Watts Christmas Tree Farm

A lot if people are searching for our Christmas tree website and are landing on this blog.  Here is the link to our Christmas Tree lot website.

http://wattstreefarm.wix.com/wattstreefarm.

I hope this is helpful to folks looking for us. ūüôā

Advertisements

Extra Income from Bundles of Brush

At Watts Tree Farm we are constantly looking for ways to generate income from the woodlot. Most people think that timber is the only thing to come from a woodlot to generate income. However, this would be a misconception. There are many other potential sources of income from a small woodlot.¬† We call these additional products Non Timber Forest Products¬†or NTFP’s¬†as they are commonly referred to. I will write about NTFP’s in a broader context in a future blog. ¬†It is a fascinating subject that¬†presents so many potential opportunities for small woodlots to generate income. For this blog I will talk about one Non Timber Forest Products that we produce and it is quite simply “brush”.

home made stand for making bundled brush.  Note the two strings that are laid across the stand before brush is put on.

home made stand for making bundled brush. Note the two strings that are laid across the stand before brush is put on.

November and December is the time of year when people are busily decorating their homes for the Christmas season. Not everyone has access to brush that is commonly used for decorating. Brush is nothing more than branches from softwood trees. It can be pine, spruce, fir, cedar or any other species that is available in your region. In our woodlot we have access to four species; balsam fir, Korean fir, white pine and red pine. We could add white spruce to this list but it is not as desirable to handle so we do not bother using it. Customers much prefer the softness of fir and pine.

Branches are placed across the strings with the tips outward.   The brush is placed loosely at this point.

Branches are placed across the strings with the tips outward. The brush is placed loosely at this point.

We have been growing Christmas trees for many years. In our choose and cut lot we noticed that people would ask us for some of the branches from the bottoms of the trees that we were harvesting. At first we simply gave it away but we realized that there is demand for brush, as a seasonal product.¬† The question was “How do we package it to make it convenient for customers to handle?”¬† The answer was to put it in tied up bundles. ¬†We devised a simple but small stand to hold the brush while we tied it into compact bundles that can be easily handled. This began to generate a small bit of income from what was previously a waste product. As more and more people became aware that they could conveniently buy bundled brush our sales continued to grow. It is not a large part of our income for the woodlot but it is a little extra that goes hand-in-hand with our Christmas tree sales. I think it could be much large if we promoted it more but there is a limit to the time available to make up these bundles and we are already busy with the Christmas trees. There is even potential to wholesale this product but again it is the time constraint for us. However, for readers of this blog it might just be the ideal product for you, depending on where you are and your personal interests.

Look closely at the yellow rope in the center of the stand.  It is used to pull the brush down tightly while the two strings are brought up over the top of the brush and tied tightly.

Look closely at the yellow rope in the center of the stand. It is used to pull the brush down tightly while the two strings are brought up over the top of the brush and tied tightly.

Putting the brush into relatively consistent bundles is a necessity to bringing a product like this to market. This is where the brush stand comes into play. I am happy to show just how we do it as it is a pretty simple device. I am sure there are people out there who could improve on this and make it even easier to create compact bundles. But for the small amount that we do this works just fine. I hope the photographs show the process clearly.

As our sales grow we need to think about where we will get the brush on a sustainable basis to supply customers each year. One of our prime sources are low-grade or “cull” Christmas trees. These are trees that simply will never make a good Christmas tree and are taking up space in our Christmas tree lot. There is always a percentage of trees that, for one reason or another, have poor shape or are damaged and must be cut out of the lot. These “cull” trees have become our primary source of fir brush. For pine we either go to our pine plantations and cut lower branches or remove trees as part of our thinning process. We have planted quite a few white pine in the woodlot so there will always be a source of pine branches for brush. These lower branches need to be removed anyway, so by waiting until late fall we have a source of pine branches for the brush bundles. We can earn a little extra income simply by timing our pruning to the time of year when we need the brush.

