In 1966, my grandfather, William Arthur Wall, decided that he wanted to grow trees. With the help of the Ontario government, he located 195 acres of abandoned farm land that was available from a tax sale, and had the land plowed into furrows for a tree farm or plantation.
Using seedlings grown at the Kemptville Nursery, he planted Red Pine and White Spruce. The initial planting was done by machine, but the quality was poor, and so my grandfather decided that the planting should be done by hand in future. And so we did. With a bucket containing bundles of 2-3 year old seedlings, and a shovel, we walked the rows, ultimately planting 150,000 trees.
As a 10 year old kid, the work seemed impossibly hard. The buckets were heavy, the mosquitos relentless, the weather cold. While I retreated to the car to recover, my grandfather would just keep working.
I learned a few important life lessons from the experience. You need to work hard to get something you want. It is never too late to start (what was an old man doing planting trees??) Some things take longer than next week or next month to accomplish.
It is difficult to adequately describe the sense of accomplishment one gets when looking at a forest, knowing that before, there was only scrub. The transformation of the area has been incredible, with a big increase in wildlife as well - birds, groundhogs, porcupines, and signs of other larger animals.
Having spent most of my working life involved with information technology, the one constant has been change. I read, research, and learn, aware that the useful life of what I know will likely expire in less than 24 months.
It is some comfort to know that by acting as the steward of a forest, I have something in my life to counter-balance the pace and waste of IT. When I think of all the paper that is consumed by the process of automating information processing, I take karmic relief in the knowledge that the big ledger in the sky is balanced by the contribution of biomass, habitat, carbon sink, and whatever other environmental factors forests contribute.
I have to say though, the personal benefits are limited to the non-financial. The economics of growing trees are not pretty. One has all the capital costs up front, running costs in the form of property taxes, and event costs in the form of pest control and natural disasters such as ice storms and fires. The bottom line is that this is a labour of love. So far, it has been a money pit.
If you feel the need to redress your environmental karmic balance, donations are gratefully accepted.
UPDATE: January 2009 - When initially planted, the trees are deliberately placed close together. This forces the seedlings to grow upwards towards the light. After a while,this becomes counter productive as there is no room for the trees to continue to grow, and a thinning is required.
The plantation is usually so dense at this point that entire rows are removed to create space. Heavy machinery cannot be used, and so crews go in on foot using chainsaws. This is both time consuming and expensive since the resulting logs are too small for economic use.
Even use as firewood is limited as Red Pine is high in resin which results in creosote coating the chimney. (not good)
Such a thinning took place during the late 1980's, with a crew assembled by the Dept of Natural Resources under some employment program at the time. My grandfather purchased the chain saws, and the Provincial Government provided the labour. The felled trees were dropped in place to rot back into the soil.
During subsequent seasons, we cleared the debris and created paths through the plantation that were wide enough to drive a car, allowing us to get material and tools further into the bush. The additional light transformed the atmosphere from somewhat dark and mysterious to warm and accessible.
Living on the other side of the planet poses some problems when it comes to managing the plantation. The great ice storm of 1998 did a lot of damage to the plantation, breaking the crowns off the top of the trees and leaving them standing but dead. I decided to give the stand time to recover before doing any further cuts.
Although I have been able to make brief visits over the years, there never seemed to be enough time to find a reliable contractor to do the next thinning. The solution was to use the Internet to research the industry, check forums for comments, and generally try and figure out what the current approach people were using. I couldn't find a reliable source for pricing though, which left me with a strong sense of unease since it was impossible to evaluate offers.
The last thing I wanted was some cowboy outfit that would damage the plantation while doing the thinning. I did locate a firm that appeared to be both innovative and environmentally conscious, Heideman Forest Services.
Lavern Heideman & Sons Limited has over 15 years of plantation management experience throughout Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec. Heideman was a pioneer in terms of developing methods of harvesting and markets for Red Pine plantation thinnings.
“When Lavern Heideman & Sons Limited developed a market for small diameter Red Pine in the early 1990’s, our ability to manage Red Pine plantations greatly improved because it made first thinnings a paying proposition.”(Martin Streit, South Nation Conservation Authority, 2002)
We employ two mechanical harvesting teams consisting of a harvester and a forwarder. Each tree is completely processed at the stump by the harvester – felled, delimbed, and cut to length. The forwarder completes the process by moving the pieces to the roadside for transportation. The machines employed by Heideman have the ability to reach around trees in order to process trees a couple of rows over from where the machine is situated. This is completed without damaging remaining trees and significantly enhances our ability to properly manage Red Pine plantations.
The knowledge of our staff regarding management strategies for Red Pine thinnings is unsurpassed. Call anytime for free advice and answers to any of your questions about plantation management.
Negotiating by email is difficult, particularly when you won't be able to meet the people you are dealing with, and have to trust that they will do what they promise. I got cold feet, and it got crazy at work, and so I never completed the contract.
During a visit during the summer of 2008, I was again reminded how much the plantation needed thinning, and so I re-established contact with Heideman and we agreed terms for the thinning contract, with work to take place sometime during the 2008/2009 winter season.
With things winding down at work just before Christmas, I sent an email enquiring about a possible start date, and was surprised to receive an answer saying that they would be starting the next day. It is now a few weeks later, and the first pictures are in.