I think you know what you are doing here... :)
By yoderj@cox.net
#334767
When I went in with a few other guys and purchased a pine farm, I jumped on food plots as a much needed "quick" fix to provide quality food for deer. We have developed a good forest stewardship plan that allow for timber value balanced with wildlife management.

As I started getting older, I realized that food plots are not really a long-term sustainable way for me to provide deer sufficient quality food. In order to have an impact on the deer herd that is significant enough to be measured (body weights and antler size) one need to convert 1%-3% of a deer's home range into quality food. That comes out to being about 10-30 acres. At 5% you hit the law of diminishing returns, so my target is 3%.

Right now we are at about 2% with about 20 acres under till. I have begun to realize that I don't have enough resources to manage that much in food plots over the long-term. First, as I retire, my income will be fixed but more importantly, my youthful exuberance will fade. The amount of acreage I can maintain will become more limited.

After thinking about all this, I am now starting to think about the future. I'm now working to move from crops to mast producing trees. I'm not talking simply about acorns. I'm talking about trying to ensure 12 months of quality foods using a variety of low maintenance mast producing trees to provide the backbone and using a smaller amount of food plots to plug the holes.

As soon as folks think about mast trees for deer, apples are the first thing to come to mind. The problem is that while there are a few varieties that require less maintenance, apples in general require maintenance. So, I'm looking at trees that require as little maintenance as possible once established. I don't mind some up-front work, but low long-term maintenance is the key. The next issues becomes volume. Just like food plots, a few trees will make no measureable difference, one needs volume. That makes cost a big issue.

In the last few years, I have focused on starting trees from nuts, seeds, or root cuttings, during the winter months under lights indoors in high volume. I have found it to be a great winter project. I've also found that I can get a much shorter time to fruit by exploiting native trees as established root stock through grafting.

So far, I've been working with Persimmons, Pawpaw, Jujube, pecan (grafted to hickory), and a few crab apple.

I'm jut wondering if anyone else has come to the same conclusions and is taking a similar path...

Thanks,

Jack
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By bowhtr1
#334769
Just bought 10 Dunstan Chestnut trees this year. Planted most around my house so I can maitain but the ones I planted in my fields are doing better. I have 5 ft tubes and they are already coming out of the top of the tubes. They came bareroot and 3 ft. I have been clearing around the wild crabapple and perssimon trees we already have. I put out some fertilizer for them also. I have been cutting down vines everywhere except muscadine vines. This will give more light to the ground for the low growing plants. I cut down a bunch of tallo and gum trees for the same reason. yep thinking about other things instead of just plots, feeders and mineral licks.
By yoderj@cox.net
#334780
Not sure how, but chestnuts were the one thing I left off the list above. I took a hard look at Dunstan chestnuts for the first time several years ago. I really liked all their characteristics except the cost. They were hyped so heavily in the hunting community that the price really sky rocketed. While one can sometimes find them on sale, the typical price is $25 or more per tree. At this price there was no way I could afford the volume to accomplish my goals.

Dunstan chestnuts were the first trees I started growing from nuts. We planted 150 of them the first year and many more each year since I started. After I amortized the setup costs for the indoor greenhouses, they cost me around a dollar per tree. My strategy was flawed. With the cost per tree so low, I decided to overwhelm the deer with trees and spend minimal money on protection. I figured if I lost a few trees to deer it would be no big deal. I used inexpensive Protex tubes that I vented myself with rigid mesh tops to extend the height. I used inexpensive bamboo as stakes.

What happened is that it did not take long for the bamboo to rot when it was in contact with the ground. It weakened and tubes bent over and did more harm than good. I removed the broken ones and used PVC pipe to re-stake the rest. I started using taller tubes and PVC stakes with trees planted in the second year as well. While some of the original trees grew straight and were fine, many had the central leader grow through the mesh. Both these trees and the unprotected trees were lightly browsed. None were killed, but instead they were set back. There was a huge difference in growth between these and non-browsed trees in terms of both height and caliper.

