treeplanting

 

Treeplanting Website for Tree planters

Important links:

Tree planting company database - learn what experienced planters say about the treeplanting companies they have worked for and avoid a painful season.
Tree planting jobs - approach more than 130 treeplanting companies by email.
Tree planting accounting software - if you are a treeplanting company this software will help save you lots of time.
Or read some of my travel stories!

The below content was written by a veteran tree planter with 7 years of experience. I have written down all the tricks I've learned to plant fast and make lots of money, but also how to survive in the bush to make this profession less grueling than it already is. Hope you enjoy!

TABLE OF CONTENTS

On This Page

On the Next Page

History of Treeplanting

What is Treeplanting

What is a Treeplanter

How to Plant a Tree

Planning Your Next Treeplanting Spot

Getting to Your Next Treeplanting Spot

Prodding With Your Shovel

Inserting the Shovel

Make Your Treeplanting Hole

Insert Your Tree

Close Your Hole

Efficiency of Movement

Planting Medium

Tips from the Ultra Highballers

The Shovel

Background / About Me

The Treeplanter's Diet

Dietary Supplements

Treeplanting Attire

Bugs While Treeplanting

Treeplanting Stories

Stretching When You Treeplant

Preparing for the Treeplanting Season

 

Quality Control

Treeplanting Plot

The Forester

Cutting and Filling Your Piece

Creamy Spots

Other Pages

Useful Third Party Pages

Treeplanting Jobs

List of Treeplanting Companies

Treeplanting Accounting Software

Treeplanting Videos

Photographs Pictures of Treeplanting

Photographs Pictures of Treeplanting 2
Romantic side of tree planting
Tree planting vagabond
Tree planting correspondence

Treeplanters Database - where planters can submit and view comments concerning tree  planting companies (much of the information has been drawn and compiled with the kind permission from scooter from the forum at replant.ca)

contact

 

History of Tree Planting

I couldn't find much on the internet, but I believe treeplanting started or matured the fastest in New Zealand, where they would have run out of trees much earlier than in larger countries. For many years in Canada, and apparently still the practice in the US, trees were planted in unison by a row of tree planters. They would all move forward a few steps and plant a row of trees together, waiting for the slowest planter before moving on to the next row. On the highway you could drive by these planted rows and they would appear like spokes in a bicycle, the perfect rows flashing by you. One day a Dutchman named Brinkman approached the government with a proposal to charge the same price for the same number of trees, as long as his crew was able to plant their trees in their own method.

treeplanting cut block 1
Drawn from replant.ca

He trained a crazy crew who set out to fill a logged clear cut, each planter planting their trees on their own, and they planted so many trees per day that everyone's head turned, until the whole industry was soon following their practice.

With row, or "cattle" planting, the government would try to wow city dwellers with an attractive hourly wage. But the high numbers planted by those planting on their own and paid per tree meant they were making a lot more money per day, as were the company owners. Capitalism and the lust for greater profits naturally led the industry to shift towards this practice.

 

What is Tree Planting

When I was first invited by a friend to go treeplanting, I imagined a nice green lawn with cut grass and little strings to guide the tree planters, who shuffle along on their knees while gently negotiating a young tree into the ground using a hand spade. It is far from that notion. Instead, imagine a logging company which comes into a large mountain valley and clears much of it of trees using unimagineably large machines that grab many trees at once, like chop sticks, and cuts their base using a massive blade. Someone else decides that perhaps a third of them are not of sufficient quality for the US housing industry, and leaves them on the "block" (the area clearcut of trees). Sometimes they burn up the rejected trees in piles or as they are; other times they just leave them there for you to clamber over the entire day. While you carry roughly 300 seedlings on your back in your treeplanting bags. If it is wet and rainy, there is much slash (rejected and piled up, cut down trees) and the ground is very steep, you may be forced to wear heavy rubber boots with cleats (screw-in spikes to help you clamber across wet logs) that only slow you down while you try to swing your heavier legs over the pile-up of dead trees. Meanwhile, billions of bugs such as mosquitos, black flies and nosee'ems (they're so small you can't see them, but plenty pesty in light of their size) lunge into your eyes as you turn around in search of your next planting spot, or pierce you in your back for the few seconds you hunch over to plant your next tree, or crawl through the cracks of your clothes to bite you in the softest and juiciest spots, such as the back of your ears. It may be boiling hot, or rainy cold, or severely windy.

treeplanting chick 2You are battling the fiercest of nature to ram these little seedlings into the ground. Between two and four thousand of them daily, if you intend to make any worthwhile money. Once you have arrived frenzidly to your next plantable spot, you hope that the first place your shovel reaches is an easy plunge. But often you have to use the full force of your biceps to muscle the large blade into tough and dry clay, or wrestle them through rocks, or between roots. Or you have to screef (remove) away a heavy layer of surface peat or old rotten log. Once you force your shovel into the earth, you have to create a sufficiently large wedge into which you can ram the plug (seedling roots grown into a long plug of soil), preferably straight and at the exact depth, otherwise the forester will fail your tree and you will suffer a painful fine.

Doing this rather muscular and frenzied work, under such harsh conditions, for around 10 hours a day. You cannot afford to take very long breaks, otherwise your body may cool down and it will be painful to start up again, or you have given yourself enough time to ponder at the repetitive madness of your daily work to the point of discouraging you from continuing.

