October 24, 2017

Wolgast Tree Farm & Apiary at Duke Farm’s “Farm To Table” Market

Folks who venture out to Duke Farms on Saturdays should make a point to stop by and say hello at the Farm to Table Farmer’s Market.

Len and Mother-In-law, Gloria, in the  Wolgast Tree Farm & Apiary booth at Duke Farms Farm To Table Market in Hillsborough.

Len with his Mother-In-law, Gloria, in the Wolgast Tree Farm & Apiary booth at Duke Farms Farm To Table Market in Hillsborough.

This is the first time Wolgast Tree Farm & Apiary is participating in a farmer’s market as a vendor, and we’ve had a great time meeting people and sharing out enthusiasm for locally produced food – especially for local honey!

The Farm To Table Market at Duke Farms emphasizes  foods and other agricultural products that have been produced within about a 50-mile radius of Duke Farms.  Since we’re only about 10 miles away from Duke Farms our honey and other hive products fit right in.

We’ve been offering three distinct types of honey: “spring wildflower honey,” “fall wildflower honey” and “buckwheat-wildflower honey”.  The difference between the three is based on the flowers from which our bees have been collecting nectar.  Spring flowers produce a light, floral flavored honey, while the fall is darker and tastes more full-bodied.  The buckwheat-wildflower is the darkest of all and has a strong molasses-like flavor that many people find addicting.

Some of our hand-crafted soaps on display.

Some of our hand-crafted soaps on display.

Along with the honey, we’re offering an assortment of handcrafted beeswax lip balms (Lemon-Lavender, Wintergreen, Raspberry, Mandarin Clove) and soaps (Queen Bee Honey Soap, Balsam Honey Hemp Bar, Oatmeal Honey Scrub Bar, Honey Latte Shower Bar), and more.

Customers at the Farm To Table Market at Duke Farms checking out the lovely produce offered by Dogwood Farms.

Customers at the Farm To Table Market at Duke Farms checking out the lovely produce offered by Dogwood Farms.

Chatting with folks who come to the Farm to Table Market has been lots of fun, but so has meeting all the other wonderful vendors and seeing the beautiful fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses and other items they produce.  Two of the vendors, Dogwood Farms and Harvest Moon Farm,  are part of Duke Farms’ Incubator Farm program, which, in conjunction with the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA-NJ),  helps to bring along the next generation of farmers.

Kyle from Harvest Moon Farm showing fresh cut flowers to a visitor at Duke Farms' Farm To Table farmers market.

Kyle from Harvest Moon Farm showing fresh cut flowers to a visitor at Duke Farms’ Farm To Table farmers market.

They each offer a lovely spread of just-picked produce and other items every Saturday.

Green Duchess Farm is right around the corner from our farm on Bennetts Lane (howdy neighbor!).  They produce pastured pork, poultry and eggs, and specialize in raising the Bourbon Red, a Heritage Turkey breed that’s perfect for Thanksgiving (better order your bird early!).

Jessica from Green Duchess Farm talks turkey with a customer who wants to order one of her Bourbon Red Heritage Turkeys for Thanksgiving.

Jessica from Green Duchess Farm talks turkey with a customer who wants to order one of her Bourbon Red Heritage Turkeys for Thanksgiving.

Hot Sauce 4 Good is another local vendor at the market that offers an amazing variety of hot sauces. Many of the ingredients in the hot sauces include produce not only grown by New Jersey farmers, but on farms in Somerset county.  Something else that’s special about Hot Sauce 4 Good is that it’s produced

Hot Sauce 4 Good makes incredible hot sauce that benefits many charities both in New Jersey and around the world.  Many of the ingredients come from New Jersey farms which adds another layer of "good" to an already giving enterprise.

Hot Sauce 4 Good makes incredible hot sauce that benefits many charities both in New Jersey and around the world. Many of the ingredients come from New Jersey farms which adds another layer of “good” to an already giving enterprise.

for the benefit of many deserving charities, both around the world and in the Garden State.  At least $1 from each bottle sold is donated to these charities.  So far the efforts of the good people behind Hot Sauce 4 Good has raised over $65,000. Great hot sauces for great causes!

