May 24, 2017

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!

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!