 

What is a Treeplanter

Obviously anyone who would be willing to endure such conditions, often while sleeping in a tent, eating in another one, and crapping in a third, has to be a certain breed of person.

treeplanter personality 1I used to take Aikido, a defensive form of martial arts, and I always marvelled at the difference between that group and the previous one we were replacing in the gym and who were studying karate. Karate is aggressive and offensive, while Aikido is much more defensive, using an attacking person's motions and momentum against them. I developed a theory that, because it was so much more defensive, students of the Aikido class were much more cheery and positive, while the karate students seemed cross and looking for a confrontation. In the same way I speculate that the good environmental deeds of the tree planter either attracted or fostered a peaceful and environmentally concerned character. Tree planters are generally independent thinkers, care about their health, their environment, and are located more on the left of the political spectrum. But they are also zany. I guess you have to be to endure these conditions. Many play musical instruments and are creative in general. Many work hard but also party hard. I definitely feel a nostalgic romance about tree planters in general.

In the days when I first started planting (around 1990), tree planters were comprised of three types of people, about one third each. In British Colombia, one group owned some property on an island along the coast, where they often had no electricity, raised their own cows, didn't pay taxes, and worked hard treeplanting for a certain amount of months so that they could collect unemployment insurance for the rest of the year and grow dope on their property to sell to the Californian market.  

I heard that the government would occasionally drop fliers from planes reminding the citizens that they actually lived in a country and should contribute something towards taxes.

treeplanter personality 2The islands were difficult to get to and the BC ferry system was technically the largest naval fleet in the world (in terms of number of boats). Such islanders felt their island was their own country and were not interested in integrating themselves into the corporate and consuming world. The second group also collected unemployment insurance for the rest of the year, but would use it to travel around the world, mostly in third world and inexpensive countries, where they could live like kings and learn many interesting stories about other countries. I found these two groups of tree planters quite interesting and they varied in age - from 20 to 53. The third group were like myself - young students who worked hard to pay their way through university. But they were zany and interesting as well.

Now, some 17 years later when I have returned briefly to this profession, I found that almost the entire group was now comprised of the last group. As if the young students lusting for money and willing to expend their bodies more took over the other two groups, who were no longer willing to work for the reduced tree prices.

The same thing is apparently now happening in the pine cone picking industry. One fast planter here described to me how he makes about 600 bucks a day picking cones because the industry is mostly populated by older crack heads who are not capable of picking so many cones, for which reason the prices are designed for their speed. treeplanter personality 3I gather this industry might also eventually be invaded and taken over by the young bucks. After all, the higher the output of each person, the greater the profits of the company, and hence their attraction to such productive personnel.

Going back to how I felt the environmentally friendly nature of this treeplanting job created a more socially and environmentally concerned character, I used to fantasize that animals, like bear, moose or deer who would sometimes sit in the open space and stare at you while you plant, would thank these kind replacers of the forest. I felt safer because of my "concerned character" and had faith that the animals could sense it.

But now I feel they must perceive us as just part of the same insane industry which would eliminate an entire forest - their natural habitat - in the first place. Now I think they might be considering whether to maul these destructive creatures. But they usually leave us in peace. Although once I heard that a planter was busy working on one small BC island while a curious small deer would follow behind him, nibbling off the juicy crowns of the trees he had just planted. The deer would stop after it finished its nibbling, stare at the planter with wide curious eyes and wait for him/her to provide the next piece of desert. In defense of this the nurseries would experiment with cougar urine and other natural or chemical liquids to help scare away such snackers. Or the humans could help eradicate such nuisances, as the planter told me that the island's pub specialised in "bambi burgers". Other times a bear might sit on the block for the longest time, staring at a planter as if he were trying to figure out what on earth they were doing. I myself saw a moose cross over my piece and give me a casual look.  

 

How to Plant a Tree

planting tree in ground 4Because I like to design webpages, and I'd like to sell my tree planting accounting software, I thought I'd put these pages together and write down all the tricks I know of how to make good money while planting trees. You would think that it mostly depends on brute force, but most of it depends on efficiency of movement and the right drive. I've seen small-framed girls planting double or more the quantity of hard working and muscular males. I have planted for seven years. For the first six I was always near the top of my crew, although sometimes I would run into tree planters who would plant almost double my numbers. I discounted them as mad people out in the stars and who should not be counted. But when I came back for my seventh year some 17 years later, I found myself on a crew comprised only of highballers (fast planters), where I was one of their slowest. Even though I had picked up new tricks and was earning and planting more than when I had been planting during my previous years. During all these years I picked up a lot of tricks, and I'd like to try and explain them to you here.  

 

  

I'd say there are several factors which can help you plant many trees per day:  

planting tree in slashy groundTo plant a fast tree, you want to make a good micro site selection. Your shovel is a tool that can be used in many ways. Such as a probe to help you find the exact spot. You can poke the blade at the ground and learn to feel what it must be like underneath. Sometimes I've planted on very rocky ground, but by poking I could feel where the rocks were smaller, would give way a bit, and where I assumed it would be easier to wedge the blade into the earth. Other times you learn to read the ground <pics> for more ideal spots, such as soft soil between the roots of a large stump, where you see a thin layer of moss over rounded earth - an indication of moister and softer ground capable of supporting such thirsty vegetation.

We should start this story at the point of planting the previous tree. While you are hunched over and burying your tree into the ground, you might have time to look around a bit, scan the ground, look for your other trees, and plan roughly where to plant your next tree.

To help you understand this decision process, I'd first like to explain something about the 'specs' (technical specifications). For example, depending on the nature of the soil and the climate conditions of the area, the forester might ask for 7 trees per plot at 2.5 metre spacing, with 1.6 metre minimum. A plot is a circle with a radius of 3.99m. Most planters will be asked to carry with them a plot cord measuring this 3.99 metres long, to help them regulate their spacing. You would plant your shovel into the ground somewhere, drape the loop of your plot cord over the handle, and walk around the radius area counting how many trees fall into the circle.

treeplanting plot cordIn an ideal world with pristine beach sand and no obstacles, a fast planter would generally plant their trees about 1.6 metres apart - the minimum of the contract specs - so that they could walk shorter distances between trees and hence plant more trees per day. If they plant a row of trees at this short distance from one another, obviously the next row would have to lie farther than 2.5 metres distance from the first row in order to achieve an average of 11 trees per plot. This takes a bit of skill to get a knack for.

