Go Green with Trees

Tree farming can be a satisfying, and profitable, experience for land owners

From the porch of their log home, Jerald and April Adams can contemplate their two tracts of forest, while listening to the whisper of the wind through the pines.

On a winter morning, deer scurry across the road into the farm, making way for a visiting pickup. Atop a hill, a large red-tailed hawk plummets in search of prey.

Jerald Adams, a retired geologist, and his wife, an associate professor of science education at Northeastern State University, are living a dream they formed more than a decade ago.

The most recent achievement was becoming a certified tree farm with the American Tree Farm System.

One other local tree farm has attained that distinction, said Dale Lenz, service forester for the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. Chris and Hope Owen, who live near Welling, also operate a certified tree farm.

The Adams farm, also known as Janda Bend Christmas Trees, is just east of the Barren Fork Creek bridge on State Highway 51, left of the highway on McLemore Hollow Road. (The Janda name comes from Jerald and April).

On Tuesday, Lenz presented Jerald Adams with an official sign designating the tree farm, and a certificate of participation in the program.

The certificate states the Adams farm has demonstrated “commitment to a land stewardship that focuses on the proper management of natural resources for timber, fish and wildlife habitat, for water quality, soil , aesthetics, recreation and other ecosystem services, being a valuable legacy for future generations.”

Adams said he had grown Christmas trees for several years when he learned of the certified tree farm program. A magazine article sparked his interest.

“I think it was in the Oklahoma Parks and Recreation Department’s magazine in 2002,” he said.

“They had a little advertisement in saying the Oklahoma Forestry Services can help you get a stewardship plan.”

So he contacted Lenz, who helped him plan the tree farm.

Only a few acres are planted in Christmas trees. Adams said they take a relatively large amount of labor, including cultivation and watering, compared to the regular commercial forest.

“I had a lot of old forests that were not in good shape,” he said. “I’ve got 160 acres, and about half of it was old forest.”

The forests contained oak, hickory, persimmon and hackberry trees, and others that Adams and Lenz deemed less desirable trees. They selected two hilltop sites for the commercial tree growing.

“We started a plan where I would take roughly 40 acres of the property and plant it in loblolly pines,” Adams said.

In 2004 he planted about 20,000 seedlings — 1-year-old trees about a foot tall — on the 35 acres on the northwest part of his property. Another five acres on the northeast side, adjacent to the Christmas tree-growing area, became the site for additional loblolly pines.

“But 2004 was a hard year. It was a drought year. I lost about half of those trees,” Adams said.

He planted more trees the next year, and about 90 percent of them made it. Now, the original plantings tower over Adams’ head as he walks through the forest.

The larger forest on the northwest has a proliferation of blackberry bushes amid the pines.

The Adamses have harvested and enjoyed eating them, although this year they didn’t make a decent crop. Deer have rubbed along many of the trees, and there is evidence they’ve been shedding their coats there.

After planting the trees, Adams had to spray with a selective herbicide that would kill any hardwoods that sprouted up, and other brush.

After the trees grow larger, they will provide their own protection, shading the ground from undergrowth.

The initial planting placed the trees 9 feet apart, farther than those on the Christmas tree portion of the farm. The Christmas trees are Virginia and Scotch pines. Adams said the Virginia pines thrive better on his land.

“There’s no way I’d plant all this in Christmas trees,” Adams said, citing the amount of work involved.

Adams also attends the annual Oklahoma Timber Conference at Western Hills to gain more information about tree-growing.

Lenz said a forest such as Adams’ will be ready for the first thinning harvest 20 years after planting. Those trees will be used for wood pulp, possibly posts or pine shavings.

“After that , you will go through about every 10 years or so. The final harvest will be in 45 to 60 years,” Lenz said.

When the trees attain a diameter of 6 or 7 inches, they’re large enough to be used for lumber.

“It depends on the market,” Lenz said. “The second cutting, you start getting some small saw logs.”

A tree farm doesn’t require prime agricultural land.

The hilltop where the larger loblolly pine forest grows has rocks scattered across the surface of the soil, like a giants’ marble game. Adams maintains a couple of brushhogged pathways through the forest. Otherwise, he leaves it alone while the pines grow.

The Adamses lived in a farmhouse on the property before building their log house two years ago.

The spacious, two-story log home has a porch surrounding it, with dramatic views of the valley and the hills on the property.

“This was a 10- or 12-year dream of ours,” Adams said.

The family finds it a satisfying place to settle.

And, Lenz said, tree farming could be equally rewarding for others who wish to pursue it.

“That’s the neat thing about growing trees. You have to work a little bit to get them growing,” he said. “One man I worked with, who also had cows, said, ‘You’ve got to feed cows on Christmas morning. The neat thing about growing trees is they can wait.’”