My mistake was to assume that a deer would browse and individual tree and kill it or leave it alone. In reality, deer are browsers and they take a few bites here and there as they move along. All trees that deer could get at were browsed lightly rather than some killed and some not.

I subsequently realized that I was putting a lot of effort into starting new trees from nuts when investing a few dollars in existing trees would pay off much faster. I ended up ordering a bunch of 5' Plantra tubes and used PVC stakes again. The PVC works well because it flexes in the wind and young trees need to bend. The tiny venting in the Plantra tubes does not allow the central leader or lateral branches to grow out of the sides of the tube. I have been slowly been re-tubing trees that are not fully protected. I'm starting with the biggest and best since it makes most sense to protect the most valuable investment first.

My largest Dunstans were about 8' or so tall this spring. I have begun to add some Chinese chestnuts as well. If folks are buying them as seedlings I think Chinese chestnuts are a better value because they are less hyped.

One caution for anyone growing their own: J-hooking and root circling are issues with normal containers. I'm using specialized root pruning containers (rootmaker) to grow my trees, and they have worked out pretty well so far.

Thanks,

Jack
User avatar
By bowhtr1
#334790
I am using the same tubes and oak stakes. I bought 6 trees from walmart. 2 4ft trees for 29.97 and 4 6ft trees for 39.97. They didn't last but 4 days at walmart. The 4 other ones I got from Chestnut hill.
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By Chachoze
#334839
When I went in with a few other guys and purchased a pine farm, I jumped on food plots as a much needed "quick" fix to provide quality food for deer. We have developed a good forest stewardship plan that allow for timber value balanced with wildlife management.
Sounds like you need to recruit some help from your other partners. From all the other times you have spoken about your tree farm its sounds as if you are doing the majority of the work, heck just maintaining cameras can be a time consuming job in and of itself....
By yoderj@cox.net
#334862
For me, the farm is a sanity builder. Work there keeps me from sitting behind a desk. I enjoy the learning associated with each of the projects. When we started the endeavor, we came to an understanding that not everyone would contribute in the same way. Some guys are working full time 2 hours away and others are retired. Some are physically impaired.

Managing a pine farm for both timber and wildlife take a lot. I talk most about what I do, because that is what interest me the most. One of the guys who is physically impaired is retired but has a small tax business. He does the K1s for the LLC for free each year. Another guy is a regional manager for a restaurant chain. He doesn't hunt, but he has people that do a lot of his restaurant maintenance. When we ran power and water lines, to our outbuildings, his folks did the work. The same was true when we finished a section of the barn for a bath and shower. Another younger guy who is working full time, handles a lot of our contract work. He did all the leg work with NRCS for us to get into a cost sharing program. He also did a lot of work with the contracts for selling timber and worked with law enforcement We have another guy who is retired and lives relatively close to the farm. He takes contractors on tours as needed for estimates and such. He does a lot of practical maintenance around the barn and outbuildings, does trash removal, and such. I do most of the farming type stuff. So, all of the owners contribute in different amounts in different areas.

And, just because I'm responsible for our agricultural type efforts doesn't mean I'm the only one that does work. I do operate the heavy equipment and implements, but lot of folks contribute. We generally have a few coordinated work days each year. In addition to the owners, we put out the call to our guest hunters. Whoever is available comes down to help. If I happen to be planting folks will help with that. Otherwise, they will do whatever we need. It may be cutting overhanging limbs from around fields or clearing trails or whatever.

In fact, the first year I grew Dunstan chestnuts from nuts, we had a crew of about 10 folks helping us plant those trees on a work day.

So, if I've made it sound like I do all the work, I apologize. My original point still holds. Food plots are a great quick fix for getting high volumes of quality food into a QDM program, but they are very expensive (money and labor) to maintain over a long period. They require a lot of inputs. I'm looking for a better long-term balance. We will always have food plots. However, with a wise selection of low-maintenance trees, I believe I can reduce the amount of high maintenance food plot acreage while improving the quality foods available to deer.