A finished bundle of fir brush ready for sale.

A finished bundle of fir brush ready for sale.

Income from the woodlot is important to us at Watts Tree Farm but so are many other aspects of the woodlot. Balancing the need for income with maintaining and improving wildlife habitat, while enjoying the recreation aspects of the woodlot are all a function of good planning. Perhaps over the winter months I can tackle the topic of forest management. Creating a management plan will force you, as a woodlot owner, to look at the things that are most important to you. As always, I enjoy writing these blogs and hope that readers find them to be interesting, entertaining and useful. I encourage readers to follow my blog by pressing the follow button on the side of the page. You will also see a link there to our Christmas Tree lot website.

Until next time, keep safe and well.

***Click on any photograph to get a larger image***

Roads and Trails

Managing a small woodlot depends heavily on having good access to the woodlot.¬† Without good access it is nearly impossible to do good management.¬† The layout of where roads and trails will be established will be influenced by many factors.¬† In this short blog I’ll touch on some main points¬†that I hope will get readers thinking about their need for access and do more research into proper locations and construction.

Main woods road at Watts Tree Farm.  The road has slight curves to reduce the sight distance and make it more enjoyable to walk when hoping to see wildlife.

Main woods road at Watts Tree Farm. The road has slight curves to reduce the sight distance and make it more enjoyable to walk when hoping to see wildlife.

One of the first questions to ask yourself is “Why do I need or want roads and trails?” The most probable answer is, to remove harvested products.¬† If you are managing your woodlot then at times there will be quantities of harvested products to remove.¬† Having an access road that allows for trucks to pick up the products, relatively near to where they are harvested, can be vey beneficial and in most cases a necessity.¬† However, people own and manage woodlots for many different purposes so the need for roads and trails should keep the objectives of the owner in mind.¬† Roads and trails can have multiple purposes and this is the way we look at them on Watts Tree Farm.

Smaller trails give access for many things.  Wood can be extracted or it can be a great place for a leisurely walk.

Smaller trails give access for many things. Wood can be extracted or it can be a great place for a leisurely walk.

At Watts Tree Farm we are fortunate to have relatively flat terrain and very few wetlands or water course to deal with.  As the woodlot is relatively long and narrow it made the most sense to locate one main road, more or less, in the center of the property.  The woodlot is managed for multiple purposes and therefor the design and locations of the main road and secondary trails takes into consideration more than one use.

Lets look first at the main access road.¬† If my only objective was wood extraction then the most efficient road would have been perfectly straight in the exact center of the property.¬† However, we are interested in recreation, aesthetics and wildlife in the woodlot along with economics.¬† Therefor, when the main road was laid out it was designed with slight turns to actually reduce the “sight distance”.¬†¬† The road is used as much for walking and enjoying the scenery and wildlife viewing as it is for removing harvested wood.¬† In fact I would say we use it much more for these secondary uses.¬† By having¬†shorter sight distances it makes the walking much more enjoyable.¬† There is always¬†the excitement of what might be around the next corner.¬† The woodlot is home to many species of birds and mammals and ¬†by having slight curves in the road it occasionally allows us to get a little closer to viewing some of this wildlife.¬†¬† At the same time, the curves do not hinder the slow movement of trucks or machinery¬†that might “occasionally” have to come in to pick up a load of logs, Christmas trees or¬†for managing the blueberry field.¬† If you are planning to construct a forest access road you should consult professionals in your region.¬† There will most likely be environmental standards or restrictions that you must adhere to.

A properly constructed trail can be a cost effective way to haul fire wood home if you only have small equipment.

A properly constructed trail can be a cost effective way to haul fire wood home if you only have small equipment.

Trails, just like main access roads, can have multiple uses as well.  They are used more for recreations and wildlife viewing but they can also be use for extracting wood using my ATV (All Terrain Vehicle).    The decision of where to locate and how wide to make the trails is dependant on the type of machinery you have to do your management.  It also may have to do with the type of management to be done in a certain part of the woodlot.  For example,  in areas where I intend to remove my annual fire wood by either strip cutting or selection cutting I will create a slightly wider trail that will accommodate my ATV and trailer.  In areas where I do not expect to be harvesting firewood the trail will be narrower.

