Walnut Seedlings – Revisited

I wrote in May (2014), of the crazy amount of walnut seeds that I had collected the previous fall and, then, subsequently stratified them in the refrigerator.  In that post I wrote in May, I mentioned how nicely the seeds were progressing with their growth and development into seedlings, nice looking and appearing to be strong.

Walnut Seedling (May 2014)

Sadly, now, at the beginning of September (2014), all of the walnut seedlings that grew from seeds that we stratified, have died.

This is a frustrating; I invested time, effort and a bit of money with the purchase of some clever root-pruning pots, but I decided that I should try learn what went wrong.  I suspected the growing medium – a natural, coconut hair-based substance that we tried this season for many of our seeds.  We started tomatoes & other long-run vegetables, morning glories, and various oak acorns in addition to the walnuts in the coconut-hair stuff.  My unscientific verdict on the grow medium is a mixed bag.  Walnuts, oaks and morning glories started out very well.  Tomatoes took a very long time to grow – even with artificial light and heat.  The tomatoes did not take off until summer warmed up slight – this was a month after we had put them into the real soil of the garden.  The oak seedlings, however, did well.  Most are still alive.

I decided to Ask an Expert.  So, I emailed the University of Minnesota’s Extension Service.

Walnut question.

Last year, I was traveling the midwest (via roads), and when I would stop, and if there was a walnut tree, I would collect some nuts. I cleaned the nuts, did a float test, and then stratified the sinkers in the refrigerator until spring. I kept a log of where each nut from from, when it was collected, and how long it was in the refrigerator.

I should also mention that I picked up various oak acorns on my travels, too. (this bit of info is pertinent a bit later)

I planted the nuts in a coconut-hair-based grow medium (this was this spring), and put them in trays and set them on a grow-heat-mat. By late spring, I had a lot of nice looking walnut seedlings. I transplanted these seedlings into RootMaker brand, one gallon containers, and set them outside. I used a regular, unfertilized garden-type soil from Menards for filling the remainder of the pots. The coconut-hair-based grow medium came along into the new soil.

During this transplant period, I also found about a half-dozen squirrel-assisted walnut seedlings in our yard and woods. I transplanted these into RootMaker pots, as well.

Fast forward now to the end of August, all of the collected/stratified walnut seedlings have died. There is not a one that has survived. The oak seedlings that I started – using the same grow medium and processes as the walnuts — have more or less survived. Several did die, but not in the percentages that the walnuts did. The other thing to mention is the squirrel-assisted seedlings that I transplanted – they have all survived, as well.

I will be traveling, again, this fall, and collecting seeds/nuts along the way (I was in Hibbing this past weekend, and collected walnuts from the one tree that I know of in that city). I do not think the issue was with the way of stratification or storage (seeds were stored in damp saw dust for the winter), but I suspect it was the grow medium and possibly a lack of natural pathogens in soil that the seeds were not exposed to during their emergence?

What should I try differently this fall and spring for the seeds that I collect?

What nutrients/soil-types should I use for a grow medium? Is using a heat-mat advisable?



I thought I hit all the points that needed to be covered and established a bit of a background on the processes and methods I employed.

Here’s the reply I received:

If some of your nuts grew and survived in the product that you used I wonder if that is the problem. I can’t help but wonder about the maturity of the nuts that you collected. It is possible that some were just not as fully mature when you collected them as the squirrel planted nuts. It is also possible that using a more “squirrel like” method of planting and growing may offer better results. Walnuts that are squirrel planted are frozen all winter, not just chilled. I wonder if you might consider trying a winter seeding approach. Plant your nuts in pots or a row in the garden in the fall and allow nature to provide the proper conditions. You might want to protect the pots or row with chicken wire so that the squirrels don’t eat your nuts. I don’t think a heat mat is necessary. I’m sorry that I can’t give you a more technical answer as to why your success was so limited but I would focus on collecting only fully mature nuts storing in the freezer and trying to reproduce a more natural process. Here is a good link to info about growing walnuts. Good luck! http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/trees-shrubs/growing-black-walnut/

-Sherry S. MN MG

And, that’s what a Master Gardener had to say about the problem.  I have read the article mentioned in the reply prior the gardener mentioning.  I do agree with the assessment of trying to grow the walnuts more closely to how they grow in nature; letting the nuts freeze, not using a heat mat during emergence, and planting the nuts in the ground outside.  I still suspect something with the grow medium.  It’s not completely valid to say that walnuts prefer richer soils than oaks, and that, that some how explains why the walnuts died and the oaks did not.  But, using methods that are more align to nature but adding that extra edge over nature without coddling too much – chicken wire or fencing to prevent predation of nuts that are planted in the ground, in RootMaker pots, seems to be the way I will go for this next grow season.

