Winter at Shady Pond ended with the loss of the final pecan tree. It was a truly unpleasant event. See ‘The Last One Standing' below for details. But once the cleanup was complete, our attention quickly shifted to the needs of the living, and rightfully so.
We had planned a major tree trimming project to improve equipment access in the fields. It was the indigenous trees that were the problem, not the Christmas trees. Because of the height of the Christmas trees, some of the equipment pieces we use are really tall. And maneuvering them around and under low hanging limbs can be quite difficult. We had obviously done spot trimming in the past but those trims were never very aggressive and had to be repeated far too often. The plan for this year's trim was to remove the problem limbs once and far all. We rented a JLG manlift with a 60-foot reach. This is a self-propelled rough terrain machine that made access to the tree limbs quick and easy. Actually, it was so quick and easy that the trimming around the various fields was complete in a single day. Since many of the trees were Live Oak, it should be no surprise that we were removing massively heavy limbs 20 to 30-inches at the butt. These individual limbs were as big as entire trees found in many backyards.
With the functional component of the project complete, our focus became more aesthetic. So the Live Oaks lining the main entrance road on the farm were manicured. These are the smaller Oaks on the farm and not even close to the giants in the house and barn areas. Those of you who pre-tag should find the drive to the main house particularly nice. The fact that the details of our work are hard to detect means we achieved our goal. Those Oaks are now much more open and airy but they also have a nearly skeletal feel; a nice touch for Halloween.
Since the urge to trim had not been totally satisfied, we turned our attention to the Baldcypress trees at the tree farm entrance. Lower branches were removed much like butt pruning Christmas trees. The area is much less congested now, visibility is improved, and grass cutting is simplified. And it has a cleaner look. Even with all these benefits, the Baldcypress trees themselves were not very impressed with the trimming. Some began replacing the branches we just removed almost immediately; an uncooperative lot.
With all this activity, 2016 passed quickly and Christmas time is here once again. So we hope to see each of you again at this most magical time of year.
Christmas Tree Varieties:
On the day before Katrina, Shady Pond was home to six pecan trees. On the day after that massive storm only two remained. The pecans had been here since our arrival in 1955 and were mature trees even then. They were probably planted circa 1925.
Two of the original trees were paper shell pecans. The nuts were long and rather narrow. Although they were easy to open, it was usually a pointless exercise. The shells contained little seed material and were often totally empty. The remaining four trees were in all probability native pecans. The shells were hard and difficult to open but normally they were completely filled with seed (the edible meat).
As the years passed, gathering pecans became a regular ritual on Thanksgiving Day following the big meal. Family and friends in attendance would arrive with small sacks, old pillow cases, and sometimes buckets to fill with pecans. Then pecan pickers began to appear. These devices were mounted on wooden handles with curved wires on the bottom. When pressed down on the pecans at ground level, the nuts would slide through the curved wires into a small metal box. The pickers all but eliminated the need to bend over. Then there were pecan crackers; manual devices that opened the pecans by applying pressure to the ends of the shell.
Some of the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas was spent shelling pecans and cleaning the seeds. Then on Christmas Day, the pecans would reappear as garnish over green bean casseroles, or as pecan pie, or simply as roasted pecans. And the fact that the pecans were produced at Shady Pond made these culinary creations extra special.
With pecans being a significant part of life here in fall, the losses in Katrina were particularly painful. Of the two trees remaining after the big hurricane, the one in Field B succumbed in late summer the following year. This left a single huge tree in Field C.
Although that tree remained in place, it had taken a severe beating in the storm. It slipped into a state of slow demise and died a little each year over the past decade; not unlike we humans often do. It would loose huge limbs that were cut into the firewood that some of you enjoyed on cold rainy nights. And late last winter the old tree went down in the tiniest of wind gusts. It was at dusk on St. Patrick's Day when the last pecan standing called it quits.
As upsetting as its departure was, that was when the real work began. The tree had fallen among the Carolina Sapphires that were scheduled for harvest this season. Dragging it out of the field would have done major damage to the Christmas trees, so it was clearly time to contact Nate Fleming and ask him to bring the excavator. Nate's machine is a Caterpillar and is fitted with a thumb on the outer most boom section near the bucket. The thumb opposes the bucket making it possible to grip large objects for lifting. We cut the old tree into massive logs and used the excavator to left them up and over the Christmas trees and place them in a clear area. With the John Deere 5320N working as a skidder, the logs were moved to the burn pile near the barn; all except for one. The final trunk section was so huge that not even the John Deere could budge it. Nate had to carry that piece to the pile with the excavator. He placed it on the very top and the pile was left to dry for burning in early summer.
As hard as it may be for some to imagine, the task of moving the old pecan was complete in just 2-hours; stump and all. But both Nate's guys and the tree farm crew are highly skilled at doing such things as unpleasant as they may be. And the Sapphires remain stunningly beautiful.
