August 20, 2017

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!

Brookdale Environmental Science Lab Visits Wolgast Tree farm

Students taking the summer session Environmental Science Lab at Brookdale Community College went on a farm tour of Wolgast Tree Farm this past week to learn about wildlife on our farm, River-Friendly farming practices, beekeeping, Integrated Pest Management and how we grow Christmas trees.

One of the things we talked about was the different types of manmade nesting structures that certain kinds of wildlife will use. To the left of Len on the ground is a roofed nesting platform that can be used by Eastern Phoebes, American Robins and Barn Swallows (far left), and a larger nest box for American Kestrels, which  can also be used by Eastern Screech Owls, Gray Squirrels or Flying Squirrels, depending on the habitat where it is placed. 

Of course, no farm tour at Wolgast Tree Farm would be complete without mentioning one of our favorite cavity nesters, the Eastern Bluebird. 

A few minutes before the class arrived, Len checked a nearby nest box to make sure the fledglings that were inside weren’t old enough to be flushed from the nest box.  Confident that the nestlings would stay put if students took a peek, he placed the roof back in place, but accidentally left behind the screwdriver that he used to open the top.  It certainly didn’t keep the adults away as they returned with food to offer the nestlings.

When the class arrived and it was time to look at the nest box everyone was instructed to quietly walk up to the box and take a quick look at the nestlings.  Many of the students had never seen an Eastern Bluebird before, let alone young bluebirds still in the nest.  It felt good to be able to provide a new experience with nature in this way. 

The same thing goes for tree farming.  Many people aren’t aware of what goes into producing a Christmas tree so we provided an overview of some of the things that must be done, including shearing.  We had finished shearing our pines a week before the class visited, but we saved two so we could demonstrate how our shearing machine works.  Here Len shows how he uses a SAJE shearing machine to trim back extra growth and produce that perfect “Christmas tree shape”.  The backpack that he’s wearing has a motor with a flexible drive shaft that comes around the front and plugs into two 8-foot long blades that are sandwiched together and move back and forth to cut excess growth.  It must have made an impression since several students took out their phones and recorded his demonstration.

Said one student when Len had finished shearing, “There’s a lot that goes into growing Christmas trees.”

Indeed, there is!

Wolgast Tree Farm is a River-Friendly Farm

Wolgast Tree Farm, a family-owned Christmas tree farm in Somerset, New Jersey, has just passed it’s 2-year check-up as a certified River-Friendly Farm.

Wolgast Tree Farm is a River-Friendly FarmBeing River-Friendly means we’re helping to protect the water supply, protect soil and enhance habitat for wildlife while we grow Christmas trees. 

Our farm was evaluated on a number of criteria including the ways we keep soil from running off into waterways, minimizing our use of irrigation water and fertilizers, and how we maintain vegetative barriers at the edges of our fields to protect streams from any run-off that we might accidentally generate.

All these farm practices add up to having a healthier watershed for us and the community, as well as a healthy tree farm with lots of wildlife to boot!

Farm Tours This Summer At Wolgast Tree Farm

Would you like to visit a real working farm this summer? Wolgast Tree Farm in Somerset, New Jersey welcomes groups this summer to tour the farm.

Come out and learn about wildlife, beekeeping, how honey is made, river-friendly and sustainable farming.

Children, adults and all kinds of groups are welcome!

Call Cathy Blumig at the farm for more information  732-873-3206