But the main purpose of this minimum is to help the planter achieve the desired number of trees per plot when there is a lot of slash to work around. Obviously it might be next to impossible to plant a tree under a pile of dead trees.

While planting your previous tree and when you scan your horizon to plan the rough location of your next spot, you might notice that thin layer of green moss indicating that perfect and juicy microsite where you could plunge your shovel with the least effort. You might also want to avoid some slash, by planting around it rather than waste your time clambering over it. <pic> Whatever your reasons, you want to choose your next spot so that it is the shortest distance away, so that it is a good micro site selection in terms of an easy spot to plant your shovel into, and along some path which would help you avoid as much clambering over slash as possible. Other times, when the slash is not piled up so high and easier to walk over, it might be better to line plant.

treeplanter in heavy slash 14There are therefore two strategies you can take when filling in a certain area: line planting or area planting. Line planting can be good when it is not so difficult to plant in straight lines. In this case you can get into a quick rhythm and pound your trees in, one after another, in an easy straight line not requiring much thinking or searching for your trees off of which to space your next ones. But if the slash is too high and obstructive, it could be better to break your line and fill in small areas, planting around slash to save time. When you first start planting it may be slow going for you as you stare at the mess around you and wonder what is the best strategy to take, but eventually your mind will respond instantly and automatically, without much thinking. Other times I like to follow the contour of the hill, to stay on the same horizontal and avoid tiring myself by walking up and down hills, possibly at strange angles.

So as you fill in your piece with trees, sometimes you might fill in micro areas, other times you would bounce off your existing trees and slash, and still other times line plant larger and easier areas.

Whatever strategy you choose to take, once you have selected your route and the rough location of your next tree, you want to move to that location quickly and efficiently with minimum movement. A planter once asked a super highballer how many times he bends up and down every day, jokingly expecting a very high number, since that planter planted 5000 or more trees a day. But the highballer jokingly responded "once", meaning they are hunched over pretty well much of the day, darting to their next plantable spot like a spider close to the ground. For such a fast planter there is no time to stand erect and walk graciously to the next spot.

treeplanter in heavy slash 24As you slither efficiently towards your next spot and immediately after successfully planting your previous tree, you already want to be fumbling in your bag for your next tree, so that it is properly positioned in your planting hand and ready to deliver. Your shovel hand raises. You approach your next spot and already plan where you will take your first plunge. Hopefully your choice will be a good one and the blade plunges deep enough into the ground with minimal effort. Other times you may have to place your foot on one of the kickers to help force the blade into the ground. Or use two hands to wriggle it in. But one of them could already be holding the tree plug at the same time, so that you do not have to waste time fidgeting for it from your bag once you do make your hole.

Or after attempting to plunge the blade into your chosen micro site, you might decide it was not the best one and prod further. You have to quickly calculate whether it would be more prudent to keep struggling with the present choice, or move on to find a better one.

Either way, once you have dedicated yourself to a particular spot, you want the shovel blade deep enough in the ground to allow for a straight plug. If your plug is not straight the checker might dig it up and fail you for it <link to checking requirements and procedures etc.> .

 

How to Treeplant

Planning Your Next Tree Planting Spot

Planting your tree all begins as soon as you finish planting your last tree, since this is often the best time to start planning your next spot and how to get there.

Usually while you are putting your tree into the ground, or as you rise up to depart to your next spot. Usually you would fill your piece along the back of it, or plant along the contour of a hill, or along some major obstruction, like a lake, in which case you would be going in some general direction. Most often you are planting ‘off’ your previous line <show pic> . When choosing your next spot, often you might triangulate between your last (present) tree and one tree in your previous line <link to ideal spacing etc.> . As mentioned in the spacing section < , it does not have to be exact, so while you are planting your tree or finishing up to start moving to your next plantable spot, you already know what general direction you are heading and can quickly scan your immediate terrain to plan your route and decide roughly where you want to position your tree. This is because your route there may be obstructed by some slash, and from a distance of roughly 2.5 metres (the average prescribed spacing between planted trees) you should already have an idea where the best plantable spot is. Having this rough strategy in your mind will help you avoid wasting time like some rookies who stand up erect after they successfully planted one tree and scratch their head while wondering where to go next.

treeplanter in heavy slash 7
Drawn from replant.ca

Getting to Your Next Treeplanting Spot

Now that you have an idea roughly where you want to plant your next tree, you want to get there with the most efficient movement. For this I like to imagine myself like a native American/First Nations Person who glides and slithers through the brush with the least amount of resistance and confrontation. A rookie, in their aspiration to make as much money as possible, will often plough through every obstacle in a hectic frenzy. But as explained in other sections, this job is already demanding enough and such aggressive movements will only add unnecessary strain on your body and joints, eventually leading to other possible problems. The key is to move with maximum efficiency and minimum strain. Do not spend more energy than you have to. Think of yourself as marathon runners who have to pace themselves over the next couple of hours. But you are not running for only two hours, but at least 8, while carrying a heavy load and moving every part of your body. Day in and day out for three or months in a row. The fastest planters always make it look easy, precisely because they focus on maximum energy conservation, sparing their bodies, and combine movements. Try to plant your way around every obstacle. If line planting, your line does not have to be perfectly straight - you can straighten it out the next time you get to that "bump". Bend your way around branches and do not lunge into them aggressively. I like to respect nature and work WITH it, not aggressively against it. If you let yourself get angry, with branches scratching at your eye, it will only frustrate and probably slow you down. Think Ninja; think like an Indian.

