It’s tree-planting season. My annual order of 24 native seedlings arrived today via Fed Ex from the State nursery in Missoula, Montana. Minimum order is 24 “plugs” or bareroot stock, grown for “conservation” purposes and sold throughout the state. This year, I selected P-pine (Ponderosa). Last year it was juniper, and western larch the year before. I treat this as a ritual of Spring, that for me goes way back to the mid-1980s. The serious woman at the nursery – maybe a tree scientist — I ordered from this year wasn’t thrilled about my selection because the seeds were gathered at a much lower elevation, and from a site West of the Continental Divide, somewhere in the Blackfoot River watershed. I’m planting East of the divide in much poorer dirt, in a more hostile setting with less annual precipitation (drought prone) and generally lower humidity. After a robust discussion she agreed to send my 24 Ponderosa pine.
These little beauties are now in 1-gallon pots. It didn’t take long at all.
A tree-planting crew is 20-something individuals, all with their stories, all with their quirks and attitudes. A top (“high roller”) planter – this is on USFS-USDA ground with intense scrutiny by “the Freddies” – could plant somewhere around 1,000 seedlings a day. 800 to 1,000 on tough ground. A private-ground planter (“stuff and run”) could double that in a day, or more, due to lax, or no inspection by the landowner. The U.S. Forest Service contracting officers’ demeaner ranged from pretty much normal, almost casual, to total flaming asshole. Government inspector would dig our trees looking for contract violations. Here are a few common infractions: “j-root,” pruned roots, high tree, too deep, not tight, and on and on. Too many bad trees and they dock our pay.
I’m glad to be back planting this year, even though it’s only my token 24 P-pines. Seems about right for an old geezer. There’s nothing like a fist full of dirt and a well-planted seedling to commemorate the transition from winter to spring in the Northern Rockies.