Conservation farming at its best

Jesko and I recently visited Hidden Valley Farm, a 240 acre conservation tree farm located east of Charles City. It was a great opportunity to see an alternative to soybean and corn farming in our area. We got a very nice tour by owner Ann Schnekloth, who showed us the many different areas of the farm where different species of trees are being grown and harvested. We learned that there is a lot of work that goes into growing trees! Ensuring that a “good” tree gets enough room to grow is the most important. Different areas of their farm have different ages of trees. There are mature forests and forests that are labeled under different conservation programs with slightly different requirements. In summary, the owners don’t just sit back and watch their walnut, cherry and oaks grow. There is actually a lot of thinning of trees that needs to happen to make sure the fittest and best survive to grow straight and tall.

Below is a young oak tree, almost 10 years old. They will have to go in and thin this forest in the next year or two. They use much of their wood to warm their home in the winter months.


It is quite unbelievable that all of this used to be a corn field. Imagine! The soil here is quite sandy, so not ideal conditions for corn or soybeans, but very ideal for trees!



They also have honeybees!


Below is a picture of a 30 year old forest of mostly black walnut and oak trees.


And a mature forest closer to the Cedar River, where trees are ready to be harvested.


The old black walnut tree

We had a half alive black walnut tree that has been on the farmstead probably since its inception in the early 1900s. It still produced walnuts, but it’s bark was starting to fall off and each year, less green leaves would develop. We think it was at its end plus it was very close to the house. With a strong wind or storm, it could get dangerous. So we decided to cut it down….a piece of history…..a tree who saw it all, from different families to house building to changes in farming.

We found someone who was interested in the log for furniture. We helped him load it on his trailer, but it took two loader tractors and some physics. It was sad to see it go.