Sophie walking down a freshly cut trail in a young fir plantation.  Better access will increase the chances of better management.

Sophie walking down a freshly cut trail in a young fir plantation. Better access will increase the chances of better management.

Recently I have decided that I need to significantly add to my trails in the woodlot.    There are parts of the woodlot that I have not visited for several years and if I had a proper trail system I would most likely visit these areas more often.   I enjoy walking through my woodlot and that addition of more trails will make it more accessible for me and anyone else who want to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors.

Having access for management or enjoyment are a very important component of owning a woodlot.  The locating of these should reflect your personal needs and preferences.  But sometimes the locations may be, in part, determined by physical land conditions or by regulations or laws.  All of these things should be taken into consideration but by all means, make sure you do develop a system of roads and trails that gives access to the woodlot.

An early spring outing on one of the many trails at Watts Tree Farm.

An early spring outing on one of the many trails at Watts Tree Farm.

If you enjoy reading this or any of the blogs of Watts Tree Farm please consider following by clicking on the “follow” button on the side.¬†¬† I appreciate receiving comments or questions from readers.

Until next time, keep safe and well.

*** Click on any photo to get a larger image ***

Sunsets

Sunsets can be so beautiful, no matter where they are in the world.  There is one location at Watts Tree Farm where I have watched the sunset hundreds of times. Sunsets are very special to me.

There is something about sunsets that makes us stop and wonder.

There is something about sunsets that makes us stop and wonder.

Every one is differerent , changing every minute  and you know they are only there for a short time.  In a way they are like snowflakes, no two are ever the same.

The shadows cast long streaks across the sky.

The shadows cast long streaks across the sky.

These photos may not be the most spectacular sunsets on the planet, but they are some that I watched and truly enjoyed.¬† My¬†camera doesn’t take the best photos but I hope they show a bit of the spectacular color and design of these evening events.¬† To truly enjoy these you should click on each one to see a larger image.¬†¬†The camera can not begin to capture all of the color and some of the surroundings that go into making up the whole picture.¬† No, for that you actually have to be there,¬†watching as the sun dips behind a cloud or sinks at the horizon.¬† The subtle colors across the whole sky are amazing and the camera simply can’t capture it all.

The true warmth and serenity can be felt in the orange glow of a sunset.

The true warmth and serenity can be felt in the orange glow of a sunset.

We sometimes refer to “sunset” as the later time of life, just like the sunsets are in the later part of our day.¬† When they are so beautiful, as they often are, we can’t help but stop and look at them for awhile.¬† I’m at that beautiful time in my life and I am going to take some time to enjoy it.

As I said earlier, Sunsets are meaningful to me.¬† So much so that I named my business after them, Sunset Trading Company (http://sunsettrading.ca/).¬† I¬†gave my company this name for two reasons.¬† Firstly, I love the beauty of the sunsets as I see them from my woodlot.¬† Secondly, I am at that later stage in life and I’m pretty sure this will be the last business I ever start up. So I thought it would be a fitting name for my company.¬† But I admit, I am living my dream.¬† For most of my adult life I have dreamt of owing my own business.¬† So here I am,¬† joining the millions of other small business owners just trying to survive and be successful.¬†¬†Using the¬†word¬†“Sunset” in the name of my company has made it more meaningful to me.

Even the darkest clouds can show their beauty when the sun shines on them.

Even the darkest clouds can show their beauty when the sun shines on them.

However, the woodlot is still my pride and joy.¬† It is the place where I can go for some piece and quite.¬† A place to enjoy the simple pleasures of life.¬† So many beautiful things to see there, including the sunsets.¬† It can’t always be about the work.¬† We need the time to simply sit back and relax and take in the view of the world around us.