Second Sturgeon River Bridge

As a kid, my grandfather and, later, my dad, would take me into the woods and onto the lakes and river-edges of west and central St. Louis, much of Itasca, and parts of Cass counties.  In the spring, it was opening season for walleye and other game fish; I remember launching the boat onto Lake Winnibigoshish, and immediately breaking a thin layer of ice on the lake’s surface with the bow of the boat.

Late spring and early summer, when I was old enough, meant fishing with my dad – and occasionally, a friend of his – on the big lakes that straddle the Canadian border: Namakan, Sand Point, and Crane lakes.  My first venturings onto Canadian soil occurred at the Sand Point customs outpost.  Somewhere, in a box or cabinet at my parents’ house, there is a coffee mug with a red Canadian maple leaf on it; that mug is from one of the several times I passed through that customs outpost; by boat and by seaplane.

Mid-summer and into early August, it was all about evening fishing on Perch Lake (I’ve mentioned this lake in prior writings – here and here).  If I close my eyes and think back to those outings, I can faintly smell the blue exhaust from the 7.5hp Johnson outboard motor; I can picture my grandfather wedged in the bow of the boat with a fishing rod resting on his shoulder – the fishing line pointed out and away as the boat backtrolled.  He wore the goofiest hats and had the oldest life jackets.

Late summer and early fall – that period of time between the day after Labor Day and the first heavy frost – was generally spent fishing from bridges.  Catching bullheads in the St. Louis River in and around the Sax-Zim Bog area was a highpoint of any outing with my grandfather.  If fishing season carried over into the opening of grouse season, a small-bore shotgun was always within reach.

Other times, in the late summer and early fall, instead of heading south to the Sax-Zim area, my grandfather would head north on highway 73.  We would pass county highway 65, and the drive over the first Sturgeon River bridge.  Further up the road, past the Goodell Road, the Sturgeon River crosses highway 73 once more – flowing east to west before meandering north to the Little Fork river.

It is at this river crossing, colloquially (mostly within my family) called the second Sturgeon River bridge, that many fond memories were made.

I could go into those memories; the grouse and deer hunting, beaver trapping and northern pike fishing, but this area with its forests and the river existed before I was brought there by my grandfather and father in the mid-1980s.

Second Sturgeon River Bridge - circa 1939

Second Sturgeon River Bridge – circa 1939 (large version)

The photo, above, as the caption says, is from 1939.  That’s forty-one years before I was born.  That’s nine years before my father was born.  My grandfather would have thirty-six; very close my age now.  To give a bit of context what you are seeing — start in the longer right corner and follow the thickish-black-curving-line up and toward the left; that is the Sturgeon River.  The first gray/white line to cut across the river is highway 73; that is the second Sturgeon River bridge.  The photos from 1939 are the earliest photos of St. Louis county that I was able to locate.  They are from the University of Minnesota’s Borchert Map Library‘s Aerial Photography and Remote Sensed Imagery collection; this particular photo is part of the work originally sanctioned by the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service.  Ramsey county, the county we live in, here in St. Paul, has photos going back to 1923; St. Louis, on the other hand, only has an index of photos taken in 1934, and even that only covers eastern St. Louis, central Lake, and western Cook counties.

The parts of this photo that I find fascinating are the clearings in the forest.  The largest clearing, in the middle-lower part of the photograph, shows a road cutting across the top part; there is a grouping of shadows just south of the road.  Those shadows could be buildings.  As a kid, in the 1980s, I remember going back into that area and seeing the remnants of a 1930s vehicle – part of a fender, a driver’s side window or maybe a windshield.  I also seem to remember there being what may have been a building foundation.

Second Sturgeon River Bridge - September 11, 1948 (large version)

Second Sturgeon River Bridge – September 11, 1948 (large version)

Nine years later, the above photo was snapped.  The main things to note are the faint signs that the field, seen in the 1939 photograph, is now showing subtle signs of trees and shrubs beginning to grow; the field, if it was actually a field for crops, is likely no longer maintained.  The road back through that clearing also appears to not be well used.  The other fascinating thing to note is the bridge, or lack there of, over the river; it is being replaced.  There is a temporary bridge to the east of where the bridge had been located.

