Coring-injection method of applying compost to Christmas tree plantations

2012 Annual Report for FNE12-764

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2012: $13,491.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Fred Salo
Northeast Kingdom Christmas Trees

Coring-injection method of applying compost to Christmas tree plantations


FIRST OF THREE ANNUAL REPORTS: This project will be monitored for 2 more years.

Producing quality trees does not just happen! They require care and the use of cultural practices that are not only good for the trees but enhance soil health and are kind to the environment.
With the support of a farmers grant, Salomaa Tree Plantation, Stannard Vermont, has launched a program to add compost to portions of the farm. Known as the “coring injection method of adding compost to Christmas trees”, three trial sections (3000 trees) have been composted and are now being monitored to show enhancement of tree growth, soil health and for the continued production of healthy trees.

Christmas tree growers of the Northeast will benefit from the compost by the proposed “coring injection method“ because it will show how, with relative ease, compost can be added to soils that are surmised to be unhealthy. Success of composting producing healthy soils will include:

1.The need to apply less chemical fertilizer annually.
2. Less die back from Armellaria root disease.
3. More robust, darker green trees.
4. The possibility of not
fertilizing every year.
5. And could advance the rotation cycle by a year

Central to this composting method is the use of a turf grass core aerator. These machines have been around the turf management industry for years. They actually remove a core the size of the index finger, nine times in a square foot, without adding to compaction. They also do not core deep enough to harm most fir tree roots. Adding compost on top of coring allows the compost to fall into place, several inches deep, and go to work immediately as opposed to working only as a mulch waiting for a long period of time for rain and the worm culture to work it in place.

If compaction and crusting are issues this type of aeration alone would benefit the trees, like it does turf. When compost of any kind is added it will help to suspend chemical fertilizer and moisture. This project used manure based compost to enhance microbial activity and because the farm is located in a livestock farming area.

Adopting this more natural approach is environmentally friendly. Public sentiment encourages farmers to use less chemicals and by doing so, the Farmer will remain a “friend” in the Community. Passing on the knowledge gained by this project will be twofold. A Growers Farm type meeting will be held in the fall of 2013 to discuss the outcome. The second, using the more “organic” approach by growers, as a marketing tool.

This is not an attempt to grow trees organically or revolutionize how trees are grown. Rather a way to improve soil and tree health on some areas of the farm. Also to address some of the environmental issues that farmers are facing today . These issues, whether actual or perceived, just don’t go away on their own. Letting the community know that composting is going on should have a positive affect.
Since starting this project I have learned a lot about compost but make no claim of being an expert. I prefer to leave that to other more studious individuals. My attempt is to prove that it is doable to apply compost to areas on the farm that have “struggling” trees growing at different stages and sizes, and that enough positive results will be seen that will justify the expense.

Our composting project is on going. Compost is in place among the trees in the trial blocks and the first year testing has been completed in the three trial areas. Because the same trees will be tested for three years, smaller sizes, which will not be harvested in three years, were chosen. These “test trees” are all numbered, with the results entered in the computer for the three year comparison.
It seems that bud set and color are stronger but it is really too early to judge results from composting as far as tree growth.

But several notable events have occurred. The first one has to do with the compost. Some compost was sold this spring in the area, both in bulk and bagged products that appear to have had some contaminants in it. The contaminants apparently raised havoc with a few vegetable plants. The producing ‘ company is making good with those that suffered losses and the good news is our project used two suppliers neither of whom was involved. Because the compost industry has evolved into having “producers” so to speak it is difficult to know all the different sources of materials that are coming from “up stream” to any given producer. UVM labs tested our two composts for normal factors prior to our application but assume no responsibility for noticing contaminants. So the lesson to be learned here is to use caution when selecting a source for compost or ask the lab to test for other contaminants.

Weeds! Oh yeh, this was a particularly active year. The good news is weeds in our compost blocks were very prolific which removes my doubts that there could be any contaminants in our compost. But this weed situation did add an unexpected dimension to the project. One source of compost arrived weed free while the other had weed seeds that promptly grew. Trial block #1, which has both composts applied, started with a two quart per acre application of simozine and needed three lite applications(directed spray) of glyphosate by August 15th. Some weeds were so tall we just pulled them. You can blame the compost if you wish but how about another extra “test” area that was core aerated only, no compost added at all, encouraging a real handsome crop of weeds.

If the weeds got such a boost from core aerating and adding compost there has to be a very good chance the trees are in process of reacting the same way. Time will tell!

Our Farm is located in the Mountains of the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Elevation 2000’ and soil moisture is not usually a problem.(picture taken September 10th) Mountain storms are prevalent and even the dew fall is so heavy that it could be noon before it dries. However August of each year has a tendency to be drier and because we do most of our transplanting during that month particular attention is paid to the weather forecast and soil moisture. Out comes the moisture meters. The variety we use is not that accurate and the reading varies based on the soils, so we use it only as an aide. What we found of interest this year is that there is a definite positive affect caused by “coring” and adding compost.

