The 2010 growing season


Our small greenhouse with above ground pots in the foreground

Our small greenhouse with above ground pots in the foreground

What we did: In our third year, we erected a small commercial greenhouse, and then planted the seeds we gathered last fall, along with seeds that we purchased. We sold 2 of the trees that we had planted in the spring of our first year. In the fall, we planted 85 trees in Rootmaker bags and 50 in above ground pots that are similar to the bags.  We gathered seeds in the fall and stored them for the winter in propagation trays.  Some trays were kept in an unheated but insulated room in the barn and the rest were buried in the ground.

How we did it: The year started with my annual visit to the Mid-Am horticultural show inChicago.  The highlight of the show was the Rootmaker booth.  The first new idea was to sprout acorns and other seeds before planting them.  This way the seeds that are not going to sprout do not get planted and the seeds that do get planted are all the same stage of development.

On the first day of the show,Wayne from Rootmaker could not be there, so he asked one of his best customers in theChicagoarea to fill in for him.  Tristan from Possibility Place Nursery uses the same techniques that I am learning to use but plants about 10,000 trees per year.  I made arrangements to visit him in July and will tell you more about that later.

This year I finally have nursery stock that is large enough to interest commercial buyers and home owners with major landscaping projects.  My White Spruces are between seven and ten years old and my White Pines are between five and six years old while many of the hardwoods that I purchased in the spring of 2008 are an inch and a half in diameter.  This summer I have made the first few sales of moderately large trees.  In the process of doing this, I have learned a lot about how to dig, handle and deliver these trees and established some relationships with people who have some of the equipment that I need and don’t own.

After my almost total failure to grow any new trees last year, I bought a small refrigerator to keep seeds in over the winter. In addition, I purchased seeds from the same company that I sold seeds to last fall.  I spent about the same amount for 2 pounds each of five different Oaks as I had received by selling them 50 pounds of one variety of oak.

In early March I started sprouting Red Oak acorns on my sun porch as an experiment. The result was a dozen or so trees that got an early start and some confidence that I could make this method work.

Next I went to work assembling the greenhouse that I had purchased last fall.  The salesman had said that a couple of people who knew what they were doing could get most of it up in a day.  With some help from a few friends and local contractors we got it up in only seven weeks and by the third week in April I was right where I had planned to be in the first week of March.  In spite of the late start this has been our most successful seasons so far.

I put my acorns in vermiculite, which kept them moist in the greenhouse.  Every 4 to 7 days I checked them and planted the ones that had sprouted.  Eventually, I had about 150 trees with about 30 grown from locally sourced seed.  In July some of our trees got overheated in the greenhouse and their growth was stunted. In the fall we planted 40 trees in 18” Rootmaker bags, 45 in 12” Rootmaker bags and 50 in 5 gallon Rootmaker Grounder pots.  In year one we planted 80 trees grown from seed, in year 2 we planted about 10 and in year 3 we have planted 135.

As planned at the Mid-Am show, I visited Tristan at his tree operation.  While there I saw his automated method for putting Rootmaker bags in the ground.  Three people install 5,000 bags in about two weeks. We used a less automated version of this to install 45 bags in less time and with less effort than we had before.

Other things that I saw were a machine for potting plants that filled the pots with container mix, then opened a hole in the middle for a person to plant a tree in and moved them down a conveyer.  There was also a machine for spreading wood chips that looked like a manure spreader with high sides.

Tristan uses woods frames with hardware cloth bottoms to store his seed over the winter.  He puts potting mix in the bottom and puts down a layer of seed, and then he fills the frame with more potting mix.  He stores the frames through the winter in an insulated but not heated building with no windows in order to put the seed through a cold cycle.  In the early spring he brings the frames into the greenhouse and puts them on heated benches to sprout.

Tristan is growing a substantial number of his trees in 5 gallon grounder pots which he sets on the ground and surrounds with a layer of wood chips up to the lip of the pots.  He says that this is an easy way to grow trees to sell at a smaller size for a lower price.  We have replicated this on a very small scale.

This fall I have substantially expanded the quantity and variety of seeds that I have collected.  After two years of sparse seed production theHickorytrees had a good year and I gathered substantial quantities of Shagbark, Shellbark and Pignut seed.  I have improved the quality and quantity of Oak seed and added Shingle Oak to the list of Oaks that I gather locally.

Stan, who inspects my trees for the Department of Agriculture, told me that there was a concentration of Shingle Oaks in a particular part of the next county over.  Then another friend found a Shingle Oak in his yard just a few miles from Dexter Tree Farm. I also have small quantities of several other tree seeds including Hop Hornbeam, Catalpa, American Chestnut, Redbud, Black Cherry, and Osage Orange.  Finally I have a substantial quantity of Walnuts.  Still, I will buy seed for two different oaks that I failed to find seed for locally.

We have packed 13 different Oak, Walnut,Hickory, and Chestnut seeds into trays patterned after the ones that I saw at Possibility Place.  We then put them into a hole in the ground, put a second layer of hardware cloth on the top tray in the pile to keep squirrels and other varmints out, and covered them with a layer of dirt. We capped it off with a three-cubic-foot bag of container mix on top for good measure and to make sure we can find them in the spring.

We also put four more trays with some duplicates and some additional types of seed in an insulated closet in the unheated upstairs of our barn/house.  The experience of last year when so few of my seeds sprouted leads me to using two different methods so that if one fails the other can provide most of what we need to produce a crop. The hope is that this space will stay cool but not descend to the frigid depths of the Michigan outdoors in winter.  If this works it will be a simpler arrangement than bury them in the ground – especially if we what to start them in the greenhouse before the ground thaws.  Since I had room in the closet, I also put left over trees in 4” and one gallon pots in to protect them from extreme cold.

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