My family has spent most of the last week planting trees. Back in 2002, we entered into a federal government program to reduce soil erosion and contracted to have 18,000 mixed hardwood trees planted in the riparian buffers of our major perennial stream. For two years after that, my husband mowed between the rows of trees because we refused to use herbicides to kill off the Fescue and that was the compromise we had arrived at with the government to allow us not to do that and still receive their financial assistance. My husband also walked the rows each year and hand-planted seedlings to replace any of the trees that had died with new trees. During that phase we added in evergreens and the flowering trees, Dogwood and Redbud.
It was during that time that I was pregnant with our youngest and we were searching for a name for him. For personal reasons related to his siblings, my husband wanted a name that began with “T”. We have a lot of awesome rock here on our farm and one day he came home to me after some hand-planting work and said – “I have it !! We can name him Tree Stone !!” I said no, no, no that is not a proper name and then inspired said, “Let us call him Treston”. And that story in why in some of our most fun and humorous moments we will sometimes refer to him as “Tree Stone” or “Plant Rock”.
Last year the crazy restrictions and conditions for receiving state government assistance to plant more trees caused us to abandon that plan after many hours of researching and planning by my husband because it simply did not make economic sense (it was going to cost us a lot of money that we did not have at the time) and the risks it entailed (having to repay monies received and even pay penalties on it) if we did not perform precisely as instructed were simply not acceptable. Encouraging us even more, was the fact that the contractor who was supposed to do that work for us, simply would not return our calls. It was too large of a project to go forward with all things considered. So my husband and two sons hand-planted 500 evergreen trees. This caused my husband to grow concerned that he would not live long enough to fulfill his vision of replacing our pastures with new forest with what remains of his own lifetime at such a pace.
My husband has been in the midst of this year’s project for months with lots and lots of planning in advance. We even spent an afternoon with an older man and his wife in a neighboring county. Interestingly, we first met this man back in 2002 but decided not to work with him because his values at the time did not seem aligned with ours. Now this year, my husband sought to learn everything he could from this man’s experience in machine planting trees. Not only did we visit him but several times my husband had long telephone conversations with him before we were ready to move forward with financial investments into this year’s planting.
We bought an implement for tree planting. My husband modified it to make it safer and more useful for including our youngest son in the family project even including a seat belt for him. Beginning in late February, after we had already ordered and paid for this year’s bare root seedlings, we had almost 3 weeks of snow continually on the ground – first 7″, followed by 5″. We had lots of single digit and teen temperatures during that time and there was a very, very slow melting of that snow, immediately followed by a significant rainfall.
When asked about when I thought we should pick up our trees and begin planting, I had suggested to my husband that he not pick up the trees until this week. However even though I thought we needed more drying out time but he went ahead picked the trees up at the nursery last week. Now the clock was ticking against us for the trees need to be put into the ground as quickly as possible once they are out of cold storage at the nursery. My husband still made good use of the extra “early” days by doing some replacement hand-planting of the rows that he and our sons hand-planted during last year’s effort and also hand-planting 25 Cypress trees into a wetland area.
By Sunday, we tried to start planting Walnuts according to his plan which was to start in the bottoms near some of the trees we had planted back in 2002. The field was simply too wet. I immediately got our Suburban stuck. At least we managed to do all the training sessions that first day – mine for shuttling trees and water, my oldest son for driving the tractor and my youngest son (age 10-1/2) for managing the seedlings, handing the appropriate trees to my husband and telling him the moment to “plant” in order to keep a specific distance between trees and our son’s instructions included picking a “wildlife” specie to be interspersed after every 6 hardwood trees.
You can get an idea of scale by noticing the little house in the red square at the bottom left of this image. This is only about half the entire length of this particular field. We will plant the other half in some subsequent year.
