This Old Farmhouse

Savanna Restoration Series: Part 4

Lori Havens

(Read Savanna Restoration: Part 1 HERE)

(Read Savanna Restoration: Part 2 HERE)

(Read Savanna Restoration Part 3 HERE)

After the 500 saplings had been planted, by hand, one sapling at a time, it was time for some tubing!

tubing on the river

Well, yes, that kind of tubing first … but then it was time for some savanna style tubing!

Bryan and tube

The lovely, delicate, tender, sweet saplings look like leafy twigs to us, but to deer, rabbits and other critters, they look like the finest European chocolate, so it’s important to protect them! Farmer Bryan ordered hundreds of plastic tree tubes. We loaded the boxes into the mule and headed out to the pasture.

boxes in the mule

We have a game for you to play now … it’s called, “Where’s the Sapling?”

finding the hidden saplings

Out here amidst the mature pasture grasses, locating the little saplings is like the ultimate game of “Where’s Waldo.” At first, it took us quite a while to spot them! After we’d found the first dozen or so, we were quite good at it!

clear sapling

hidden sapling

Planting these saplings was slow, hot, sweaty work. Tubing them was no work at all … just a wee bit of time to complete the steps:

STEP 1: Grab a pack of tubes and stakes. Each pack has five tubes ranging from wide to narrow width … pull them apart. Save yourself some steps and grab a few more packs so you don’t have to keep walking back and forth!

unloading tubes

STEP 2: Play “Where’s the Sapling?” and drop one tube and one stake right next to the sapling the second you spot it … if you look away, you’ll lose it!

drop tube next to sapling

STEP 3: Push as much pasture grass away from the sapling as you can and gently place a tube around the sapling. Thread the plastic stake through the zip ties, then hammer the stake into the ground. If it bounces back up each time you hit it, you’re on a rock. Shift it and repeat until it goes down into the ground. Once it’s in and the tube is stable, tighten the zip ties.

pounding in a tube

tube in the ground

pull zip ties  pull zip ties

STEP 4: It is important to label the tube with the type of tree that is inside of it. Bryan labels them “CN” for Chestnut, “CB” for Cherry Bush (as opposed to a cherry tree), “O” for Oak, “H” for Hazelnut, “BL” for Black Locust.

Bryan's tree code  Bryan's tree code

It’s gratifying when you look down the pasture and see that finished row of tree tubes! We were really, really, really happy when the last tube was placed!

a tubed row

Next spring, we will go up on the ridgetop and have a peek inside each tube, to check for “signs of life.”

inside the tube

Any saplings that have not survived will be replaced, finances permitting. Our supplier was not able to ship the apple tree saplings this year for some reason, so Farmer Bryan left spaces in each row where he had an apple tree planned. These trees will have to be planted and tubed next spring.

There! You’ve come alongside us and planted a savanna! Pat yourself on the back … it was a lot of work, and you’re finally done … until next spring, anyway!


Savanna Restoration Series: Part 3

Bryan and Zoe

Lori HavensPicture this: You are the 23-year-old owner of 40 acres of chemical-free, stunningly beautiful though-somewhat neglected land. You decide to restore your land to its historic roots as a Midwest Savanna.

In late summer, you get together with another young farmer who knows how to do these things, and spend lots of time walking through your land, identifying your marvelous variety of healthy pasture grasses and existing trees, and studying contour maps while guzzling plenty of ice water and munching on non-GMO popcorn.

walking the pasture

pasture bouquet

tree and nuts

farmers at the computer

You study your land carefully whenever it rains, so you know where water is naturally running off, and forming gullies down the hill and into the woods. You spot places where you could dig a trough called a “swale” to divert some of that water to other places (like your future savanna), effectively channeling water distribution up to the dry ridgetop.

Throughout the winter, you dream about your savanna. In early spring, you order trees … lots and lots of trees. It is so much fun! Your swale-digging farmer friend shows up with his swale-digging tractor attachment, and the swales are dug.


see the swale?

Soon, the wait is over … boxes and boxes of tree saplings arrive! Trees … trees … trees … LOTS and LOTS of trees! How many trees? Don’t you remember? You ordered 500 trees. 500 trees. 500 TREES. Good grief, what were you thinking? You’re up here on this farm by yourself, and you have 500 trees to plant!  

You drop hints to the few people you know up there in your new Wisconsin homeland. Help! Your mom drops hints to the few people she knows up there. Help! Neither of you gets any response. Oh well. Suck it up, grab a tamping rod, a shovel, a pair of leather gloves, don your muck boots, and head up the ridge top with your boxes.

saplings in boxes

saplings in boxes

Double-check your planting plan … make sure you know exactly where you need to put which tree … there are six different kinds of trees and shrubs to keep straight.

the planting plan

Shade tree rows have eight trees, planted fairly far apart. Intensive rows have understory shrubs every 4 feet or so, interspersed amongst the shade trees. So you identify the correct saplings, grab eight or 16 of them, then start walking the row and dropping the saplings where you want to plant them.

planting trees

planting trees

planting trees

planting trees

planting trees

Once they’re all dropped, grab your shovel and your tamping rod, and head to the beginning of the row. Use the heavy tamping rod to slice into the earth, and push the dirt to the side. You are making a slit just wide enough to accommodate the roots of the sapling. If the roots are bent (they often are), cut the slit to accommodate this, too. Carefully guide the roots into the opening … take care to prevent them from twisting. Now take the tamping rod, slice into the earth alongside the roots without cutting them, and pull the handle toward the roots to squeeze the dirt back around them, pressing out air and closing the space.

planting trees

planting trees

Next, grab your shovel. All along the swales that were dug lies the dirt and grass that was uprooted in the process. Slice into it and make yourself two 6-inch clods, grass attached. Watch what you’re cutting, lest you harm a toad!

planting trees


Place the two dirt clods, grass side down, around the sapling. Stomp them down firmly into the ground. This provides a structural support for the newly planted tree. As the “buried” grass breaks down, it will feed the little tree.

planting trees

planting trees

planting trees

planting trees

Congratulations! You’ve planted your first tree! Now that you know what to do, the rest is easy – just do it again … and again … and again … 500 times. Soon you’ll have planted your very own savanna!

all done

We’ll let you take a little break so you can feel good about the incredible work you’ve accomplished. But only a little one … there are creatures out there who look at your newly planted saplings the way you look at fine chocolate. You need to protect your sweet, green treats … stay tuned for our next installment!

Read Savanna Restoration: Part 1 HERE.

Read Savanna Restoration: Part 2 HERE.

Read Savanna Restoration: Part 4 HERE.