Some of Norwalk's natural beauty three to five years from now will have its roots in Fairfield County's first municipal tree farm.
"If we put in two-foot trees, it will take three to five years til they can be put on city property somewhere," said Dan Landau, president of the Norwalk Tree Alliance, which established the municipal tree farm at Fodor Farm on Flax Hill Road via an $8,000 "America the Beautiful" grant from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
The trees will be grown in pots on about a third of an acre at the city-owned property until they're six to eight feet tall. Then, the city can take the trees out of the pots and plant them at schools, playgrounds, parks or in rights-of-way along streets, Landau said.
The tree farm, which has an irrigation system powered by a solar panel, will be formally dedicated by Norwalk Mayor Richard A. Moccia at 3:30 p.m. Sept. 27. The public is welcome and light refreshments will be served.
Last week, the tree farm had about a dozen saplings in pots, including crab apples and apples, but Landau said he hopes to have about 200 trees in pots when the farm is at its peak. "We have a long way to go," he said. "Basically, it started; it's in progress. It's not finished yet by any means, but it is in progress."
The municipal tree farm, which is behind community gardens at Fodor Farm, is fenced in to prevent deer from eating the saplings and will be covered with wood chips to prevent weeds, Landau said.
The saplings will be watered through an irrigation system that involves two 55-gallon rain barrels in front of a small shed, a hose from the rain barrels, irrigation valves placed in the pots and a solar panel on the shed's roof that powers a pump to release water from the barrels on a timer for 15 to 30 minutes a day, Landau said. He said the primary hose will have four hoses off it that each have 25 or more irrigation valves. "Every five feet, there will be an irrigator to go into a pot," he said. "To start, we're going to have 100 trees irrigated."
The water will drip from the irrigation valves into the pots and only about five gallons a day would be depleted from the rain barrels, Landau said. "It just drips. It drips under pressure," he said. "The pots don't hold a lot of moisture so it's necessary to irrigate them."
Landau said the tree farm only needs about an hour of sunlight a day to power the irrigation system and that water in the 55-gallon barrels would be replenished from rain that falls on the shed's roof and then into gutters and openings on top of the barrels. The rain barrels are connected to each other through a pipe so one won't become full while the other one is empty, Landau said.
Landau said it's cheaper for the city to grow trees for its parks, streets and playgrounds than to buy them. He said 50 saplings would cost from $150 to $200 and that the Norwalk Tree Alliance is looking for donations from nurseries that have surplus saplings. "We'll take them and we'll grow them if they want to give them to the city of Norwalk. Otherwise, we'll have to purchase saplings in the spring," he said. "We're open to any variety."
The Norwalk Tree Alliance, which Landau said was formed in 2002 to help ensure the city remains green, also is looking for volunteers and monetary donations to help cover operating expenses at the tree farm and other projects that the alliance is involved in, such as managing the Rosa Parks Arboretum, identifying trees in city parks and the city's annual tree festival, Landau said.
"We're very tree oriented in Norwalk. Norwalk is a tree-oriented city," he said.
Hal Alvord, Norwalk's tree warden and director of the city's Department of Public Works, said the municipal tree farm was a great positive for the city, which has earned a Tree City USA award from the Arbor Day Foundation based in Nebraska for nine consecutive years. "Their plan is to do indigenous trees, many of which we do not have on our tree planting list," he said. He said the DPW would concentrate on planting trees from the farm along streets while the city's Recreation and Parks Department would focus on planting them in parks.
The $8,000 grant from DEEP funded the cost of the shed, fencing, gardening equipment, solar panel, which is 24 volts and about 18 inches by 36 inches, 24-volt pump and irrigation system, Landau said.
Boy Scouts from Troop 2 in Norwalk helped to prepare the site by painting the shed, spreading mulch, removing weeds and digging an irrigation ditch as part of an Eagle Scout project, according to a news release.