Many a summer student has tried “tree planting” to earn their following year’s tuition. It is an experience common to many of Canada’s more adventurous youth. Most are satisfied by their first experience and pursue it no further. I was a sucker for punishment and enjoyed two years of this rough, nomadic lifestyle. I might still be planting if it were not for the ill feeling that I held for my employer.
Planters begin in southern Ontario early in the summer and migrate northwards with the planting season. Huronia, Bancroft, New Liskerd, Kirkland Lake, Kapuskasing, Fraserdale, Manitouwadage, Thunder Bay.
The company for which a tree planter works has already bid on contracts that give them the right to plant up certain burned or deforested areas of land. The lowest bidder, (eg. 14 cents a tree) gets the contract. Your crew becomes your only source of stability through that season and the planter’s status in the group is based upon their performance. The “highballer” is at the top of the heap, he is the best planter and usually makes some pretty decent cash.
A crew generally consists of 10 planters and they share a van (see photo). They are led by a foreman who teaches, motivates, facilitates and oversees their work performance. The Ministry of Natural Resources assesses the quality of the work and the company is paid in proportion to the quantity of trees that is expected to survive (the Ministry does test plots – looking for poorly planted trees).
In the photo two crews gather beside a logging road during some brief lull in the activity. It is normal to plant from sun-up to sundown six days a week. The work is gruelling and the blackflies and mosquitoes – unbearable. By the end of the day the planter is usually so tired they can hardly stand. I stil have scars on my hips from my planting bags. At the time I had deep open absesses around my waist from my planting bags. I covered the sores with duct tape, missing a days work was instant dismissal. An overweight planter is a rare sight.
The red posts that are scattered amongst the planters are called “pottapukies” (spelling?) they are used for planting container stock. It is a simple way to work and the technique uses less effort than the old “bare root” style. Conversely, it is not quite as fast.
Wearing planting bags that hold about an hours supply of trees the planter paces out six feet, stabs the bottom of the “pottie” into the ground, slides a seedling whose roots are encased in a paper sheath down the hollow centre of the “pottie”, stomps on a lever at the side of the pottie to open the nose and deposit the seedling. the planter then moves on another six feet to the next planting spot.
Any idea which one was me?
Before and after picture of my tree planting experience here … Before and After