Johnny Appleseeds needed, please applyWORTHINGTON — I remember as a child the stories about Johnny Appleseed. I don’t remember them too well, but there is an image that sticks in my mind about a guy who wore a kitchen pot for a hat that wandered around planting apple trees. The world needs more Johnny Appleseeds.
By: Scott Rall, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — I remember as a child the stories about Johnny Appleseed. I don’t remember them too well, but there is an image that sticks in my mind about a guy who wore a kitchen pot for a hat that wandered around planting apple trees. The world needs more Johnny Appleseeds.
I had the opportunity to get together with a group of Johnny Appleseed wannabe’s a few weeks back.
Stan Dopheid called me and explained that the local Lions’ Club wanted to participate in a tree planting project. As a national organization, the Lions clubs across the nation were charged with participating either on their own or in conjunction with another group to plant trees and promote others to do so.
Stan called to see if I knew of a good project or a good site to do this planting.
I told him I had just the ticket. Pheasants Forever had purchased a rough parcel of ground south of Rushmore that we named Ransom Ridge. It has a steep slope that drops down into a major waterway and is located in Ransom Township in Nobles County. The prior landowner had already done his Johnny Appleseed work and had planted six rows of eastern red cedar trees that were, I’m guessing, more than 15 years old. They were about 10 feet high.
I had hunted this property over the past few years and could see firsthand that snow was still able to blow into the interior of the planting because the trees were just a little too far apart.
The local Pheasants Forever Chapter had planned to add trees to this site and this cooperative project was a perfect fit. The Lions committed the resources they had and local PF chapter added the remaining needed dollars. The goal was to plant 250 trees inside the existing planting in order for the planting to get so thick there is no way the wind could blow snow into its interior. The project site was challenging as the soil consisted of mostly gravel with tons of rocks. Cedars can do well in these soils which made them a good choice.
We scheduled the date weeks in advance and ordered the trees from Ed Lenz through the local Soil and Water Conservation District. They have always treated us well and the trees are very competitively priced. Several days before the planting date, the weather forecast was just awful — windy, rainy and temps in the high 40’s. This time the forecast was right on and we ended up moving from a 10 a.m. start time to a 3 p.m. start time in order to let the showers for the day pass.
Les Johnson is certainly a Johnny Appleseed. He and his tractor have probably planted more trees than any other conservationist I know of, short of someone who might do it as a profession. We hooked up the tree planter and staffed it with one experienced PF member and one Lions member. The tree planter is a simple, yet effective tool. It cuts a trench about 12 inches deep and, as the tractor moves along, the riders who sit only inches off the ground place the tree in the trench. As the tree planter proceeds, the dirt collapses in the trench and the tree is held in place.
Planting 250 trees is a breeze with the right equipment. Each Lions member got to plant a row and, upon completion, I asked them this question: Had the Lions members who planted 250 trees that afternoon exceeded planting that number collectively over their previous entire lifetimes? The general consensus was that this one afternoon effort most likely resulted in more trees being planted than all of their individual efforts combined prior to that day.
We had the easy part done. Overall tree survival depends on how well that tree does in the first two years. If a tree can make it to two years old it will most likely survive. One of the best ways to help a tree make it to two years old is to eliminate its competition. This is done by surrounding the base of the tree with a mat. This 3- by 3-foot mat prohibits grasses and weeds from growing up around the tree. This eliminates the competition for moisture and sunlight. Adding a mat dramatically improves tree survival and speeds up growth.
I have seen trees planted in sod with no mat that were 15 years old that were much smaller than 5-year-old trees that had been matted. You can use a machine to mat trees but because this was being done inside an existing planting this was an “on your hands and knees effort.” Each mat was held in place with 8- to 9-inch long staples that we pushed in with our hands and feet. Many rocks make this effort difficult and, in the end, we won the battle.
It will take a few years for these trees to reach a size that will allow the end goal to be attained. This is making the planting so thick that during bad weather wildlife can occupy the middle and be protected from winds and blowing snow. There are few places like this left in our area. These trees were planted on public property in a state Wildlife Management Area, and I am confident that in 50 years they will still be there. The same cannot be said for thousands of others.
I have seen more trees cut down and converted to row crops in the past year than I have in the prior 20. Field windbreaks installed as part of the federal farm program and funded by taxpayers — programs which have existed for decades — have gone under the bulldozer in an attempt to produce, in many cases, as little as an additional half to 1 acre of row crop production. This is the biggest flaw in our federal farm policy. Temporary contracts of conservation are just that, temporary. We need a better long-term solution.
With the intense pressure being applied to what little habitat still exists on private lands in our area and the gradual loss of those acres, public lands become all the more important. In areas like ours that have small percentages of these permanently protected public lands — less than 3 percent — they will need to be well managed and, in most cases, expanded to compensate for the loss of habitat on private acres. Minnesota’s WMA system is one of the best in North America and will act as an oasis for wildlife across our state where they exist.
We need more Johnny Appleseeds. Trees provide cover for wildlife, reduce soil erosion from wind and beautify the land. Consider planting one tree and if you can plant 250 or 2,500. Nobles County has many more spots that can use tree plantings and, even if you can’t physically do the work, you can make a contribution of money to Pheasants Forever toward their efforts. After your death, the trees you planted while alive will most likely leave a longer lasting impression on the planet than anything else you might have done in your lifetime.
Scott Rall is the Daily Globe’s outdoors columnist. His column can also be read weekly at www.dglobe.com.