A trip to Duke Farms is worthwhile by itself, but we think the addition of the Farm to Table Market on Saturdays is even more reason to visit.  How often does one get the opportunity to have access to truly LOCAL, seasonal foods and can chat with the actual persons who produced them?  Plus, the food is delicious and supporting these farmers is an important part of helping to keep Somerset County green.  It’s a honor for us to be among such a good group of people and we hope to see you at the market!

 

For more information on the Farm To Table Market visit: http://dukefarms.org/en/Visit/NEW-Farm-to-Table-Market/

 

 

Wolgast Tree Farm & Apiary Celebrates National Agriculture Day At Quail Brook Senior Center!

 

Allyson Toth, Manager of the Quail Brook Senior Center in Somerset, NJ with Cathy and her Mom, Gloria at the "Beekeeping Essentials" program that was offered as part of Somerset County's National Agriculture Day festivities.

Allyson Toth, Manager of the Quail Brook Senior Center in Somerset, NJ with Cathy (right) and her Mom, Gloria, at the “Beekeeping Essentials” program that was offered as part of Somerset County’s National Agriculture Day festivities.  Tara Kenyon photo.

 

Wolgast Tree Farm and Apiary was proud to be part of the celebrations around Somerset County in observance of National Agriculture Day.   March 18th was the specific day devoted to recognizing and celebrating the abundance provided by American agriculture, but the Somerset County Agricultural Development Board and the Somerset County Cultural and Heritage Commission organized events throughout the month of March.  These events promoted the importance of agriculture in Somerset County to the local economy, healthy living through locally grown foods, and the benefits to the community through agritourism and land preservation.  Cathy, with lots of help from her mother, Gloria, contributed by offering a program on beekeeping at the Quail Brook Senior Center in Somerset, NJ on March 23rd.

Beekeeping plays a huge role in the success of American agriculture.  Honey bees are known as “the engines that drive agriculture” because of the pollination services they perform.

The strawberry on the left has been properly pollinated, while the one on the right has not.  Which one would you rather eat?

The strawberry on the left has been properly pollinated, while the one on the right has not. Which one would you rather eat?

Even if farmers have land with fertile soil and the right amount of rainfall, when there isn’t sufficient pollination (the transfer of pollen from one flower to another so that plant reproduction can occur), those flowers won’t properly develop into the fruits and vegetables that we eat, if they develop at all.

But it is honey that comes to most people’s minds when they think of honey bees.  Honey bees are the only insect to directly produce food that is eaten by people, and honey is itself an important agricultural product.  Over 300 varieties of honey are produced in the United States.  Many are a result of the pollination work done for agricultural crops, such as orange blossom and blueberry honey.

Seniors tasting the different varieties of honey that Cathy brought to the Quail Brook Senior Center as part of the beekeeping presentation in observance of National Agriculture Day.

Seniors tasting the different varieties of honey that Cathy brought to the Quail Brook Senior Center as part of the beekeeping presentation in observance of National Agriculture Day.  Tara Kenyon photo.

Cathy offered a honey tasting so folks could experience for themselves how the nectar sources that honey bees visit dictate what honey will look, smell and taste like.  She didn’t have 300 types of honey for people to try, but the five that she did have were enough for folks to understand how different – and delicious! – they each were.  People were offered tastes of orange blossom, clover, blueberry, buckwheat and a spring wildflower honey that was produced by Cathy’s bees only a few miles away from the Senior Center.

Local honey at its best!  A jar of spring wildflower honey produced by the honeybees of Wolgast Tree Farm & Apiary right in Somerset.

Local honey at its best! A jar of spring wildflower honey produced by the honeybees at Wolgast Tree Farm & Apiary right in Somerset.  Tara Kenyon photo.

Cathy had a variety of beekeeping items for people to examine, too.  She brought along a small beehive (minus the bees!), some tools that are commonly used in beekeeping like a smoker and veil, different forms of honey (comb honey, creamed honey, a frame of honey), and different types of beeswax products (like beeswax candles).  She also put out a variety of educational brochures for people to take with them that had information about how to tell the difference between honey bees and other stinging insects, how to react to honey bee swarms and some recipes using honey.

