From Our Archives – December 2007
GENE LOGSDON (1931 – 2016)
The Contrary Farmer
I spent an hour in late November planting two acres of bottom land to trees. If that sounds like a prodigious task to accomplish in such a short time, not to worry. All I had to do was walk back and forth across the plot, dropping black walnuts on the ground in rows about 25 feet apart. I dropped one about every two feet— too thick really but to take into account the possibility that some won’t germinate and that squirrels might eat a few. I had gathered the nuts, still in their husks, from under a mature tree along our creek. When finished, I drove my tractor’s tires over the walnuts to squish them into the soft ground a little so that they would have good contact with the soil. That was all the planting necessary. Next spring, the walnuts will swell and crack open and a root sprout will burrow into the soil so quickly you can almost see it in motion. I admire people who are busting their guts and their backs transplanting thousands of little seedling trees to renew woodland, backyard plantings or urban forests, but it is so much easier to just plant the seeds, and invariably they will surpass the transplants in growth.
In nature, all seeds, including weed seeds, grass seed, etc. fall on the surface of the earth in winter and sprout when weather conditions are right. In the grove of trees our house sits, thousands of maple seedlings that have fallen on the forest floor come up every spring without any help from anybody. Along our creek, black walnut and ash seedlings sprout and grow like weeds from a few old mother trees, also without any help. All oaks, hickories and just about any tree will do the same in their proper climate. Squirrels do bury acorns and nuts, but trees don’t need squirrels to increase and multiply.
In a natural situation, where seed-producing trees are present, seedlings grow thick enough that they will self-prune and prune each other into a stand of nice, clear trunks. Without human labor, they shade out smaller seedlings, their own and each other’s lower limbs and eventually competing weeds and bushes. All that pruning advice that forestry handbooks wax so earnestly about will only gain you about three years, hardly worth the labor for trees that need 50 years to grow to marketable maturity.