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Prodding with your Shovel

Eventually you will realise that your shovel can be useful than just carving a slice into the earth. For example, sometimes I may spin it around and use the handle to pack down the soil around the plug in hard-to-get spots. Otherwise, one frequent use is to prod with it. Especially if you are in rocky ground. Rather than slam blindly, hoping your blade will penetrate deep enough in the first try, which in rocky ground will develop tendonitis in your wrist or elbow (I knew one guy who dislocated his entire shoulder pounding his shovel into the ground - and it was only slightly hard clay!), prod with your shovel to get an idea of the ground structure beneath it. Based on the vibration shooting up the staff, through the handle and into your arm, over time you will get a feel for what the soil is like underneath. If most of the ground is soft, by all means, slam the blade in every time. If it is a mixture and too often you find your joints pulsating with pain, so be more careful and prod in advance. Once you do find a juicy spot, you do not necessarily need to raise your shovel again to plough it in but you can wriggle it in as explained in the next section, and use your kicker if you have to.
Either way, whether you prod or are confident enough in the terrain to slam in the blade, you should not grip the handle too firmly but let it go ever so slightly just before impact, to prevent excessive transfer of vibrations and impact energy into your arm. Avoid tendonitis at all costs.<<proofed up to here>

Inserting the Shovel

This may seem more obvious than it is, but with the great variety of terrain you will come across, you will find there are definitely many ways you can skin the same cat. If the ground is rocky I find the best strategy is to wriggle the blade in, maneuvering it around the stones as you get it deeper into the ground. If the ground is soft enough slamming it in will definitely shave off those valuable micro-seconds. Use the kicker to give you added pressure when necessary. If using the kicker let yourself get creative, such as using your right foot on the right kicker, or left, or left foot on the left kicker, or right. You do not ALWAYS have to get to the plantable spot with your right foot ready for the right kicker. When walking around all that slash you may simply find your left foot closer once you get there. Get used to thinking ambidextrously. It will be more ergonomic for your body, and why waste the time reshuffling yourself into your "standard" approach? Other times I've seen very fast planters who say they never use their kicker (they actually get them cut off to reduce weight and so that they do not get caught on roots when pulling the blade out of the ground) but always have two hands on the handle when inserting the shovel. With a tree already held in one hand, they put the weight of their shoulders along straight arms over top the handle and provide sufficient pressure that way. Be creative and let yourself experiment. The more ways you learn how to skin the same cat and the more practice you will have with each, the more diversely you will respond to each different situation. Don't let yourself fall into a rut or some thoughtless routine. This is a thinking game.

Make Your Tree Planting Hole

Once you have your blade deep enough in the ground you want to make your hole. But as we were talking about efficiency, here too you do not want waste. Penetrate your blade only deep enough, and make your hole just large enough. Remember that you also need to fit your hand into the hole. Some planters prefer not to wear gloves but wrap duct tape around their fingers and tips, to get a better feel for the tree and so their tree hole can be that much smaller.

Surprisingly, even with this simple task there are several styles:

The use of any of the above can obviously also change depending on the terrain. Sometimes I find it good to purposely practice a particular approach for an entire day, to ingrain it into my memory so it is well versed and practiced for when I reach a microspot suitable for it. Like when I was practicing squash. I would always come to games at least half an hour before everyone else and practice particular moves. It sinks into your instinct and, with such practice training, you deliver a better shot when it's time to use it. There isn't time to think about these things. For tree planting, there's more time but, again, you don't want to get into a rut but it is good to practice other approaches so that you are aware of all their strengths and weaknesses and so that you can apply each of them instinctively and without thought depending on the microspot before you.

Insert Your Tree

Like our mushy C-cut example above, even here you will see there are different styles. Sometimes the terrain is so mushy you can practically just gloop your tree plug into the ground without shovel. Other times the checker can be extremely anal about absolutely straight plugs, in which case I've found it useful to slide the plug down into the hole ALONG the back of the blade, lift the blade a notch near the end, then reinsert the blade the same notch, in the process guiding the plug in the rest of the way so that it is not scrunched and twisted at the bottom.
If you make a wedge and line your plug along the left hand side of it, be careful not to create an unacceptable j-root for the checker. Remember that your blade is curved at the bottom. The C-cut is supposed to take care of this. Otherwise I usually poke the tip of the root with my longest, middle finger before pulling out my hand, to take care of this potential problem.
Other planters like to cup their fingers around the root and slide it down the middle of the back of the blade, but for this I find you need to make a larger wedge.

Close Your Hole

You can get quite creative here as well. One planter showed me a video how, in soft sand, he didn't even need to close his hole because the sand just fell into the hole naturally.
In one terrain I would push the handle far forward to build up a mount in front of it. By that point I already had the toe of my foot suspended above the mount. Once I had my tree in the ground I stepped forward towards my next spot, in the process stepping on the uplifted mound a neatly closing the hole in the same process.
Sometimes there are many roots from the undergrowth and it is difficult to close the hole properly (there should be no air pockets around the plug and the tree should be tight enough in the ground - but the strict level depends on the checker, so make sure you never do more work than you have to), in which case sometimes I find it useful to reinsert the blade into the ground but a few inches in front of your hole. You then pull the handle towards you. Perhaps your blade is in the ground at only half depth, in which case this action pushes the soil towards the hold and fills it in.
One planter talked about jabbing the ground a few inches behind the tree as he walked towards his next spot, the action of which would cause the hole to cave in on itself. Just make sure you are confident enough and have good aim, otherwise you might slice the root in half or not fill in the hole properly.
Other times the soil is soft enough that you can just give it a little swirl with your fingers and fill it with your hand only.
Or, as you start moving towards your next spot, put the blade a few inches behind the tree, give the blade a little twist and use the shovel as a sort of cane as you get up.
Or you can slam the ground with your heel in front of the tree, although I find this approach expends unwanted excess energy. It does nevertheless prove useful in certain microspot situations.
Many times I'll poke around the hole with the blade, twisting it and pushing dirt towards the hold while I make a sweep with my left fingers. Sort of like gardening work. Keep in mind that the plug does not have to be super tight in the ground. Find the limits of tolerence by your foreman and/or checker and always aim for the minimum (or the minimum, before it starts aggravating and testing your foreman and/or checker too much).
As mentioned above, sometimes I'll spin the shovel in my hand and use the handle to pat down the soil when it is a tight spot and hard to get in there better. <<< proofreading after here

