Small Scale Forestry for the Homestead

Reader Contribution by Anneli Carter-Sundqvist
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Winter lends itself so nicely to be working in the woods, something I consider some of my favorite work around the homestead. It’s great to be outside in the snow with the axe or the chain saw or pruning saw, enjoying the white sparkles and the thoughts on generations after us that’ll also have trees, beauty and wildlife to enjoy. Forestry, or the part of it where we fell trees, is sometimes confused with the commercial logging operations that strip acre after acre bare of everything alive, and I’d like to share some of our thoughts on the topic over a number of blogs.

First of all, forestry on a sustainable scale is often talked about as “low-impact”, while I rather think of it as “positive-impact”. While the grade of impact isn’t without importance, “low” sometimes is mistaken for not touching it at all, while “positive” to me has the meaning of being there, in the woods, managing it, impacting it, working in it, but with a positive outcome, an outcome where the long term health, beauty and functions are all weighed in.

We live on a 16 acre parcel that was pretty much clear cut in the 40’s and grew back as white spruce and balsam fir, neither of which is our first choice for lumber and firewood. Rather, these fast growing but short lived species quickly out competed what for us would be more useful varieties.

Here follows a basic introduction to the forestry around our homestead, a topic I’ll be able to elaborate more on in coming blogs.

1. Our work in the woods starts long before we get the chainsaw and axe out; by being in the woods, observing and contemplating. We’re looking for healthy trees that we can help to thrive and that will be of benefit in the future. We’re cutting trees for lumber to use for our building projects and the parts of the tree not suitable for milling is used for heating and cooking. We’d like to promote the red spruce population we do have, due to its longevity and value as building material, so we’re looking to reduce competition around them. We’d also like to promote oak trees that we can run our pigs under to let them forage the acorns.

2. We decide an area to work in and we make it accessible Making it accessible can mean both to put in trails and roads so we can get to the trees, but also to make it accessible visually. The first step for us is to fell dead trees so we can see what’s actually standing there that might be worth benefiting. This past weeks I’ve worked in an area previously untouched by us; basically now just a stand of dead fir trees. Past that cluster is a beautiful stretch of Red spruce, trees that can provide building material for many, many years ahead. By removing the dead trees, we now have a way to get to the spruce trees, we allow for more sunlight and we prevent blown downs that would make the work of cutting the spruce harder and more dangerous.

3. We don’t cut any living trees unless we have a need and a purpose for them, and we don’t fell more trees than we can process before they spoil. If we intend to mill the logs, we need to know we’ll be able to get the mill to the trees or the trees to the mill and we need to have the time it takes. We can only stock so much firewood in our shed, and once that quota is full, we don’t cut more trees that would be used for that. We have several oaks around our yard that should be thinned out to allow for more sunlight over the garden and orchards, but we’ve decided to wait. One day we might want to build a new timber framed structure and the oaks have the perfect logs in them for that.

At all times, working in the woods, one should remember that most of those trees have been there for a very long time, or would ultimately be there for a long time. It might not even take a minute to fell something that’s been standing longer than you or I have been around and once it’s down, it’s down. I look forward to sharing more of these thoughts as the winter slowly comes to an end. 

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