Cathy and her Mom, Gloria really enjoyed meeting the people at the Quail Brook Senior Center in Somerset and having an opportunity to talk about honey bees and the role they play in agriculture.  Folks had really great questions and many said that they would now think about honey bees when they visited the produce section of the grocery store or their local farmer’s market.  The Manager at the Quail Brook Senior Center, Allyson Toth, said folks talked about the beekeeping program the whole week.  All in all a great way to celebrate National Agriculture Day!

 

Wolgast Tree Farm & Apiary Has Some Buzz At The State Honey Show

Earlier this month Wolgast Tree Farm & Apiary participated in the New Jersey Beekeepers’ Association (NJBA) State Honey Show which was held in the State House Annex in Trenton.

Cathy was fortunate to accumulate enough points to get "Best Exhibitor" at the 2015 NJBA State Honey Show which was held in the State House Annex earlier this month.

Cathy was fortunate to accumulate enough points to get “Best Exhibitor” at the 2015 NJBA State Honey Show which was held in the State House Annex earlier this month.

This annual event features 23 different classes that evaluated different kinds of extracted honey, comb honey, creamed honey, mead (honey wine), honey and beeswax-based cosmetics, beeswax products like candles, and beekeeping-related photography entries from beekeepers all around the state.

People who encountered the Honey Show display were amazed by all the things that could be made with products from beehives, and they thought it was cool that these products were being locally produced right here in the Garden State.

Last year Cathy entered a few classes and even won some ribbons!  Her Extracted Light Amber Honey took 1st place as did her Creamed Honey, which not only won 1st place but won “Best of Division” as well.

This year Cathy decided to enter a few more classes and was able to accumulate enough points to earn the title of “Best Exhibitor.”  This was quite an accomplishment given that there were 125 entries and so many beautiful items.  It was an honor to be an exhibitor alongside such truly stunning competition.

Winning Best Exhibitor was a great feeling, but entering more classes than last year provided a great learning opportunity to further explore “the craft of beekeeping.”  It’s hard to understand just how much effort goes into

Cathy's Block of Beeswax not only got 1st place, but won Best of Division at the 2015 NJBA State Honey Show.  It seems simple enough to make a block of beeswax (just melt beeswax and pour it in a mold, right?), but its much harder than it looks if one is trying to achieve specific results.  Avoiding cracks, discolored wax and other features that aren't desired takes a lot of care.

Cathy’s Block of Beeswax not only got 1st place, but won Best of Division at the 2015 NJBA State Honey Show.

making a beeswax candle, a block of beeswax, or preparing three jars of the same honey to exactly match each other for a particular class until one actually tries to do it.   It’s a lot of work!  In the case of extracted honey, one of the things that is evaluated is that the three jars each have to be filled to the exact same level and up to the proper location in the jars.  It’s pretty easy to mess that up, especially if your eyesight isn’t as good as it used to be!  Even when she didn’t win a particular class, Cathy enjoyed gaining further insight into the properties of honey or beeswax and the proper handling that is needed to produce high-quality products from the hive.  And just being able to participate in the show to help showcase to the general public all the beautiful things that can be made from what honey bees produce in New Jersey was a big reward in itself.

Cathy plans on entering the State Honey Show next year, but she isn’t expecting to win Best Exhibitor again.  Lightening rarely strikes twice, and the competition is simply too stiff.  And even with all the hard work that goes into it, there’s still some luck involved.

Mostly, it’s a point of pride to be part of the beekeeping community and to display all the beautiful things that can be made because of the work of the wonderful, industrious honey bee, and especially when the honey bees are from Wolgast Tree Farm & Apiary.

The were all the items that Cathy entered in the State honey Show this year, except for the photo on the right which was entered by her Mother.

The were all the items that Cathy entered in the State honey Show this year, except for the photo on the right which was entered by her Mother, Gloria.

