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For some crops, planting is already over

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INDIANOLA, Iowa – Iowa’s greenest row crop is already in the ground.

Spring time is planting time, not just for traditional Iowa row crops like corn and soybeans. It’s also time to plant Christmas trees: just ask Gary Harman, above, owner of Walnut Ridge Farm in Indianola, south of Des Moines. In early April, he put 7,000 Christmas trees in the ground in just over a week.

“Last year was following an extreme drought,” explains Harman, “and we ended up planting almost 11,000.”

If you imagine a gardener armed with a shovel, think again. After last year, Harman upgraded.

“You’re looking at a steel, gas-powered drill,” says Harman. “It’s got a chuck on it just like a regular drill, to hold bits. And my auger. And we’re ready to go dig holes.”

Harman’s bit ends in an upside-down triangle, which acts as a spade; at the end of the triangle is a three-inch long auger. Harman fabricated the bit himself when he found store-bought options didn’t quite meet his needs.

“They’re straight up-and-down,” he says. “I want the hole to be a little bigger at the top. Plus it shaves and makes some fine dirt to refill the hole. We’ve got to get the roots down so they’re fully extended, so they’re not all wadded up, and that gives us some room to work. The bottom of it is only three inches, but we really need a little more room than that, so the top of the hole is a little bigger, to put the last of the dirt in.”

Harman says the long-range forecast this year is a little wetter and cooler than last year – that’s not bad news for Christmas trees.

“We don’t like it super-cool, but the trees will take the cool weather better than they take the hot and dry weather. Especially the firs; the firs don’t like super-hot weather. Once the soil temperature gets up in the mid-80s, why, the roots die. There’s nothing you can do. Even with adequate moisture, they’ll still die, just from the heat.”