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Throwing a tree-planting party

 
Ann Torrence
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This is the third year we are throwing a tree-planting party. We invite our friends, neighbors and coworkers that have been foolish enough to express interest at some point in helping out (tip 1: keep a list all year). We try to make it fun, so they are still our friends afterwards. Some people are emailing me now just to make sure they have this year's dates on their calendars so we must be doing it ok. We are scaling up this year, so the plans are in my mind (and on many to-do lists) so I thought I'd share what we've learned so far.

  • Establish a simple planting map. If it's not simple, your friends will mess it up and it's not their fault. This is why my first orchard planting was alphabetical. Labeling, color coding, marking paint ahead of time are your friends. Paper maps will get wet, blow away, oriented upside-down. If I'm using one, it's in a plastic sleeve, weighted down and clearly marked (not in my barely-legible handwriting).
  • Planting holes are augured ahead of time by a local with a bobcat. People want to help plant, not dig. I realize this may be controversial for some, soil compression, etc, but we aren't going to dig hundreds of holes 4' deep. I have no idea where the soil goes when it gets augured out, but we need to plan to provide more into each planting hole than is in the pile left by the auger. A friend will loan us a small tractor and I will get a head start on my pond at the same time.
  • Most folks will bring a shovel if asked, but we have spares. Rakes are useful too. And pocketknives to open up tree bundles. Remind folks to bring hats, work gloves. Have sunscreen on hand.
  • Have a way to keep the trees damp and in the shade until they are in the ground.
  • I start with a short briefing and show folks a bare root tree's parts. I explain why we use a mycorrhizal dip, how deep to plant, anything we've changed from prior years. This year we are going to add azomite to the backfill (ala Michael Phillips) and plant a Siberian pea shrub in the hole with every other tree (it's an experiment to see if we can measure growth improvement). This talking can take 20-30 minutes.
  • Give people a specific job, even if you put them on a team. One person's special job is to ensure each tree gets its mycorrhizal dip and to make up more dip as needed. I make sure to one person solidly knows how to id a graft union and how high we want that kept above the soil line. Another person is supposed to check that each tree has its primary root pointed south. I can remember all these details when I plant one tree, but it's easier on newbies for each to just pay attention to one item on the checklist.
  • Figure out jobs that are less strenuous. We had a couple come to help last year but she was tending a toddler and an infant. We weren't about to ask her to wield a shovel but she wanted to help; she did a great job of attaching tree labels.
  • Take lots of pictures, especially of your friends.
  • Have loads of cold or hot drinks. Plan when to break for the grand meal you are providing. 3-4 hours seems to be the limit for non-gardening friends who want to help.
  • As host, I count on personally planting zero trees that day. I will be more than busy running around repeating our planting protocol, answering questions, finding toy shovels lost by "helping" toddlers, sorting bundles of trees, making notes on things we change in the field from the map, greeting and good-byeing.


  • No matter what happens, relationships matter more than trees. I can get more trees a lot easier than friends. So if we don't finish, if something isn't done exactly how I would do it, there's some minor deviation from my grand plan, I let it go. My friends are making me a huge gift of time and energy and I try to show my appreciation all day. Last year 6 people planted 80 trees in three hours. This year, I have 300+ primary trees and 200' of wind-break to plant. Unless I can enlist 20 people, we won't get it all done in one morning, but we will make a lot of progress.

    Our planting day is April 26. If you have a hankering to see some of Utah's great red rock country (we are at the gateway to Capitol Reef National Park), visit our state's first cider orchard, and want to spend a morning planting trees and a fermentable fedge, send me a PM for directions and more info.
     
    Rebecca Norman
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    food preservation greening the desert solar trees
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    I'm not sure you would approve of the "tree planting party" we invited our students to last, oh, early April...

    So during the last couple of days of March we staff chatted in public about how friends in the mountains of South India were going to send us coconut seeds, and who knows, maybe they'll grow here, let's give it a try. (We're at 11,000 feet high in the Himalayas, icy winters) So on March 31st a package arrived, covered with every kind of airline label we could scratch up. And we announced the seeds had arrived, should be planted as soon as possible, and everyone knows coconut seeds can't be touched by sunlight or they'll die, so let's get up before dawn and dig the holes. Oh, the students were so enthusiastic, they dug holes, and then before dawn they opened the package. The leader was so excited he ignored the card in the top of the box, dropped out the bag of candy, and searched the padding frantically for the famous seeds.

    Well, the holes didn't go to waste, as we did plant black locust a few days later.

    I'm sorry, you might not approve of this abuse of the tree planting party...
     
    Ann Torrence
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    Rebecca Norman wrote:The leader was so excited he ignored the card in the top of the box, dropped out the bag of candy, and searched the padding frantically for the famous seeds.


    I'd still be laughing. I hope there's video somewhere.
     
    Ann Torrence
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    Just booked a pulled pork lunch for the crew!
    Asked to borrow a pop-up shade canopy from the music festival folks
    Two more things off the list.
     
    Ann Torrence
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    Less than a week to go. Going to keep adding stuff as it comes up. Y'all remember you are invited.