Hoping The Bucks Will Stop (Rubbing) Here At Wolgast Tree Farm

Like farmers everywhere, Wolgast Tree Farm & Apiary has dealt with conflicts concerning white-tailed deer.  We’ve never had an issue with deer eating (browsing) our Christmas trees, but buck rubs are another matter.  A buck rub is created when a male deer uses his forehead and antlers to rub up and down the trunk of a tree which scrapes off the tree’s bark and branches and sometimes even breaks the tree in half.

This buck white-tailed deer was caught in the act of rubbing a Canaan fir tree on our farm with a motion and heat-detecting game camera.  A single buck can rub many trees and cause significant tree damage in the process.

This buck white-tailed deer was caught in the act of rubbing a Canaan fir tree on our farm with a motion and heat-detecting game camera. A single buck can rub many trees and cause significant tree damage in the process.

Bucks do this as part of the white-tailed deer breeding season (also called the rut) to communicate with other deer.  Other deer not only see the damage to the tree but they smell it.  Bucks have glands at the base of their antlers and near their eyes which produce their own unique scent.  This scent is left on the tree so that other deer know who’s handiwork it is.

Just what is a buck that rubs a tree trying to say?  Well, to the other male deer he is saying something like, “See what I did to this tree?  You better not mess with me or you’ll get the same thing.  Leave all the girl deer for me!”  And to the does he is saying something like, “Look what I did to this tree.  Aren’t I big and strong?  I’d be a great father to your fawns!”

The rut for white-tailed deer generally reaches its peak on November 10th here in New Jersey, but bucks rubs are among a variety of rut activities that start long before that.  In the space of about 20 seconds a single buck can rub out years of work that we’ve put into producing an individual Christmas tree.  One year we counted over 70 buck-rubbed Christmas trees.  That’s a lot of damage, especially for a small family-owned farm like ours so we use a variety of preventative measures to keep damage to a minimum.

To help keep bucks from rubbing our Christmas trees we spray each individual tree with a deer repellant.  It's very labor intensive, but seems to work pretty well - until it rains and gets washed off.  Then we have start all over again.

To help keep bucks from rubbing our Christmas trees we spray each individual tree with a deer repellant. It’s very labor intensive, but seems to work pretty well – until it rains and gets washed off. Then we have to start all over again.

One of the things we do is use backpack sprayers to spray deer repellant on our trees in September just before bucks typically start to rub.  The label on the repellent package says the formula is only supposed to keep deer from browsing the trees (which deer around our farm don’t seem to do), but we’ve found that it seems to keep bucks from rubbing trees as well.  Spraying each tree is a big effort, but we think its worth it so long as it works.  Problem is, when it rains the repellant gets washed off and we have to spray the trees all over again.  During some seasons we’ve had to re-spray our trees five times.  That can get pretty old.

This past summer we read about a new kind of repellant that is supposedly longer lasting (up to 6 months).  They are called “Whiff Bars” and they were developed by an orchardist to prevent deer browse damage to fruit trees.  They look like those small bars of soap that hotels put out for guests.  When we opened the box that they were shipped in the aroma smelled like your great aunt’s perfume.  I know if I were a deer I wouldn’t feel like nibbling on trees that had them, but here again, our problem is rubbing, not nibbling, so whether they’ll be effective for what we want we’ll have to see.   We think its at least worth a try.

Earlier this month Len went out and attached the bars to our most vulnerable trees (Canaan, Concolor and Nordmann firs, White Pines and Norway Spruce).

Earlier this month Len tied deer repellant "Whiff Bars" to our farm's trees that are most vulnerable to buck rubs.  The Whiff Bars are supposed to keep deer from browsing the trees, but we hope they keep buck from rubbing them as well.

Earlier this month Len tied deer repellant “Whiff Bars” to our farm’s trees that are most vulnerable to buck rubs. The Whiff Bars are supposed to keep deer from browsing the trees, but we hope they keep bucks from rubbing them as well.

They look like little Christmas ornaments and we’re sure they’ll be a conversation item when folks come out to the farm and wander the fields in search of their family tree come Christmas time.  Like the deer repellant we spray, we don’t smell anything when we walk near the trees with the bars, but deer have a sense of smell that is much more sensitive than ours so its probably very apparent to them.  At least we hope that’s the case!