There are not¬†as many words in this blog as usual and more photographs.¬† I hope people take the time see the photos and realize how important these things are to all of us.¬† I’ll get back to writing about things in woodlot management in future blogs. But every once in awhile we all need a break.

As the sun is setting and dips below the western horizon here, it is just beginning to rise and start a new day in a distant land.

As the sun is setting and dips below the western horizon here, it is just beginning to rise and start a new day in a distant land.

I truly hope you have enjoyed these colorful scenes.   It is special for me to share this with you.  At the end of the day, as the sun sets on Watts Tree Farm, I know it is just beginning to rise on my friends in Japan.  It is at some other sage as it shins down on friends in other places.  In some ways we are all connected around the world.  As it should be.

Until next time, keep safe and well.

*** Click on any photo to get a larger view ***

Blueberry Harvest Time

Ahhh, the delicious wild blueberry.¬† At Watts Tree Farm we have about 5 hectares (12 acres)¬†in production.¬† I haven’t written much about blue berries in my blog yet so I think it is time to correct that.¬† Many people probably do not understand the production cycle or just how do these vines get here in this field.¬† I hope I can explain it in terms that are understandable to everyone.¬† It is really kind of fascinating.

Field of wild blueberries ready for harvesting.  Different clones produce different looking berries.  You can see the variations across the field as slightly different colors.

Field of wild blueberries ready for harvesting. Different clones produce different looking berries. You can see the variations across the field as slightly different colors.

There are essentially two types of blueberries that people can buy in the market.¬† There are “high bush” blueberries, which we low bush (wild) blueberry growers refer to as the “other” blueberry.¬† And of course, there is the superior tasting wild blueberries.¬† In case you are wondering the difference in the store, the high bush berries look really good and tend to be larger than low bush blueberries but they usually lack the taste of the wild berries.¬† The low bush, wild blueberries grow only in the most northern parts of the United states and Canada. ¬†I expect there are some in Europe as well.

So why do we refer to them as wild?¬† Well there is a perfectly good reason for this.¬† It is because they grow “wild” in the forest of this region.¬† The vines of blueberries grow naturally in the forest.¬† Although we refer to them as “vines” they are in reality a shrub. They tend to prefer softwood stands over stands of hardwood.¬† I am not sure why but I think they like the soil a bit more acetic which would occur more naturally in softwood stands.¬† These vines can grow in the shade of trees for decades and probably centuries¬†with out producing fruit.¬† They flourish in full sunlight and this is when they products the berries.¬†¬†In the natural evolutionary world this would happen every once in a while when a forest fire would burn through a stand of trees.¬† The blueberry vines would get full sun and grow vigorously and begin to produce sweet blueberries.

Here is the dividing line between a "sprout year" on the right and a "crop year" on the left.  This photo was taken in June when the blueberry vines were in full bloom.  The following year this will be completely opposite.

Here is the dividing line between a “sprout year” on the right and a “crop year” on the left. This photo was taken in June when the blueberry vines were in full bloom. The following year this will be completely opposite.

In our woodlot we have stands of softwood trees with the vines growing underneath¬†the trees.¬† In fact more than 50 percent of our woodlot is in this state.¬† So as this is a naturally occurring forest vine, wild blueberries are in fact a “Non-Timber Forest Product”.¬† I will talk much more about Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFP) in future blogs.¬† It was a decision a few years ago to devote a portion of Watts Tree Farm to blueberry production.¬† This is a way of diversifying our crops and our income from the woodlot.

To get the best production blueberries go through a production cycle.¬† In the late fall the vines are clipped completely to the ground level.¬† The following year the vines are in a state called a “sprout year”.¬† During this sprout year the vines will send up new shoots and not a single flower will develop.¬† During the next summer the vines will produce flowers and of course berries which are harvested in August in Prince Edward Island.¬† At the end of this season the vines are clipped and the two year cycle begin again.¬† The vines will slowly expand by sending out underground roots which will grow new shoots.¬† Eventually the entire field will be 100 % covered in blueberry vines.

