Something I Bet Hardly Anyone Else Knows


Okay, so I sound like a megalomaniac. But I’m not bragging. The bit of knowledge I’m referring to is something very few people need to know which is why you probably don’t. But just in case you ever happen to start a new woodlot from scratch, the following experience might come in handy.

I’m approaching the age when dodging rams and birthing lambs is more than I can manage, but I want to keep grazing sheep so that I can continue to learn more about pasture farming. So I didn’t breed the ewes this year but will keep them just to mow the grass. That means I have more pasture than I need, so I am turning one of the eight rotated plots back to forest.

I could just fence out the sheep from that plot and let nature take its course. First weeds and brush would take over, then eventually native trees would come back in to claim their natural domain. But if I actually plant tree seeds and seedlings and keep the weeds at bay, I can get a woodlot well-started in about half the time it would take at nature’s pace.

So I have started planting our native hardwood trees on this one pasture plot: white oak, red oak, black walnut, wild cherry, white ash and sugar maple. I’m sure I’ll try some other varieties as well. I thought it would be a simple task because I have lots of seedlings growing in the established woodlot near our house, and plenty of black walnuts and acorns to plant as seeds. But alas nothing is simple in nature.

My first setback: the squirrels stole almost every nut and acorn of the hundred or so that I planted last fall. Okay. Nature 100, Gene 0. I’ll try again this fall. It looks like we are going to get a bumper crop of white oak acorns so maybe the squirrels can gorge on what they find in the established woodlot and leave my planted seeds alone.

The first unusual thing I’ve learned in this regard (unusual to me) is that it is much better to plant white oak acorns in the fall shortly after they fall because they almost immediately put down a root even though the acorn is lying on top of the ground and shows no sign of sprouting. If you wait until spring, the white oak acorn is already solidly rooted and more difficult to transplant. Honestly now, admit it. You didn’t know that either.

This spring, I have been transplanting maple, wild cherry and white ash seedlings. Squirrels won’t eat them, heh heh heh. So what happened? The transplants, all 50 of them, were doing fine. Then one morning, all the leaves on the white ash seedlings, every single one of them, were shriveled and black, just like tomatoes look after getting frosted. And yes, that is exactly what happened. My would-be new woodlot is on low land next to the creek, where frost will surely occur if frost is in the area. Up on the higher land, in the established woodlot, the ash seedlings were unaffected. The sugar maples next to the frosted white ash were burnt but wild cherry seedlings unscathed.

Seems hard to believe, but here’s the scoop. If you plant white ash seedlings on low land in April in this climate, they just might get frizzled by frost. Wait until after the last frost date in your area to transplant them. I wonder, evolutionarily speaking, if this is why white ash trees are one of the slowest to leaf out in spring. Some of the seedlings did start to leaf out again from secondary buds, but a second frost laid them low along with the maples. Score: nature 40, Gene 10.

The moral of the story is this: others may laugh at you for trying new or unusual ideas, but that is the way you gain new and unusual information. Not very many people are going to fly a kite in a thunderstorm, but Ben Franklin learned a shocking truth by doing so.



I understand how you feel. About 20 years ago my young family planted 100 walnuts late one Fall just before freeze up. We we greatly pleased to have exactly 50 sprout. The deer ate the leaders off 44, so we have 6 nice walnut trees for the next generations. Unfortunately here in WI we have a new Beech fungus that is deadly, along with the Emerald Ash Borer. If anything ever takes out the Maples it will be a pretty sad forest. For some reason these diseases and insects never attack Boxelder.

Teresa, congrats on having your very own homestead. Itis really a thrill, isn’t it. Gene Logsdon

Gene, yes I have read the The Little Ice Age and his other one about the Great Warming (or whatever the title was: both books are packed away right now). And yes, I agree we can’t accurately foretell the weather. But in terms of the general weather patterns, there are some good guesses being made about the next 50-100 years. I take them seriously.

DennisP, you might be interested in checking the comments on this subject on my other website,, where we talk a little bit about this. I think a lot about climate change, but no I do not take it into account in tree planting. I probably should but I don’t even know what is going to happen to the weather in the next ten years and neither does anyone else. Have you read The Little Ice Age?

I wonder if you are overlooking the effects of Global Climate Change, Gene. From some research I did a while ago, it seems that the suite of plants on the land and in woodlotw is going to change fairly dramatically over the next 50-100 years. The maple forests (and syrup production) here in Wisconsin and in New England will disappear. Wisconsin is expected to become much more like Iowa, with less rainfall and longer summer droughts (no longer the forest state) while other states in the Ohio R. valley will change to look more like their counterparts several hundred miles further south.

Your plans may go awry if these climate changes come to pass. Did you take them into account?

Beth Greenwood: Well I guess old Ben would have died happy if things had not worked out, or worked out better depending on one’s viewpoint. Brad, please keep me posted on your tree plantings. I am very interested in this subject. Gene Logsdon

Teresa Sue Hoke-House May 13, 2010 at 5:59 am

Perfect timing Gene. We just got the word that the place we have been renting for 18 years will be sold to us. Now we are plotting and planning the layout of, our soon to be ours, homestead. I thought we should plant our entire perimeter with trees that could serve as our woodlot and a barrier to the outside world. There is so much knowledge we have “lost” with our use of modern technologies and you keep helping some of those old ideas coming back.

Thanks Gene.

I didn’t know about the ash seedlings, but I did know about the acorns. That’s why wildcrafters prefer acorns from the white oak group to those from the red oak group. The former have a lot less tannin in their acorns, so they have to sprout fast in the fall before something eats them. Red oak acorns are chock full of tannins, so they can afford to wait to sprout until spring — they’re just not very tasty.

I planted about 30 black walnuts and a half-dozen pecans this spring, using your method: drop and step. I’m hoping to shade the future pasture paddocks and present cattle loafing shed and machine shop. I’ve also got a couple hundred maple seeds and a handful of seedlings I’m going to put out along the edges of the place and around-about.

Still need to gather a bunch of acorns and some ash and other seeds, though.

Thanks for all you do, Gene.

Let us not forget that Franklin was also more than ordinarily lucky in that instance! Or maybe, given his fondness for beer, he was just well-lubricated enough to discount the potential risk.

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