We like having deer around here at Wolgast Tree Farm & Apiary, but we aren’t so thrilled with buck rubs on our Christmas trees.  We hope that between spraying deer repellant and outfitting our Christmas trees with Whiff Bars that we’ll be able to make sure that the bucks will stop (rubbing) here.

Wolgast Tree Farm & Apiary Visits Barack Obama Green Charter High School

Earlier this month Wolgast Tree Farm & Apiary had the pleasure of visiting 9th grade students in the Barack Obama Green Charter High School in Plainfield to share information about honey bees and why they are so important to people.

Cathy brought an observation hive and different types of honey when she visited with students in the Climate Change Classes at the Barack Obama Green Charter High School in Plainfield, NJ earlier his month.

Cathy brought an observation hive and different types of honey when she visited with students in the Climate Change Classes at the Barack Obama Green Charter High School in Plainfield, NJ earlier his month.

Cathy took a frame from one of her honey bee colonies and placed it in an observation hive which she brought with her to class.  It was a great opportunity for students to see some of the inner workings of a honey bee hive. Depending on what was in each individual cell of the beeswax comb they could either see honey bee eggs, honey bee larvae (baby bees), pollen or honey.  Students could watch adult bees walking around the comb to take care of the young or cleaning the comb.  For many, it was the very first time they’d ever seen a honey bee so close.

Like many people, the students weren’t aware of how dependent people are on honey bees.  Honey bees are known as “the engine that drives agriculture” because they play a vital role in the pollination of many agricultural crops.  Pollination is when pollen is transferred from one flower to another.  It’s a very important process because without it the flowers won’t properly develop into fruits, vegetables or nuts that the plants are supposed to produce.  Some of the foods that

Cathy holds up a photo of two strawberries.  The fully developed strawberry on the left has been properly pollinated, while the poorly developed one on the right was not.

Cathy holds up a photo of two strawberries. The fully developed strawberry on the left has been properly pollinated, while the poorly developed one on the right was not.

depend on pollination by honey bees include apples, oranges, strawberries, cherries, almonds, blueberries, cashews, okra, melons, cucumbers, avocados, string beans and many more.  These foods are not only tasty, but they are needed for people to help have a healthy diet.

Cathy described how bees make honey and brought along different types of honey for students to taste.  The honey tasting was a real eye-opener!  Students took coffee stirrer straws and dipped them once into samples of honey made by bees that had been nectaring on clover flowers, orange blossoms, blueberry flowers, buckwheat flowers and coffee flowers, plus some wildflower honey made by the bees at Wolgast Tree Farm and Apiary.  They were AMAZED by how different each kind of honey looked, smelled and especially how they tasted.  It was fun to watch their faces as they first tasted a mild honey like clover or orange blossom, and then something really robust like buckwheat.  Quite a difference!

Students at the Barack Obama Green Charter High School sample different kinds of honey that were made by bees that collected nectar from different types of flowers.

Students at the Barack Obama Green Charter High School sample different kinds of honey that were made by bees that collected nectar from different types of flowers.

Cathy and Len always enjoy the opportunity to share what they do at Wolgast Tree Farm & Apiary with others, and the school program at the Barack Obama Green Charter High School was no different.  Visits with young people offer an opportunity to help shape the future and we are heartened by the interest they showed in this fascinating and important insect.

Many thanks to the  students and staff at Barack Obama Green Charter High School in Plainfield for opening their doors to Wolgast Tree Farm & Apiary!

A student at Barack Obama Green Charter High School checks out the observation hive while she samples some honey during a school program offered by Wolgast Tree Farm & Apiary.

A student at Barack Obama Green Charter High School checks out the observation hive while she samples some honey during a school program offered by Wolgast Tree Farm & Apiary.

Jersey Grown Christmas Tree Headed For The White House!

