The 2011 growing season

greenhouse and yard

Our small commercial greenhouse and work area

What we did: In our fourth year, our entire crop was grown from seeds that we had gathered from our own county and a neighboring county.  After a couple of setbacks we planted 200 trees in Rootmaker bags and we have about 65 trees to plant in Grounder pots. We sold three of the trees that we planted in the spring of our first year and 20 of the trees that we planted last year. This fall I took advantage of an opportunity to spend most of September in Scotland with my wife, Helen, and two friends.  As a result I collected seed at the very end of the season so our seed crop for next spring is smaller than I would wish.

How we did it: Again this year the first significant event was the Mid-Am Horticultural Show in Chicago.  Once again I had a chance to talk with the folks from Possibility Place, a tree farm like mine but much bigger and more established.  They said that they expected to have 50% of their seeds sprout.  It is useful to know that even the well established growers don’t get everything to grow.

This year for the first time I have had part time help from Albert Lesser, the son of a near by farmer.  His orientation as a farmer and mine as a conservationist make for some interesting conversations.  In the end we both learn from eachother.

In late February we had a warm spell and the ground thawed.  We took advantage of this to dig up the flats of seeds that we had burred last fall.  We moved them into the greenhouse and turned up the heat.  In a couple of weeks we had sprouted seeds to plant.

As fast as we planted seeds some critter came and dug them up and ate them.  We lost several batches of seed while I attempted to seal the green house against this invasion.  Finally I built critter proof covers of wood and hardware cloth and we succeeded in getting the rest of our crop to grow.

I bought two electric propagation mats to heat the seeds and speed their sprouting.  The temperature is controlled by a thermostat buried in one of the seed flats being heated.  I managed to locate the thermostat too high in the tray and heated the bottom to a temperature where some of my seeds failed to grow.

After all these trials we still managed to sprout about 350 trees.  The stars this year were Burr Oaks, and Shagbark and Pignut Hickories.  We also sprouted several Walnuts.  As the summer progressed over 250 were transplanted into one gallon pots.

As we started keeping the greenhouse warm with a propane furnace I was amazed at the cost.  With urging from Albert I installed a small wood stove.  The stove proved inadequate to keep the greenhouse warm but I could see that a larger one would save me most of my heating bill by cutting our own fire wood.  I found one on Craig’s List for a reasonable price since heating a greenhouse was about the only reason anyone would want to buy a stove in April.

While looking at Craig’s List I found that I could purchase a used tractor for a lot less that I had thought possible providing I was willing to buy one that was older than I am. It has allowed us to carry things in a small wagon, cultivate the fire break before burning our prairie oak barren and fill the holes left from digging trees.  It hasn’t worked for most of the tasks involved in growing corn on the one acre of pipeline right of way to burn in our corn stove or using an augur to plant Rootmaker bags or to dig trees with a tree spade or to carry large trees from place to place and load them onto trucks.

Our original schedule was to install Rootmaker bags in the ground in July so the soil could settle with the rain.  Then we wanted to plant trees in the bags in late August before a planned trip overseas in September.  In July the weather was unseasonably dry and we were unable to dig the hard dry clay.  By the time we had enough rain then rescheduled we got the bags in the ground in late August and planted 36 of 200 trees before leaving on our trip.

After returning home in late September, I spend several days collecting seed.  I found good supplies of White Oak, Burr Oak, Black Oak, and Walnut.  I gathered more limited numbers of Red Oak, Shagbark Hickory and Shellbark Hickory.  If I had arrived any later I would have found little or no seeds.

Our new deer fence

Our new deer fence

I fenced the area where we were planting to protect against deer and finished planting 200 of the trees that we sprouted this spring. Rabbits were able to enter through the 6 inch spacing of the fence and damage many of the trees before I installed chicken wire around the bottom.  Hopefully they will reestablish from the roots.

I planted 50 trees into above ground pots, added them to the ones from last year and surrounded them with wood chips.

I put the seeds that I gathered in flats filled with container mix and put half in the ground and half in a cold room.  In the past I have made several attempts to plant White Oak acorns in the spring with almost no success.  The seeds sprout roots in the fall then wait until they have experienced enough cold temperature before growing tops.  Finally I decided to work with the seeds instead of trying to force them to wait until spring. I planted seeds that had started to grow roots in the small pots that I use in the spring to start trees.  I then put the trays of pots in my cold room where they would experience cold but not freezing temperatures through the winter.

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