Second Sturgeon River Bridge - April 20, 1953 (large version)

Second Sturgeon River Bridge – April 20, 1953 (large version)

It is difficult see much from this April 20, 1953 photo; the permanent bridge is in place and the temporary bridge is gone; there had been logging to the west of the field clearing since the previous photograph in 1948.  This photo is from the USGS‘s collection of aerial photos from the Army Map Service.  Notice the ice on Perch, Side and Big Sturgeon lakes on the western edge of the photo.

Second Sturgeon River Bridge - August 14, 1961 (large version)

Second Sturgeon River Bridge – August 14, 1961 (large version)

In 1961, more trees and taller trees can be seen in the clearing to the west of the bridge and river.  The evidence of logging occurred between 1948 and 1953 is fading.

Second Sturgeon River Bridge - September 18, 1972 (large version)

Second Sturgeon River Bridge – September 18, 1972 (large version)

By 1972, evidence of the logged west of the field has all but disappeared; even the field, although clearly distinguishable, has significantly failed and is becoming overgrown.

Second Sturgeon River Bridge - August 7, 1989 (large version)

Second Sturgeon River Bridge – August 7, 1989 (large version)

Significant logging is visible in this 1989 photo; logging to the east of the field first seen in the 1939 photo, as well as on the north side of the river.  The field is all but gone except for being able to see the corners, albeit heavily wooded, on the southern edge.  This is also the first photo taken after I had started to visit this area with my father and grandfather.  To the left of the parcel-corner-marker – just south of the bridge, is the road, seen in the 1939 photo, that cut across the top part of the open field.  I remember driving in on that road after this area had been cut.  The area had the look of devastation. It was a wide open area with scattered piles of slashings.

Kathleen Jokela, walking (July 2014)

And, the above photograph, is of my mother, Kathleen, walking westward on the road that cut through that field.  This about the area where the top or northern part of the opening, seen in the 1939 photo, would have been located.

More photos from this trip (and likely others, to this area), can be found here.

Update: September 2, 2014

Bureau of Land Management, Original Survey Map (large)

Bureau of Land Management, Original Survey Map (large version)

Above, is a digital version of the original Bureau of Land Management survey map.  If you follow the grid layout from the lower right corner, straight to the left (west), the first swiggle-line you cross is the Sturgeon River.  Follow the river up (north) to where crosses the area where four grid cells come together; directly to the left – roughly one square’s width – is where the open field would eventually be located.

Summer Hives

About a week ago, we were in southern Minnesota – in Racine. This is our second year for having hives down there. After that photo was taken, I dawned my bee-suit and hopped onto the riding mower and cut the grass around the hives; the farm-hands won’t cut the grass near the hives.

Last year, we had four hives on the farm; only two over-wintered successfully.  Those are the two on the left-side of the photo (to my right).  It always amazes me that, as the honey-season progresses, each hive progresses (or regresses) differently.  The two successfully over-wintered hives were doing great in early May.  The one that I am leaning against in the photo continues to do quite well; three full honey boxes with the fourth added just prior to the photo being taken.  The hive on the far left is doing very well with the exception of the bees not occupying the upper two honey boxes.  They had half-filled out the bottom super (the two-colored box), but then, stopped.  There isn’t any signs of illness or weakness in the queen; they are just no longer moving up into the boxes.  The other hive that has done a 180° turn is the shortest one in the photo.  We hived the package of bees in that hive along with the other three new hives, but after checking it in early June, the bees were not expanding out of the bottom deep box.  Removing a second deep from atop, we left it with the hopes of not putting much effort into – thinking the queen was weak or had even died.  By the end of June, we added a honey box on top because the deep box was completely filled out with brood comb.

Back in St. Paul, at the house, our four hives are just chugging along.  Located at the back of our property, the bees of the hives quietly go about pollinating the neighborhood.  They are doing their duties quite well.  The hive that I have my arm on in the photo has three deep brood boxes as well as the four honey boxes.  It’s a strong hive.  All the hives are doing well.

At this point in the season, we are going to have a lot of honey this year.



