What we did: In our second season, we planted the seeds that we gathered the previous fall. A few Walnuts grew and nothing else. We tended to the trees that we had planted last year and re-examined or process for handling seeds. In the fall we gathered more seeds and stored them for the winter in a refrigerator.
How we dd it: The best thing that I can say about the 2009 growing season is that I learned some important lessons about growing trees from seed. I knew that most seeds of Michigan native trees had to go through a period of cold temperature (below 40 degrees f) before they would sprout.
I also knew that seeds sprouted in the wild with no help from us humans. So I left my seeds planted in 4 inch pots or in small bags protected from animals but not from the cold.
When nothing came up in the spring of 2009 I did some more research. I found that acorns from the White Oak group needed to stay above freezing and the Red Oak group would be damaged if it gets below 20 degrees. During the winter of 2008-9 the temperature dropped to 15 degrees below zero! (That was unusual even for Michigan.)
So what happens to seeds in the wild? 10,000 seeds lead to one tree that grows to maturity. Some seeds are attacked by insects while they are still on the tree, many more are eaten by birds, deer, squirrels, mice, etc. Some seeds are buried by squirrels and some get covered by layers of leaves or are stepped on and pressed into the soft ground and are kept from freezing. Any seeds that are left lying on the top of the ground like my seeds get frozen and never sprout.
We did have some limited success starting trees from seeds. For some reason some of the Osage Orange seeds survived the cold weather and the fact that they were 2 years old to sprout another 20 trees in addition to the 40 that grew from the same batch of seeds last year.
Some of the Walnut seeds made it through the cold partly because they were stored in dirt and maybe because the larger seeds can stand colder weather. That was only the beginning of the problems with the Walnuts. I kept the planted seeds in the fenced enclosure that was designed to keep animals away from my small plants. This worked for everyone except two squirrels who proceeded to dig up my walnuts as fast as I planted them. They ate most of them and buried some in pots containing other trees.
Finally I used a piece of shade cloth to make my small greenhouse resistant to squirrel attacks and got a mixture of late sprouting Walnuts and Walnuts that sprouted in places where they had been buried around the farm. These I dug up and planted in Rootmaker pots. I ended up with about 15 Walnut trees and planted five in rootpruming bags this fall.
I also planted 100 Frasier Firs to sell in about 5 years as Christmas trees. I planted 100 three years ago and the largest of them are about half way to useable size.
Since the first group have suffered substantial damage from deer buck rub I have planted this year’s batch in a triangular bunch rather than one long row. This way I can extend the fenced area to include them.
Most of the trees that I planted in the ground in rootpruning bags in the spring and fall of 2008 continued to grow nicely. They are not growing quite as fast as I was led to believe they would. I think much of that is due to the shorter growing season in Michigan compared to Oklahoma where Carl Whitcomb did his research. I also expect some improvement as I fine tune my process.
I finished fencing and mulching all the trees that I planted in spring 2008. I have used a combination of spraying and hand weeding to supplement the weed control afforded by the mulch.
In July friends from Denmark named Kaj and Annalis spent two and a half weeks with us. When we first met them on a dance exchange in 1989 they were actively farming. Now they have retired and the farm is run by their son Rene’. With much help from Kaj and Annalis I was able to water more aggressively and mulch the new Frasier Firs, keep the grass mowed and generally keep the place in better shape.
This fall I gathered substantially more acorns than last year. Many of the places that I had found last year were good again this year. I started looking earlier in the season and found some real treasures. And I looked for acorns everywhere I went. I found enough Red Oak acorns to sell 50 pounds and still have more than I will ever have a place to plant. I bought a small refrigerator to prepare my nuts for planting. This seems like the easy to keep them between 40 degrees and freezing.
I have also ordered a larger small green house that is 20 by 24 feet. It has a furnace for heating and a fan for cooling. It also has double walled film with a small fan to keep the two layers separated. Although this is quite small by commercial standards, it is a commercial greenhouse and I think that it will be large enough for me for some time to come.
I visited my daughter, Janine in November and we finished this web site, which I have been working off an on for over a year. The next task is to sell some of the trees that are large enough to sell. The web site should be a help.