our Christmas tree farm.  Because the birds are snuggled close together in the nest it may be hard to count, but there are four nestlings in this box.  These birds will fledge in less than two weeks, and then spend the rest of the summer flying among our Christmas trees, eating insects and berries, and charming us with their sweet song.

PS. Learn more about Eastern bluebirds by visiting the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Eastern_Bluebird/lifehistory#top .

Of Bears and Bees and Electric Fences at Wolgast Tree Farm

This is not a photo of beehives in Joplin, Missouri or even beehives at Wolgast Tree Farm.   This photo was taken in nearby Bridgewater in central New Jersey after a bear destroyed an apiary. 

Most people don’t think of Bridgewater as someplace where you’d need to watch your “Ps” and “Qs” concerning bears, but bear sightings have been increasing across central New Jersey, so it’s important for everyone to learn how to minimize  conflicts with bears.

Bears can be attracted to apiaries for both honey and bee brood (baby bees still in the comb).  It has been estimated that damage by a bear to an apiary can cost $400 per hive.  It’s also emotionally upsetting for the beekeeper, and the bees don’t like it either.

An effective means of minimizing bear damage to beehives is by surrounding them with an electric fence, so earlier this month, Wolgast Tree Farm hosted a free electric fencing clinic for beekeepers. 

Greg Miller from Gallagher Fence Company gave the clinic and explained how electric fences work, how to set them up, and how to maintain them so that they’ll actually deter a bear if one attempts to get at a hive.  Handouts were also given that outlined common problems that personnel from the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife have encountered when apiaries with electric fencing failed to stop bears from destroying hives. 

 All kinds of beekeepers came out to the farm and it was a delight to meet everyone.  Hopefully, the information provided at the clinic will keep everyone’s apiary “Bear-Free”. 

The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife offers a plethora of information on how to minimize conflicts with bears under a variety of circumstances (not just for beekeeping), as well as information about black bear history in New Jersey,  their biology, behavior, and more.  Visit:   http://www.njfishandwildlife.com/bearfacts.htm  to get the lowdown on these intriguing and powerful creatures of the Garden State.

It’s “Pine Time” at Wolgast Tree Farm

June is “Pine Time” at Wolgast Tree Farm.  That means pruning the pine species to produce beautifully shaped Christmas trees for the holiday season. 

The pines have put on lots of new growth this spring so they look a bit wild and woolly now.   All species of pine trees must be sheared in the month of June if we want the pines to have the classic “Christmas tree shape.”  This is different from spruces and firs which can be sheared later in the year.  If you shear pines in July, they will have poor bud set which will affect their growth next year.  Shear too early and they’ll continue to grow and have a lousy shape.   With Christmas tree farming, like all farming, timing is everything!

Shearing pines starts at the tops of the trees.  The top must have a straight center leader.  Some leaders will be naturally straight, but sometimes they will have a slight angle, or a bird (usually an American Robin) will perch on the top and cause it to lay on its side, like in the picture on the right.  Sometimes we just want the leader to have a little extra support.  We use a special hand-held device to attach a bamboo stick to the center leader using plant ribbon (see below).  This helps keep the center leader straight and give the soft new growth extra support if a bird lands on it. 

The new growth of the center leader is cut to 12 inches long, and the side branches that are right around it are cut to 8 inches.  This helps create the correct taper for the tree.   All the tops are done by hand, one by one.

When all the pine tops are done, we come back with a machine that shears the rest of the tree.  See how that’s done a little later in the month.   All the shearing is done by Len and Cathy.

June is definitely “Pine Time” on Wolgast Tree Farm!

Snapping Turtle Fun at Wolgast Tree Farm

It’sthat time of year at Wolgast Tree Farm when snapping turtles are out and about looking for a special spot to their lay eggs.

We’ve documented four different species of turtles living at Wolgast Tree Farm, and of those four, snapping turtles are by far the largest.  We’ve measured snapping turtle shells that were over a foot long.  (Note: do NOT attempt to handle a snapping turtle unless you have been trained by a professional how to do so.  Snapping turtles are very defensive, especially when they are on land, and are capable of giving you a painful bite if you handle them improperly!). 

Most of the time snapping turtles spend their time in water except for now when they are searching for a place to dig a hole in which to lay their eggs. Last summer, though, during the drought we saw them eating apples that had fallen from our apples trees, which was a first.

Nature always gives us a surprize!

Wolgast Tree Farm is a River-Friendly Farm

Wolgast Tree Farm, a family-owned Christmas tree farm in Somerset, New Jersey, has just passed it’s 2-year check-up as a certified River-Friendly Farm.

Wolgast Tree Farm is a River-Friendly FarmBeing River-Friendly means we’re helping to protect the water supply, protect soil and enhance habitat for wildlife while we grow Christmas trees. 

Our farm was evaluated on a number of criteria including the ways we keep soil from running off into waterways, minimizing our use of irrigation water and fertilizers, and how we maintain vegetative barriers at the edges of our fields to protect streams from any run-off that we might accidentally generate.

All these farm practices add up to having a healthier watershed for us and the community, as well as a healthy tree farm with lots of wildlife to boot!

Farm Tours This Summer At Wolgast Tree Farm

Would you like to visit a real working farm this summer? Wolgast Tree Farm in Somerset, New Jersey welcomes groups this summer to tour the farm.

Come out and learn about wildlife, beekeeping, how honey is made, river-friendly and sustainable farming.

Children, adults and all kinds of groups are welcome!

Call Cathy Blumig at the farm for more information  732-873-3206