Four years ago, there was a hailstorm the morning we put in all those chestnuts up on the hill. Next spring, on the morning of our hazelnut work party, the skies also opened up with hail and sleet. So it was only fitting that, with spring less than a dozen hours old, we’d wake to find there was a tornado warning in the air the morning of our 2021 EquinOaks planting party.
No tornado ever did materialize, but neither did the afternoon sun that graced our previous work parties. Nonetheless, the whole Natembea gang, including our new Foggy Hog partners and friends from the neighborhood, turned out to plant – gosh, something like 150 Garry oak seedlings and Bob knows how many acorn clusters in the northwest brush pasture.
As usual, Logan, our high priestess of all things arboreal, guided us through the process. An advance team had already laid out flags for three rows, ordered the little oaklettes and scavenged fencing materials. By the time I got out to the brush pasture (I’ll explain my delay below), Brendon had already driven Mitzi out with seedlings, pails, shovels and rakes and further implements of agriculture.
After our customary demonstration of How It’s Done, we all grabbed shovels and went to work down the rows. Find a flagged spot, scalp a one-to-two foot circle of sod, and dig a hole just a little deeper and wider than the blade of your shovel. Oak seedlings do not like to be transplanted, so we doubled them up in each hole to minimize big gaps due to mortality. The trick to a good start is making sure that (what was left of) their tap roots had enough space to go straight down, rather than getting bent or mushed around in the hole. Suspend a pair of seedlings in the hole with one hand and scoop, wiggle, tamp, scoop, wiggle, tamp, until all the soil is back in. We had good intentions to turn “scoop, wiggle, tamp” into the Official EquinOaks Dance, but somehow that went by the wayside.
Once they were in the ground, one crew set to mulching and caging them against casual deer predation while the rest of us started in on secondary holes in the rows between each of the oaks. As I said, oaks do not like transplanting, so we’re doing an experiment by also planting clusters of acorns between each of them. As the years pass, we’ll get to see which has higher mortality rates, and which, of those that survive, are healthier (Hurrah for the scientific method!)
Aside from the lack of sun, the only thing that went wrong was that we finished waaaay too early. Mark and Nancy Bowman had donated a quarter goat, and I’d set it up as a slow roast with farm-grown potatoes and onions (along with a bit of garlic, vinegar and harissa to channel the oomph). But our past work parties never finished until dusk, and the goat wasn’t going to be ready for three hours. We remedied the gap with tea and snacks – Natembeans are a resourceful gang, retreated to our respective spaces for a bit of recovery, and regrouped after the sun went down for a proper – and yes, still socially-distant* – feast of goat, cornbread, farm-grown carrots, cheese from Lydia’s own goats(!) and wine and cider from just down the road.
*(Most of us have only gotten our first jab so far, and are sooo creakin’ excited at the prospect of sharing indoors time together once we’re through the full course…)
Oaks are a next-generation project in the more traditional sense. Not that they’re the latest and greatest thing (though they are pretty awesome). More in that those oaks that survive aren’t going to start producing acorns for thirty years, and won’t reach maturity until I’m dead and buried, even if I make it to 100. We’ll get to enjoy the fruits of all the pears, apples and apricots, the chestnuts, hazelnuts, walnuts (yes – Logan and gang planted almost two dozen English walnuts a couple of weeks ago). But these oaks are for those who come after us.