May 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!

 

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.

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.

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!

Wolgast Tree Farm would like to offer a heartfelt “thank you” to everyone who came out to the farm this year, and wish you all a New Year filled with health, happiness, good fortune and love.  It was wonderful to see so many returning customers and to catch up (when we had a moment!) with your family goings-on.  We enjoyed too, meeting lots of new faces this past season.  That some of you even brought us gifts was extremely thoughtful and touching.  Without a doubt we have the best customers around and we feel honored that you chose our Christmas tree farm to be part of your holiday celebrations.  We really are lucky!   

We’ve already started to get ready for the growing season next year. 

Clearing around stumps.

Even before Christmas, we were out clearing around stumps to cut them flush with the ground so we won’t hit them when we mow during the summer, and to clear the way for planting seedlings next to them this spring.  Soon we’ll be calculating how many seedlings to order and how many of which tree species we should purchase.

Len planting a Scoth pine seedling given to us by a customer.

In addition to clearing around stumps, the last thing we did in the field today for 2011 was to plant a Scotch pine seedling that one of our customers had given to us a few weeks ago.  Apparently, this person’s mother was growing the seedling in a pot and could no longer look after it, so they gave it to us and asked that we plant it in our fields to grow as a Christmas tree.  We walked the rows and picked out a spot we thought had the best microsite conditions that would help the tree to grow its best.  Time will tell if we were right!

Once again, our sincere thanks to everyone who came out to the farm this past Christmas season, and our best wishes for a 2012 that far exceeds your expectations!

http://www.wolgasttreefarm.com/christmas-trees/979/

Phillipsburg High School FFA Visits Central Jersey’s Wolgast Tree Farm

Members of Phillipsburg High School's FFA Chapter visited Wolgast Tree Farm last Saturday.

Members of the Phillipsburg High School FFA chapter (Future Farmers of America) traveled from their haunts in Warren County to visit central New Jersey’s Wolgast Tree Farm in Somerset last Saturday.  This was the  third year that Phillipsburg FFA has visited our farm to get trees they will use to make grave blankets, and we consider it one of the highlights of the year when they do.  They are enthusiastic, hard-working, and well-mannered kids, and they instill a lot of hope within us about the future and character of today’s young people.  That they have an interest in agriculture and the outdoors is even better!

Before they headed out to the fields to cut trees, the students got a short tour, “A Year in the Life of a

Len shows members of Phillipsburg High School FFA what bucks can do to Christmas trees with their antlers (make a "buck rub") and how we try to prevent the damage by spraying the trees with deer repellent. This didn't work as well as it might have this year because we had lots of rain that washed the repellent off.

 Christmas Tree Farmer.”  Len discussed how we plant seedlings, control weeds and insect pests, and shear Christmas trees, as well as prevent and correct damage to trees caused by male white-tailed deer.    The chapter was invited to return in the spring to get a more detailed tour that would cover how we use Integrated Pest Management (IMP) on our farm, why our farm has been certified as being “River-Friendly,” and how we’ve integrated wildlife management into our operation to enhance the kinds of wildlife that visit, while aiming to minimize wildlife-caused damage.

 After the tour, everyone rolled up their sleeves and set about to cut 25 Douglas firs, the greens from which the students will use to make grave blankets to sell as a fund-raiser. 

Phillipsburg High School FFA members hauling a Douglas fir out of the field.

It was a big job.  The trees were cut, hauled out of the fields, and the branches were removed from the trunks.  The branches were tied into small bundles, and loaded on to trucks and a trailer, and brought back to school.  What made the task especially demanding was that the trees were very big. 

Bundling Douglas fir greens that Phillipsburg High School FFA members will use to make grave blankets that they will sell as part of their annual fund raiser.

Some of the trees were close to 200 pounds each!  They had grown so large and heavy because some had double and triple trunks and weren’t suitable to be Christmas trees so they kept growing over the years. Rather than throw the trees away, they are used in other ways.  The greens from these trees are beautiful, and we have been using them to make  grave blankets and wreaths on our farm, and marketing them for the same purpose to others, like Phillipsburg FFA.

The crew of the Phillipsburg FFA bundling & loading Douglas fir greens from Wolgast Tree Farm in Somerset, NJ.

Despite being physically demanding, it was a fun day.  The students have said their visit to our farm is among their most favorite activities of the year.  From our end, we appreciate  their interest in our trees, but even more we enjoy sharing our interest in agriculture and the outdoors with others, and the opportunity to see young, industrious people in action.  It’s always a delight to have Phillipsburg High School FFA Chapter visit Wolgast Tree Farm!