Trial block #2 of our compost project has a great deal of moss growing. Most growers like moss as a ground cover because it chokes out other weeds. But the moisture difference of moss covered with compost (also aerated by coring) and that with no compost and not cored is obvious on the meters. The moss only meter shows very little moisture, while the compost/aerated meter shows a surprising amount of moisture.( meters were placed side by side) There again consider this particular moisture meter an indicator only. This test was completed in multiple areas on the same day and with the same type of results. By the way we transplanted that day considering it adequate moisture and rain was in the forecast.

This should not be a surprise because turf managers aerate annually with one of several reasons being cutting holes thru the thatch layer to allow moisture in as opposed to run off or evaporation that can be caused by an overly thick layer of thatch. Now that turf manager decides what, if anything, He should use as a “top dressing” to fill the holes. I know of one that owns a small golf course and He adds sand to keep the aeration hole open to water. With his application compaction and clay soils is also an issue.

How this project fits into the marketing of Christmas Trees:

Marketing of Christmas Trees is all about how we go about increasing and satisfying the demand for cut Christmas Trees at a price that encourages sustainable agriculture. f the buying public perceives a Christmas Tree farm is doing positive things to preserve the environment and are stewards of the land it will have a positive affect on the future of the Christmas Tree Industry. You will also be a favorite farmer in the local community. Can you imagine the positive results if all local newspapers headlined “local Christmas Tree grower is a steward of the land and environment”?

Our tree farm has 93 acres in production. Our compost project covers only six acres. It is my belief that our normal robust trees will be produced quicker on these six acres and our attempt to a more “natural” approach to growing trees will not go unnoticed by the consuming public.

Other points of interest that came to light while accomplishing this project to this point are as follows:

Selecting a source for compost is not as easy as you might think. A large pile of manure may be here today and gone tomorrow. The availability of raw materials as well as completed compost is influenced by demand. Flooding from storm Irene increased demand in Vermont because so many fields needed repair. Not all farmers produce compost but rather sell their excess manure to compost producers. Compost aging is another factor. Caution should be used to assure age to be somewhere between raw and over aged which is humus and too assure your really getting compost. I actually received a sample that had a little bit of manure added to un-composted wood mulch.
Trucking the compost took an unusual twist because it turns out that there are specialists even in this area. The trucker we used works within the compost industry. After dropping off raw manure he picks up completed compost to deliver. This keeps the loaded mile cost to a minimum.

The actual compost application turned out labor intensive in that the Vicon fertilizer spreader attached behind my small Kabota tractor,which was part of the plan, will not spread compost. There are small manure spreaders and sophisticated top dressing machines used for turf available but we chose five gallon buckets and hand raked the compost to the desired thickness. You might think a drier application would be easier but then you could loose the advantage of rains washing the compost into the coring holes.

The aeration part of the project took its share of twists and turns. Behind the tractor aerators were ruled out because on the one hand it would add to compaction and on the other hand there can be too much variation in the depth of coring unless the land is smooth and flat. Several walk behind units were experimented with before the right one was chosen for the job. The actual aeration part of the project, using the right machine, turned out to be much easier than expected. There is also some merit in being able to rent walk behind core aerators from most rental outlets.

OUTREACH: Planning to date:
FARM MEETING: Hosted by: Salomaa Tree Plantation, Inc.
Planned by : Fred Salo, Owner, Jeff Carter, UVM Ext. Advisor, Lew Stowell, VCTA, Officer/Director

UVM Extension Service, Jeff Carter Agronomist
Vermont Christmas Tree Association, Loic D’anjou, President
DATE: September 14, 2013 stating at 8 a.m. with coffee and.
LOCATION: Salomaa Tree Plantation, 30 Batten Road, Stannard, Vermont 05842 Stannard is located between Greensboro and interstate 91. 12 miles west of Lyndonville, 3 miles east of Greensboro.
AGENDA: Will include:
Trade show booths available.
1. Project overview and results by owner
2. Soil health Representative from Cornell and UVM
3. Equipment demonstration Rep. from Equipment Manufacturer
4. Lunch
5. 3 Field work stations covering
A. Actual soil health testing demo by Prof.R. Schindlebeck, Cornell B. Weeds Prof. John Ahrens, Uconn retired C. Pathogens such as Armellarria UVM Prof and T. Schmalz, Plant Pathologist, Vermont Agency of Agriculture.
6.Jeff Carter, Agronomist UVM Extension Service Jeff is the Project advisor and will assist with these work stations
7. Owner will be at station #1 offering site Characteristics and results of project
8. Marketing expert to offer suggestions on how to use results in a positive marketing approach to sell more trees.
4 P.M. After hours tour by owner for those interested in seeing the other test areas and farm

NOTES: 1. Flash cards to include meaningful aspects of the meeting will be made available.
2. A full agenda will be available, as well as other details, in the near future on and UVM Ext. web site and will be on all major Industry calendars.
3. Registering will be on line thru the UVM Extension Service web site.

My presentation at the farm meeting and the project final report will include the cost per tree on this project. But I will say at this time there are variables each farm will work with but the costs of composting are real. I am very confident that results will out weigh the cost but only if the plot actually needs the additives that compost can supply. Soil /soil health testing is great help but the farmer himself should watch for problem areas especially after multiple rotations.


Jeffrey Carter

[email protected]
Extension Agronomy Specialist
UVM Extension
23 Pond Lane, Suite 300
Middlebury, VT 05753
Office Phone: 8023884969