You would think that tree planting mostly depends on brute force, but more 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 summers, two of them eight months long, and have usually found myself near the top of every crew, earning $250 a day. I often compared it to washing a mountain of dishes. You can stare at it disheartened and trudge your way slowly through it, or roll up your sleeves and get the job done asap. A lot of it is in your mind, and moaning and groaning about it will not only slow you down, but depress you at the end of the day, when it is time to count your tallies and earnings.
I’d say there are several factors which can help you plant many trees per day:
the speed at which you plant each tree, which mostly depends on efficiency of movement and an avoidance of any dilly dallying;
the speed at which you choose and get to your next plantable spot;
how well you are at maintaining this pace or rhythm, and at limiting your breaks during the day.
To plant a fast tree, you want to make a good micro site selection. Your shovel is a tool which can be used in many ways. Such as a probe to help you find an optimum 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 by sight alone 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 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.
In an ideal world with pristine beach sand and no obstacles, a fast planter can generally plant their trees about 1.6 metres apart – the minimum of the contract specs – so that they can walk shorter distances between trees and hence plant more trees per day. If they plant a row of trees each at this short distance between 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. <picture explanation>
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 can plunge in 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. 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 will 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.
There are therefore two strategies you can take when filling in a certain area: line planting or area planting. Line planting is suitable for “easy ground” with few obstacles. In this case you can get into a good rhythm and pound in your trees, 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 may be better to break your line and fill in small areas instead, 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.
Therefore, 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 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.
As you slither efficiently towards your next spot 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 sinks 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 will 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.> .