The 2008 growing season

Kentucky Coffee Trees

Kentucky Coffee Trees grown using the RootMaker System. Taken in Dexter, Michigan, 2008

What we did:  In our first season we started by buying 115 small trees and planting them in Rootmaker bags to grow larger.  Essentially this gave us a one year head start.  We then planted acorns and other seeds that we had purchased, grew them over the summer, and planted 77 trees in the fall.  We then gathered seeds to plant the next spring and put them in an unheated part of our barn to prepare them for planting next spring.

How we did it: In the spring of 2008 I started growing trees from seed by planting seed of Northern Red Oak, Shingle, Kentucky Coffee Tree, and Osage Orange. All seeds were purchased from seed companies outside the State of Michigan.

While I was waiting for the seeds to grow, I planed a larger variety of seedlings purchased from a nursery in Missouri that used air root pruning methods and another nursery in Michigan that uses conventional field growing methods. I planted a total of 115 trees in 18” Grow Bags and protected most of them with 5’ high by 3’ diameter wire cages. The trees were planted in long rows down a gradual slope with the swamp Oaks and willows at the bottom of the hill and the Northern Red Oaks and Shingle Oaks at the top.

I started the seed operation by purchasing a 6’ by 10’ greenhouse from a “big box store” for $500 and setting it up in the field where I intended to plant the trees in the fall. The green house was unheated and contained two small vents that could be opened for cooling. The door could be left open for additional cooling.

Next I planted three 18 section trays each of Kentucky Coffee Trees and Shingle Oaks and four 18 section trays each of Osage Orange and Northern Red Oak. These were all kept in the greenhouse which cooled down nearly as much as the outdoors at night but warmed significantly once the sun came out.

After several weeks the first shoots appeared. Results varied widely from one tree variety to another. I finally decided that the mid day temperatures in the greenhouse were getting high enough to damage all but the Osage Orange plants.


Seedlings planted in 18 section trays.

During the first two weeks of July I planted 10 Shingle Oaks, 10 Kentucky Coffee Trees, 20 Northern Red Oaks, and 40 Osage Oranges. Subsequent growth was greatest for the Osage orange with trees measuring about 2 feet in height. The other three varieties were in the 6 inches to one foot range.

In September I built a fenced area to keep out deer rabbits squirrels and provided space for 120 trees in a rectangle of six rows of twenty trees each. Over the next six weeks I planted 77 of the 80 trees that I had potted in July.

My other project in the fall of 2008 was to see how many different seeds I could collect locally. I now have White Oak, Swamp White Oak, Burr Oak, Shagbark Hickory, Pignut Hickory, Walnut, Redbud, and Ginko Biloba seeds. I had hoped to start some Basswood but the dry weather last summer had prevented the seeds from maturing. I have already planted the Oaks because they are all of the White Oak family which sprouts in the fall.

The plan for spring is to convert the greenhouse into a shade house by replacing the plastic film with a piece of shade cloth. Then I will grow seedlings outside or in the shade house and see if I don’t get better germination.

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