The Family Album
Ok, don’t just look at the pictures, there’s a cool story behind this project. Read on. You might just learn something!
Most of the oak and hemlock trees on Prince Edward Island were harvested and used for ship building in the mid to late 1800’s. The PEI Red Oak is on featured on the provincial flag. The beginnings of this project goes back almost thirty years ago, when a cutting was acquired, from the last known natural stand of indigenous red oak trees that was located in Kinkora PEI.
It was early summer, about three years ago, when I noticed an awful lot of what I thought were acorns all over the driveway. Curious, I called the provincial tree farm, and chatted a length with someone who set me straight. As it turns out, these were aborted acorns that hadn’t grown enough to work their way through the caps. Since an oak tree can only support so many viable acorns, it was shedding the extras. I was told to wait for the first frost, then pick the remaining acorns from the tree, and I should ignore any that had fallen to the ground, as they could have picked up a virus that would be spread to the rest of the acorns during the dormant part of the following process. The first task was to separate the good from that bad, by putting the just harvested acorns in a bucket of fresh water over night. The good ones are supposed to sink to the bottom, and the bad ones will float. The next day the ones that sank, were removed from the water and air dried for three days, while the floaters were discarded. Of the thirty-two harvested, twenty-four got sealed away in a zip lock bag, and put in the refrigerators vegetable crisper for the winter. The oak tree project was underway!
Mid March rolled around, and when I opened the zip lock bag I was amazed at what I saw! Almost all of them had split the seed casing, and some even had a small white tap root beginning to show. Normally you’d think that planting them was the next step. Well almost. Planting the seed would only cause the nut to rot before it could split the rest of the way, revealing it’s first leaves. Instead, individual starter pots were prepared, then the seed was to be laid on it’s side, on top of the dirt. Gravity would eventually take over and the tap root would find it’s way into the soil. It wasn’t until mid May that I transplanted the sprouts into six inch pot’s and moved them outside to the green house. Four of them started the tap root but didn’t survive long enough to make it to the soil, the remainders either did nothing, or never shed the nut from around the sprout. The twenty-four was now sixteen. The end of June came around, and the risk of frost had passed, so it was safe to put them outdoors. They remained in the six inch pots for the rest of the summer. Average height was around three to four inches. Fall came and shortly after the first frost, they began to turn colors, and eventually lost their leaves. The first part of November I moved them indoors onto an old pallet in the basement for the winter.
It wasn’t until the end of April, that I moved the lads out of the basement into the green house. I held off as long as I could, but they had to be moved. Some of the dormant twigs had started to sprout new growth. They were white from being in the dark basement, and not being able to produce any chlorphyll yet! Once in the green house it was only a matter of days before they turned green. The end of June I moved them outside after transplanting them into ten inch pots. By the end of the summer the average heigth was six to eight inches, most of the even forked once from the main growth. Pretty much like the first season, I moved them into the basement for the winter dormant period.
We had a fairly mild winter, so I moved them to the green house a little early this year. Most had an inch or two of new growth before mid June. I’ve even had them out of the green house already, only to put them back for a day. We suffered a minor set back. The wind was the culprit. Two of them looked like they got a little wind burned, and the runt of the litter got his new growth stunted. The 110km/h gusts damaged a shoot enough that minor surgery was the only answer. After a couple of days to prepare the site, the whole lot of them were moved to their permanant home in the northeastern corner of the property. A teaspoon of lime in the hole before planting them, and careful watering for the rest of the summer, should give them a good start towards healing into their new surroundings before winter.
A Follow Up
The first winter in the ground was a pretty big deal. You can read this to find out what it was like.