Efficiency of Movement

One foreman kept repeating this to me. His numbers, whenever he got the opportunity to plant, were phenomenal. I watched him and he didn't seem to be moving fast at all.

treeplanter in heavy slash
Drawn from replant.ca

Whenever I watched the ultra highballers, with numbers often double or more mine, they never seemed to be working harder than I. Perhaps they would spurt quicker to the next spot, but one thing I noticed is that they had that tree in the ground much faster than I did (although I may have been plagued from the much stricter quality requirements 17 years earlier). Over the years I have discovered and picked up from others many tricks how to limit movement, and a big part of it is to choose the correct approach (depending on the soil type, conditions, and the size of the plug) and do as many of them at the same time as you can. Effectively, multi-tasking. While planting, since I cannot stop myself from analysing and thinking about things, I would often imagine mimicking the difference between a low and highballer while training other planters. I will try to explain this mimick in writing, to get the point across in a more interesting way.

One day I took a few minutes to watch a new lowballer on the crew. It was most amazing. He was the slowest planter I had ever seen and planted only about 230 trees a day, which after camp costs would earn him about as much as if he had worked behind the counter at McDonalds. Inevitably he gave up after about two weeks and went back home. The few minutes I spent watching him struggle with a single tree, I saw how he would swing the shovel handle back and forth until he created a crater-sized hole large enough to plant a small rabbit in. While he made this massively large hole, he would occasionally take a break, stand up, pull out a hankerchief and wipe his brow.

Other times he might blow his nose, again. Once he finished with his massive hole, he would place the plug inside, and proceed to spend another long time trying to close it up again. Other times I watch rookies and many times they are standing there scratching their heads trying to orient themselves among all their trees, wondering where they should go next. I once calculated that each second you waste during the day equals to about one penny. At such a rate the average work day, accounting for bagups and snack breaks, would add up to 360$, which is a rough ballpark figure for a highballer.

While mimicking the lowballer for the planters I'd be training, I might clamber through slash, waving my arms and battling with every branch trying to poke me in the eye. Struggling and bobbling my way to my next plantable spot, after which I would sigh with relief and take a gasp before diving down to work on creating my next hole. I would do every movement separately. In my early days I would find myself standing erect, pulling out some ribbon with both hands and tying it to some branch or bush, with a double not to make sure it would not blow away. I hope you get the picture. Contrast this with the way a highballer might do the same operation...

With the hole successfully sealed around the plug, the highballer already has an idea which direction he/she wants to go. In fact, while planting the tree, or while approaching the present plantable spot, he has already scanned the surrounding area and picked out his next target. While planting I follow a general direction, which my navigation senses keep unconsciously in mind. As soon as I am done with one tree and while I am getting up, I start moving in that same direction (although I might not yet know exactly to which microspot I'm headed). You can plant a tree without even seeing another tree to plant off, because you can correct any errors through various techniques < . While in the motion of moving towards my next spot my left hand whizzes up to the ribbon which had been dandling loosely, at a specific height from my left pouch and in near proximity to the tree I had just planted.

treeplanter in heavy slash 2
Drawn from replant.ca

My right hand is using the shovel as a crutch to help me rise up as my left hand pulls the ribbon towards my right hand. I loop the ribbon around my right thumb, naturally located on the left part of the handle. Once at a specific length I let go of the ribbon from my left hand to regrab it closer to where my thumb is pinning it to the shovel handle, rip it off and place it somewhere on the ground. This all I have accomplished before taking my first step. While taking my first step, I notice a small bush in my way, so I let my foot fall on the stem of it, as such removing it from my way with minimum effort.

treeplanter in heavy slash 16
Drawn from replant.ca

But most of the time I ninja my way through the jungle, with minimum resistance against nature, slithering through the quagmire to get to my next spot with one or two slinky and carefully targetted steps. While on the way I have found plenty of time to raise the knuckle of my right hand to my nose, close one nozzle and snort out some boogers from the other. No time for kleenex and I'll save the other nostrel for the next tree, if I can't squeeze it in during this one. While approaching and slinking my way to my next tree, my left hand is already fumbling in my case for the next tree, my right hand slowly raising the shovel, poised and moving gracefully in the air in anticipation of lunging into my next plantable spot. My assessment of the terrain was, once again, correct, and the shovel glides effortlessly into the soil, which I anticipated under that small patch of specifically coloured moss.

It doesn't matter how tough and intimidating the ground may look, you just overcome and DO it. Look at Julia tree planting below.

Otherwise, if I am on some clayey or rocky ground and anticipate there could be a struggle getting the shovel in quickly, my last step is right on the heels of the shovel kicker. My other foot has already been placed in a position which would help me balance while I use my left leg to nudge the shovel into the ground. While I open the hole with one or as few movements as possible, the left hand is already swooping in towards the hole, with tree in hand. It is a natural movement from one tree to the next, multitasking as many movements as possible. It is a smooth, ninja-style flow, best capitalised if can be combined with a rhythm. It even looks magical and effortless, as shown by the ultra highballer in this video, who would get around 5000 trees a day in crazy jungly ground.

Julia treeplanting

Julia treeplanting: “I’m not special. If I can do it [plant 5,000 trees a day], you can too.”trees a day], you can too.”

