44,000 Trees

March 11, 2022

We are transforming part of our landscape to expand wetlands.

Last Tuesday, a 50-foot refrigerated truck parked itself in our barnyard. Last Thursday morning, a 53-foot semi with a 15-foot cab arrived from Missouri, with 44,000 three-foot-long tree seedlings on board. Handling that much truck in a barnyard is no small feat, but we are able to back the delivery truck up to the refrigerated one to unload fairly easily. With some logistical maneuvering, we were able to extract the mega-semi and send him on his way. The refrigerated semi remains, cooling and holding unplanted inventory.

Seedlings delivered were:
River Birch
Shellbark Hickory
Silky Dogwood
Gray Dogwood
Swamp White Oak
Bur Oak
Pin Oak
Shumard Oak

Buttonbush, Silky Dogwood, Gray Dogwood, Ninebark, Elderberry, and Arrowwood are shrubs rather than trees but are an important part of the new landscape.  

Once all inventory was loaded into the refrigerated vehicle, the process then began of sorting the considerable variety into bundles. Each bundle is to be planted over one quarter of an acre. 147 seedlings, representing 16 specific species, are sorted out, taking about 10 minutes to assemble a bundle. Long roots also have to be trimmed to fit through the planter. This trimming is a careful and deliberate process, that proves to be the bottleneck in the operation. 

We transformed our egg-room into the sorting room for trees, but to do that had to come up with a way to keep the room at 40 degrees. The cooling system in place only went to 62 degrees. The company that services our freezers suggested installing a standard air conditioner with an override that prevents defrosting at the usual temperature. We also blocked windows to minimize effects of light upon trees wanting to grow and bud out.

By Thursday afternoon, enough quarter-acre-bundles had been sorted to begin planting. The planter below is designed for trees but is similar in concept to a tobacco planter. The coulter is the large disc in front which cuts the ground open. The subsoiler-shoe parts the ground so a tree may be placed within it, and then the press-wheel closes the opening back together. The person doing the planting sits on a seat, takes seedlings from one of the metal boxes, and places them between the subsoiler in 8-foot spacing as the tractor advances. The electronic beeper, which indicates 8-foot spacing, malfunctioned on the first try, so it was replaced by a an 8-foot length of rope with a bolt attached to the end. When the bolt passes the seedling just planted, the next one is inserted into the subsoiler.

The first full day of planting yielded 3 acres or 1,700 trees in the ground. By the third day, the team was able to plant 7 acres or 4,000 trees. With experience, they are now moving more quickly, and the tractor has doubled its speed from .37 to .71 miles per hour! The team consists of the following: Kathy does the driving, making sure rows are 8 feet apart; Jacob Bartley is the captain and has been doing a good bit of the planting, as shown above; Gary Stauffer, Wesley Weaver, and Elton Martin do the sorting and delivery of trees to the field. These three also follow the planter, tamping in tree roots which the press wheel misses. They too have stepped into the planting. It is a great team, which has been working late to accommodate impending inclement weather. They are also our neighbors, which adds to efficiency and camaraderie. 

Two weeks ago, Jacob's team planted more livestakes on the widened stream banks. They also planted Native Cane, which is a member of the bamboo family. The cane was planted every 150 feet and then spreads by underground runners. The livestakes were Black Willow and Silky Dogwood. The stream will become a dramatic new ecosystem adjoining and enhancing wetlands.

Once trees are planted over the next few weeks, we will surgically break and plug tile-lines in the fields. As you can see below, a great deal of water flows out of main outlets of these fields. When that flow is blocked, the field will rehydrate, bringing essential water to these species and this ecosystem.

We are excited about this transformation of land. These fields will never be open fields again. This is forever, as a conservation easement has been placed on the land. It won't take long for the seedlings to become a young forest, with some growing three feet per year. Spaces between rows will fill in naturally with herbaceous plants we seeded this January and other volunteer species. Wildlife will quickly follow.

Susan and I suspect my tree-loving father is dancing upon his gravesite at Spring Grove. Who says the afterlife is not merry?

The picture above of the eroded stream bank reveals clay lying about three feet below topsoil. The clay is impermeable and holds water to create wetlands, as long as tile-lines aren't imposed upon it. This layer of clay is why our wetlands have been so successful. It is also why early farmers struggled to make a living on these fields. We are finally hearing what this land wants to be.

All of this transforming and dancing sure makes one hungry after a long day. So, last night we pan-fried some ribeyes and Susan knocked out a broccoli souffle. It was so darned good!

We reside in the dance of the land.

Drausin Wulsin

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