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The May 22 tour of Andy Dixon's tree farm was taken in by about thirty participants. After a brief introduction to the farm's history and Dixon's efforts, the site-seeing began. The walk took in Dixon's fish pond, original windbreak planting (1939), and some of the many acres now planted to black walnut, black locust, red oak, poplar, and red cedar. Before members headed for home, our informative host fielded a last round of questions.
Although Dixon's father cautioned him that his 1936 land purchase was some of the poorest in the county, it has proved suitable for the asparagus, strawberries, raspberries, and apples in has since grown for local markets. Spare land that one pastured cattle was eventually turned over trees, and the trees provide Dixon with a dream.
Dixon emphasizes all potential tree growers must 1. choose species suited to the site, 2. give individual trees plenty of space to grow, and 3. prune the resultant branchy trees to produce good knot-free lumber.
For his own location and interests, Dixon tried several other nut species before concentrating black walnut. Chinese chestnut, butternut, heartnut, and English walnut had all failed. Planted on forty foot spacings, the black walnut allows for intercrops of corn (three years), then oats and wheat. Crown vetch now covers much of this acreage. It provides Dixon with a good ground cover, and income from the seed he harvests from it. He also hopes for an interim income from the nuts, before the trees are cut for lumber.
The subject of pruning brings with it the questions of how much and when. While pruning the tree high gives a longer useable log, removing leaf surface definitely slows growth down and reduces the gain in diameter. Dixon chooses to prune branches once the trunk has reached two inches in diameter, leaving a minimum of five tiers of branches.
The lumber's economic possibilities, as projected by Dixon, seemed quite conceivable and very promising. While he proposes "exotic" woods like mulberry and black locust have potential, he also cautions that there must be enough harvestable lumber to make it worth a logger's trip and a buyer's interest.
* The directors of the EFAO really appreciated the hospitality and generosity of Mr. Dixon. For those who would like to know more, we suggest you obtain the following booklet first, rather than approach Dixon personally - we'd hate to wear out our welcome with this kind eighty six- year-old.
Andy Dixon, Tree Farming, 1990.
Soil and Water Conservation Information Bureau
University of Guelph, Ont. N1G 2W1
Copyright © 1993 Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
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