Thanks,

Jack
By yoderj@cox.net
#335506
Just thought I'd add a few pics of some of the trees I'm growing from seed. I started a bunch of pawpaws this winter. Here is the best one right now:

Image

There are some smaller ones I started this spring in the background.

This is an American persimmon I started from seed last spring. This winter I cut it off and grafted a Nikita's Gift Hybrid scion to it.

Image

The next one is a crabapple I started this spring. They seem to grow like weeds. I can't recall if this is a Dolgo or a Siberian Red off the top of my head but they both look pretty much the same at this point:

Image

This one is a Tigertooth Jujube that I purchased and planted bare root several years ago. It is just now starting to produce the first fruit:

Image

Three years ago, I cut down native male persimmons growing wild on my property and grafted scions from improved varieties. This one is a prok in its third leaf since grafting producing its first persimmon.

Image

Thanks,

Jack
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By Gforce
#335510
Jack, I'm not sure where your farm is but sometimes simple is the best solution to boost wildlife resources. How many acres do you have in Pine Plantation and how old are they?

The reason I ask is thinning and prescribed burning helps produce cover and resources for all wildlife, you got to get that sunlight to the ground in order to produce natural forage which wildlife can utilize all year, not just in the fall with Mast Crops. Select Clear Cut is even better at producing natural wildlife forage. With Select Clear Cut you can supplement the plot with perennial planting of natural forage and the plot will be good for years at producing natural forage without having to expend much effort. Some times we can work our fingers to the bone and still not accomplish what mother nature can on her own. You have an excellent approach going, but it has it's limits.
By yoderj@cox.net
#335515
Excellent thinking and you are right on track. Our pine farm is in Central VA and it is just under 400 acres. I probably should have provided more background but you can probably extrapolate some from my previous post. We started working with a VDOF forester and game commission biologist when we purchased the property. We eventually hired a private forester and are managing for a balance between wildlife and timber. We just finished a thinning of about 1/2 of our pines that were old enough. We thinned to two different levels to give us 3 management units down the road. We also clear-cut two low quality hardwood ridges that we were beginning to lose to storms. These are targeted as future bedding areas. We just got into an NRCS cost sharing program. We just finished installing firebreaks. We have a herbicide application scheduled for this summer followed by controlled burns of the thinned pines and clear-cuts.

So, our quality food program is only a portion of our overall forest stewardship plan.

Thanks,

Jack
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By Gforce
#335521
I always try to keep in mind that Land is an investment that must produce and be profitable, with that in mind, I manage more for the product it can produce but I also keep in mind how best to keep a balance between Wildlife and Production.

I am managing 500 acres here around the house, I have it on a 25 year rotation. This is the twenty fifth year rotation coming up next year. Which means by the end of next year all will be back in the next cycle. We clear cut and plant 25 acres a year and thin another 25 or so depending on the situation . This sets the rotation to end at 25 years. I use to release new plantings but have now stopped that so as to provide more browse for the wildlife, the prescribe burn most of the time takes care of unwanted hardwoods over time. Deer absolutely love to browse young Sweet Gum Trees so I have decided the war was over against them. :mrgreen:

When we clear cut we do it in the fall and I go over the cut and plant Wheat, Bob Oats, and Rye Grass, ( The Rye Grass will actually suppress other grasses and plants once it gets going in early spring) we let it grow up over the next summer and then put a total kill spray on the plot and burn it and replant the Plantation that Winter. Doing it this way it helps control volunteer pines and other species without releasing the plantation.

So far this way we have been able to control the Pine Beetles also. :shock:

With our next rotation we are going Long Leaf Pines all the way and everything will change from that point on. :roll:
By yoderj@cox.net
#335833
I just thought I'd add one more tree picture to this thread since I realized I didn't show any of the Dunstan Chestnuts.

Image

I started this tree late this winter under lights from a chestnut using a root pruning container system. The picture was taken on 8/2. I measured it that day and it was 54" tall (from the mix) and it was 1/2" in caliper. I happened to look at it again today and it had obviously grown. I measure it again and it is now 59" tall. That is 5" of growth in 4 days. Amazing!

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