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Butchering Biomass: How to Use Every Part of a Cedar Tree

| 1/27/2016 11:57:00 AM

Cutting down trees is often part of homestead life, but too often much of the tree isn’t used, just discarded or burned in open piles. There’s a lot of carbon, nutrients, and solar energy locked up in that wood, which no sustainably-minded homestead should waste.

On our homestead, we look on trees like we do hogs: There’s a lot more value there than just the prime cuts, and it should all be put to good use. Whether we’re processing a pig or a tree, we have a plan to ensure minimal waste and maximum benefit. Here’s a look at how we break down an especially abundant and useful tree, one that is simultaneously native and invasive: the Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana).

Why Cut Trees?

Trees may be the lungs of the planet, but they’re not all created equal. Forests can be overcrowded, leading to disease or stunted tree growth. Former prairies or glades may be encroached on by trees in the absence of fire or other factors, leading to a loss of biodiversity and habitat. Some species may have lost their value in the modern world; young elms today are unlikely to attain their historic glory, as Dutch Elm Disease will almost certainly strike them down before their prime.

Other species take advantage of human disturbance to expand beyond their normal habitat; Eastern Red Cedars are particularly aggressive at establishing undesirable monocultures in the absence of fire or other management. Like a herd of animals, keeping a forest of trees healthy requires thinning the herd now and then, and making proper use of the results. On our homestead, cedars are everywhere, colonizing pastures and choking woodlands, so every winter we set forth to reduce their numbers without wasting their resources.


Clockwise from upper left: Small-medium cedar logs ready for milling; setting up a portable sawmill; fresh-cut cedar lumber; a garden shed built from on-farm cedar lumber.

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