The doubling-up of tasks and the minimising of movements is probably the first thing you'll learn. Where exactly to plant the next tree is a much more difficult problem and, as a rookie, you will often find yourself standing there, staring around, dumbfounded and wondering which direction to go. If you get into the unconscious navigation mode (which general direction you should be headed, even if you've had to turn around to get a better angle at a microspot), you are able to earmark your next plantable spot while moving forward. I may use the treeline and edge of the block as a navigational guide, moving in parallel along it, first in one direction and then the next.

planting tree in ground 2
Drawn from replant.ca

You learn to read the ground quickly and know roughly where the next best spot will be. Choice of spot is very important, because a poorly chosen spot, such as one full of rocks, or in a rotten log, or among roots, will slow you down considerably. A rookie tree planter will often find himself banging around with the shovel, using it as a probe to find nice soft soil. Not finding the best place, he may spend much longer struggling with roots etc. Like a hawk picking out its prey from high up, a veteran planter can scan and assess the immediate terrain within one or two seconds and already know exactly where to plunge the shovel. We can refer to the ideal microspot within an immediate terrain as the "creamy spot" < .

Spacing is another difficult issue. Some contracts ask for 6 trees a plot with 2.5 metre spacing between trees, while others want 9 trees per plot with 2.2 metre spacing between trees. Inevitably, it would be unreasonable to demand exact spacing between every tree, considering the amount of dead lumber left on the block, and rocks, roots, and "undesirable soil medium". In which case they came out with minimum spacing, such as 1.5 metres. You can use this "minimum spacing" to give you some leeway when looking for an optimum and nice new home for your seedling.

However, the brainy highballer might use this to his or her advantage spacing each and every tree at the minimum. Imagine planting 2000 trees at 2.5 metre spacing and compare that against what you might be able to plant if spacing at only 1.5 metres. That might be like going for a two kilometre walk in the forest. Time better spent planting additional trees. When walking your line of trees and spacing off the last line, you can space farther away - perhaps at 3 metres. Making such an adjustment will enable you to plant the same number of trees per plot while walking much smaller distances between trees. Let us call this "efficient space usage".

Unfortunately, we do not always live in a world of cotton candy and creamy soil. It can be a harsh and selfish world, full of brambles, thorns, lying trees and massive stumps. Therefore, rarely might we be able to plant in straight lines of tight spacing. Especially if we are near the coast, where the width of discarded trees can be as tall trucks, their stumps consuming a lot of space, and the slope of the hill making such line planting with forced clambering over obstacles outright absurd. This type of terrain is more suitable for "area planting". Where you zig zag your way AROUND all the obstacles, preferably along the horizontal contour of a slope, and apply your minimum spacing by planting in small steps through a complex maze. Never step over a log, almost never struggle to get to your next plantable spot, and always with minimum spacing.

treeplanter in heavy slash 11
Drawn from replant.ca

This spatial maze winding is also rather difficult and takes time to perfect. Many times the obstacle can be superfluous. A small dying tree melting into the surrounding moss. But your tree might be small that you can barely see it without the use of ribbon. In such cases and to avoid excessive use of ribboning, you can consider the dying log as part of a boundary for a mini area, which you can fill in without even seeing your trees (knock of every corner in some succession, slam one in the middle and jump into the next mini area). While planting your way back in the opposite direction, you might notice one of your trees behind a log, perhaps you have left a small ribbon in the mini area, or perhaps you might even remember that same log or mini area, and space off the log/boundary, being confident that any "area" behind it has already been taken care of.

 

         In this way you should start to get an idea how a highballer minimises everything possible - from the amount of times he/she drops a ribbon, to how many steps to take between trees, to the amount of slash they have to clamber over or struggle through, to the doubling of tasks during the entire process.

 

Tree Planting Medium

Planting medium is the soil or other substance you are considering to plant your tree in. Usually they specify the requirements. Sometimes they let you plant in rotting wood. Usually if the rotting wood is still red but getting quite mushy and wet, that would be be a healthy enough environment in which your seedling can establish new roots (also depends on the general climate of the area, how much it rains over the year, and the beliefs of the forestry/checker). I've seen trees grow out of cracks in cliff faces, although I have to admit they were not very straight or marketable for the US housing industry. Generally, the original contractor wants the most bang for its buck and wants you to put their expensive seedlings into what would ensure them the greatest chance of survival. Obviously, soil is the most ideal, followed by black mucky mushy stuff. But sometimes you have no choice and I've found myself sandwhiching poor seedlings between rocks (the contract condition was that it had to be at least three rocks, never two - unfortunately, a product of over-deforestation such that the excess water from lack of functional roots causes all the healthy soil to wash down the hillside into the river).

planting tree in slashy ground 1It is not your job to make sure every one of your trees survive, but whatever measure you care about your trees will be visible to the checker, meaning you will have fewer quality problems. The seedlings come equipped with juicy nutrients in their plug, so give them a bit of a head start. Usually the forestry likes to plant the trees during an optimal climatic season. You may find yourself planting in wet swamp which could become a dry desert within a month. It is a probabilities game and the industry must learn what is the best approach for each region. Your best approach is to develop a sense of where the best medium is, and aim for those spots. To get your number of required trees per plot, you can squeeze more in less desireable medium, if nothing better is available. You can push the limits according to what you think the forester is after, although sometimes the forester might prefer you did not plant a tree in a small area at all, if it is obvious the seedling would die anyway and it would be a waste of nursery resources and their budget overall. Otherwise, you may just need to go deeper into better medium. Sometimes there are limitations as to how deep you can plant your tree, or otherwise your own reasoning to avoid excessive work can be justified.

