Who made the world? Who made the swan, and the black bear? Who made the grasshopper? This grasshopper, I mean— the one who has flung herself out of the grass, the one who is eating sugar out of my hand, who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down— who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes. Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face. Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away. I don't know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
—Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day”
~ August 9, 2023
I love the question at the end of her poem, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” The imagery Mary Oliver evokes of embracing the sights, sounds, and feelings of a summer day are very relatable to the summer season on the farm. After the hustle of spring subsides, the longer days of summer are a welcome relief. Our time in the trees becomes a bit more intentional. We can take more time with our work and approach daily tasks in a more focused manner.
Summer days in the field are spent tending to our SGN Trees at varying stages of growth. Our crew works in each block pruning, staking, flexing, or spraying as needed. We also work on farm maintenance projects like mowing, weeding, infrastructure upgrades – there’s always plenty to do! The beginning of the summer was very dry, so we diverted some of our labor to full time watering. Now that some rains have finally started flowing, the watering demand has subsided. Our crews have been through every tree by now and some trees are getting their second or third pruning. The growth this season has been impressive considering the dry start our trees endured!
Spending a day pruning in the trees is one of our favorite parts of being a grower. As Jamie begins to train a few key employees to become Master Pruners, he has started to take some notes about his philosophy and approach to pruning. Much of this knowledge and experience has grown over the years, or it was shared with us when we first started growing. Jamie’s document is a work in progress still, but I had the chance to get a sneak peak at it the other day. I particularly enjoyed this line, “A mature tree resides in every liner we plant, we are finding that tree and giving it the attention it needs.” At the beginning of the spring pruning season, Jamie notes, “A warm wet spring is a harbinger of a vigorous growing season for many varieties. Elms, Honeylocust, Hackberry, and Catalpa will grow tremendously in early June, if the weather dictates. This is where we can get behind in our pruning schedule. At this point in the season the nursery seems to demand our attention at every turn. Patience and planning rule the days early in the growing season.” As we transition to the summer pruning season, Jamie goes on to say, “With an eye and pruners still in the liner crop, scout the nursery for noticeable problems. We may have missed a pruning on any number of items from the year before or a species didn’t respond like we thought it would. Late spring and early summer are opportune times to remedy any ‘mistakes’ in prior crop years.” Stay tuned for more about how we prune and grow our SGN Trees later in the season. Jamie does a great job sharing his craft with a new generation of growers. Below you can see some great pics of our team in action out in the field. They do good work!
Besides field work, our SGN Team has spent some time this summer learning and having fun off the farm. The SGN family attended Cultivate in Columbus. Maggie wrote an excellent re-cap of what we learned and inspired us here:
During the week of the heat wave, we decided to get out of the hot sun in the field, and we all headed to the ballpark. The whole SGN Team had fun at the Crosstown Classic, and thankfully the Cubbies prevailed! Jamie, Joey & I have attended a few nursery tours this month with the Ornamental Grower’s Association. We visited with OGA friends at Cedar Path Nursery and were treated to a wonderful tour & dinner. We also got to see some of our SGN Trees in their new home at the Chicago Botanic Garden. More about that visit and project here:
We had some excellent summer field interns with us this year. Christopher worked on the staking and weeding crew. When you order Oaks in 2026, they were his handiwork! He is heading back to college soon where he is also a competitive runner. Faith will be starting her senior year in high school. She is interested in pursuing Horticulture and wanted to experience working in a nursery this summer. We gladly added her into the mix and showed her different parts of the job. When you order Serviceberry in 2025, thank Faith for how nicely shaped they are! We appreciated the hard work of both of them this summer and wish them the best with their next adventures!
We received some creative and amazing images from our drone photographer, Robert Avery. Here is a glimpse into the nursery from above this summer:
Next up for the summer, is field inventory. We will begin a new comprehensive count and measure of every tree on the farm next week. We have implemented GrowPoint and InstaCaliper tools to develop an inventory process that we can train our team on. Joey has really taken over the inventory side of the operation, so it’s nice to have someone dedicated to managing our data. He also designed and implemented a process to track shrink. This time of year, we are doing our “accounting” in the field. By the end of the month, we will have new inventory data to report. We will be able to use the numbers to make projections for future sales and production decisions. In August we also begin finalizing our liner purchasing for the 2024 crop year. And in a few weeks, our new evergreen crop to plant will arrive. So the month of August is interesting out in the field because we tend to operate in the past, present, and future all at the same time!
On the homefront, the garden is bountiful. We have lots of green beans and peppers right now with tomatoes ready to kick in next. The sweet corn is perfectly ripe and will be going for a few weeks yet. If you come by for a nursery tour, be sure to take home that fresh taste of summer with you. Nothing beats it! Our daughter Maggie & her husband Zach are about to welcome their second baby in September. Their daughter Fern is the highlight of the office – well basically anywhere she goes! She has the front row seat as Grandpa’s right-hand while riding around the field on the Polaris. She loves to go see “the Guys” out in the field and help tag trees. We can’t wait to welcome the newest SGN Kid to the team soon. Not sure what is more fun – growing trees or kids!
We hope you are enjoying the long summer days and restful summer nights. It seems like the sunsets have been more beautiful this summer – but maybe it’s because we are taking a little more time to appreciate them. Either way, we are welcoming the end of summer and starting to turn our eyes to autumn. We would love to show you our farm and our trees. Please join us in the trees anytime!
~ Becky Thomas