These are double head harvesting machines.  There are five of these working in my field at one time.  Blueberry harvesting has become highly mechanized to get the job done in a hurry.

These are double head harvesting machines. There are five of these working in my field at one time. Blueberry harvesting has become highly mechanized to get the job done in a hurry.

All of our work is contracted out to a blueberry contractor who has the knowledge, expensive machinery and market connections to do the job.  I can concentrate on my tree work which is more of my speciality.  We divided our blueberry area into roughly two equal halves.  This way we have 50 % of our field in sprout year and 50 % in production year, so that we have a small crop of blueberries every year, instead of one large one every second year.

The land is very flat where we have our blueberry field.¬† It was once farmland that had been abandon in the early 1900’s and grew up in a stand of spruce trees.¬† As the stand became mature we harvested it in sections and planted most of it back to “high” forest, with spruce, pine, oak, etc.¬†Some of the area was planed¬†for Christmas trees and some¬†destine to become¬†naturally growing¬†blueberries.¬†Not a single vine was planed in our field! ¬†The flat land is very conducive to machine harvesting.¬† Blueberries have become a significant crop in our region and without the aid of machinery we could never find enough people to harvest the entire crop.

These large containers are loaded on a truck and hauled to the processing facility for cleaning.   The large harvesting machines do an amazing job of harvesting the berries without harming them.

These large containers are loaded on a truck and hauled to the processing facility for cleaning. The large harvesting machines do an amazing job of harvesting the berries without harming them.

We keep a small patch each year for hand picking.  The berries will last on the vine for about a month.  So we are able to go and pick fresh good tasting berries at any time during this month.  We like to invite friends and family to enjoy these along with us so this little patch goes a long way towards a few families having some fresh blueberries and enough to freeze some for year round baking.

I hope this has shed some light on the production of wild blueberries for those who are not familiar with the process.

Until next time, keep safe and well.

***Click on any photo to get a larger image***

Shearing Pine Christmas Trees

Last August (2012) I wrote about the first steps in shearing Balsam fir Christmas trees. In this blog I will talk about shearing pine trees for Christmas trees. Shearing pine trees is very different from shearing fir trees. Shearing Christmas trees is part science (biology) and part art. Understanding how a tree grows, is the science and shaping a tree to end up with the most beautiful tree a customer could ever find, is the art. Of course Mother Nature is going to play a role and sometimes can upset the best intentions of the science and the art.  Insects, disease or weather can damage a tree at any time in its cycle of becoming a full grown Christmas tree.  Fixing small problems that often occur in trees is best achieved through a knowledgeable mixing of the art and the science.

The two most common tools for working on pine Christmas trees.  A shearing knife and hand pruners.

The two most common tools for working on pine Christmas trees. A shearing knife and hand pruners.

There are a couple of basic words I should explain before we go any further. As Christmas tree growers, we tend to throw words around that relate to Christmas tree growing and expect every one to¬†understand what we are talking about. Shearing and pruning are two often used words that mean two very different things. Shearing refers to the shaping of the foliage of the tree to create a pleasing shape and greater density.¬† Shearing pine trees is usually done with a long shearing knife, made specifically for this purpose.¬† Pruning refers to the removal of the lowest branches on the tree to create a branch free “handle”.¬† The handle is the base of the tree that¬†a happy customer will use to put their tree into a stand.¬† Pruning is typically done using a pair of hand pruners.

Tip of a branch showing the developing new buds for next year's growth.  Most pine only have buds at the tip of the branch.

Tip of a branch showing the developing new buds for next year’s growth. Most pine only have buds at the tip of the branch.

