This past year at Shady Pond has been challenging but it has also produced significant advances. Things that fell into the bad news category included the incessant rain which complicated activities here tremendously. Accessing Field C was tricky for the entire summer. It was so wet that sticking a tractor was a constant concern. That situation was not corrected until early September when Harvey finally departed for good. But even then it took some time for soil moisture to diminish. Then there was the vandalism in Field D that was very heavily publicized from Mobile to Lafayette. The corrective action taken produced the desired result. The vandals were arrested September 25. This mindless, pointless behavior truly defies understanding on any level.
But the good news was the major progress made on the disease resistant Leyland development including a stunning number of plants produced by the second cloning cycle, major conceptual scientific advances in genetics and pathology, and major information sharing with the Christmas tree side of the botanical community. See "Disease Resistant Leyland Development-Progress Report" below for a synopsis of all the fun we are having.
Then there was the upgrading of the level instruments on the trimmer. Few of you are probably aware that the trimmer is outfitted with its own level detection system. Regardless of how the carrier is tilted, the cutter system is maintained in a vertical orientation automatically. Originally, the level of the carrier was detected by mercury switches. They were truly horrible. The problem was the vibration induced in the liquid metal (mercury) by the diesel engine powering the machine. The mercury would slosh around the glass vials to such an extent that they were nearly worthless. The mercury switches were replaced with pendulums early on. The pendulums were a vast improvement. They were suspended in silicone oil to dampen vibration. (Interestingly, this was the very same silicone oil that filled my eye following last year's retina surgery.) But the pendulum based instruments would fail after only a few hundred operating hours and had to be replaced often. Nonetheless when operating properly, they leveled the cutter to significant precision.
But this year's advance came with the installation of solid state gyroscopes; one for right/left and one for front/back leveling. These are custom made devices provided to Shady Pond by P-Q Controls in Bristol, Connecticut. They are the same instruments used in aircraft and missiles to detect pitch, yaw, and roll orientation during flight. And most importantly, they are nearly immune to vibration. Of intense interest to engineers and physicists is the fact that they are driven, in part, by the Coriolis Effect (aka Coriolis Acceleration). This phenomena is created by the spin of the Earth and is the same phenomena that causes hurricanes in the northern hemisphere to rotate counterclockwise while those in the southern hemisphere rotate clockwise. The same is true for water going down the drain in a bath tub.
Once the gyros were installed and properly calibrated, the increase in leveling speed and accuracy was truly impressive. And since they were in-place before the trim, the difference is clearly visible in the trees. Yet again, Shady Pond is the place where things botanical meet things mechanical.
But it is Christmas time once again. It is a wonderful time to give thanks for the fascinating world we occupy and for those who have gone before us like Monsieur Coriolis. We all have been truly blessed. So we hope to see each of you again at this most magical time of year.
Christmas Tree Varieties:
Since last year's report on the Disease Resistant (DR) Leylands in the field trial at Shady Pond, the project has become significantly more structured. Our team members are listed below and the title of each is a requirement of the Royal Horticultural Society based in England. Our contact is obviously the conifer representative. She is located in France and will oversee the registration of the new tree.
Disease Resistant Leyland Project Team:
Clarke J. Gernon, Sr.
Owner of Shady Pond Tree Farm, L.L.C.
Christmas Tree Producer-39 years
Gray Anderson (Joined team January 2014)
Owner of Grant Tree Farm near Grant, Louisiana and
Dr. John Frampton (Joined team January 2016)
Professor & Christmas Tree Geneticist
North Carolina State University
Dr. Marc Cubeta (Joined the Team June 2016)
Professor, Soil Mycology and Plant Disease Ecology
North Carolina State University
You may recall that last year at this time was the first opportunity to evaluate the performance of the DR Leylands. Although disease resistance seemed convincing last fall, a bit more time needed to pass to be absolutely sure. So on June 8, 2017, the entire project team met at Shady Pond to collectively pass judgement on the condition of the new tree. Our team of experts all agreed that disease resistance had been proven in southeast Louisiana. The location is important since the collection of natural pathogens can and often does vary from one place to another. Here the primary pathogen is Passalora sequoiae.
Shortly after the June 8 inspection, Dr. Cubeta verified the presence of Passalora in the check trees (disease susceptible) in the field trial. Note that all the trees in the trial have remained un-sprayed and the damage in the check trees is mounting rapidly. Many are dead.
The next step is to install field trials structured exactly the same as the one here at other locations. Dr. Frampton has arranged for other competent Christmas tree growers generally in his area in North Carolina to perform this long term testing. So, wish us continued success.
