Out On a Limb: Planting Trees on a Treeless Plain

Husker Home Place

Who would have thought that trees would mean so much to folks farming and ranching in a prairie state?

Published on: January 10, 2014

Over the past year, I’ve written numerous bonus blogs each month featuring the “Families That Grow Our Food,” hoping to tell the ag story to our urban friends by relating the back stories of many of the interviews we’ve written in recent years about hardworking farm and ranch families.

Now, it’s a new year and I’ll take on a new topic in bonus monthly blogs. One of my interests as a farmer over the years has been trees, woodlands, shelterbelts and orchards. For 20 years, my family operated a small choose-and-cut Christmas tree farm along Bow Creek and we became certified to market a few nursery trees too. I grew up planting shelterbelts with my Dad around our farm, hand-weeding the young seedlings on my hands and knees. We still pick apples from an orchard my grandfather planted on our place. And my family continues to enjoy a five-acre grove of ash, maple and mulberry trees west of our house that my brother and I explored as kids. You might say that trees are in my blood.

MASTER TREE PLANTERS: Part of Jespersen family field windbreak plantings near Hemingford.
MASTER TREE PLANTERS: Part of Jespersen family field windbreak plantings near Hemingford.

It was the same for Nebraska’s most famous tree planter, J. Sterling Morton. When he moved to the Nebraska Territory from his home in Michigan, he and his wife missed the forests and woodlands. So, they made the prairie more livable by planting trees and orchards, and eventually promoting the idea of tree planting across the state and the world.

I think most farmers and ranchers love trees. I interviewed Don Jespersen at Hemingford last summer about his family’s in-field windbreak plantings that have totaled more than a million trees planted over a 20-year period. That is some dedicated planting to be sure. But they are not alone. Nebraska is home to hundreds of thousands of acres of woodlands, windbreaks, shelterbelts and groves on farms and ranches across the state. We not only have one of the largest hand-planted forests in the world at Halsey, but also Bessey Tree Nursery, which is the oldest seedling nursery managed by USDA Forest Service.

With that in mind, I’ll write about the tree history of the state, tree species, management of trees on the farm, disease and insect issues and much more. You can watch for “Out on a Limb” every month in this space as a bonus to my regular weekly blogs. I hope you’ll enjoy reading these new installments as much as I plan to enjoy writing them.