Wolgast Tree Farm and other New Jersey Christmas tree growers are proud and excited that one of our fellow Christmas tree farmers, John Wyckoff of Wyckoff’s Christmas Tree Farm in Belvidere has won the 2013 United States Grand Champion National Christmas Tree Association Contest.  Winning this great award by itself would makes us Garden State Christmas tree growers proud, but as a consequence of his win John will travel to the White House this December and present the National Christmas tree to First Lady, Michelle Obama!

Having first-hand experience with all the years and effort that go into producing a single Christmas tree, John’s win at National is no small achievement.  He was able to enter the National Christmas Tree Association Contest because he won New Jersey’s Grand Championship in 2012.  Below is a photo of John and New Jersey Christmas Tree Growers’ Association (NJCTGA) president, Christian Nicholson, presenting John with the New Jersey Grand Champion ribbon and plaque at the 2013 NJCTGA’s Winter Meeting this past January.

Wolgast Tree Farm is absolutely thrilled for John and his family for having won this prestigious award, and for putting New Jersey grown Christmas Trees in the spotlight.  Congratulations Wyckoff’s Christmas Tree Farm!!

John Wyckoff (left) of Wyckoff's Christmas Tree Farm accepts the awards for winning the 2012 New Jersey Grand Champion Christmas Tree Contest from Christian Nicholson at the New Jersey Christmas Tree Growers' Association Winter Meeting this past January.

Junco Joys And Other Variations On A Theme at Wolgast Tree Farm

Over 180 species of birds have been observed from the grounds here at Wolgast Tree Farm and while it’s always exciting to see a species we haven’t seen on the farm before, we still enjoy observing the “regulars.”  One of the “regulars” during the winter months are Dark-eyed Juncos (Junco hyemalis). 

A dark-eyed junco belonging to the slate-colored race which is commonly seen on our tree farm during the winter months.

Dark-eyed juncos like to hang out on the ground around the brush piles and thickets we maintain on the farm. They are also frequent visitors to our bird feeders (fortified with an old Christmas tree nearby to help provide the cover that they like).  Most of the juncos we observe belong to a race known as slate-colored, but for the last two weeks we’ve been watching a bird that looks like the Oregon race of the Dark-eyed Junco, a race commonly seen in the Pacific Northwest.   

The Oregon race of dark-eyed junco that's been visiting the farm for at least the past two weeks.

We’ve seen the Oregon race on the farm before (for one day last winter), but this bird has been an almost daily visitor to our bird feeders and is a real standout as it forages among the more numerous relatives.   

 

Sometimes we’ll see birds that have patches of white feathers on their body that would normally be a different color.  Since these birds still have some colored feathers they are said to be leucistic rather than albino (a true albino bird would have all white feathers and have red eyes).    Birds with feathers that are abnormally white are thought to have a genetic defect that prevents melanin from being properly deposited in those feathers.  Sometimes when birds exhibit these white feathers it can be pretty discreet.  For example, below is a dark-eyed junco that has a white “eyebrow” over its left eye that photographed last week. 

A dark-eyed junco with a white "eyebrow" over its left eye caused by white feathers. The feathers are white most likely because the bird has a genetic defect that prevented melanin from being properly deposited in the feathers.

We photographed a bird last winter with the same marking which makes us think it could be the same bird but we don’t know for sure.  The majority of song birds hatched during a given season don’t live beyond a year, but some do and perhaps this bird is an example of that.  We’ll probably never know for sure.  Picking out birds with unique plumage, especially when it’s so subtle is one of the many pleasures of bird watching.  

A more obvious example of leucism that we observed on the farm a few years ago involved a red-bellied woodpecker.  We think red-bellied woodpeckers are already striking birds, but seeing one that was almost all white really caught our eye. 

This photo is lousy, but this leucistic red-bellied woodpecker was a cool-to-see visitor to our farm during the winter of 2010-2011.

We first saw the bird (a male) on Thanksgiving morning in 2010 and observed it every day up to March 25, 2011.  Then it was gone and we haven’t seen such a bird since.  If you look at the photo very closely you can see the red belly feathers that give this species its name just below where the feet are clinging to the tree. 

