Holcomb Tree Trail

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The Friends of Holcomb Farm invites everyone to visit a new project: the Holcomb Tree Trail at Holcomb Farm. This project is fully funded through the financial support of grants from the Hartford Foundation from Public Giving and some very generous individuals. The Holcomb Tree Trail falls under the Friends of Holcomb Farm’s mission to “preserve, promote and utilize” Holcomb Farm. Indeed one of the requested uses of the farm, as described in the deed of gift by siblings Laura and Tudor Holcomb, was for arboretum purposes.

The tree trail is located on the east side of Simsbury Road in West Granby, across from the main farm complex. It includes older mature trees along the woods trails and in the hedgerows bordering the East Fields as well as newly planted trees. These fields comprise about 40 acres; the woods extending further to the east consist of about 130 acres. As of the end of 2019, the friends have planted 28 trees and plan to plant 10–15 more trees annually.

After several years of planning, the Tree Trail steward volunteers established design principles to guide planting as the trail expands. These include: preserving the existing long views; encouraging agricultural uses where appropriate; managing invasive species in the fields principally by mowing, but also by manual or mechanical means along the hedgerows (no chemicals); planting both natives and non-natives, with an emphasis on spring bloom and fall color and supporting bird habitats by planting trees that attract birds.

The Tree Trail steward volunteers are longtime Granby residents: Jack and Peggy Lareau, Barry Avery, Walt Zultowski, Sue Canavan, Walter Ford, and Eric Lukingbeal—three of whom are on the Friends of the Holcomb Farm Board of Directors. It is important to note that the average age of these volunteers is well north of 60—three are over 70. We will not see these trees mature, but our children and grandchildren will. We invite and encourage younger folks to get involved because, if properly cared for, an arboretum like this can last hundreds of years or more.

First planting: 2018

After several years of planning, talking to experts, visits to large and small tree collections from Boston to San Francisco, and with the permission of the Board of Selectmen and Town Manager, we planted the first 16 trees in October 2018. These trees are native to northeastern United States. We planted three Kentucky coffee trees, three American lindens, three American elms cultivar “Princeton,” three swamp white oaks, and three shingle oaks as well as one black Tupelo cultivar “Afterburner.” They ranged in height from five feet (Tupelo) to 15 feet (elms) and were all 1.5-inch caliper (diameter). These trees were paid for by a grant from the Pomeroy-Brace Fund, administered by the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. The grant also paid for 80 labels for 31 different species of mature trees along the woods trails and in hedgerows, and for eight weatherproof interpretive signs. Additional funding for the interpretive signage was provided by a grant from the Granby Education Foundation. Installation of these signs will happen this spring.

Second planting: 2019

In October 2019, we planted three Japanese tree lilacs, three Cornelian cherries, three Kousa dogwoods, and three Sargent cherries. All of these have excellent spring blooms. These trees were paid for with funding provided by Friends of Holcomb Farm and by a very generous gift from Shirley Murtha.

Missouri Gravel Bed Method

With the exception of the Tupelo, all the trees were grown at Rare Earth Nursery in Cazenovia, N.Y., which uses the Missouri Gravel Bed Method (MGB). Trees at the nursery are planted in 18 inches of pea stone instead of soil. The gravel is irrigated with nutrients added to the water making this method a form of hydroponics. During one growing season, the trees develop a very thick root mass. In the fall, the trees are pulled out of the pea stone, which is easily shaken and washed off. An average person can easily pick up these bare-root trees with one hand. MGB trees are ideal for planting by volunteer groups, as no machinery is required. The hole for the tree is 42 inches wide by only eight to ten inches deep, much shallower than a hole for a balled and burlap-wrapped tree of the same size.

Planting the trees

We located the tree planting sites—with town review and approval—in early summer and began preparing them. Sites were weed-whacked to bare ground and then mulched heavily (6 to 8 inches) to suppress the underlying vegetation that competes with young trees. In early fall, the mulch was taken off and the holes were dug. The trees were transported by stewardship volunteers from the nursery in New York and left at the farm overnight, covered with a large tarp. Early the next morning the volunteers planted and heavily watered the trees, taking care to avoid air pockets. The mulch was re-spread to two inches over the roots. Half-inch hardware cloth was installed around the trees up to three feet. This was to protect against buck rub (bucks love to rub their antlers on young trees, which can kill them) as well as to keep mice from eating the bark. Finally, the trees were triple staked to prevent toppling in high winds.

Visitors are welcome to the Holcomb Tree Trail any season. We have information about the trail on our website, holcombfarm.org. You can also follow our Instagram account @friendsofholcombfarm to learn about recent plantings, invasive species, wildflowers, trail work, and events on the farm.

The 28 trees are just a start, but they join thousands of trees in the woods along the trail network. We plan to add more trees annually, provided we can raise funds and keep up with watering. New trees need watering during the first year and after that during drought. Of course, given our ages, we will need to find younger folks willing to volunteer. While it has taken 40 years to plant the first tree, there is a saying among arborists: “The best time to plant a tree is 100 years ago. The next best time is today.”

We are pleased to be a part of the Explore Granby Scavenger Hunt, a fun activity brought to you by the Granby Conservation Commission and Granby Recreation and Leisure Services. The young Black Tupelo is the featured location to find at Holcomb Farm.