Tour of Seven-Acre Black Walnut Plantation to Highlight Field Day

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ATCHISON, Kan. — A tour of the International Forest of Friendship, a walk through a seven-acre, 15- to 17-year-old black walnut plantation and a visit to the American Walnut Company’s mill are some of the highlights of the 2015 Walnut Council Field Day scheduled for June 10 in Atchison, Kansas.

Promoting the use of black walnut and other high quality trees through good woodland management, conservation and tree planting is the purpose of the Walnut Council (www.walnutcouncil.org), a not-for-profit organization that represents nearly 900 woodland owners, foresters, scientists, and wood-producing industry representatives.

A $15 registration fee will cover the cost of lunch, busses and other expenses. Additional information is online www.kansasforests.org (click on News and Events/Trainings/Workshops).  Or call the Kansas Forest Service at 785-532-3300, said Bob Atchison, rural forestry coordinator with the Kansas Forest Service.

The City of Atchison is the birthplace of Amelia Earhart and home to the International Forest of Friendship (http://www.ifof.org), a memorial of trees planted to honor aviation and aerospace heroes from all 50 states and 35 countries around the world. This year’s field day will begin at the International Forest of Friendship where participants will gather for morning refreshments and an overview of the day.

Participants will then go to the black walnut plantation managed and owned by Walnut Council member Jerry Botts. The plantation was established in 1998 about the time he retired from the Exchange Bank in Atchison. Botts remembers reading an article about black walnut which piqued his interest. 

“I gave Kansas Forest Service a call and Dave Bruton, the local forester out of Valley Falls came out to visit with me about growing black walnut,” Botts said.

As part of the field day, Botts will share the successes and challenges he faced growing black walnut. “Choosing a good site and good soil is critical for success,” Botts said. “You need ample sunlight and you need to cultivate a good seed bed prior to planting.” 

He also stressed the importance of controlling grass and weeds that compete for moisture and nutrients with young trees. “We initially planted our trees by hand at a 12-foot spacing, about 1,000 trees,” he said.

One of the greatest challenges to establishing his trees was deer damage. 

“I had to coppice half of the trees I originally planted, because of the way the deer deformed the trees,” Botts said. Coppicing is cutting a tree at its base to encourage re-sprouting of a healthier, straighter stem. Once the trees had re-sprouted and the best single stem was selected, he protected all of the trees with tree shelters, which aretube-like, polyethylene products usually about 4 to 5 feet in height.  They are installed over the tops of trees and stabilized with wooden stakes.

Botts had problems with soil erosion initially, but solved that by seeding white clover throughout the plantation, a good companion crop for trees. 

“People need to stay away from deep-rooted grasses like brome and K-31 fescue in their tree plantings,” Botts said as they are “too competitive.” 

When the trees reached 10 years of age, he knew the trees had grown too close together. 

“I called Dave Bruton, with the Kansas Forest Service and he marked the trees I should keep and the ones that needed to be removed. Then I contacted Marty Hewins, a forestry consultant and logger and his son Michael did the rest,” Botts said. 

About 400 trees were removed and chipped on-site. He plans for another thinning when the trees reach 20 years old.

Foresters and other experts will be on hand at the field day to discuss planting, pruning and thinning techniques. Tree farmers, Kansas Forestry Association and Walnut Council members will share their experiences growing trees at the field day.

Following the black walnut plantation tour, participants will be bussed back to the International Forest of Friendship for lunch catered by Paolucci’s, a longtime Atchison restaurant. Representatives of the National Association of State Foresters will join the meeting for a ceremonial tree planting led by Kansas State Forester Larry Biles.

After lunch, attendees will tour the American Walnut Company in St. Joseph, Missouri. The company has been in the business of buying, processing and selling black walnut since 1924. American Walnut is primarily a “gunstock sawmill” which fits well with the characteristic short, stocky walnut trees grown in Kansas. The company also buys valuable veneer logs which make up 7-15 percent of the overall board footage of the timber they purchase. All veneer logs harvested in Kansas are shipped out of state and, in most cases, internationally. The company exports to 45 countries worldwide.

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