 

 

Fir generally like drier ground, spruce wetter, and pine can be more versatile, although generally it prefers drier ground too. Sometimes you may have to carry several species with you and the forester hopes you will fumble for the right tree for the right location. On the coast they might ask you to drop a little fertiliser package next to your planted root.

tree planted in ground big stump
Drawn from replant.ca

<<< For me, since I like to be so conscientious, I feel I have developed a feel for what the tree needs and give it my best shot, even if it costs me money. When the ground is drier, especially if you choose a higher spot, I like to squeeze the surrounding soil or medium more around the plug. Once it rains this can help retain a larger moist area around the tree and improve its chances of survival. When planting in rocks I'd try to tap soil from surrounding areas so that it would fall down around the tree, but most ultra highballers would never dream of performing such nonsense. When closing your hole you can often use your shovel or your planting hand to draw extra soil from surrounding areas, if needed. If you plunge your shovel into a rotten log, instead of pulling it out to look for a better spot, you can plunge your shovel deeper to get to the juicy soil beneath it, and quickly flick away some of the rotten wood so as not to bury your tree, since you planted it so deep.

Basically, just imagine that the seedling needs some time to grow and establish roots, and that it needs to retain around it whatever amount of rainfall or ground water it can. The rest depends on what the forester is looking for, how much he/she will let you get away with, and what quality level you are shooting for.

 

Tips from the Ultra Highballers

I always noticed how those who put in the most numbers were usually those who got out of the truck first, volunteered to take the first available piece, were the fastest on their first bagup and already planting before anyone else. They were usually also always the last ones in the truck, planting until the very last possible second. The ultra highballers kept tisking and waving their finger at me, telling me I shouldnt waste so much time at the cash. One remarked, "Look, I am on my knees and resting, WHILE I am bagging up." This while he was nibbling on his lunch. Because I was so sore from such lengthy inactivity beforehand, I often needed to stretch, or just to recuperate. But they warned me, rightfully, that any rest period will slow down the blood flow and you can easily lose momentum. Some wouldnt even sit down to bagup but rather stand, hunched over. Others would pee while walking to the cash to bagup, wolfing down a sandwich while bagging up and then run off back into the field.

For me though, I would think like the British: "I just couldnt be bloody bothered, mate!" treeplanter in heavy slash 9One ultra highballer explained how she would always try to push herself during the last 30 minutes of the day. Even the last 5 minutes. We added up how much the five minutes a day added up to over a three month season and it worked out roughly 500 dollars. She continued that, once you go all out nuts during those last five minutes of the day, the next day you can make it the last 7 minutes, then 10, and eventually work your way backwards towards your very first bagup, or once you step your foot out of the truck. While I am contented to breeze my way to my next plantable spot, I see them waste no time shuffling to theirs. Other times they seem slow and relaxed. They have that frenzied expression, lunging to the next spot like their life depended on it. Others repeat that it is all about efficiency of movement. One has a certain shuffle, almost skipping to the next spot to get his feet ligned up properly for the next implant. I watched him once plant across the horizon and he looked like Lancelot in the Monty Python Holy Grale, prancing on his invisible horse with shovel dangling from his right hand. Others admit that it is a brutal job, so they reason that they might as well push themselves to the very limit and make the torture as economically profitable as possible. It can be a horrid moment to stand at the cash, looking at that large empty piece and imagine the repetitiveness of planting each successive tree. In which case it is better to go hard all day and not give your mind time to reflect on the sheer banality of it. During my first rookie year, I once made a great leap as I was planting with some faster planters. I copied that rhythm since then but was surprised that it made me no more tired at the end of the day. I consider myself a casual highballer, earning 250 dollars a day without great stress. Those who were putting in double my figures looked like they worked about as much as I did, but that they zipped faster to the next spot, and seemed to ram their tree into the ground much faster than I.

I saw one how she ripped open a package of flagging tape, first kicking it along the ground then slamming the side of it against a nearby bucket. She scooped up a couple rolls and darted off. There was something absolutely no-nonsense about her movements. While I would have analysed the wrapping, looking for where I could tear it open, she already had the dilemna resolved and was running off to plant. Smokers can also make great company around cashes during bagups and I always enjoyed making what I liked to refer to as "cigarette stories": stories or interesting snippets of information which took about a cigarette's worth of time to tell, and amusing enough to bum another cigarette.

But the ultra highballer would calculate how much those cigarettes cost them that day and not even think about it. One planter suggested I shouldn't waste my time closing the hole on beach sand, saying it closes itself automatically. I would suggest that you keep thinking about everything you do, always look for a better shortcut or how to shave off those valuable seconds, and watch others, asking them for tips. Dont just proceed as 'business as usual', repeating the same method, but always look for a better and more efficient way to do things. Push yourself hard. One girl said she always pushed herself harder on the first shift of a new contract, because it would show her body what to expect (the ground is often consistent with each contract) and adjust itself accordingly. I've seen people of all shapes and sizes put in large numbers - from small little girls, to the more aged carrying a matured keg of beer around their waste. Many say that it is in your mind. Mind over matter. After my experiences with treeplanting, I feel I can accomplish anything, once I set my mind to it.

planting tree in ground 1On the other hand, some measure of self control is also important. I've seen planters buzzed on Ginseng and pushing themselves so hard until they collapsed. Perhaps due to the heat, or their arm inflamed because of tendonitis; heck, one fast planter even dislocated his shoulder because of the way he was slamming his shovel into the ground. One girl broke down in tears from the stress. I deduced that she was pushing herself so hard, and became extremely frustrated when things were not working out regarding company organisation and she had to waste hours during some days waiting to plant.

If you develop tendonitis you will lose at least a few days of planting, which ends up costing more than if you had noticed the pain and eased off on the exertion. Perhaps change your style of planting to give rest to a certain region of your body. Or purposefully take a day or half day off if you feel you need it. The body and mind has its limits and shuts itself off to protect itself, if you lack the reason and push it too hard. Which can then cost you more money, and possibly some permanent damage.

