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Fairfield Ledger   Mt. Pleasant News
Neighbors Growing Together | Nov 23, 2017

Tracks and tales: Direct seeding of nuts completed at Marr Park

By Steve Anderson
Workers at Marr Park finish  a direct seeding project Tuesday morning.

Just this morning, the Washington County Conservation Board accomplished the direct seeding of a myriad of nuts just across Thomas Marr Lake here at Marr Park.  Many of these were donated by local supporters, and we hope that their grandkids, and ours, get to enjoy the fruits of our labor and their donation while sitting in the shade.  We mixed the seeds up so thoroughly that no one will ever know for sure!
For several weeks now, we have been collecting these seeds, each as they became ripe.  The very first to fall were white oak acorns, which are in very short supply here in Washington County this year.  Therefore, we traded the Iowa DNR hazelnut seed (which we had in extreme abundance) for these.  We then collected seeds from Iowa Adapted Pecans, shellbark hickories, and a few swamp white oaks from here at Marr Park.  Seed donations which we received included burr oak, red oak, and swamp white oak.
The actual planting was accomplished by modifying our tree planter to better control the depth (our goal was to plant the seeds at 2”).  We accomplished this by putting an extra set of wheels on the planter plow.  Our planting goal was at least one seed per square foot, which we are confident we far exceeded.  It worked great, the one limitation being plugging with mud in the wettest areas.  
The challenges to this type of planting include collecting that much seed, planting them accurately, and protection from weeds and varmints over the next few years while they establish.  
Weed control is the most difficult to accomplish.  Row plantings allow mowing and cultivation that are not options here.  Therefore, we are totally reliant upon herbicides and handwork.  There are a few community service workers that will likely never forget us!
One other challenge is protection of the seed from rodent predation during the establishment year.  Squirrels and chipmunks seem to consider places like this as heavenly!  We combat this by choosing a site that is out of their beaten path, and then opening the vicinity up through short mowing as much as possible.  We find evidence in the form of fur that being too far out in the open when the hawk flies over or the coyote lopes by is detrimental to their health.
Once the seedlings emerge, the primary predator changes to cottontail rabbits.  Rabbits are extremely common here at Marr Park, and seem especially fond of white oak seedlings.  We have never been thrilled to share, resorting to all kinds of measures with limited success to reduce their negative impact.  Were this not a park I would invite as many of them as possible to dinner.
Our oldest direct seeding timbers are now around 20 years old.  They are worth doing!  These trees grow faster, bear fruit sooner, and yield more natural diversity than any other method we have discovered, with the exception of working directly with an existing timber.  We encourage others to try the same methods, and offer the use of our tree planter to anyone interested.