Extreme Tree Hugging: Fallon Ross

The sun is beaming, the air is dry, and the heat is stifling on this summer morning. I look forward to the cool breeze as the 7:30 train rattles the tracks and the steam trumpet echoes throughout the Sandhills, announcing the engine’s presence. As I arrive on site, I am quickly reminded there is no typical day at Bessey Nursery. Particularly when the seasons run their patterns.

 

 

The nursery manager prepares an annual schedule for sowing, maintenance, seedling lift, and packing. However, there are many tasks in between the process that come throughout the day. We cultivate pines, spruces, hardwoods, and shrubs from seed to seedlings (trees less than 3 years of age). There are additional projects such as the biochar trials, seed collections, blowout penstemon surveying, seed scarification and space seeds that provides a diversified work experience here at the nursery. Most of my workday is spent tending to the container plants in the greenhouses. Although the greenhouses are controlled facilities, the containerized plants require specialized assistance. The plants emerge quickly in the summer, sprouting vibrant flowers on the Rudbeckias along with maturing pines and spruces. We typically modify our watering habits according to the sunlight exposure, air circulation, weather, and temperature ranges. Monitoring the daily forecast and plant weight determines the water supply demands in each greenhouse. The ideal water retention rates are between 75%-85% with a threshold of 70% for each container.

Some of the common issues within the greenhouses are pest control, weed management, fungus, reduced water pressure, nutrient deficiencies and maintaining adequate moisture levels. To reduce complications, the horticulturist arranges for physical weed removal, spraying herbicides around the facility to minimize spread, and avoid overwatering to decrease pests/diseases. We also conduct a holistic overview of the container weights throughout the greenhouses in multiple locations to ensure each plant is healthy and water demands are satiable. Additionally, there are several trees that outgrow their container. The overgrown trees are transplanted to larger containers which is crucial for preventing diseases, avoiding root binding while also increasing the plant’s access to water and nutrients. If any physical abnormalities are identified on a plant, we use pH and electrical conductivity meters to test the soil for issues associated with fertilization. Recently, several seedlings experienced yellowing in the leaves signaling a possible nutrient deficiency. Chelated iron and ammonium nitrate were eventually added to the fertilizer with hopes to resolve the deficits.

When the container trees reach a few months old, approximately 250,000 trees are relocated from the greenhouses to the shade frames and wood houses to acclimate the plants to outdoor conditions. Two of the greenhouses are emptied, cleaned, and prepared for the next rotation of seedlings to germinate. While the other five greenhouses are opened for air circulation and humidity reduction but remain in standard production. The shade frames and woodhouse are equipped with a sprinkler irrigation system to simulate rain showers. Whereas the greenhouses provide a more uniformed water application with the irrigation boom system.

Once the two greenhouses are scoured, the entire team gathers for planting. An assembly line is formed starting with the forklift drivers arriving with pallets of propagation soil, technicians filling containers with the soil, the dibblers preparing the containers for planting, operators monitoring the seed planting machines and runners arranging the containers in the greenhouses. This process has become a long week of planting, bonding with coworkers and discovering everyone’s music interests as songs by Chris Stapleton and Garth Brooks blare on the XM radio. Although the commencement of planting week is quite satisfying the excitement still awaits us during the two-week germination period. Each container tray has multiple seeds in a cell to increase their chances of germination. Therefore, we often find 3-4 sprouts in a single container cell. . To limit competition, the greenhouses are thinned leaving one sprout for each cell.

 

After a long productive day, I remove a mask of dirt on my face and another layer between my nails. Working at the nursery is not a glamorous job but it is gratifying to help nurture plants that produce oxygen, sequester carbon, provide land stabilization, and enhance our environment. Before turning in for the evening, I watch the sun set and hear the silence break as sounds of nature comes to life.

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