Early on we figured he would get picked off by a Cooper’s hawk or another bird of prey since he should have been easy to pick out, but surprisingly we actually saw red-bellieds with normal plumage get taken first.  Predation is part of the natural cycle of life, but we’d be lying if we told you we weren’t “rooting” for this bird to make it.  In fact, keeping tabs on this bird probably accelerated our own “leucistic transformation” (gray hairs) as we sometimes fretted over its fate.  Whether it ultimately got killed by a hawk or something else, or just moved on, we don’t know, but we certainly enjoyed watching him while he was here and we consider it one of the highlights of birds that have visited Wolgast Tree Farm.

Wolgast Tree Farm Joins Farmers Against Hunger in “Pounds for Pennies” Fundraiser

Join the Farmers Against Hunger "Pounds for Pennies" holiday fundraiser at Wolgast Tree Farm.

Wolgast Tree Farm, along with other participating members of the New Jersey Christmas Tree Growers Association, is joining the New Jersey Agricultural Society’s Farmers Against Hunger “Pounds for Pennies” holiday fundraiser.  Farmers Against Hunger was started in 1996 by local farmers who wanted to donate their surplus, locally grown produce to Garden State soup kitchens, food banks, emergency feeding organizations and the like to help meet the nutritional needs of needy New Jerseyans.  Fresh fruits and vegetables are often lacking in the diets of those who are hungry or food insecure.  By linking farmers who have locally produced surplus fruits and vegetables with over 60 service organizations this critical nutritional need is helping to be met.  Over 15 million pounds of produce has been provided to some of the neediest in our state including children, seniors and the working poor since 1996.  For every dollar donated to the “Pounds for Pennies” campaign Farmers Against Hunger will deliver 10 pounds of fresh produce to a needy person in the Garden State.  It is the aim of Farmers Against Hunger to provide fresh produce to those who need it 52 weeks out of the year – a huge challenge, but one they can achieve with your help.  To learn more about the Farmers Against Hunger program, visit the New Jersey Agricultural Society webpage at www.njagsociety.org and click on the Farmers Against Hunger link.

Since we’ve participated in the “Plant A Row for the Hungry” program in our own garden for a number of years, participating in the “Pounds for Pennies” campaign this holiday season at a time when our garden is more “quiet” was a natural fit.  Whether you come out to Wolgast Tree Farm for your Christmas tree this holiday season, or visit another grower who is participating in the “Pounds for Pennies” fundraiser, we hope you’ll consider putting a dollar or two (or more!) in the jar in support of this worthwhile program and the giving spirit of the holiday season.

Planting The Future At Wolgast Tree Farm

Some of the 700 trees - in this case Colorado blue spruce - that the two of us planted in early April.

 We spent the early part of April “planting the future” here at Wolgast Tree Farm, which means we planted young trees that we hope will grow into beautiful Christmas trees several years down the road.  The two of us hand-planted seven species – Canaan fir, Concolor fir, Turkish fir, Colorado blue spruce, Norway spruce, White pine and Scotch pine – for a total of over 700 trees.  When they’ll be a size that folks would like them to be their Christmas tree depends on many things.  Pines tend to grow the fastest (about 6 or 7 years to reach 6 feet), but a heap of things figure into how fast they’ll grow such as where a tree is planted.   It’s important for a tree to be planted on a site that helps it to grow rather than stress it.  Fir species generally won’t grow well in wet, clay soils so we don’t  plant firs in those spots on the farm.  Pines, however, are usually more tolerant of wet spots so that’s where we plant them.  Choosing the proper microsites so the trees have a better chance of being healthy and better able to fight off insects and diseases is part of our Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan.

Other things that can stress the tree and make it more vulnerable to diseases and such is how it is planted.  We trim the roots to fit the depth of the hole

Trimming the roots to fit the depth of a hole.

and are very careful to make sure all the roots are facing down.  Roots that have been planted with the tips facing up will stress the tree, so will planting the tree too deeply in the hole or too shallow. 

 We use a special piece of equipment to make the hole that the trees are planted into called an Auger Transporter.  It drills a hole into the ground which creates a better environment for the roots to grow compared to the planting bar that we used in the past, which is more restrictive to the roots.

