Growing our future forests

The Harrop, B.C., nursery is a rewarding place to work for Melanie Buerge

Melanie Buerge is standing outside in a row that is between huge benches of evergreen tree seedlings.

Melanie Buerge has nurtured a lot of trees at PRT’s Harrop nursery over 18 years. — Photo courtesy Melanie Buerge

All of our provincial Crown land that is harvested for timber must be regenerated either naturally or by artificial means. More than half of that area is planted by forestry companies via artificial regeneration.

Hence, Melanie Buerge has a job she digs.

Buerge is the manager at the Harrop nursery, part of PRT Growing Services Ltd.

“I still enjoy going into the first sown greenhouses of the season and seeing the emerging germinants as they push through the soil,” she said. “It is satisfying to know that I was a little part of the process to help them grow.”

Buerge started her work in Harrop as the production superintendent in 1999. “I enjoy talking to the customers and contractors, which helps me understand what they are struggling with on their planting sites,” she said.

PRT is a big player in the forest nursery industry, and British Columbia is especially good at growing trees. Of PRT’s 15 nurseries, nine are in B.C. (three are in the U.S. and three are in other parts of Canada).

Tree species grown

This year, the Harrop nursery is growing 13.5 million trees. Species include Interior spruce and fir; Western red cedar; lodgepole, ponderosa and white pine; Western larch; and lasiocarpa balsam.

A greenhouse is full of Western larch seedlings.

This greenhouse is dedicated to Western larch seedlings. — Photo courtesy Melanie Buerge

“We are growing Siberian larch for the first time,” Buerge said. “It is only being grown as a trial for a customer.”

Harrop’s seedlings are planted from Washington and Idaho to Alberta, Saskatchewan and even Ontario. Forestry companies in southeastern British Columbia are the primary clients.

The nursery has six full-time employees. “Depending on the job phase—with May and June being the busiest season—we employ up to 50 part-time employees,” Buerge said.

The nursery supports Forestry Week by donating trees to events but also gives donations and tours throughout the year. Tours need to be arranged prior to arriving.

Sustainable practices

Several green techniques, including those used in weed control, are practised at the Harrop site. “We use black ground cloth laid down between the greenhouses as well as applying straight baking soda on the ground to control liverworts and other weeds as this changes the pH of the soil, which makes it inhospitable to weeds becoming established,” Buerge said.

Runoff from irrigation is also collected and reused to water other trees.

Emerging trends

“Companies have been asking for individual wrapping of their seedlings,” Buerge said. “This practice enables the customer to order the trees frozen in the spring and they can be shipped straight to the field for planting.

“I see this as a benefit for certain species such as Western larch because the trees begin to flush quickly while still in the box prior to planting,” she explained. “The frozen plugs also eliminate the risk of the J-rooting when the tree is planted as the root plug is solid and cannot be bent when planted.”

Virginia Rasch

Virginia is a writer and copy editor with Koocanusa Publications. She is an avid outdoor recreationist in all seasons and has lived in the Kootenays for 10 years. With degrees in the natural sciences, she has worked as a tour guide, an environmentalist, a writer, and a copy editor of scientific publications. Virginia now brings her passion for everything green to Kootenay Business. View all of Virginia Rasch’s articles

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