A couple of weeks ago I noticed something had broken a number of the white pines we planted just before the Plowing Match back in 2007.  I suspected something had knocked them over, but when I examined another tree that looked sickly, it tipped over at my barest touch, severed neatly across the trunk about half-way up.  With lots of sap around the wound and evidence of insect activity, I figured some sort of weevil had hit, so because these trees are part of a managed forest under the MFTIP plan, I dashed off an email to Martin Streit, Leeds Stewardship Co-ordinator, and asked for help.

Resource technician Donna O’Connor responded to my plea, combining the visit with a survival assessment of the new seedlings planted last spring as part of the Trees Ontario program.  She listened to my theory that somehow the western pine weevil had made its way east and vectored in on my trees, then suggested that this looked more like white pine blister rust, a common affliction in white pine stands in Eastern Ontario.  It’s a fungus which settles in on the trunk of a pine and causes a series of little holes to appear in the bark.  The holes, of course, fill with sap.  Secondary insect infestations likely account for the boring through the trunk.

While there’s no real treatment for blister rust, it’s not a new problem and the stand will generally survive it.  Donna will definitely report the problem to Martin for further investigation, though.

Then she moved over a couple of rows to the new seedlings the crew planted this spring.  I’d kept them mowed quite carefully all summer, so they looked pretty good.  She was pleased with the survival rate, which she placed at 98% in the first field she examined.  It seems that pine seedlings in good soil are pretty resilient:  until I bought a narrow tractor and mower, I had stubbornly tried to mow the plantation with my 5 foot Rhino.  This produced several rows of seedlings just as lively as the others, but several inches shorter (oops!).

This summer the Roundup ran out long before the grass quit for the season, so I had to mow the new trees out of overwhelming vegetation a couple of times.  By this time of year, though, the 5000 young pine, tamarac and hardwoods were clearly winning on the north side of the property.

Donna applied the same survey method to the five-acre walnut/pine patch on the south face of the drumlin.  The survival rate for the white pine seedlings there was considerably lower, almost entirely due to my mowing habits.  A walnut field must be mowed both down and across.  I avoided all the pine seedlings I could with the narrow mower on the cross cuts, but the walnuts came first.  To my credit, Donna admitted that the pines still standing are in excellent health.  “Mind you, if you couldn’t grow trees with the climate this summer, you can’t grow trees.”

She checked the progress of the butternuts.  The hundred or so viable trees from the 2006 stand are doing very well, with good growth on the trunks.  Of the thirty blight-resistant stems I planted three years ago, all but two remain healthy but most are in serious need of pruning. “These butternut have excessive lateral bud growth due to twig borer attacks on the branch leaders, Rod.  Butternut don’t normally have the kind of sprouting that yours are showing.”

Because these are test trees Donna suggested I contact the Butternut Lady, Rose Fleguel, for further instructions about a pruning regimen for these valuable young trees.

Back in the woodlot Donna wanted to see the cherry and red oak we planted four years ago to see how they are doing in the clearings we created for them within the canopy.  Red oaks are easy to find at this time of year because they retain their dark red leaves.  Most of the oaks are hanging on, but could use more sunlight, so she suggested cutting some of the tall ironwood and basswood to allow more light into the two cleared areas.  The young maples in that area are fine trees and we should be able to work around them.

Donna found a group of young cherry which have grown much taller than the others.  She used them to illustrate how the seedlings will grow if they get the correct amount of sunlight.  Some of the little bushy ones will either need more sunlight or perhaps relocation to the front lawn.  “They grow outward looking for the bits of light instead of upward.  We use the term ‘umbrellaing’.”

A quick lesson on pruning the double-stems of some new spruce seedlings, and away she went to meet with another landowner.  These visits from Donna O’Connor and Martin Streit give me much of the support I need to look after the property, and to my mind they are the biggest advantage of the Managed Forest Tax Incentive Program.

 

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A couple of weeks ago I was driving Leeds County Stewardship Coordinator Martin Streit around the property as I explained our needs for next spring’s tree planting project. I showed him various groups of saplings which we had planted in the spring of 2006, and I commented that the butternuts donated by the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority were doing very well, even though they were not the later, blight-resistant variety he sent along last year.  Then we came to the actual plot, and half of the trees had lost their leaves!

This had to have happened within a couple of days, because I had been back there checking on them recently, and they were fine, except for a few black beetles crawling around some leaves.  The bugs had seemed harmless.  Now half the 116 trees looked dead.

What’s more, when we checked the mature butternut in the woodlot whose photograph Martin had included in his annual report, it had been defoliated, as well.  Because the lowest branch is about 60 feet up, collecting leaf samples from this tree was out of the question.

Martin told me he would contact Susan McGowan, the MNR Forest Health Technical Specialist based in Kemptville.  Sue arrived two days later and examined the saplings in the butternut plantation.  By this time many were beginning to sprout new vegetation, so they didn’t look quite as devastated as they had when Martin and I first encountered them.  They were still in big trouble, though.

This was my first chance to watch a forest detective in action.  My biggest problem was to stifle the questions and let her work, but Sue was very tolerant of my curiosity.

She immediately examined the tip of a branch where the compound leaves had been sheared off.  “A deer did that?”   I argued that we don’t have deer here; the coyote has always kept them away.  She just pointed to the tracks next to the tree.  Oops.   Then I remembered:  the coyote was killed on the highway a couple of months ago.

“But that’s not all.  Look at this.”  She broke off the tip of a branch and extracted a fat grub.  “That’s a twig borer.”  She took pictures and dumped it and a few others she collected into a brown paper sack.

When I later tried to produce a grub to show Martin, I just kept breaking off healthy branches.  I still don’t know how she knew where to find the twig borers, but she never missed.

Sue pointed to a crumpled, dying leaf.  “That’s a gypsy moth.  And here’s a forest tent caterpillar.  Notice how it doesn’t have a solid stripe on its back like a regular tent caterpillar?  If you look closely you’ll see a series of little keyholes down its back.  This one does not spin a web.”

Sue went on to find more of the little black beetles I had earlier captured, some exotic insect with vivid orange legs, and a few tent caterpillars, as well.  Everything went into the large bag for the lab in Sioux St. Marie.  “They hate it when I send more than one thing in a bag, but what can you do?  We’re in the middle of a perfect storm of things eating your trees.  It must just be a really good day for insects.”

“And deer,” I mused ruefully.  Sue departed with the evidence for the lab, and promised a report with suggestions as to how I can prevent such an infestation in another year.

The large doe who chose my walnut field as a nursery last week? That’s another matter.  I need a good coyote, right away.  That thing is munching her way through my walnut seedlings at a great rate!  She even came out for a feast today while I was mowing the field.  The doe is a beauty, though, and I think it was a maple she was eating this time, not a little nut tree.

We haven’t seen the fawn yet.  Maybe we should hold off for a couple of weeks on the coyote.