Lenny using the Auger Transporter to drill holes for planting trees.

The Auger Transporter is quite a piece of machinery.  We’ve always thought we could use it for ice fishing but we haven’t tried it out yet!

Much less rain fell during the early part of the spring than usual and we worried about all the young trees we just planted.  The soil had been very dry – like ground up chalk – and that wasn’t good for those young trees.  They wouldn’t be able to develop healthy root systems in dry soil or they might even die.  Thankfully we got some rain now, but to hold them over before that happened, 

Watering newly planted trees.

we went up and down the rows with a bucket of water and a plastic seltzer bottle with the neck cut out to water each tree that had just been planted.  We could target just where we needed the water to go, but it was a lot of work.  We think it may have saved many trees that would have died otherwise.  Hopefully we were right!

Praying Mantis Egg Cases Now Available At Wolgast Tree Farm!

Praying mantis egg cases are now available at Wolgast Tree Farm!

Chinese Praying Mantis Egg Case.

        If you’ve ever been on one of our farm tours during the fall, you’ve likely seen one of the numerous Praying Mantises that call our farm home foraging for insects among our Christmas trees and elsewhere.   We think they are among the coolest-looking, most interesting insects in the world, and now we are offering for sale Praying Mantis egg cases that we collected on our farm. 

A Praying Mantis showcasing its cryptic coloring as it waits to grab its next insect meal.

We have mostly Chinese and European Mantids on our farm, and both species have ravenous appetites.  We’ve seen them snacking on all manner of insects including grasshoppers, wasps, hornets, biting flies and even brown marmorated stink bugs (too bad they don’t only eat stink bugs, because if they did I think they would wipe out the stink bug population on our farm!).  Because Praying Mantises are considered generalist predators they probably don’t have a huge impact on insect pests of Christmas trees, but they definitely eat some and are part of our Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan for our farm which includes encouraging the presence of beneficial insects.  Beneficial or not, we admire their sleek, cryptic look and we love to see them in our fields.  

European Praying Mantis Egg Case.

I’ve spoken with gardeners who’ve seen them eat tomato horn worms and other garden pests, which probably explains why so many home gardeners find the Praying Mantis to be an appealing addition to their yards.  It should be noted that their legendary appetite isn’t just limited to pests and if they are hungry enough they will even eat their own kind if given the opportunity.  Talk about a dog-eat-dog-world!

Raising Praying Mantids from an egg case can be an interesting and fun classroom project as well.  To learn more about Praying Mantises, check out this link from the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service:  http://www.ca.uky.edu/entomology/entfacts/entfactpdf/ef418.pdf. We think it provides a nice introduction to this fascinating and beneficial insect.

We have egg cases from both Chinese mantises (Tenodera sinensis) and European mantises (Mantis religiosa), the European egg cases being more limited in supply.  The egg cases were produced on our farm this past fall and cost $3.72 each, plus tax ($4.00 each total) – less than half of what many others are selling them.   Folks who would like to buy a praying mantis egg case (or two, or three, …) are welcome to call and make an appointment for pick-up, or we will mail as many as you’d like as can comfortably fit in a US Postal Service Priority Mail Small Flat Rate Box with some padding for $6.00 in the continental United States.  Because we have no idea how the egg cases will be handled once they leave our possession, we do NOT guarantee  how many praying mantis nymphs will hatch or that they will even hatch at all.   What we will guarantee is that the eggs were  laid in the fall of 2011 and kept in refrigeration after they were gathered.  They will be available for sale between now and mid-April, or while supplies last.  We’re not set up to take credit cards, but we do accept cash (in person) or checks.  Contact info@wolgasttreefarm.com or call 732-873-3206 for more information.  Always include a phone number at which you can be reliably reached with all correspondence.  It helps to move things along.

We like that Praying mantises are part of the scene at Wolgast Tree Farm. They fit right in with the bluebirds, honeybees, snapping turtles, and all the other creatures that call Wolgast Tree Farm home.  Maybe a Praying Mantis or two would be a nice addition to your “back forty,” too!

A Praying Mantis eating an insect on the farm this past fall.