October 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!

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.

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!

On The Grow at Wolgast Tree Farm

It’s been a banner growing season so far this year here at Wolgast Tree Farm.  All the rain we’ve had coupled with just enough sun has really helped to bolster the growth of the 800 seedlings we planted this past spring. 

Usually during the first year after a seedling is planted, most of its energies are directed towards establishing a strong root system with very little growth in the branches.  But this year has been different.  We’ve noticed lots of new growth along the branches, which means that the seedlings not only have strong root systems, but that they have extra energy to devote to green growth as well.  This bodes well for seedling vigor in future years.   Here, Len is admiring all the new, light green growth on a Canaan fir that was planted this past April. 

We grow nine species of Christmas trees and each one has special needs in order for it to grow healthy.  Some seedlings, like white pines, can grow well on wet sites.  Others need to be on a site that is high and dry.  We plant each individual seedling according to the microsite conditions where it will grow best.  Healthy seedlings are better able to fight off insect pests and other environmental stresses (like drought), which is part of our Intergrated Pest Management program (IPM).   

We can’t predict what the future holds, but if we continue to have favorable weather during the growing seasons, coupled with being on the proper soil site, this Canaan fir seedling could be ready to be someone’s special Christmas tree in six or seven years.  Things are really “On The Grow” at Wolgast Tree Farm!