Transforming Fields to Forests

Eleanor Reed paces slowly between rows of newly planted trees — thousands of them — eyes gazing side-to-side, assessing the straightness of their pencil-sized trunks and ensuring roots are properly covered.

“This one’s a bit crooked!” she yells out to daughter Sarah, home from university and part of her mother’s crew. The younger Reed is folded inside a tree planting machine — a large roundish container that would not be out of place at the Peterborough Exhibition midway and is being pulled by a tractor — placing the three-year-old seedlings in the freshly-carved ground. She’s timing each precarious drop with a regular clicking sound on one of the machine’s wheels.

“It’s like a metronome,” says Sarah of the system that’s reminiscent of a hockey card on a bicycle tire’s spokes. It means each tree is spaced evenly and according to plan.

And there is, to be sure, a plan here — two plans, in fact.

The smaller one involves the elder Reed, a professional forester, transforming fallow land into legitimate forests. On this day, it’s 50 acres south of Blackstock owned by multi-media gardening guru Mark Cullen. Next week, it could be anywhere from Keene to Haliburton to Orillia.

This field-to-forest process is more about science than shovels.

Weeks before earth is even turned, Reed walks the property, examining its soil and evaluating its topography, sometimes referring to her clipboard that has satellite photos of the land from space. “Even before I get out of the truck,” explains Reed, who has a degree in biology and forestry from the University of Toronto, “I can tell you, based on the surrounding vegetation, what species of tree are right for the property.”

Even selecting the seeds is a bit scientific; only those indigenous to the region of the province they’re being planted in, insists Reeds. So, no white pines from Georgia next to that one born and raised in Otonabee, thank you very much.

The larger plan is one that Reed, who lives on her own forest in the northern section of the City of Kawartha Lakes where she and her husband raised three children, would like to see more people take advantage of.

Trees Ontario, a non-profit program aims to plant 10 million trees a year as part of a worldwide greenhouse reduction mission. It’s a goal the provincially subsidized group is so determined to meet that it offers landowners the opportunity to create their own personal forest at a per-tree cost that’s almost negligible — about $150 for 800 trees per acre — and a labour investment that’s, well, zero. Landowners never even have to get their boots muddy. But they must agree to leave the trees untouched for at least 15 years. (Should they sell their “forest,” however, the new owner isn’t beholden to the contract).

And Reed is one of only a few foresters contracted by Trees Ontario to create these personal woodlands on properties that must be no smaller than 2 1/2 acres.

One landowner who is reaping the rewards of the program is Justin Pinkerton and his fiance Judy LaBrash, who recently took over her family’s 148-acre home in Keene — 10 of which will see almost 8,000 seedlings.

“I hope this doesn’t sound shallow but the biggest attraction was the cost,” says Pinkerton, adding that he and LaBrash are also huge wildlife boosters and are striving for an eco-conscious lifestyle. About leaving the planting to a professional, he says, “That was huge.” With a laugh, he adds, “If (planting) was left up to me they probably wouldn’t survive at all!”

Says Reed, “As long as this program exists, there’s no reason why one (landowner) would do what ends up being more work and pay more money.”

“And my success rate is always going to be higher than any landowner’s.”

NOTES: Information on this unique program is available at 
Eleanor Reed can be reached via

By Denis Grignon, The Peterborough Examiner
Thursday, May 2, 2013
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