Shearing of pine trees usually begins when the trees are quite small.  Pine trees, especially the white pine trees we grow, tend to have vigorous growth and put out a long main leader.  If left un-sheared the tree will produce open gaps that are almost impossible to fill in later.  Most species of pine only produce buds at the tips of the branches.  There are no side buds as there are in fir trees.  This is one of the main reasons why pine and fir are so different in their shearing.   Pine trees MUST be sheared during their active growing season.  This means that there is a very short time each year for the most effective shearing.  In Prince Edward Island, Canada this time will range from about late June to mid July.  If the shearing is not done during this time the results will be disappointing.   Because shearing removes almost all of the tips of the new shoots the tree needs time to set new buds at the point where the tips were cut.  If it is done too late in the season the tree will not have time to set new buds for next years growth.

Small White Pine Christmas tree with excessively long leader.   The leader should never be allowed to more than 30 cm (12 in.).

Small White Pine Christmas tree with excessively long leader. The leader should never be allowed to grow more than 30 cm (12 in.).

This is the same small tree after shearing.  Note the leader is 30 cm (12 in.) or shorter.

This is the same small tree after shearing. Note the leader is 30 cm (12 in.) or shorter. New buds will develop at the cut tips.

Different species¬†of pine were tried at Watts Tree Farm. We tried Scots pine and Red pine but with little success. There are many varieties of Scots pine. We had some strains that we liked but the local nurseries could not supply the same strains consistently, so we gave up. Some strains are extremely “prickly” and not user friendly while others have softer needles. Some regions of Canada have large portion of their crop in pine. However, in Prince Edward Island there is only a small percentage of pine Christmas trees as Balsam fir is the dominant species. Most Christmas tree growers do not grow pine as it is such a small portion of their sales.¬† Years ago I recognized this as a niche in the market that I could use to get more buyers to my lot.¬† It seems to have worked.¬† I will get some customers who will travel further to come to our “Choose and Cut”¬† because they know we have pine trees.

White Pine Christmas trees before this season's shearing.   All of these have been sheared for several years.

White Pine Christmas trees before this season’s shearing. All of these have been sheared for several years.

After this season's shearing.  The taller trees will be ready for market this year.   They will grow out a bit more and lose that "just sheared" look.

After this season’s shearing. The taller trees will be ready for market this year. They will grow out a bit more and lose that “just sheared” look.

White pine can be sheared into¬†very beautiful Christmas trees.¬† However, the one draw back to them is the fact that they are not only soft in appearance and touch but their branches are too soft and flexible.¬† I have to warn new buyers that they can be “tricky” to decorate.¬† They will not handle heavy ornaments the same way a fir tree will.¬† ¬†I have customers who come back the next year and say “Never again.” and others who come specifically for these white pine and have for many years.¬† I have seen some of the trees decorated by customers and they can be made to look absolutely beautiful.

As always, it is difficult to explain things in great detail I my blog.  However, I hope the photographs help to give a good visual reference to the explain better the work that goes into shearing pine trees.

Until next time, keep safe and well.

***Click on any photo to get a larger image***

I Love Spring!

It is almost summer but I want to tell how much I enjoy spring here at Watts Tree Farm in Prince Edward Island, Canada.  After a long cold winter it is nice to get out and see the forest coming back to life.  Of course in a blog I can only show you a few photographs of the spring season.  As things begin to return to, or grow in, the forest after a long rest or a long flight back from some warmer place the promise of a new season of life is seen and felt.  Unfortunately, I can not convey the sounds and even the smell of the forest this time of year.  But it is a beautiful time of year and one that fills you with hope and just makes you feel good about the coming summer months.

It nice to go for a walk in the woodlot in early spring and not have to walk through snow.  The warm sun sure feel good.

It nice to go for a walk in the woodlot in early spring and not have to walk through snow. The warm sun sure feel good.

Just getting out to go for a walk this time of year seems so beautiful.  Life is beginning a new season of growth.  The leaves are not even out on the trees yet but you can feel the warmth of the sun and you know things are going to change every day.   Things seem to change more rapidly this time of year than at any other.  One of the earliest butterflies to appear in the spring is the Mourning Cloak.  I hadn’t seen one in years so I was pretty excited to see this one.  They seem to be more of a forest butterfly rather than a garden butterfly.