 

The Shovel 

This is the tool will make all things happen. Inevitably, one can look at it as their golf club. You could even consider having different shovels for different types of ground. You can get a staff shovel, which is a long stick <show pic> , and a D handle, which is common to most shovels. The advantage of a staff shovel is that it can help you avoid tendonitis, because your hand would slide down the shaft if you happened to hit a hard rock. But the cost is that it is more difficult to slam ram the blade into the ground when it is hard and clayey. When I first started planting in rocky ground I quickly developed tendonitis. My forearm swelled up so much I could not plant for two weeks. But I was told that I was slamming too hard and that I should learn to let go of the shovel just before it hits anything hard. For years I would also use a wrist brace <show pic>: a piece of metal fitting into my palm and velcroed around my wrist to stop it from moving up and down and which you should be able to pick up from most pharmacies or medical shops. The tendons are like long strings which are kept close to the muscles and body because they have to go through a ring around the wrist. But if you bend your wrist constantly (at least 5,000 times a day), the tendons will rub against the confining ring and eventually wear away the slippery protective layer around the tendons. Then you have raw tendons rubbing against raw tendons, which will quickly overheat and lead to damage and swelling. I've heard stories of planters being dragged to the hospital while kicking and screaming, protesting they want to keep planting.        

You get into a frenzy rushing to the next spot, trying to maximise your earnings for that day, your adrenaline gets pumped up and seems to overcome any pain. I was on one contract where the ground was hard and felt great pain in many parts of my body the first two trees after each bagup. Once moving though my body got back into it, but within a few days I decided I needed to take at least one day off, because I felt my tendons were getting close to their limits. It is easy to get carried away and not feel the pain. If you have joint problems you could consider the staff shovel. You can wrap it in duct tape to help stop your hand from slipping down.  

planter with shovel

         Another advantage of the staff is that your hand can slide down closer to the blade and allow you to manouevre with it, like a hand spade which you can jab with at different sharp angles in order to close the hole properly.

         Another argument for the staff is that you can almost lunge it ahead of you, like a spear, in order to position it onto a candidate plantable spot and work on manouevring it into the ground before you even get there in your planting stance.

I've seen very fast planters use a staff and it all gets down to a question of choice and preference, but most planters seem to prefer the D handle.

planting tree in ground 3
Drawn from replant.ca

I feel I have more control with the D handle, and can twist the blade to help fill the hole. To overcome the danger of hitting a hard rock, especially since I generally have joint problems, I've learned to instinctively let go a bit before slamming into the ground. Other times the soil can be mostly soft, so you can take the risk. Or you learn to read the ground better and can almost sense a hard rock coming up.

treeplanting D handle with shock absorbers
These come with shock-absorbers.

Or you just absorb the shock, which can reverberate through your entire body and stress each of the joints. You should definitely try to avoid this, and if you find yourself in rockier ground, learn to let go of the shovel more before penetration. I've also learned not to bob the hand up and down so much but rather keep it stiff and parallel with the forarm.

If deciding on a D handle, most planters now cut the staff part such that the entire length is quite short. You want to be able to manouevre with it as you twist and turn the blade to help fill your hole. Since you are hunched over with your other hand partially buried in the ground, a longer D handle shovel can make your work awkward. You can always adjust it later after you gain some experience.

There seems to be quite some discrepancy as to the choice of blade. The very fastest planters seem to have a larger blade <link and picture etc.> . Many though use a smaller and not as broad blade, such as the WorkWizer, which comes automatically with one kicker removed. I once tried this but found that whatever time I saved penetrating the shovel into the ground was more than offset by the struggle I had forcing a straight plug < into a smaller hole. Also I've been told they are a bit weaker and have occasionally been found to bend in half when struggling against roots and rocks. The good thing about the larger blade of a Bushpro is that you can always cut it down smaller (most camps should have an electric cutter for this purpose).

treeplanting blade with removed kickers

The new generation (pictured right) are bent inwards a bit and have a pointy tip, for quicker penetration. You can sharpen your blade in the same way, but first try experimenting (borrow) with other blades before cutting down your larger one. I've heard that WorkWeizers can bend in half in tougher ground.
Many people like to cut off one of the kickers - to reduce weight (although weight, if you can handle it, can be an advantage since you can use the extra momentum to get the blade into the ground with less muscle or shock to your body) or to help you pull the shovel out of rooty ground.

new generation bushpro treeplanting blade

But I found that the rare times where one of my kickers would get snagged on a root as I was trying to pull it out of the ground were far outweighed by the advantage of being able to use either kicker to push the blade into the ground. As I close on planted hole, depending on my standing position and the obstacles around me, I might step off with either my left or right foot. And depending on how many steps it would take to get to the next plantable spot, I couldnt be sure whether the left or right foot would get to the next spot first. Sometimes I would use the left kicker with my right foot. Whenever I borrowed a shovel with only one kicker, it annoyed me to have to concentrate on always ending with the same foot on the same side. But you only need to use the kicker occasionally, when the ground is harder (clayey, rocky, or perhaps rooty).

The angle of the blade to the parallel of the D handle can also change. The standard is a slight angle, but others have radically changed it so that they can push the blade down to their side instead of in front of them. Again, you can experiment in camp with other planters' shovels and then adjust yours to your choosing. <show pics with links of different types>

treeplanting shovel

< links to other sites, like replant.ca, http://www.tree-planter.com/, safety tips for treeplanters from the government of British Colombia
< say somewhere at top, popout or something, "This job isn't for wimps!" But admit somewhere that most of these pics were taken from coast, but potentially tougher on "easier ground", because you practically have to jog all day to make a lot of money
Tree planter group on Google, Tree planter group on Yahoo, Tree planting pictures on Flikr

 


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