Eventually the impossible wetness of the field caused my husband to give up on the idea of getting any more planting done other than a very tiny start we had made on Sunday afternoon. He’s a pretty persistent, determined kind of guy so giving up entirely wasn’t easy for him to do but the reality could not be denied. The drag of the plow on the planter in that mud would cause the tractor’s tires to spin even though thankfully the tractor never became stuck so that we ended up with a bigger problem on our hands. We didn’t even try to go out to plant on Monday but gave the fields a warm dry day to become more workable. Then, our oldest son (age 14) suggested that we really ought to start at the uphill part of the field or at least in the middle. My husband was able to agree to a Plan B to plant in the middle of the field but in an attempt to keep the spacing on his original plan, he went out and flagged the spacing for two of those rows according to the downhill Walnut row.
On Tuesday afternoon, we went out and started uphill from the middle with the Northern Red Oaks and managed to get through the Black Gum after about 4 hours as the cold wind and approaching darkness put an end to that day’s work. On Wednesday, we expected rain by 2pm for the next 48 hours and so we got an early start, expecting to have to quit early. The field was the driest yet and so we turned back downhill from the middle. Good fortune kept the rain at bay and we ended up being out there for 9 hours until dark. There were some light sprinkles that came but nothing strong enough to put a stop to the day’s work. However it did rain that night and was lightly raining on Thursday.
So on Thursday, my sons and I were given the “day off”. My husband went out and hand-planted the “wetter” areas that gave us so much trouble on Sunday (the Walnut rows) by hand. He admitted that it would take many weeks for that area to actually dry out. On Friday, we got an early start – not as early as Wednesday but still put in 7 hours (working until dark). We finished the big field but still had a lot of seedlings left over, so we went to Plan B below for the excess trees.
By the end of Friday, there were only 300 trees left and so my husband and older son took care of them in about 2-1/2 hours on Saturday and allowed myself and the youngest son to stay home. These trees went into the field to the northeast of my deceased in-laws old log cabin.
Here’s the tally for this year.
Total Hardwood Trees = 2,350. About 200-300 per species. The mix included – Black Walnut, Black Cherry, White Oak, Mixed Hickory, Shumard Oak, Sweet Gum, Northern Red Oak, Black Gum, Black Oak and Chinkapin Oak.
Total “Wildlife” Species = 360. The mix included – Black Chokeberry, Black Locust, Eastern Wahoo, False Indigo, Flowering Dogwood, Red Mulberry, Redbud, Slender Bushclover, Smooth Sumac, White Fringetree and Wild Plum.
And another 25 Cypress trees in the wetlands area.
The work is not yet entirely complete. As I write this, my husband is back out in the field on the tractor because we can’t leave the plowed groove “open”. The little rodent like critters would utilize that as a “highway” to munch on the roots ending the future of our trees. The diagram above represents the slow and tedious process as he uses one of the front tires on the tractor to close the plowed grooves. The dots represent seedlings in a row.
The long-range overall plan is to replant all the Fescue pasture that my husband and in-laws created back in the late 1970s/early 1980s in trees so that we won’t have to burn the fields to keep them open anymore. We will do that planting over about 5-6 years time in sections of about the same size or quantity as we did this year. By doing this intentional planting, we are modifying what Nature would do in returning fields to forest. In the natural cycle, Cedars, Locust, Sumac and Persimmons are among the first to take root in a fallow field. We have stands of tall Pines here that are described as succession trees, these are what grow next in the areas that once were crop fields. Later on the hardwoods begin to take hold. This cycle would create some marketable timber after 100-150 years of time elapsed.
At this time, hardwoods have the most commercial value as timber. We have planted a lot of hardwoods including quite a few species of Oak which do well and are native here. We are protecting the farm in perpetuity as long as there are descendants to live here as stewards of this extraordinarily beautiful land. Our sons will certainly be able to follow our Forest Management Plan which will have them in another logging cycle in about 30 years and therefore, they may achieve the long-term funding benefits for the continuation of this farm twice in their lifetimes. The trees my sons have been involved in planting may benefit them at the end of their lifetimes or will be of financial usefulness to their children some day.
Most people do not have such a long-view regarding what they do on the land they have possession of. I believe that is why it is somewhat rare for anyone to put so much time, effort and money into planting trees – they see no personal benefit in doing so. Certainly, serious environmentalists will always consider planting trees beneficial for the planet and all her creature’s health and vitality.