Monday, February 7, 2011

What's New at the Farm? Tree talk

In the middle of winter I sometimes scramble for something to write about so I thought this week I’d recycle an older column; change the dates and such and post it. So, I got to looking at columns I have written over the past five or six years and have come up with some subject material that will keep us all enthralled. Well, maybe not all of us, but some of us.

Trees are a good subject for today. The basics include types and species of trees, what they’re used for and whom they’re useful to besides us, transplanting them and taking care of them. Trees not only surround us, but provide homes and food to wildlife, shade, lumber, fruit, maple syrup and a huge list of other things that make our lives easier and more enjoyable. There’s a thousand websites that offer advice on what to plant and how to plant but only a handful that tell us why we should plant them.

I’m thinking of the trees I have around our house and property. There’s the large Red Maple my dad planted in 1955 which shades our house in the summer from the brutal sun, the same tree hangs the bird feeders in the winter, the same tree harbors all species of songbirds during all the months of the year. This is the tree that shades my lawn chair; where we watch the ducks and geese bathe in the pond.

Then there’s the apple tree at the corner of the garage. I planted this maybe 25 years ago. What possessed me to put an apple tree there is beyond me. Something happened to it; I believe the goat gave it a pretty good going over and it regrew, but from the roots and not the trunk. So as it’s growing from the rootstock it probably won’t be the variety I planted, whatever that was. It has perhaps fifteen trunks now, which I intend to cut back to two. We’ll see what it does. If nothing else it’ll make a decent shade tree someday. It’s surrounded by Honeysuckle so it’s a good place for the dogs to hang out.

On the south side of the garage I like to call this a microclimate because it’s quite warm out there; that’s where I have my plum orchard. Not a big orchard but at least six trees that produce some years and don’t produce others. Plum trees are nice for two reasons: they aren’t big trees and I really like plums. As a kid growing up my aunt and uncle had a couple of old plum trees that would bear by the bushel some years, and that was one of my fondest memories of growing up on the farm, was those laundry baskets full of tree ripened plums.

I had two plums trees die last year; one died during the winter and the mice girdled the other one. I replaced one with two American chestnuts planted in the same hole. They were kind of spindly little whips so I wanted to grow them, at least for a few years, where they will get lots of care and attention. You know where that’s going to lead – like the year I got ten tiny cherry trees and planted them in a raised bed in the garden to get bigger before they went out into a permanent spot. The raised beds are long gone, but the trees are still there. And they’re not small anymore either. Even though they’re planted quite close together, they do provide nesting spots for songbirds and shade for when the hens go out into the yard, and tiny, extremely bitter little cherries.

A few years back I convinced Peggy one afternoon to go down to Dresden with me to see the alewives run. In May alewives swim upstream by the thousands to spawn and it’s quite a sight to see them. Of course the day we went was cloudy and cool and they weren’t running, so what are we going to do now that we’re almost on the coast? We went to a greenhouse and landscaping company to poke around a bit. Long story short, we came home with a beautiful magnolia tree. Now while magnolias aren’t native here, in the right microclimate, they should be fine. We planted it on the south side of the house where it’s warm and protected from the cold northwest winds of winter. It hasn’t blossomed yet and it doesn’t seem to get much taller every year, but its trunk diameter is increasing every season.

Well, it looks like I found plenty to talk about this week after all. Next week I’ll wrap up trees and add some shrubs and more reasons to plant trees.

Until then, Brian

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