Sunday, July 31, 2016

Everything Done Right

If you come to visit Badgersett Farm, it can be a little difficult to visualize the process of establishing productive nut plantings.  For one thing, our plantings, hazels, chestnuts, and pecans, all neohybrids, are now so extensive it takes several days to actually see them all.  For another, our plantings are insanely variable from a grower standpoint, because of the 40 years of necessary, and ongoing, research.  A field with 10% stocking can look like a failure; and be an enormous success- since it identified the plants for the next generation.

But now, you can visit a planting where the process is crystal clear - and it's a bit easier to get to than SE Minnesota; north central Ohio; about 15 minutes off of Interstate 90.

The planting of Badgersett neohybrid hazelnuts as part of the Oberlin College Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies is a stellar example of “how to do it right”.  The establishment success, growth rate, and early nut bearing in this planting are simply the best it has ever been done- and approaches even theoretical limits.  It may be a long time before it is done better, anywhere.  And- we learned some things here that may change future plantings.

The Lewis Center is globally recognized as one of the most important examples of “green architecture”.  The hazel planting was conceived both as a demonstration of a biomass fuel crop, and an ongoing living experiment used for teaching.  The decision to immediately implement an experiment in fertilization was directly responsible for the outstanding success - meticulous individual fertilization was performed, starting in fall of 2011.

Planted under the guidance of Philip Rutter, Badgersett founder and CEO, the field was installed June 14, 2011, on a bright sunny day, with abundant participation by students and faculty.  Note that summer, and sunny days, are not usually associated with tree planting success - but the tubeling system worked exactly as planned.

June 14, 2011
Soil preparation was unconventional; but needed for the deeply compacted heavy clay soil.  Leaf compost from the College supply was incorporated with about 12” of tilled clay; leaving ridges that were sure to subside.  Several larger clonal hazels were included as reference genetics, but the majority of the planting is straight “standard” hazels; the same thing we recommend to growers.

As always recommended, the newly installed tubelings were provided with 0.5 to 1 gallon of water, on the day of planting.
June 14, 2011

Oct, 2011
By October of 2011, the tubelings had made very little top growth and were close to disappearing under the white clover that had been planted as cover, nitrogen, and rabbit diversion.  Some judicious mowing next to the rows and a little hand weeding kept them with their heads up in the sun.

This is the usual experience with the tubelings - they will look unimpressive, even worrisome in year one.  Long years of comparative research, however, have consistently shown that by year 3, they will far outgrow bare-root dormant transplants.  And that was demonstrated once again at Oberlin.  The ridges from the compost amendment are still evident here; but you will see they have subsided in the 2013 photos.

Planted in 2011.  So far we have been unable to locate and photos from 2012.  The planting looked like not much of anything that year.  But regular care, mowing of grass/clover, and most importantly - fertilization - continued on schedule.

Remember these plants were seeds in spring of 2011, outplanted when they were around 3 months old.  In spring of 2012, they were one year old.  In spring of 2013 — two photos.  From this point on, we have photographs; and they are — astonishing.  Pay very close attention to the dates on the following photos:

May 23, 2013
At right is the field on May 23, 2013; these plants are actually not quite 2 years old.  Already, however, as big as the best bare root nursery stock ever gets.  
And below - is the field in the same year; 2013; but on August 5.  In 2 months time (count them) the same plants are now easily equal in size to 5 year old bare root transplants.

And below - is the field in the same year; 2013; but on August 5.  In 2 months time (count them) the same plants are now easily equal in size to 5 year old bare root transplants.

August 5, 2013 

August 5, 2013
Above, with the Oberlin hazel team at the time, are the prize-winning hazels in the field; the same day; August 5, 2013.   These plants are 3 1/2 years old —from seed.  The tallest member of team is 6’3” tall - the tallest hazel is well over 7 feet tall.

May, 2014

Clusters of nuts showed up on many plants in 2014; indicating that plant mass is likely more significant than plant age in determining onset of nut bearing.

