This morning I spent a fascinating hour with John Parker, District Manager for the Minnehaha Conservation District. Longing to expand my modest orchard of pear, plum, apple and apricot trees, I looked to the Conservation District for economical ways to expand appropriate tree varieties on my acreage.
The Conservation District contracts with local nurseries like the Big Sioux Nursery to sell trees perfect for those in our climate and soil condition. Trees range in size from saplings to 12′ tall.
I may be a little late talking to John about fruit tree orders. I’m interested in those 5-6′ tall and at least 1″ around. Apparently, so are many others in my area! The nursery sells numerous varieties of apple, apricot, cherry, pear, and plum trees and John is checking on availability for me. Plenty of saplings are available, including variety packs like Grandma’s Jam, Tough-as Nails, Wildlife and Fast Pack which are worth checking out. Planting will be the last week of April or first week in May.
John grew up west of Lacrosse, WI with an abundance of maple trees. He proudly shares his memories, tapping 350 sugar and red maples on his 40 acre farm for maple syrup. West of Albert Lea, MN, however, these varieties don’t fare well in our soil conditions. Silver Maple, on the other hand, are hardy and available, but are known to produce a less sweet maple syrup. Trees need to be about 12-14″ around for tapping, with one spout per 12″ in circumference. Trees we will plant should be ready to tap in 5-7 years. End of February and early March is tapping season when the ground starts to warm. 4 gallons of sap usually produces a gallon of syrup.
The Conservation District and Game, Fish and Parks have partnered with a grass seeding program to encourage native grass development in our area. Each organization agrees to cover 50% of the seed cost so that participants only provide labor in distributing seeds.
Another program got my attention: The Department of Game, Fish and Parks Woody Habitat Program which encourages private land to increase wildlife populations through woody platings. 75% of the cost to plant shrubs, mid-sized and tall trees are covered by sales of hunting licenses and seems like a screaming deal! New woody plantings must be at least 8 rows wide and a minimum of 1 acre in size. Shrubs of interest for me include: American Plum, Black and Golden Currant, Lilac, Mongolian Cherry, Nanking Cherry. Mid-sized trees include: American Hazelnut, Apricot, Black Walnut, Pin Cherry and Ussarian Pear. Tall trees include: Black Cherry and Silver Maple. The annual deadline is Nov 1st but we hope to participate in this as well.