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Working in the seedbeds. Courtesy photo.




Nursery pines
State growing program had strong year

07/19/18



 By Scott Murphy

smurphy@hippopress.com 
 
Tucked away on 16 acres in Boscawen, seedbeds with dozens of seedling varieties are grown each year by the New Hampshire State Nursery to sell as a main source of funding. This past spring was the nursery’s strongest season in several years; it raised $137,371 by selling 152,410 seedlings.
Adequate ground coverage was key to this season’s success, according to Shaun Bresnahan, regional forester for the Division of Forest and Lands’ Central Region. The nursery depends on consistent snow coverage over the winter months to insulate the ground and allow seedlings to grow enough before spring. Due to warm temperatures and unreliable snow in the past couple years, Bresnahan said, the nursery’s seedbeds were susceptible to the elements and couldn’t germinate properly. 
“This year was a good turnaround season for us,” Bresnahan said. “We also started experimenting with different materials and mulches to help insulate the seedbeds.”
The combination of natural and manmade coverage paid off this year. Revenue from the 2018 season increased about 58 percent from the roughly $86,000 the nursery made in 2017. Bresnahan added that this year’s sales were the highest since 2014, when the nursery made about $145,700. 
 
A typical season
The nursery is part of the Division of Forest and Lands, and according to Bresnahan, revenue from selling seedlings and timber is the main source of funding for the nursery’s operations. Bresnahan said the nursery starts planting seedlings in the fall and gets about 90 percent of its seeds from local sources to ensure they’re well-adapted to the New Hampshire climate. A variety of seedlings are offered for sale each year, including fir, spruce, pine, maple, black walnut, oak and an array of conservation shrub seedlings.
Once the seedlings are planted in mid-October, the nursery will take an inventory and list its stock in a catalog, which it sends out around Thanksgiving. People who’ve purchased seedlings in the last three years are automatically added to a mailing list, along with anyone who’s asked to be included. A majority of orders are purchased in advance based on the catalog, according to Bresnahan, who said that about $85,000 of the nursery’s revenue from this season came from pre-orders. 
Once spring hits, the nursery starts harvesting seedlings and fulfilling orders from the previous fall. People are also welcome to purchase seedlings onsite from the middle of April through late May, depending on the season. 
 
Beat the heat
Bresnahan said selling seedlings in this time frame mimics the natural awakening process of spring, which is why sales wrap up before summer hits.
“As soon as frost comes out of the ground each year, we go into ‘lifting mode,’ where we remove the seedlings from the ground while they’re still dormant,” said Bresnahan. “We bring them into our barn where they’re bagged and frozen, and we have about a four-week window to sell them so they stay dormant. By the end of May, survivability goes way down. We tend to get regular rain in the spring, but once you get into summer, you’d better be putting water on [the seedlings].”
That’s especially true for this summer, according to Bresnahan. The lack of rain and high temperatures have prompted the nursery to focus more heavily on watering efforts and applying fabric covers to shade plants so they do not get hit by full sunlight and dry out. 
“If we get a quarter to a half inch of rain a week, that’s all we need, but we haven’t been getting that,” he said.
 
Summer destination
Once the season closes, Bresnahan said, the nursery is mostly in maintenance mode. All but three acres have actively growing seed beds right now, with the nursery rotating these remaining three acres every two years to grow “green manure.” The nursery typically uses millet, and just as it produces a seed head, Bresnahan said, they plow the crop under so it can break down and add more organic matter into the soil. 
Though seedlings won’t be available for sale onsite until next season, Bresnahan said the nursery is open to the public Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and encouraged anyone to stop by the facilities (405 Daniel Webster Highway, Boscawen).  





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