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When did I become a farmer?

May 23, 2013
Travis R. Hunt - OVO Pro Staff , Ohio Valley Outdoors

No, this is not a misquote from Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams. Rather, this is a journey about one hunter who began in the concrete and is now cultivating in a field in eastern Ohio.

The journey of a hunter is an evolution. When I began my hunting career at the age of 30, I was fascinated by the mystical flight of the arrow. The arrow evolved in a three-year journey of romping through the hills and valleys of Ohio seeking my first deer. He was a handsome little Ohio button buck downed with a humble 20 gauge slug.

This open flood gate evolved into my first buck and eventually the purchase of my own piece of hunting land. Fast forward 10 years and this passion evolved into a lifestyle for myself, my wife and five children, culminating on a ranch complete with blinds, food plots, automated corn feeders, game cameras, a shooting range and my pride and joy a stout green tractor.

Article Photos

The author's daughters help plant trees from Nativ Nurseries.

A hunter is a hunter, true enough, and many hunters stop at that point. However, as a hunter evolves, we evolve into caretakers of the land and are fans of the animals. As a Texan transplanted in Ohio I like to think of myself as a rancher. My friends and family refer to our ranch as HuntHavens Ranch. After all, we have three goats and two miniature donkeys, so we are most definitely ranchers. However, in reality I am a farmer. Rather, I farm for wildlife and deer specifically.

My farming for deer has propelled me into planting a second round of fruit trees. My first round of fruit tree planting occurred on a different parcel of land and ultimately resulted in two of 10 semi dwarf apple trees surviving with one actually bearing fruit. Bearing fruit was a huge moral victory, but as a scientist, an 80% attrition rate is nothing to brag about.

Fast forward a decade and I am ready for serious tree survivability.

Fact Box

"Many landowners passionately plant seedlings and are bitterly disappointed with the extreme rate of attrition."

So, my quest began and ultimately landed me on the Internet home page of Nativ Nurseries is a West Point, Mississippi-based nursery that is the creation and subsidiary of Mossy Oak Enterprise and boasts a selection of seedling nut and seedling fruit trees, along with supporting accessories such as fertilizer and proprietary translucent tree protectors.

I placed a call to Nativ Nurseries and was introduced to Jesse Raley, a Nativ Nurseries tree expert and genuine good guy. Jesse and I struck up a relationship and in no time he was making recommendations for HuntHavens Ranch. Before exploring new trees, I took a digital pH measurement of my selected planting areas. I am blessed with rich black soil that is slightly loamy and needs no additional lime. This left the task of selecting the right combination of trees for the harsh Zone Six conditions. I don't know if it is because of availability or the all-American Johnny Appleseed nostalgia, apple trees are typically a foundational tree for most orchard beginners and I was no different. I had already purchased three varieties of six semi-dwarf apple trees. My selection covered the rainbow of colors and included the ever popular red delicious, granny smith and sunburst varieties.

This served two purposes by enabling cross pollination of the Malleus trees and filling my children's stomachs from summer into the fall.

Jesse briefed me on my options including both nut and fruit seedlings. I was only interested in the fruit options so I bypassed the Native Nurseries oak, oak hybrids, and specialty oak selections and focused on fruit trees. After discussing my options, I told Jesse I wanted fruit trees that were craved by deer, edible by my children, and able to thrive in Ohio.

The table details the three recommendations Nativ Nurseries made to the author, and a general overview of each seedling.

Each seedling was priced at $5.49 and was available as a "Rapid Mast" seedling. Jesse described "Rapid Mast" as a Nativ Nurseries system that combines proprietary treatments and results in the production of the healthiest stock and root system available. The process includes collecting seeds from parent trees that exhibit desirable traits, such as mast production at a young age, vigorous growth, consistent production, and disease resistance. The seeds are then propagated, raised in a greenhouse facility, and subjected to a protocol that promotes "a fibrous and aggressive lateral root system."

