I couldn’t wait to stroll around in the woods with one of my best friends, Dr. Dave Samuel, wildlife biologist and writer from West Virginia. I’d had my farm a couple years and had established a couple food plots.
As we walked the ATV paths, I pointed out the expansive oak stands, which stood on about half of the farm’s acreage. Mixed with the oak stands were thickets of laurels, which I thought were good spots for deer to bed.
“Well,” Samuel said, as we returned to the yard. “I didn’t see any food for deer.”
He was right. It had been a poor mast year. But Samuel also pointed out that the oak trees were too crowded to become good producers. A major thinning was in order, so that the remaining trees would be free to use the available nutrients. Also, a thinning would create browse.
We’d been able to stand at one spot and see quite far in the woods. Samuel said that in a healthy forest, that should not be the case. Browse should be thick enough to block views. Also, in one area by the creek, a colony of maple trees dominated. That was also due for a thinning, he said.
And the timber cuts would pave the way for new plantings. What would be the best bushes and trees to replant? Which would be the best producers during hunting season? Here are my top three picks:
1. Flowering crabapple: The trees could begin producing fruit as early as within four-to-six years. The fruit is lightweight, compared to “regular” apples, and remain on the tree well into fall.
2. Sawtooth oak: The trees could produce acorns as early as year six. Also, the sawtooth oak acorns begin to drop earlier than “regular” acorns, which could draw deer to my property during the early archery season, I reasoned. Acorns may begin dropping in mid-September.
3. Elderberry: I ordered 125 trees and bushes from a nursery, through the Pennsylvania Game Commission. I ordered 25 of the Sawtooth oak and 50 of the Flowering Crabapples. But I’m most optimistic about the 50 Elderberry bushes. Here’s why. The Elderberry bush makes a great planting for the understory, since it doesn’t grow as high as trees. Its leaves are not palatable to wildlife until late summer and fall, making it a perfect forage plant for wildlife during hunting season. Its berries are devoured by bear, deer, upland birds, and songbirds, according to studies. Elderberries are eaten by more than 100 species of songbirds. That’s all good, but the Elderberry bush has lots more going for it. It’s easy to establish, and has a dense root system, which will help prevent erosion. State wildlife agencies often use it along streambeds for those reasons.
The young saplings should arrive soon. I’ve got lots of work to do between then and now, but I’m hoping Dr. Dave — and the deer — will be pleased on their next tour of the farm!
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