Monday, July 27, 2015

A Farmer of Tiny Trees

When Ed and I built our house in the country, I took a sabbatical from running my marketing firm, and then, I never looked back – shifting seamlessly from sabbatical to retired. Now when people ask me what I do, I proudly say I'm a farmer, which may be a bit of an exaggeration. The only livestock we have are honey bees and the only cultivation we do is my garden – plus a field of tiny walnut trees.

You already know about my garden; I thought I'd tell you about our walnut field. Back in the fall of 2012, we ordered 100 walnut seedlings from the Kentucky Division of Forestry. The total cost was $53 and in January 2013, we received ten bundles of leafless, bare root seedlings, each less than a foot tall with a scrawny root of about 3 inches.

We planted them in one of our fields that was not yet planted in wildflowers and native grasses. On a cold January day, we measured out a 10x10 grid and one by one, planted the tiny trees, placing an orange flag at the base of each one so we could see them against the winter field. Then it snowed.

For the past 30 months we have babied our tiny trees – weeding around the base of each one, mulching, mowing between the rows and watering each tree when there is no rain in sight. We have lost a handful to rabbits or deer or neglect, but for the most part, they have thrived.

This past week, despite the heat, we weeded around each tree and pulled up the flags. They are now large enough to see while mowing.

You may be wondering what in the world we are planning to do with this field of walnut trees: Mostly sit back and watch them grow. In 35 to 50 years, they may be large enough to harvest for their logs. Black walnut trees are valued for their logs, which are often cut into veneer. They are in high demand because of their beautiful color, strength, and durability.

We have hundreds of walnut trees scattered about our farm, but the very idea of bringing heavy equipment in to harvest them for timber is unappealing as it would create a huge mess. By putting them in an orderly field, we (or some future generation) can chose to harvest them when their trunks get to be about 24" in diameter.

Along the way, we will prune the trees in hopes of yielding high-quality, knot-free veneer and lumber logs. In the meantime, we enjoy tending to the trees and watching them grow. In another 7 or 8 years, they will start to produce black walnuts, which we can harvest and use in jam cakes and other such goodies, or share with the squirrels, deer and woodpeckers.

So, you see, I really can claim that I'm a farmer – a farmer of tiny trees, that may someday be towering 100-foot giants. Wish me luck.

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