A fibrous "feeder" root enables the plant to utilize a greater volume of nutrients and water, thus yielding a stress tolerant stock that "literally takes off" when transplanted.

That sounded fantastic. I understood the science behind increasing the surface area of the root via the promotion of a fibrous root versus a stringy root. However, at the end of the day, I want my trees to not only survive the first week in the ground but thrive the first year in the ground and ultimately yield a nice snack on my way to that one particular tree stand.

Many landowners passionately plant seedlings and are bitterly disappointed with the extreme rate of attrition. The culprits are varied; some culprits are too wet, other culprits are too dry, some culprits are four legged while others fly. Regardless a culprit, the result is always heartbreak.

A tree tube is not a tree tube. I soon discovered and appreciated the difference. The Nativ Nursery tree tubes are not called tree tubes; they are referred to as tree protectors. Jesse described these semi-rigid translucent tree protectors as miniature greenhouses. I asked him the difference between the Nativ Nurseries tree protectors and the black drainage pipe that I surrounded my other apple trees with. He explained that the Nativ Nurseries tree protectors have oval holes that promote watering the plant via morning condensation while continuously regulating the internal ambient temperature between the tree and the tree protector. Additionally, each 48" tall tree protector has a 1/2" PVC pipe attached via zip ties to exterior. This enables the planter to secure the pipe into ground, thus stabilizing the tree protector and later enable direct watering of the plant through the same pipe. The other benefit of the tree protector is that herbicide can be applied around the tree because the tree protector encasing the tree is solid for the first 18 inches. Jesse boasted a tree survivability rate of 90% when utilizing a tree protector in conjunction with a rapid mast seedling. The tree protectors begin at $7.49 and the price includes shipping.

The seedlings arrived in a sturdy cardboard shipping carton. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the seedlings maintained a vibrant color, fleshy stalk, and intact leaves during transit.

I had planted the semi dwarf apple trees in a line, 20 yards apart, complete with tree protectors and fertilizer the previous weekend. In turn, the current weekend adventures included creating blackgum and chickasaw plum clusters on either end of the apple tree row. After that, I positioned a row of wild deer pear seedlings on the edge of a food plot 30 yards from the front of my trusty Shadow Hunter blind. In both cases, the seedlings were tactically planted, meaning that they were planted to not only draw, but to maintain wildlife in a specific area. The tactical advantage included visible wildlife ingress and egress routes from a shooting position.

After all the seedlings were planted, we applied fertilizer. When ordering the seedlings, I included a Biologics Tree Pack fertilizer bag in my purchase. This bag contains single serving paper pouches of 5-10-15 fertilizer.

This article is the first in a two-part series about farming for wildlife. I have focused on the rationale and research culminating in the planting of the orchard. The follow-up article will be printed in the summer of 2014. This will detail the surviving Nativ Nurseries seedlings and relevant observations. I have been impressed with my seedlings and Jesse's willingness to advise me verbally and electronically during the shopping and planting phase of this endeavor.

Standing on the back deck, I overlooked the ranch and my gaze turned to the little orchard. The little orchard, complete with 13 tree protectors, looks like a field full of asparagus jutting from the ground. Like many men, I am challenged with a lack of patience. Patience is needed when planting seedlings. In my mind's eye I see an orchard with apples, chickasaw plums and blackgum berries being feasted upon by a majestic Ohio 10 pointer. Wait, look over there, I see me, 12' feet up a tree with a crossbow in hand. Venison is on my mind and hungry mouths wait inside.

This was a nice picture and I am hopeful that it will come to be. However, for today, I realize that I am a farmer. I realize that my daughters are farmers. I did not start out a farmer, but I evolved into a farmer by choice. In reality, I am farming for wildlife and for me and mine, this was the right choice to make.

Greetings from the woods of Ohio, I hope to see you there. If you come to my tree stand, pick a chickasaw plum and bring it to me, I usually get hungry as the afternoon hunt drags on.



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