The Mourning Cloak butterfly is a very early butterfly in the spring.  I have seen it appear before the leaves are out on the hardwood trees.

The Mourning Cloak butterfly is a very early butterfly in the spring. I have seen it appear before the leaves are out on the hardwood trees.

Many of the forest flowers seem to bloom early in the spring.  Some are in bloom before the leaves are fully out on the trees.  I guess this is to take advantage of the warm sun before they are covered by the shade of the trees later in the spring.  There are a lot of woodland flowers that bloom early in the season.  Some are in the more open areas, like purple violets and wild strawberries.  Others grow where there is more shade.  One of my favorites for aroma is the May Flower.  Its small white or pale pink flowers give off one of the most beautiful scents.  As I was saying earlier, I can show you a photograph but I can not send you the aroma.  You’ll have to come for a visit when the May flowers are in bloom if you want to experience the fragrance of these delicate flowers.  We only have tiny patch of them in our woodlot.  I transplanted a few of them many years ago and they are established now but only in one spot.

The May Flower is not the most attractive of all the woodland plants but it has the most beautiful fragrance.

The May Flower is not the most attractive of all the woodland plants but it has the most beautiful fragrance.

Even the new ferns as they unfurl are nice to see.  When the conditions are right they can grow very quickly.  One of the most popular late spring flowers to bloom in PEI is the Lady Slipper.  The Lady Slipper is the Provincial flower of PEI and is seen on many craft items in shops across the “Island.”  Unfortunately it blooms just a little too early for most of the tourists to see them first hand.

Lady Slippers are the Provincial flower of Prince Edward Island.  The bloon in mid to late June in my area.

Lady Slippers are the Provincial flower of Prince Edward Island. The bloom in mid to late June in my area.

There is a Flying Squirrel peeking out of the opening in this nest box.  Flying squirrels only come out at night to feed.

There is a Flying Squirrel peeking out of the opening in this nest box. Flying squirels only come out at night to feed.

Along with the return of the earliest butterflies and the blooming spring flowers are the sights and sounds of wildlife.  The migratory birds begin to be seen in the tree tops and as soon as the leaves are fully out most of the birds will have returned for another nesting season.  You can’t blame them for wanting to come to PEI to raise their young.  Some of the mammals will also become more active and search for a place to raise their young.  I have written about the use of nest boxes in a previous blog.  This year I was fortunate to get a photo of a flying squirrel using one of my nest boxes as “home”.  Flying squirrels are out only at night so they are not often seen.  Most people probably do not even know we have them in PEI.  Although they are called “flying” squirrels they don’t actually fly.  They do have an extra layer of skin that is attached from their front legs to their back legs.  When they jump they spread this skin and glide easier from tree to tree.

There is so much to see, hear, feel and smell in the Spring.  It is one of my favorite times of the year.

 

Until next time, keep safe and well.

***Click on any photo to get a larger image***

Pruning White Pine for Higher Quality Wood

First of all I want to apologize to my blog followers for not getting a blog written in April.  Life became a little too busy and there was no time to sit down and write a blog.  This could happen again as there are some things happening that will keep me away from finding much time for some of the things I enjoy.  Enough of this, lets move on to the topic of this blog.  Back in January I wrote about thinning a softwood plantation.  This time I would like to write about pruning white pine, which could easily be substituted for many other softwood or hard wood trees.

This young whie pine is receiving its first pruning.  Only two or three whorls of branches will be removed at this age.

This young whie pine is receiving its first pruning. Only two or three whorls of branches will be removed at this age.