Hurricane Irene’s Aftermath At Wolgast Tree Farm

It’s been over a week since Hurricane Irene hit New Jersey and although many areas are still dealing with serious problems caused by the storm, and now even more rain, Wolgast Tree Farm was very fortunate to come through virtually unscathed. 

Honeybees bringing nectar & pollen back to the hive after Hurricane Irene.

Our bee hives stayed upright and “the girls” (worker honeybees are all female) were out and about looking for pollen and nectar by 10:30 am Sunday the day after the storm.  

To our amazement, none of the trees that line our driveway blew over.  

Cutting a blown over tree for firewood

Some of our maple trees that we’ve tapped in the past to make maple syrup lost many branches, and one had the top broken off completely, so syrup production will likely be lower in 2012.  

One cherry tree by our house had blown over, but missed power lines and other structures so it wasn’t a big deal.  We cut it up for firewood.

White pine seedling with "donut hole" around its base.

So far, the only storm-related problem with our Christmas trees involves the seedlings we planted this past spring.  The heavy rains saturated the soil and that combined with the severe winds to whip the seedlings around which created “donut holes” around the base.  These openings are a problem because the roots are more likely to lose moisture when its dry, and during the colder months the roots can be exposed to freezing.  Both can stress the seedlings and hamper growth.  We’ll need to walk the rows and check each seedling for any gaps and close the ones we find. 

Rains from Hurricane Irene caused our Shiitake mushroom logs to fruit.

One tiny positive that came from Irene was that the rain she brought caused many of the logs we inoculated last year with shiitake mushroom spawn to fruit.  Sautéed in butter and garlic, or prepared a zillion other ways, shiitake mushrooms

Headed for the frying pan!

are a tasty treat. Having produced them ourselves brings a sense of satisfaction, and puts a little twist on the adage of making lemonade when life hands you lemons.   

Wolgast Tree Farm feels very lucky to have made it through Hurricane Irene with so little damage, and we keep in our thoughts the many others who had, and in many cases continue to have, great difficulties as a result of the storm.  We hope everyone is safe and that life gets back to normal as soon as possible.

Battening Down The Hatches And The Bees!

Like everyone else across New Jersey, we’ve spent the last few days battening down the hatches preparing for Hurricane Irene at Wolgast Tree Farm.  We’ve stocked up on supplies, made sure emergency equipment is in good working order, and done our best to secure things that could become flying hazards in the impending winds.  We don’t think the severe winds and rain will present a big problem for our Christmas trees (unless a non-Christmas tree or branch gets blown onto them), but our bees are another matter.  The hives are pretty heavy, but the predicted severe winds could topple them over and expose the bees and brood to rain and wind which would likely kill the colonies. 

To guard against this Cathy used ratchet straps to help make sure all the individual hive bodies in each colony would stay together in the event the wind is able to blow them over.  If the winds are able to knock over the hives, the bees won’t be happy about it, but they’ll do better than if all the hive bodies flew apart. 

Now all we can do is settle in for the storm and hope our precautions were enough.  Hopefully we and the rest of the east coast will be able to come through the storm unscathed.  Let’s all keep our fingers crossed!

Sprucing Up Wolgast Tree Farm

Len using the SAJE machine to shear a Norway spruce.

If June is “Pine Time” at Wolgast Tree farm, then mid-July through August is when we are “Sprucing Up.”  That is, shearing spruces and firs so they have the tidier look of a real Christmas tree. 

Just like pines that are grown for Christmas trees, when spruces and firs begin to grow more than a foot a year they need to be sheared once a year in order to maintain a “Christmas tree” shape.  But unlike pines which must be sheared during the month of  June (see June 13, 2011 blog post), spruce and fir species just need to be sheared once year in between growing seasons.  That’s

Spruces and firs have buds along their twigs.

because spruces and firs have buds that form all along their twigs so there is always a source for next year’s growth. 

Pines have buds only at the ends of their twigs (see left of thumb).

Pines on the other hand, only have buds at the ends of their twigs.  The tender new growth that was sheared begins to harden off into wood and set buds at the end of June, which is why pine shearing is more time sensitive.

Theoretically, we could shear all our spruce and fir species in November (or even December) and it wouldn’t make a difference in terms of them being grown as Christmas trees, but we do them during the summer in the searing heat and blazing sun, and when it seems like every gnat in the County wants to investigate our eyeballs.  That’s because it gives the trees a longer time to heal over and not be all sticky with sap by the time the holidays roll around.   Plus, we have plenty of other farm work to do come autumn and its just the two of us doing the work!

Right now we’re finishing up the spruces (mostly Norway spruce), and will move on to the firs (Douglas firs, Canaan firs, Concolor firs, and Nordmann firs).  With any luck, we’ll have all the shearing done by mid-August, so we can start to get ready for the autumn chores.  There’s always something to do on the farm!