A Host of Details Affecting Growth

June 10, 2006

June 10, 2006 My comments in this missive will deal primarily with growth trends in the horse pasture, the sloped, sparsely‑vegetated field adjoining the barns. The field nearer the woodlot has a lush hay crop only partly impeded by the spraying, and the seedlings seem to be germinating later in it. The horse‑pasture seedlings continue to peek up around my marker‑stakes, though some patches seem bare, either from infertility or rodent predation, so I have taken to picking up the metal stakes and using them to label volunteer seedlings appearing off the grid.

The tender seedlings appear vulnerable to established vegetation, so I crop several handfuls of grass away from the base of each stem before labelling it with a stake. While doing this I have noticed that some of the stems have been cut off before, so most likely are last year’s growth, cut down to the ground by the haying operation in July, 2005. They seem lively, though not so fresh as the volunteers obviously growing from a buried nut. Back to the squirrels. They have despoiled many hills, especially along the two outer rows of the field, but all is not bad. When lifting the stakes from the ruined hills on the south side, I found today that I seldom had to look further than ten feet to find a volunteer seedling or two, even in sites well away from the resident walnut trees. It seems as if the squirrels were re‑planting the nuts as they dug them up. Their planting‑success rate seems a good deal better than mine and I quickly ran out of stakes in that area. When I tried to apply my hypothesis to the north edge of the field, however, I found that the nuts had not been replanted (or haven’t germinated yet). This could have something to do with the ready proximity of large, hollow maples frequented by red squirrels. Perhaps it is a lack of ready storage space which causes the raiders on the south side to cache their booty, or else it might be their species. I see black squirrels most commonly along the south side, not reds. At the moment there are easily 300 viable seedlings in the field, but many are not where I planted them. I expect more to hatch yet from the lower (cooler) regions of the field. I pulled out one volunteer seedling yesterday showing a black smut‑like deterioration of some of its leaves. I’m pretty sure it was a walnut, not a butternut. The discolouration turned up to a very limited extent on two other volunteers today. From the net last night I learned that walnuts rarely catch the butternut blight, and then aren’t as severely hurt by it. Another idea is that the discolouration isn’t blight, just what happens to leaves when they are beaten up by more aggressive grasses. Anyway, the mortality rate for the seedlings so far is extremely low. I’m spending far too much time trying to hold every leaf, but it’s exciting to watch them grow. I’m still trying to decide whether the squirrels are vandals, predators, or clever but idiosyncratic gardeners. Rod June 15, 2006 After several days of rain the butternut seedlings were clearly in distress from the rapidly-growing hay crop in the back field, so I resolved to mow it with the bush hog to give the little guys a fighting chance. We had planted them with a cardboard mat stapled to the ground, so they had some protection, but the hay was almost four feet high in that area of the field and the recent rain caused some sections of it to tip over flat, taking the seedlings with it. Eleven hours on the Massey Ferguson and I had trimmed up the fields to where the butternuts were out of danger and the walnut seedlings had some chance of success.

Weeding by hand was growing old quickly by the end of the second day=s two-hour session, so I gassed up the lawn mower to see what I could do with the sections of the back field where seeds had not yet germinated, likely due to low soil temperature, shaded by the heavy hay crop. Repeated passes with the bush-hog left approximately 2 sq. foot areas surrounding the metal posts. With the lawn mower=s hydraulic foot controls I discovered I could drive up, inspect, pull the post if no sprouts were evident, reverse, mow the site, reverse again and proceed, replacing the post on the way by. This should make it much easier to locate any new sprouts, should they survive the mowing process. Where sprouts were evident, of course, I would hack away as much vegetation as possible with the mower, but then, inevitably, I would have to shut off, dismount and weed by hand. Still, the process saves some hand weeding, particularly in the less- productive areas, and leaves the field looking like a slightly seedy lawn, not necessarily a bad thing. In an hour I covered approximately one quarter of the four-acre field. Next time I plant walnuts I will make a point of having the field mowed off close before the Round-up spray. Seedlings can and will make their way up through substantial grass cover, but the sprouts rescued from the hay are vigorous but crooked. This might not matter for nut production, but I am a timber man, and a straight stem is much more desirable than a pretzel. The East vs West Competition: The smaller nuts harvested on the farm and planted to the west of the stakes have sprouted reliably, but in a given hill where both are planted, seem to be about two weeks later than the larger imported nuts from Kingston and Lansdowne. Perhaps this lateness gives these northern cultivars the ability to avoid late frosts. June 17, 2006 This morning I started matting the seedlings in the sugar bush field. I was able to locate 76 recipients of the left-over mats, occasionally selecting the more viable of a pair of stems. Remember that half of this field is given over to transplanted walnuts and nursery butternuts, planted over a spring planting of single nuts which I discovered in my shop over the winter. Of those 200 nuts I have so far observed three viable seedlings. (Five more by July 3rd) (65% by summer of 2007) Friends from Ottawa arrived and were quickly put to work on the matting. A transplanted seedling I sent home with them in a pot last week died shortly after transplant. I suspect it may have been the tap water with which Anne watered it, but anyway, Wally the Walnut is deceased to great lamentation. The remainder of the 158 mats we distributed around the higher-needing seedlings in the horse pasture. A few of the hills which were formerly in very heavy hay are now producing seedlings, though a good chunk of the field held standing water this morning after last night=s heavy rain.

