In May 2001, we cleared 10 acres to plant 10 different varieties of Christmas trees for evaluation in Northern Minnesota. By using a Hydra-Axe to clear the land, instead of chemicals, the sustainability of the land was preserved. Prior to receiving this grant, the land was nothing but brush and had not been used for agricultural purposes for many years. Prior to this (10+ yrs) pasture. The land that had been previously planted and family owned, (15 acres) was handled in a sustainable manner, such as replanting where harvested trees had been and mechanical mowing instead of using sprays, and IPM’s were used. One acre was utilized in the MN Exotic Christmas Tree study. This opportunity became available after we had started this project and with the U of M laying out a replicated plot and bringing in 30 exotic varieties made this study very exciting.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
The goal was to create an opportunity for a young/new farmer who was interested in making a living connected to the land. Coupled with the abandonment of farmland in what was once a dairying economy, finding land was not a problem. The objective of this project is to trial new varieties of Christmas trees with have become popular in the retail market, but are not yet grown in our climate. We may have the coldest and shortest growing season in the Continental US. Thus, we would be creating markets for popular new varieties of Christmas Trees which may be grown locally. This also makes the biggest variable of this test (winter hardiness) unknown until a few years have passed.
Before planting could begin, the land had to be measured and cleared. Once the corner posts were in, the clearing could begin. The large trees were removed and then a hydro-axe came in to finish the job. Planting took place during the 1st week of May. The research on this project began in the fall, 2001 when the survivability of most of these varieties were calculated. When the final count was in, 80% had survived. Another count will be taken in the spring 2002, and fall 2002. The final survival rate will not be known until harvest which will take 7-10 years.
MN Christmas Tree Association became involved with this project, also. They provided some of the seedlings and labor in planting. The MN DNR donated the use of a planter and due to extremely wet conditions; the rent of a bulldozer from a local farmer was needed. The entire family donated their time and expertise during planting time. It took 3 people 20 hours each to plant the first nine acres, with one person driving the bulldozer, another riding in the planter and another walking along side to put those seedlings into the ground that the planter missed. Another 8 hours for three men were needed to plant 1000 trees on a separate 1 acre spot. The planting was laid out in advance with a 4x random replication throughout the plot. Each spot was marked by a different colored flag.
The 80% survivability was about what was to be expected considering the weather conditions during the summer of 2001. it started out so wet that a bulldozer was required to do the planting and by the end of the summer we had draught conditions. With no way to irrigate, the loss of only 20% of the seedlings was miraculous.
What we learned most of this whole project, was that tree seedlings are very hardy and even in less than perfect conditions, most will survive. When the count is taken this spring, we will have the first inkling about winter hardiness.
The total economic impact of this project will not be known for several years as it will take 7 years before the first tree will be harvested. It has already impacted wildlife habitat, though (I have actually been able to hunt grouse on my land) and aesthetically, it looks a lot better than it did before. The Christmas trees will add a lot to the landscape. And once they reach maturity, replanting where the harvested one had been, will increase the sustainability of the entire plot.
This project has been summarized in the MN Christmas Tree Association quarterly newsletter. At the annual meetings, held in July 2001, and January 2002, sessions have been held on the research projects where up to 50 producers were at a roundtable discussion. The association and its members are very interested in this project, as it will mean more exotic trees will be grown and sold as a local product. Also, in 2005 we will be hosting the National Exotic Christmas Tree Association Conference. At that time, a more comprehensible evaluation will be done. The purpose of the National Christmas Tree Association is to market Real Christmas Trees to the public. The new media will be notified and in an area like Duluth, the news media will eat it up. It will create new markets for our Christmas Trees just by having the local and National attention. Of less global importance, but to a greater personal importance, the clearing of the land was used to bring together neighbors, friends and family. Cutting the big trees from the land was the first thing that needed to be done. The logs were donated to a local organization that has a farm show every August and they sawed the logs into boards to be used for building purposes at the “show farm.” The firewood was donated to a man who was recovering from surgery and needed wood to heat his home. These neighbors and friends are very interested in seeing this project succeed.