Growing seeds for future trees

December 31, 2018

Location: Tappen, BC
Employer: Skimikin Seed Orchard
Featured: Faith Manke

Faith’s position was supported in part by PLT Canada’s Green Jobs in Green Spaces program, funded by the Government of Canada’s Youth Employment Strategy.

Thompson Rivers University third-year Faith Manke spent her summer in 2018 working as a seed orchard labourer for the Skimikin Seed Orchard in British Columbia. The Kamloops local is in the Natural Resource Science program.

“I would like to become a responsible Steward for the environment and be able to do my part to keep it preserved,” said Manke. “I felt getting educated on it would be the best way to do so, and there wasn’t any other career or education path that really grabbed my interest.”

It was her first summer at Skimikin Seed Orchard. Before she saw the job posting, she hadn’t known seed orchards existed, but the tasks in the description piqued her interest. One of the position’s selling points was that it was outdoors.

“That was a big motivating factor. I do really enjoy being outside and I like how with most jobs there’s a good balance between office work and field work,” she said. “Usually I would prefer if the office work was a quarter of the time to the field work, but it is nice having the option of office days too, but the field work is definitely really awesome to be able to do.”

The orchard is about 20 minutes outside of Salmon Arm in Tappen, BC, and it’s run by the BC Ministry of Forests.

“Our goal is to produce as many viable cones and viable seeds as we can to then grow seedlings which get planted across British Columbia,” said Manke. “We need to breed trees for their best genetic traits and keep the trees happy while they’re producing cones. So, we’re in charge of pest control, irrigation, fertilization, everything that goes into making the trees happy to produce the most viable cones.”

There are about ten orchards they harvest from, each bred for a different set of characteristics (such as disease resistance) so they do better in the wild. They mostly plant spruce and lodgepole pine, but some other species as well. There’s also a plantation for climate change trials that they maintain but don’t harvest cones from.

Their trees aren’t grown from seeds; they collect samples of two different trees and graft them together to grow a new one.

“What they would do is go into the wild and collect what’s called a Scion, which is a clipping from the top of a tree, and then they would graft it onto a Seedling,” said Manke. “So you put two trees together, one just the roots and one the Scion which is from a parent tree.”

Her days were broken up by many tasks such as irrigation, pruning, working on standard operating procedures, planting new orchards, rodent maintenance, weed control, and soil and foliar sampling.

“The highlight of my day is probably working with people with similar interests and similar motivations,” said Manke. “Being able to—even if it’s a not-so-great task—do it with someone who you can converse with and have a really meaningful conversation with…I really like that about this job and even just the field I’m in.”

Manke was also able to work with her manager on her competencies and learning objectives, things like being more outspoken or working better in a team. She feels that some people in her field don’t take the time to work on those aspects.

“I guess that’s the most valuable thing I’m taking away,” she said. “Being able to work on your mind and not just work out in the field.”

After she graduates, she wants to take two years off school to work full-time and then decide if she’d like to pursue a Master’s.

Manke is interested in a career in the seed orchard industry, even speaking with her supervisor this summer about furthering herself down that path.

To learn more about tree seeds, check out the government of British Columbia’s resources.