But even before the June 8 visit, we all agreed to begin the second cloning cycle. We desperately needed more plants for a long list of tests both in the laboratory and in the field. February 13 was the day chosen to collect the needed plant material (cuttings). And since the first cloning cycle yielded about 500-cuttings that produced about 400-viable plants, we hoped to collect about 5,000-cuttings the second time around. After all the cuttings had been taken, we were stunned to learn that we had 11,000 and expect those to produce about 9,000 viable plants. We were on a roll. Gray Anderson owns Grant Tree Farm in Allen Parish and is the propagator for the DR Leyland project. Both Grant Tree Farm and Shady Pond Tree Farm will plant 100% disease resistant production Leylands in early 2018.
Projects such as this often uncover secondary needs. A method of doing A is needed before B can be done. And our work is no different. Dr. Frampton is designated as the Christmas tree geneticist at NCSU but his knowledge of genetics reaches far beyond Christmas trees. He instructs us that the genome for a conifer such as a Leyland is 7-times bigger than the genome for a human. Yes, this may be hard for some to accept but the genetic profile we humans possess pales in comparison to the genetic profile that a Leyland, or a pine, or a fir possesses. For humans the total is nominally 3-billion data points but for our big woody conifer friends the total is 21-billion. Mapping a genome this huge is obviously a laborious and very costly task. But since our resistant tree can not be distinguished from a susceptible tree by visual differences, genetic markers must be found to separate one from the other. Dr. Frampton has devised a very creative, although unproven, plan to inoculate resistant Leyland tissue with Passalora sequoiae thus causing the genes that defend against the disease to become active. In genetics terminology, this is referred to as ‘gene expression'. The unique genes that are preventing disease development can then be readily identified while leaving the remainder of the huge genome un-cataloged. So, the laborious task of mapping the entire genome has been reduced to mapping a comparatively small sub-group. RNA-Seq (RNA Sequencing) is the method often used when searching for gene expression. RNA is Ribonucleic acid and is related to DNA, Deoxyribonucleic acid. Both are essential for all known forms of life.
But the first step is the Passalora inoculation and surely you can guess what's coming. A literature search revealed that this has never been done before. Nonetheless, Drs. Frampton and Cubeta believe the inoculation method will become possible with a little trial and error experimentation. If so, they will be off to find the gene(s) that is expressed differently between the disease resistant and disease susceptible Leylands.
As with most scientific journeys, the solution to the original problem is a major benefit for sure but solving the unexpected hidden problems can often be of even greater value. So there is no substitute for just getting to work and allowing the facts to define the path knowing that little surprises will be found here and there along the way.
Since the past few winters have been really wimpy with little if any significant cold, the cane at Shady Pond never stops growing. As many of you know there is an abundance of cane here. The bulk of it forms the boarder on the far side of the pond with somewhat smaller clumps near the milking barn.
In times past, we could rely on temperatures dropping into the upper teens several times each winter. At a minimum, this would cause the cane to become dormant. But when the lows would approach single digits, the cane stalks would actually freeze. A clump of dead cane is a mess beyond description. And since equipment options at the time were limited, removing it was a huge challenge. But even dead cane would return to its previous vigor in a comparatively short time.
Given the recent weather cycle, the cane is like the Energizer Bunny; it just keeps going and going. The statue of St. Joseph is completely covered and the front of the milking barn was barely accessible.
To bring things back within reasonable limits I decided to cut the cane back using a forestry mulcher (aka bull hog). The mulcher pulverizes the stalks into small pieces that will readily decompose on the ground and eventually vanish. The plan was to do a test on the clumps near the milking barn. This would allow me to verify the effectiveness of the machine in reducing the cane to small pieces and gain an understanding of just how deep the mulcher should penetrate the mound in the center of the clump. But the most important question was how long it would take the cane to re-grow. The object of the test was to shrink the cane to a manageable size not to kill it. I was mentally prepared for a 6 to 8-month recovery time.
A break from other activities came in mid-July and we did the test mulching. The front door and windows on the milking barn were covered with sheets of plywood to protect them from flying debris. The standing cane was gone in about 1 ½-days time. I spread the cuttings out evenly in the surround grass using the grader blade and a smallish tractor powered rotary mower. All that remained was to wait for the cane to recover from the shock and react. I was amazed to find the cane heading to the sky in only 10-days.
With all the questions answered, the focus is now the cane boarder on the far side of the pond. But instead of using a skid steer mounted mulcher, I hope to use a horizontal shaft unit mounted on an excavator boom. This should simplify maneuvering around the clumps significantly.
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.