The first question you are probably asking yourself is, “Why bother to prune trees at all?”¬† It is very time-consuming and a fair bit of hard work if you have a larger acreage of trees.¬† I hope I can clearly answer the question of why pruning is a worthwhile thing to do.¬† I will focus strictly on white pine for this blog.¬† The main reason we prune pine is to create clear wood in the trunk or bole of the tree.¬† When you go to a lumber store to buy¬†pine lumber or pine wood products,¬†you can usually buy it by grade.¬† In the case of white pine, clear lumber with no knots is the most expensive grade to buy.¬† In manufactuing¬†clear pine has more value for making things like moulding for your house.¬† These clear pieces are more stable and less likely to have any breakage. ¬†So if the clear lumber is more valuable then¬†trees that have a higher precetage¬†of knot free wood should also be more valuable.

Knots in lumber are formed from the branches of the tree as it is growing.¬† The tree simply grows new wood each year and if there are branches the tree will grow around the branch and keep doing this as long as the branch is there.¬†¬†When the tree is sawn into lumber we see the encased branches as knots.¬† Some species of trees “self prune” reasonably well but a little intervention can speed up the process.¬† Quite simply we are trying to remove the lower branches as early as possible¬†in the age of the tree.¬† Once the lower branches are¬†removed the tree will grow clear¬†“white wood” with no knots in that part of the tree.

Two examples of white pine lumber (paneling).  The one on the left is clear with no knots.   The one on the right is an example of knotty lumber.
Two examples of white pine lumber (paneling). The one on the left is clear with no knots. The one on the right is an example of knotty lumber.

To get the best advantage of pruning it is best to start when the trees are still quite small.¬† But only¬†a few rows of branches can be removed at one time.¬† The trees can be revisited every few years and a few more rows of lower branches can be removed.¬† When the trees are small I like to keep at last 50% of the tree in “live crown”.¬† In other words, do not remove branches more than halfway up the tree.¬† As the trees get older this ratio can be reduced to 30% live crown.

Pruning is best done during the “dormant season”.¬† For white pine in my area this would usually be from October until April Although I have done some smaller trees in May and perhaps even June.¬† It is best if the pruning is done in the colder months as it is less likely to cause a disease entry point where the branch is removed.¬† You should try not to cut too close to the trunk of the tree and be careful not to tear any of the bark.¬† This could cause a decay problem at that point and degrade the lumber from the tree.¬† As the branches get larger it is desirable to make a cut in the underside of the branch first.¬† This will help prevent the bark on the trunk of the tree from tearing when the heavy limb falls.

This white pine is receiving its second pruning.  A good pair of hand pruners will still handle this job.

This white pine is receiving its second pruning. A good pair of hand pruners will still handle this job.

When I begin pruning small trees I use hand pruners. It is worth buying a high quality pair which should last years and work much better than inexpensive ones.  As the trees get taller and the branches larger I move to a pruning saw.  You can purchase a small hand pruning saw, a saw with a medium length handle or for really tall trees, a telescoping handle pruning saw works well.

As the trees get taller it is necessary to move to a telescoping pruning saw.  These saws work amazingly well.

As the trees get taller it is necessary to move to a telescoping pruning saw. These saws work amazingly well.

Previously, I had mentioned that the main reason for pruning lower branches is to create higher value wood.  There are a couple of other possible reasons to prune white pine.   White pine are susceptible to a fungal disease called White Pine Blister Rust.  This disease is usually fatal to white pine if they get infected.  One way to reduce the incidence of White pine blister rust is to prune the lower branches of the tree.  In theory this creates better air flow and drier air around the trunk of the tree and seems to help reduce the incidence of this disease.   A third reason to prune trees is purely aesthetics.  There is something very appealing about looking up a tall straight tree with no branch for a long way up the tree.  They seem to be just a little more majestic when they have a clean trunk with no branches.

There are many things to do in a woodlot to make improvements.  Some can be to someday make more money from the sale of our timber or other products.  Some small improvements are for aesthetics, which can be every bit as important as making more income for our woodlots.  Pruning is just one of those little things that can be done, one tree at a time, to make a small improvement.   There are lots of things I would like to write about in future blogs and I hope that many people find this site and find some value in it.

Until next time, keep safe and well.

***Click on any photo to get a larger image.***