Here in St. Paul, this evening, it rained extremely hard.  When Melissa and I left the university for the day, the outdoor temperature, according to the thermometer in the Volkswagen, was hovering north of 90 degrees Fahrenheit.  The air had palpable qualities to it; throughout the afternoon, thunderstorms had been popping up all around the metro area.

These hot days, often stifling nights (on an extremely pleasant note, once the front moved through our area, this evening, the temperature dropped over 20 degrees), remind me our my childhood.  I could trot out one of those bullshit stories out about how things were different and much harsher when I was a kid; granted, the Jokela house, in Hibbing, did not have air conditioning (that house still does not); that’s not the point.  Early in the summer, as a kid, meant that, soon, my cousins and their mom – my mom’s sister – would be driving from their home north of Denver, Colorado, all the way up to Hibbing.

As very young children, my sister and I would fly stand-by with our mom to Colorado – to visit her sister Jane and her boys – our cousins. Mid-way through the 1980s, things flipped; Jane and the boys would drive up to Hibbing instead of us flying out there.

Looking back at my childhood, it seems so fleeting; just a flash in the pan, yet, I distinctly remember how it was such a brutal-feeling event when the cousins would packed up, and drive off in their minivan.   I would cry, my sister would cry.  It would be another hot and humid August to slog through, and then, the drudgery of public school would be upon us, again, the day after Labor Day; we would not see the cousins until the next summer.  There was no email or instant message in these days; you could call your cousin on the phone, but that was not the same as riding bikes – in person, swimming – in person, making model cars – in person, or being spell bound – in person – by the tales of adventure that could be had in wilds of rural Colorado.

For the most part, the bond all of us cousins had was a complete fluke.  We all happened to be relatively close in age; there is month between the oldest cousin, Michael, and my sister; there is three months between myself and  Ryan; Jon was the outlier, being the youngest, there were a couple years between Ryan and him.  There was four years in age between the mother-siblings; my mom being the older of the two.  If my mom had settled down earlier and her sister later, there might have been too much age between cousins for a bond to form.

As we children aged out of being mere kids and started to age into being mere teens, the cohort that was the cousins began to fall apart.  Michael noticed girls, and soon, when summer arrived, Jane would head to Minnesota with just Ryan and Jon.  The golden age of this cohort stands out strongly in my mind.  We fished on Perch Lake at a cabin our grandfather rented.  We hiked and made adventures in the woods around the cabin.   We put on hundreds of miles on the four-wheeler our dad had.  We would have imaginative games – often based loosely on whatever movie we had seen at the movie theatre earlier in the week.

The cohort that was the cousins abruptly fell completely apart when Jane died in late June of 1998.  Even if Jane had not passed, I wonder how much longer the cohort could have lasted.  Meghann, my sister, was off attending college, as was Michael.  I would be college-bound within a year; as would Ryan.   We were all moving in our own direction, and it was not toward one another.

I visited Colorado once or twice in the early 2000s; and again, when the cousins’ father passed away in 2010.  For the most part, all of the cousins have taken their own path.  Meghann has been living in Japan for the last three years; I have been in St. Paul for the last two; Michael and his wife live in Louisiana, and Ryan & Jon still call the greater Denver area home.

Even with Meghann living in Japan, thanks to technology and a penchant for travel, she and I have remained pretty close.  The Colorado cousins are a bit of a different story.  Jon visited Melissa and I once in, Proctor, in the 2003; he brought his big shaggy dog with for the trip.  As Jon hit his early twenties, like the rest of us, he took his own path.

The early twenties, so it seems, can be a hard inflection point.  You take a corner so hard, that you lose things that are trailing you.  It is much like when Melissa and I moved in together; it was an abrupt move that severed the weak links I had with college roommates.  Similar things happened with friends left in Hibbing when I moved to Duluth to attend school.  You hit a fork in the road, and, as Yogi Berra said, you take it; whether those in your surroundings take the same branch of the fork — that is a different question.

All is not lost, however.  I do not think the cohort will ever reunite for a another round of building a model of Cole Trickle’s 1990 yellow & green Chevrolet, nor do I think we will ever again pretend to be characters from Young Guns, the Great Outdoors, Crocodile Dundee, or any of the Police Academy movies, but there does remain chance to reconnect with absent kin.

Related Post: Summer Has Arrived (written: July 5, 2010)

July 4th Bees

I took a hike up to the bees at back our property here in St. Paul, and setup the camera.