With Field A lying fallow, it is time to open Field C. Field A was directly behind the sales building and processing area last season (2015). And Field C parallels the front fence line along Pine Street Extension.
Field C contains Shady Pond's normal collection of tree varieties; Leylands, Carolina Sapphires, Eastern Redcedars, Deodar Cedars, Virginia Pines, etc. The Leylands were planted on the side of the field nearest the fence and were flooded by Hurricane Isaac in August of 2012. Since that field had been planted earlier that same year, the trees were in their first growing season. And the hurricane virtually stalled in the Gulf just out from Port Fourchon. It took days for it to move inland and past the shoreline. For all that time, Shady Pond and most of St. Tammany Parish remained in the legendary northeast quadrant of the storm's circulation. This the quadrant that Nash Roberts warned about so often. The rain accumulation was huge. And since the local natural drainage conduits were poorly maintained, Pine Street Extension itself became the primary drainage outlet for literally thousands of acres west of the farm and the road side of Field C was totally inundated to a significant depth. The baby Leylands were gone. 95% of them were dead. It is interesting to note that in Katrina not a single tree was lost due to flooding; not one.
With the Leyland losses as complete as they were, that entire side of Field C had to be replanted in 2013. This obviously caused them to be a full year behind the size that they would have otherwise attained. Fortunately, the flooding did not reach the other varieties and those trees grew as they normally would. So, if you are looking for trees larger than 7-8 feet, consider the Sapphires, Silver Smokes, or Eastern Redcedars in Field C. Or for really big trees, look at the Sapphires and Virginia Pines in Field B. An additional interesting approach would be to do a creative display with several smaller Leylands or mix tree varieties for the ultimate presentation.
Make the best out of an unfortunate situation and try something different.
You may recall that last season's (2015) edition of Shady Pond News discussed the possible existence of a disease resistant Leyland Cypress as follows.
‘We had observed that one of the Leighton Green Leylands growing in that field (field E) prior to its renovation appeared to be significantly disease resistant. And since those of us who have handled Leylands over long time periods theorize that some genetic variation seems evident despite the fact that they are clones, we decided to propagate the special Leighton Green. Yes, believe it or not, we actually cloned a clone.'
That brief statement piqued the interest of Dr. John Frampton a professor at North Carolina State University and one of my colleagues in NCTA (National Christmas Tree Association). Both Dr. John and I served on the Scientific Research Committee. And his area of expertise is Christmas tree genetics and breeding. Dr. John contacted me and suggested that we work together in proving, or disproving, the disease resistance of this unique tree. If in fact we can verify disease resistance, the implications are huge.
In the botanical world, the term ‘sport' is used to identify plants that are the result of spontaneous genetic mutation. But practitioners often disagree with regard to specific details. And this case is no different. John believes that the tree I found is the sport. But my view is the exact opposite. I believe the non-resistant trees are the sports and the one I found is actually the original. I base my opinion on the fact that Leylands were believed to be disease resistant for more than a century after being discovered on the Leighton Hall Estate in the 1800's. And their disease resistance was absolute. In contrast, John believes that the apparent resistance was not the result of the physiologic make-up of the tree but rather the fact that the inoculum for the pathogen did not become sufficiently widespread until Leylands were planted in large numbers. Nonetheless, both John and I hope for the same result no matter what its origin in fact. And since John is the geneticist and not I, I defer to his opinion.
So this spring, I identified a group of leylands containing commonly available plants as well as the clones of the test tree. The location of the test plot is at the end of field E and adjoins the parking area. It contains about 70-trees in all. The area was chosen to be in direct sunlight for the entire day. This unfiltered exposure is known to be the most conducive for disease activity. The entire plot will remain untreated until John and I can arrive at a final conclusion; resistant, or not.
Should this test prove successful, the final step will be to map the DNA of the resistant tree and make that data available to the botanical community. It will then be used to verify that the propagating nurseries are supplying plants from the resistant source tree.
A disease resistant Leyland would simplify the lives of Christmas tree producers immeasurably and return this stately beauty to a permanent place in the landscape. So, wish us luck.
With the first growing season of the field trial drawing to a close, the condition of the trees in the test plot is now apparent. Damage to the resistant clones is completely undetectable. While the check trees display significant damage. And since last winter was extremely mild, the pathogen abundance was very high this summer. It could have been the worst we have ever seen. These conditions make the performance of the resistant trees even more impressive.
The field trial will remain in place and be re-evaluated next year at this time.
The bees have been really busy this summer and the Lynchards will be at the tree farm on weekends with the honey they produced. The honey will be available in large containers as well as small gift jars. Be sure to pickup an adequate supply for the Christmas Holidays. You can also contact Barbara, Lawrence and Billy directly at 985-863-0136.