August, 2015

Harvest for class analysis in  August, 2015 - plants are now 4.5 years old. The photovoltaic array for the Lewis Center is in the background.

July 2016

 To the right: this year, 2016; the plants are 5.5 years old.  All of the bushes are bearing crops; some of them extremely heavy.  If you are familiar with the patterns of neohybrid hazel branch structure - you can tell this plant bore a crop last year, too -

This is, simply, the best and fastest these neohybrid hazels have been grown in the field  

The Lewis Center neohybrid hazel field, July 13, 2016.  5.5 years old.  Unfortunately, the young man in the photo is 6’5” tall - making the plants look a little smaller than they actually are  (humor.).  The very large hazel just to the right of him is a G-029 tissue cultured reference clone, and was 4 years old at planting; not a tubeling.

Note that the field is fully populated; initial survival over 90%.  It’s not hard to duplicate this success with these plants – it’s just necessary to follow the instructions – all of them — and remember, they are NOT bare-root dormant nursery transplants.- and treating them as if they were; will kill them.  Note also that EFB (Eastern Filbert Blight) is present on campus; this is what genetically fixed EFB resistance looks like.

If you wish to visit; the Oberlin College Lewis Center welcomes visitors {they get plenty coming to see "The Most important green building constructed in the last 30 years" according to Architect Magazine (July 2010)}.  It's easy to find using any modern map app; or you can just ask the friendly folk to direct you.  If you would like someone to show you around, Ben Hobbs, the Facility Manager will try his best to be available; best arranged ahead of time: or cell phone is 216-407-1351.

Phones: 815-275-1632 or 815-598-3264.  

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Tornado (?) ... Again

What do you do when you discover your sheep worming practices - have stopped working?  You medicate the flock; again.  Immediately.  Which means rigging a catch-pen, then wrangling 40 sheep. This situation was discovered when a ewe went down, and the vet called. (This isn't the tornado part yet; wait for it.)

 That ewe is fine now; but her lamb died; and we lost 2 more sheep; both of them not strong animals to begin with.  If you're losing animals- more can go down fast, if you don't act.  So; drop everything- and for several days we had a worming rodeo -

Far above and beyond the call of duty, Sara and Tommy provided 98% of the muscle - and agility.

The vet thinks a major factor in our worm treatment being inadequate is - the worms are becoming resistant to the 'usual' medications.  We'll be changing several management practices to lessen the pressure on the sheep.  The previous years we had no problems.

They've responded quickly to the medication; now entirely back at work mowing wild parsnip, etc.

Oh, and the tornado.  We got hit by something last night; the damage is actually far more extensive than the previous event.

The Weather Service says that storm carried 70 mph winds - but I've been through hurricanes, and this looks worse- a lot worse.  Some of the damage is healthy trees just snapped off, from this MinJon apple to a mature sugar maple within sight of the house.  Some of the trees smashed are in a straight line; but some trees are down at different angles, like the winds were rotating.

 We've lost some very significant trees- tops broken out of several very big chestnuts- which we'd been encouraging large crowns on for better nut production.  For those familiar, M-241 may have to be entirely coppiced, M-096 has lost about 1/4 of the crown, M-073 may be snapped entirely off.  Plenty of big chestnuts survived, of course, but those trees have long records of great production...

A big loss- this Luscious Pear tree- set fruit with all this blossom - but more than 3/4 of the crown was broken out -


The big butternut survivor that we've watched for decades- blew down, uprooted in spite of the ropes and anchors we put on it after the first tornado.  It lost the wind protection from the sheltering aspens - which all blew down, twisted

...  Big Momma is what we called her.  She's down right across our woods road.  And if you'll look behind the down tree - you'll see a young, totally healthy hackberry that was just broken over.

We have quite a few seedlings of Big Momma growing, and her progeny are all over the woods - but this is a real loss.

Now we get to play Pick-Up-Sticks.  Used to be a favorite of mine, 60 some years ago...