Tuesday, December 8, 2015


(post written by Jason) Everyone who has known me for any length of time knows that I have a somewhat complicated relationship with trees. I have no great wish to live in a completely treeless environment and I very much admire trees when they are safely tucked away on someone else's property or well into areas of woodland on my own property. I tend to like them considerably less when they are in my fencerows or dotting my pastures. That's where the complicated part comes in because although they can be pretty, trees on my farm equal a lot of extra work. Let me explain! 

Just about anywhere east of the Mississippi River, or anywhere in the eastern half of Canada, every bit of open land wants to grow trees a whole bunch more than it wants to grow anything else. If I were to (foolishly) remove the animals from my open pastures and stop mowing them for a period of time.....lets say five years, I would have a hundred acres of six to ten foot tall saplings of various types when I came back. If I waited another five years I would have a completely closed up stand of young timber. All the open land would effectively be gone. Even with grazing animals and frequent mowing I still spend an awful lot of time (thankfully mostly successfully) trying to keep trees from taking root in my pastures. So in this part of the world the very idea of maintaining open land is a lot of work. 

Unfortunately I inherited about six miles of treed fencerows when I bought this farm. I say unfortunately because trees in fencerows are an awful lot of work, and without much benefit too, in my opinion. Fencerow trees tend to be thin and tall, thus almost useless because they don't throw enough shade to actually be very useful to anything in terms of keeping cool. Since most of them are deciduous in this part of the world they don't offer much of a windbreak in the winter either. Better than nothing, but not by much. The species of trees that tend to grow in fencerows often tend to be weedy, weak wooded, shallow rooted and short lived. What this means is that every time it rains, every time the wind blows hard and during every winter weather event of note we have trees that want to die at inopportune times and then promptly fall across fences. Obviously the fences have to be repaired, but the first order of business is to cut up and remove the tree(s) first. This can often be a large, very laborious event. Removing branches is a big job and then reducing the trunk and large limbs into pieces capable of being moved by a human just adds to the fun. 

Big trees in the middle of pastures tend to throw lots of shade which I appreciate. They also tend to be prodigious seed producers so I get to spend hours and hours grubbing out seedlings to keep my pasture from turning into a forest. Everything I said from a labour perspective about fencerow trees also applies to large trees in the middle of pastures. 

At this point I'm sure you get the idea that I think trees are a lot of work. So it will probably surprise you to learn that I spent a good portion of this fall digging holes of various sizes by hand with a spade to transplant all the trees that I bought. To be fair most of the trees are specimens for our yard which even I admit needed some serious landscaping. 

Since I am Canadian and our flag features a red maple leaf it should come as no surprise that I bought a couple of true, non hybridized sugar maples (acer saccharum) to plant around our front barn. We are at the very bottom of their native range but I'm pleased I found them and I hope they'll grow. 

one of Jason's maple trees

unloading and moving my Norway Spruce

Melissa also asked me about needle leafed evergreens. I made the mistake of admiring a  Norway Spruce (tsuga) with an enormous root ball at one of our local nurseries and Melissa fell instantly in love with it. The root ball was about 3x3x3 feet ( 1mx1mx1m) and in our hard clay soil this took me the better part of an afternoon to hack out a hole big enough with a pick and shovel. At some point during the transplanting I managed to throw my back out in pretty spectacular fashion as well. I learned the hard way that the cost of a backhoe rental for a day would have been less than half what it cost me to fix my back when you include doctor visits, chiropractic care and acupuncture treatments. This confirms my belief that there is no part of trees that isn't a tremendous amount of work and a pain in the......back......to boot. 


Baby and Elfin

Calimba and MyLight

Dolly and Cinnamon

Maisie and Norman

Homer, Moe, Levendi and Trigger

Grand, Convey and Rip

Tony and Thomas

Apollo and Hemi

Cocomo, Asterik and Lotus . . . 

. . . a closer look at Cocomo . . . 

. . . and Lotus

Remmy and Merlin


lytha said...

Whenever I look at your photos I see those clusters of trees and think Wow they must spend a lot of time doing repairs due to those trees, and cleaning up the dead ones (the horses must rub on them and eat them, don't they?).

Just yesterday I was commiserating with a neighbor about how much work having trees is. I don't enjoy eating walnuts enough to justify the hours spent raking in fall, and as we bought another plantable Christmas tree this year, they warned us, "If you plant this, be prepared to spend about 4K Euros to have it taken down someday when it gets huge." I honestly don't think I'll be alive when they get huge.

We must live in an area like yours where trees will take over if you don't mow or poison them. Elderberry, hazelnut, beech and birch take a lot of work controlling on our land. In this area pastureland is valued at twice the cost as wooded acreage. If we ever manage to buy the wooded lot next to us, I want to take out all the trees, but I naively thought that there would be firewood seekers who would do it for free. Probably not: (

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, trees! What confounds me is that our own trees don't fall in a way as to cause problems, but the neighbor's trees fall on our fence regularly. He refuses to cut them and won't let us either, so down they come, crushing our fence at the most inopportune times. Bonus: he b*tches terribly if a horse escapes the mashed fence and gets on his property! I keep telling myself "He's really old. Just wait!"

EvenSong said...

I grew up in LA, which is essentially desert, so I love trees! My hubby grew up in Connecticut, which is ALL trees, so he likes the open sky of eastern Washington. Our place had very few trees when we bought it (6-8 young poplars along the driveway), so I have subsequently spent bunches of time and dollars planting over 600 seedlings, of which maybe 300 survive. I love my wind breaks, and am now transplanting off-shoots to "pretty" places on the trail course and around the shop.