August 20, 2017

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.

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!

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!