When you mention to someone that you grow Christmas Trees, the response is usually an "ooh" and an "ahh"..."how wonderful it must be working with mother nature"!
It would be safe to say that most Christmas Tree Farmers in Vermont, growing trees on the hillside farms of yesteryear, do share that feeling or they would not persist. Maybe at first the thought of owning your own business and the lure of profits seemed paramount but over time this working with mother nature every day transforms a person into being an environmentalist, naturalist, conservationist and whatever other word best describes a Nature Boy/Girl. Professionals though they may be, do not expect scholarly answers from a farmer on these subjects. That’s not how it works. Ask about deer and he is apt to go into a tirade of how much damage they can do to his trees. Only after he simmers down will he tell you how many fawns he saw this spring and that handsome buck the other day with his horns in velvet, and arriving home late one evening found them bedded down on the front lawn. Don’t think for a minute that He is not an expert on deer. Ask about birds and he is apt to tell you how many tree tops were broken by hawks and crows during the spring growth. Not that he can name every bird by specie, but knows every bird by their chirp and probably by sight and flight patterns. And he knows where every turkey nest is because he had to avoid them during incubation period so as not to disturb the nest.
Stewardship of the farm is what this farmer is involved in. Growing trees is fine but you also assume responsibility for the woodlands and the wildlife that lives there. The following suggestions should be considered.
Develop a Forest plan
Tree Farms are usually a mixture of some open land for planting trees with the remaining acres having more mature trees growing as timber, (saw logs, pulp and firewood). Most people are just not comfortable with cutting trees in the forest. Over time I personally began realizing that the forest left unmanaged was becoming sterile. Growth had slowed to a minimum, trees had died or blown down and the wildlife just did not seem to be using it the way they once had. Only then did selective cutting become an issue. Then the State Forester was invited to visit the farm. He explained that with a “forest management plan” not only will the forest improve but it would allow the farm to participate in land use form of taxation and certain other specific stewardship plans that had some Federal financial assistance. Enlisting the services of a Private Forester was the next step. A forest plan was developed and has been followed including his assistance in selective cutting. His fee structure is reasonable and no major cutting goes on without his advice.
Integrated Pest management
This is a balancing act where the good should outweigh the bad. The good insects should take care of the undesirables and some vegetation will smother the others. In principle this is a great concept but in actuality difficult to buy into 100%. If you do not kill the aphids your crop for the year will appear unsalable. If deer are a problem and you fail to address the problem you will not have any trees to sell at all. On this farm a modified version has been adopted.
Is everybody happy?
Bears seem to be because every year that ground bees are prevalent they go up and down every row of planted trees in early fall and remove each nest for the larvae, (like they have the farm plot plan), and the only variation to their “fare” during this procedure is an occasional choke cherry feast.
Deer seem happy although the fencing makes minor alterations to their migration pattern heading for the “yards”. Deer will browse on the new buds on occasion but the real heavy damage comes from actual bark removal with their teeth. A move of frustration on their part during migration because they receive no nutrition from the bark. Deer fencing for about three years of the trees growth seems to keep this to a minimum. Also the coyote hunters were asked to not “start up” the coyotes on my land. The coyotes can be your friend.
Monarch butterflies survive because we try to stop the milk weed from growing by early removal before it becomes host to the monarch. Leaving plenty of milk weed growing in the rough for their pleasure. This is frustrating because if the original vegetation was not eliminated there would not have been the heavy milk weed crop in the first place. Milk weed will smother the new plantings.
Tree Farmers develop their own method of dealing with the elements of nature that most affect their operations. Some are common but some may be particular to a farm. It could be the animals and the woods or it could be whether or not to allow people to use the farm for recreational pursuits. It would be safe to say that there is rarely a dull moment when dealing with Mother Nature.
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**Disclaimer- It needs to be clearly understood that my consulting expertise is derived entirely from my love and time invested in the industry and not by a degree in Horticulture or Forestry, but rather in Marketing.