What I learned visiting 30 farms in 60 days
By Adam McClary, Farmer Support Team
One of the best parts of partnering with World Tree is the fact that we provide ongoing virtual support and yearly site visits. This allows us to report back to the investors and keep them posted on how the trees are growing. It also allows us to meet with our farmers face-to-face and provide real time growing advice.
Firstly, I would like to acknowledge all of the farmers that I met with this summer. You are some of the most welcoming, thoughtful and hardworking people I have ever met – from providing me access to golf carts and four-wheelers to make my job easier, to pulling me out when my van became stuck. It was an honor to meet you all. I learned so much observing your plantations.
Here are some of the things I learned that you, as a farmer, can learn from to grow the tallest and healthiest trees possible:
The first thing is proper soil prep – I saw everything from shallow 12” auger holes to deep 36” holes, as well as 36” ripper shanks in grass and areas that had been tilled. After contrasting these across all soil types, I recognize that soil prep is a BIG deal and it must be done correctly.
The best were trees planted were the ones planted into 24” holes augured at least 36” deep. It does take some time to prepare the soil in this way – however it works! I can tell anyone, anywhere, in any soil type to drill a hole with these specs and I know it will work. Ripping has too many variables that the results are inconsistent.
Poor water management is the number one limiting factor of optimal tree growth. Our Empress trees absolutely need a minimum of 5 foot of clear of the water table in well-drained soil to grow to their maximum capacity.
Not only is water table a big deal, but so is frequency of watering. Two of our most striking plantations in terms of height and survivability have been getting watered a minimum of every four to seven days this summer. One is on the pan handle of Florida, and the other is in Kentucky. When I was in Florida, I witnessed a ½” rainfall a daily occurrence in this part of Florida. After it finished, I dug a hole and found that the soil was only wet for the first few inches and it was relatively dry under that. Yet these trees were way ahead of schedule compared across the average.
Another important variable is fertilizer application and other methods to stop the growth of weeds and grass. Our best trees were in fields that had no weeds or grass directly around the base of the tree. I could tell a massive difference not only in size, but also in survivability between the mulched or weed free trees and the ones that were left to fend for themselves.
Most of these farms had put down a weed barrier, however a few used an approved non-systemic herbicide around the trees. They had a similar positive effect, but of the two options, I would highly recommend the weed cloth. Not only does it stop weeds, it helps hold in moisture.
We are looking at recommending no synthetic fertilizers the first year as I found several plantations that had not fertilized the first year and although the trees were smaller in diameter, they were on track for height. On the opposing side, I saw evidence of damage from fertilizer applied incorrectly. Synthetic NPK fertilizers are salt based. The trees respond well to this when the soils are wet. In a drought however, it is like planting a tomato plant in a salt-shaker.
I hope to see you all again soon and meet all the new farmers that join us this coming year. Till then, I hope you learned something valuable about growing the Empress Splendor tree. I know I sure have.