By Kate Proctor
Checking out what is going on at your neighbours’ places seems to be a common thing for most farmers. Whether you messed up planting… or are putting up a new building… or tearing down an old one… you can be sure you will see the slow drive by as the neighbours check it out. We always want to know how much rain fell on the next concession, and when everyone else has their combine rolling. Not to mention when the neighbours do something really nuts that you can’t even figure out from the road…
I’m sure there were some thoughts along that line this spring as we started a new project that couldn’t be missed as you drove on our road. And given that it is one of the main roads leading to our local landfill, our road is practically a rural superhighway.
I have written in a previous column about the fact that the Shorthorn cattle found new homes over the last few months of 2022. That left several pastures vacant and ready for a new project. The land that we have used as pastures had long been considered unsuitable for cropping, mostly because of the Maitland River running through it. The steep slopes leading down to the river and the floodplain are better put to other uses.
As a long time member of the Ontario Woodlot Association, I have been on different tours showcasing healthy woodlots and have learned about all the benefits they can bring to a farm. After one such tour several years ago, I had in my mind a great use for our pastures once the cows were not using those spaces.
I called the Maitland Valley Conservation Authority (MVCA) and with much help from Shannon Millar, we started planning a tree planting project for the 2023 spring planting season. We have three areas and made separate plans for each, with two of these areas being planted in May. Covering 13 acres, Saugeen Conservation Authority staff planted 8,800 new seedlings, including 80 per cent conifers, 10 per cent hardwood, and 10 per cent shrubs. Species included White Pine, White Spruce, White Cedar, Tamarack, Sugar Maple, Silver Maple, Bur Oak, Sycamore, Hackberry, Swamp White Oak, Black Willow, Ninebark, Red-osier Dogwood, Elderberry, Smooth Arrowwood, and Pussy willows.
Tree planting on our farm is nothing new. We have planted many windbreaks over the years. My Dad had planted several areas roughly 60 years ago with white pine and spruce, and one of the new projects is an extension of his original planting. At the time, they planted trees for some of the same reasons we are planting now – to have useful trees rather than allow the areas to grow up with weeds and to improve water quality. At that time, the local townships were also hoping to develop lands to be recreational areas and the Junior Farmers group helped plant some of those trees. Today, that area is still used by many people who access the river to fish and boat.
Data from the MVCA shows that 40 per cent of the streams in the watershed need buffers restored. This adds up to about 1,300 km. An additional 16,000 acres of floodplain, riparian areas, and river valley also need restoration work. Forest Health Studies, conducted every five years, reveal that forest cover in the MVCA watershed continues to shrink. Between the years of 1985 to 2000, there was a loss of 635 acres; between 2015 and 2020, there was a loss of 509 acres.
Walking along the river last fall, it was disturbing to see that a jungle of giant ragweed had already started to establish itself. If you haven’t seen this weed for yourself – it is difficult to describe in a way that does it justice – but in places it towered over me and is easily double my height. Short jokes aside, it is a weed that we definitely do not want gaining a hold of our former pasture areas and from there jumping into the fields.
The final project area along the river is not accessible or visible from the road and has a portion that stays wet year round. It has provided a valuable service all these years as a natural holding area for water that has come from the tile drain outlets and allowed any sediment to settle out before reaching the river. As we discussed what to do in that area, we decided that with a little excavation, we could form a pond that would support ducks and still retain its settling pond function.
Working with Ducks Unlimited (DU) and MVCA, we decided to go forward with a plan that included planting White Cedar, Tamarack, White Pine, White Spruce, Silver Maple, Black Willow, Basswood, Bur Oak, and Sycamore. The species for all the plantings were selected with a focus on what will thrive in the future in this area. The excavation happened earlier in the summer when the area was at its driest and 2,800 seedlings will be planted next spring. DU has conserved and restored over one million acres in Ontario since 1974. They have 2,002 projects and 3,723 landowner partners “supporting phosphorous reduction, biodiversity, clean water, and overall watershed health,” (ducks.ca).
Support for the projects will come from DU for the duck pond area, Environment and Climate Change Canada through their Nature Smart Climate Solutions Program, the Huron Clean Water Project (HCWP), as well as the MVCA. HCWP has helped complete 3,645 projects throughout the County, including planting 674,878 trees on 1,001 acres, 232 km of windbreaks, upgrading 432 private wells, and helping establish 40,000 acres of cover crops, (huroncounty.ca).
While the areas may not look that great yet – I have high hopes that in a few years the trees planted this spring will thrive and not raise as many questions in the minds of drivers-by as they do now. ◊