Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Our visit to Casey Tree Farm nursery

May 2013
On a sunny Saturday morning, two carloads of "RMAers" tooled into the Virginia countryside through fields and budding woodlands to a lovely property near Berryville: Casey Tree Farm. Our aim was to learn how little trees are grown before they're hauled to the city for planting.

Farm manager Brian Mayell started us at the pretty white farmhouse - now a serious HQ for maps and computerized record keeping. The 730-acre property was donated by Betty Brown Casey to the Casey Trees foundation in 2008.  Much of the open land is still farmed. Six acres of Casey Trees' most advanced tree-growing is next to the farmhouse; more nursery acreage lies beyond.

Mayell showed us two experimental beds. At right he's pointing to young bare-root trees growing in gravel; in front of him bare-root trees are growing in wood chips. In the gravel technique, called Missouri Gravel Bed (MGB), the trees are irrigated and fertilized from above, so the roots spread freely. He said that when scooped from the gravel bed "they look like mops." Growing bare-root trees in wood chips could be an important new technique, as wood chips are easily available and are cheaper than gravel. 

Trees grown in these loose mediums would weigh far less when removed and transported for planting.  Most young trees are grown in soil and dug out by a machine - which cuts through a high percentage of their roots. And a balled and burlapped tree of 2.5" caliper, with soil root ball, weighs "hundreds of pounds," Mayell said, so transporting it to a city is energy- and labor-intensive. 

If trees can be grown and moved bare-root, more can be loaded and transported to their planting sites, saving energy and labor. (Bottom line: If the trees are cheaper, maybe cities could plant more.)

In another experiment, young trees are grown in fabric bags. In the bag the roots do not girdle; whereas young trees that are grown in containers suffer from twisted, encircled roots.*

We loved strolling among rows of trees growing the normal way in tidy soil strips on the hillside.  We could see the different shapes of different species down the rows. Mayell was a fountain of information, especially about the native species which Casey Trees specializes in planting. 

Most farms have a cat and Casey Tree Farm is no exception. Since it dwells in
fields of low-hanging branches, this cat can climb up a tree, turn and hop gracefully down.

We're grateful to RMA Board member Robert Tarasovich for arranging this outing and to Mayell for his expertise and patience with our questions.

So far Casey Trees has added 12,000 trees to Washington DC. The Foundation's expertise and classes are a huge asset to the city.
Restore Mass Ave is especially grateful that Casey Trees provided ~100 of the 133 trees Restore Mass Ave has added to lawns and yards, in seven  Community Plantings. For more see our Events page.

* More on Casey Tree Farm's innovative techniques here.

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