    1) Called the main nursery last week: when are my trees coming? They hadn't shipped! They will be here in time, but it was a good thing I called.
    2) Some trees from other sources will not be here in time. That's ok, but I want to leave planting holes vacant for them. Will label some 3' lath sticks and drop them into the reserved holes.
    3) Planting holes augered, but that was nip & tuck too. Took two of us about five hours and three cans of marking paint to lay out the planting pattern along the swales and do 350 small marks. Borrowed a stand-up marking tool, what a time saver. Some had to be repainted after we irrigated, arghh!
    4) Always ask about free delivery. 400 lbs each of rock phosphate and azomite did not have to get hauled 60 miles by me! The truck is bringing them for free on Thursday. Need to figure out the volume/weight conversion, so that the instruction set is simple like "1 coffee cup of azomite per tree."
    5) Scored a nearly new IBC to tote water to the planting site, but it has a proprietary valve. Hunting down connectors today.
    6) Need to figure out something to offer in the breakfast line as people show up. DH can make coffee but we need donuts or something. Must wash thrifted party coffee cup collection before then.
    7) Caterer wants a count today. Need to check the FB event RSVPs and make a guess. Need a vegan alternative for lunch.
     
    Ann Torrence
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    Getting ready for one last planning session with the DH. Trees and everything else has arrived. Looks like some weather might arrive tomorrow too, our first big storm in months. That I cannot control. Letting everyone know they'd better come for lunch at least. I don't need a mound of food in my frig on Sunday.

    Have arranged for a local crew of day laborers to be on standby for early next week if we get rained out. Hoping not to need them, but I sleep better with back-up plans. DH has to travel again next week, no way I can get all these trees in the ground in a timely way on my own.
     
    Jennifer Wadsworth
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    Ann - I hope that when the day of the event successfully comes and goes, you will write up your experience for Permaculture News complete with the details above. This is what so many folks are looking for.

    Jen
     
    Ann Torrence
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    Jen, I'd love to add that to my artist resume! Wind and weather allowing, I will make another time lapse too.

    Gale force wind gusts this afternoon, normal for here before a storm. Went out and dropped the sticks marking "do not plant here" into the holes reserved for trees we will plant later in the week. Did some ground-truth counting and reorganizing. Forgot a pen! to make field changes in the map. Staked out the chestnut grove with branches and string, I could feel what the space will be like, and it could be amazing if chestnuts actually grow here.

    While we were there, yet another person dropped off a truck load of branches to be chipped. I put up notices on the community bulletin boards asking for organic material; so far a half dozen folks have brought landscaping trimmings, clippings, moldy hay. We are closer than the dump and people feel good about not throwing it away. I need to make some signs: tree parts here, hay there.

    Shade/rain canopy collected. We may take our fire ring and some wood down for a warming fire. High is supposed to be 46. With snow or rain.

    I have great friends; loads of people say they are still coming. Now I need to bake some banana bread.
     
    Jennifer Wadsworth
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    Can't wait to read your article and wish I was there to help out. Have an awesome time!
     
    Ann Torrence
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    Unbelievably, the rain stopped, 17 people showed up and in less than 3 hours, nearly 300 trees are in the ground.
    When we hit the last row, they asked what next? We made a group photo, cleaned up, met the chickies in the hoop house run and the caterer showed up.
    Note to self: chill more hard cider

    Back later with a wrap-up, but we have to go water in the trees.
     
    Meryt Helmer
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    Location: west marin, bay area california. sandy loam, well drained, acidic soil and lots of shade
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    that is awesome!
     
    Ann Torrence
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    Finally got the blog post done.

    In short, we needed more red Solo cups and not for the cider we drank at the end. 20 organized people can plant 300 trees in 3 hours. In the previous year, we did 80 trees in 3 hours with 6 people. That translates to 4-5 trees/person-hour if the holes are augured and everything at hand. More is faster, I don't know why. Maybe better organized this year with practice.

    Just got an email that the edible hedge/windbreak trees shipped, so round 2 begins this weekend. No party though, just work.
     
    Kelly Smith
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    thanks for answering my questions Ann,
    We were able to get all of our trees planted with your advice

    we didnt have as many as you, but we HAD to get them in before irrigation started.
    2 people planted 50 trees in ~3.5-4 hours (holes already dug, holes flagged with what trees goes in)


    i think the next time we plant trees, i will have a tree planting party. my only worry is quality control
     
    Ann Torrence
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    Kelly Smith wrote:thanks for answering my questions Ann,
    We were able to get all of our trees planted with your advice

    we didnt have as many as you, but we HAD to get them in before irrigation started.
    2 people planted 50 trees in ~3.5-4 hours (holes already dug, holes flagged with what trees goes in)


    i think the next time we plant trees, i will have a tree planting party. my only worry is quality control

    Kelly, glad someone could profit from my mistakes! Your trees per hour rate was awesome for just two people!
    Our irrigation started April 5, I just passed on some turns, which makes me certifiably crazy in these parts.

    Now we have all summer to wrap the tree guards and get gravel around the bases to thwart the voles. I haven't seen voles in that parcel, but I expect they are passing the word already. I am going TRY not to procrastinate until fall, but I probably will.
     
    Ann Torrence
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    One more fun fact. We planted the trees in about 3 acres on a parcel that is about .2 miles from my house. Our houseguest who came to help was wearing a Fitbit that day and reported he walked 5.9 miles. He did stay to help with the watering we did in the afternoon, but that is a lot of steps. No wonder we collapsed to leftovers from lunch and a whiskey that night!
     
    John Polk
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    Whiskey in UT ?
    That's a tricky way to lure in a crowd. LOL

     
    Ann Torrence
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    John Polk wrote:Whiskey in UT ?
    That's a tricky way to lure in a crowd. LOL



    Actually, it was 25 year old Scotch, a gift from DH's lab staff. All gone now.

    But...if you can find some High West Distillary rye from Park City, Utah, don't turn it down. Just saying'.
    Someday I hope to see a Utah Calvados from our apples but someone else is going to have to make it.
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