June 19 to 23, 2006 During a frantic week with the help of Joseph, a soon-to-be fifteen year-old bundle of energy, we cleared the fence line on the driveway so that Glenda and Mom may lay out bedding plants along the 300 feet of it not already a flower bed. Joseph and I spent our spare time attending to the walnuts. On the 21st after rain and a drying wind, we found a few seedlings crushed under their mats: we had pinned the mats in place with the only staples we had, the seedlings= own metal stake. It seems that one 9mm wire post is not enough to secure a triangular, papier-mache mat in a wind. One seedling ended up with a kinked stem, but I think we got there before much damage occurred. In the wetter parts of the horse pasture the seedlings are still emerging as the soil warms up. I unearthed another dozen or so today, two pushing bravely up through clumps of mown grass, though this causes some bending of the stems, so I=d like to get to them before this occurs. I noticed a couple of stems cut off by the bush-hog growing new leaves. Not all have rebounded from this accident, though. The flat, low parts of the back field still lie quite fallow, though very occasional sprouts are emerging. The pattern does not look good for seeds which went into ground which was very wet or submerged in late fall. July 3, 2006 Perhaps I spoke too soon. The abovementioned fallow areas show some faint signs of hope, a half-dozen sprigs from the sodden turf and a few more which have managed to hide in tufts of grass showed forth today. I ran the tractor/rotary mower over the bare spots this afternoon, the better to monitor any sprouting activity over the next days and weeks. The papier-mache mats seem to do as much harm as good unless very securely fastened down. Two long metal posts don=t do an adequate job of protecting the plant stem from wind and swinging cardboard. I have lost a few stems over the last week, though the protected plants now seem robust enough to shake off the swirling mat without undue damage. Careful mowing and hand-weeding over a foundation of Round-up seems to be a clearly better strategy than hoping for protection from a mulch product which dries out and becomes a kite when forced up by emerging grass. The potential $600 penalty per punctured tractor tire leaves me reluctant to improvise staples to hold the mats down.

In the horse pasture the nuts are sprouting even from soggy turf, though none have emerged from beneath the surface of a puddle yet. About a week ago I mowed a heavy hay crop off this area of the farm and assume the soil has warmed up after exposure to the weather. The non-producing heavy tufts of uncut grass went under the mower=s blade today. Sprouts seem able to deal with a certain amount of early pruning. A number of strong plants in the crop are currently growing from a second leader after the main stem fell to mower, tractor chevron, or swirling mulch mat. Mulberry trees are in full production, so family members are quietly taking themselves off to the pleasant pastime of standing in the shade, picking the black-red fruit, and eating hand-to-mouth. Wild blackberries are ripening quickly with many bushes producing, though they aren=t as delectable as last year=s crop in the blazing sun. Too much rain for sweet berries, I guess. I spent the morning clearing paths to the blackberry bushes, as friends will show up with buckets, expecting to be guided to the bushes. This way I can simply point and tell the picker of the day to drive the golf cart around the path until he/she sees a bush she likes.

While idly searching Google I came across an article on the food-hoarding habits of gray and red squirrels. The abstract=s generalizations exactly parallelled my own observations in the horse pasture.

Food-hoarding behavior of gray squirrels and North American red squirrels in the central hardwoods region: implications for forest regeneration

Jacob R. Goheen and Robert K. Swihart

Abstract: The North American red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) has expanded its geographic range into the state of Indiana concurrently with a decline in populations of gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) throughout portions of the central hardwoods region of the United States that have been converted to intensive agriculture. Red squirrels construct larder hoards and function as seed predators throughout much of their geographic range. In contrast, gray squirrels construct scatter hoards and thus function as seed dispersers in addition to eating seeds. We conducted field observations to discern whether hoarding behavior differed between the two species in a deciduous forest stand near the southern limit of the range of red squirrels. Red squirrels were more likely to hoard walnuts and acorns in larders or trees, whereas gray squirrels were more likely to scatter-hoard mast items. We present a simple model to illustrate the potential impact of interspecific differences in hoarding on germination success of black walnut. Our results suggest that red squirrels are unable to compensate completely for the loss of gray squirrels as seed dispersers in portions of the central hardwoods region that have been transformed by agriculture.


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