Country Lore: Crafting with the Yellow Poplar Tree
A Popular Tree on the Homestead
In the eastern United States, a common hardwood tree, the yellow poplar, serves to benefit not only wildlife, but people as well. Yellow poplar, also known as “tulip tree,” isn’t actually in the same family as other poplar trees. Learning to identify this tree properly can be beneficial, as it makes for colorful lumber, a readily available woodworking source, and food for different animals.
I’ve found great use for yellow popular for walking sticks, and for fleshing beams and stretchers for my hide-tanning projects. Though we don’t burn it in the woodstove or mill the boards for major projects, we still find ways to use what’s cut down during any land clearing.
Crafting. This particular wood isn’t generally recommended for major building projects. This is mainly because trees harvested for old-growth heartwood have been found to have a resistance to decay, but most younger trees you encounter are mainly sapwood and don’t have the same durability. The lumber is great for small woodworking projects, however, and branches and smaller logs can also be used.
We frequently make simple walking sticks from small tulip poplar branches, or from smaller cleared saplings, because they’re easy to peel and are quite lightweight when dried properly. We’ve also used saplings to put together simple hide-stretching frames by connecting four long poles together with small notches, and lashing or nailing them together. Wood slices cut from small branches also make for beautiful coasters and Christmas ornaments that are suitable for woodburning and painting after they’ve been sanded. Even the peeled bark makes for useful cordage, which I use to display our bone needles.
You can make a sturdy fleshing beam for larger hides from smaller logs. Our first fleshing beam was made of debarked poplar. I didn’t have space at the time to put it in the shop, however, so it sat outside after that hunting and trapping season. The elements took their toll on the untreated logs, and though the wood held up for another season, the damage had been done, and it began to rot. Because we had room indoors the next time, my husband built a much sturdier beam that can withstand the pressure and weight of fleshing even a full cowhide. Because of this experience, I recommend keeping any form of untreated poplar for crafts indoors.
Larger poplar logs that are suitable to be milled can be used in a variety of woodworking projects. Uses of the lumber include indoor trimming and making toys, cabinets, furniture, jewelry boxes, and much more. Yellow poplar is also commonly hauled off for pulpwood during the clear-cutting of land.
Firewood. Various types of wood are evaluated with British thermal units (Btu), which tells you the heat production of that specific type of wood, in turn helping to determine which wood will keep you warmer for longer. In our area, different species of oak and hickory are commonly sold for firewood, holding a Btu value of anywhere between 24.6 to 27.7, depending on the type of tree. By comparison, yellow poplar is valued at only 16.0 and is preferred for getting a fire going or to mix in with other firewood that has a higher Btu. For this reason, it’s not recommended for use as the main fuel to heat a home, but would be suitable for a small outdoor fire pit.
Prevailing Over Pigeons
My husband and I bear no particular malice toward pigeons, but last summer, we went from having a single pair on our property in May to a dozen active birds by the end of the summer. One giant family claimed the inside of our barn and silo as a home base. Their droppings landed everywhere, and the old hay barn and everything stored in it became unsanitary and unsightly. Our solution was cheap, easy, and nonlethal.
First, we downloaded raptor calls to a cellphone. We used an out-of-date phone that was collecting dust in a drawer. Our raptor calls came from a public library CD, but you can also find them online. Then, we installed a USB port in a handy spot. This setup keeps the phone charged. We also plugged in some little speakers.
Finally, we play the raptor calls on medium volume constantly. When we’re working in the barn, we switch to music. Our calls include a variety of eight different hawks and owls. The variety is important for this to be effective, and you should begin these calls in early spring to scare off the very first pigeons before they settle in to nest.
This system has worked all summer for us, even when we were away from home for several weeks. Since we’ve had the system in place, there haven’t been any pigeons in the barn or silo. Our songbirds don’t seem to be affected at all, and we’ve had a record number of nesting bluebirds.
Bear Lake, Michigan
The RichMar Solarium
With the help of my friend Richard, I successfully built the solarium I’d been dreaming of for years. Since I live on a slope of solid rock, selecting a site was the first major hurdle. The only suitable site had several trees that needed to be cut down. A different friend offered to do the job, but two years passed before he could get around to it. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because the site turned into a huge puddle after a downpour. With this knowledge, I brought in six loads of chert to build up a pad on the site. That was an expense I hadn’t counted on, and it used up all the money I’d saved up to buy wood. So I was forced to wait some more.
Meanwhile, I ran across some nice windows at a neighbor’s yard sale. He makes his living replacing old windows, and he gave me a whole truckload instead of taking them to the landfill as he normally does.
Richard suggested that the easiest way to build the solarium would be to make two lean-tos butted against each other, one higher than the other, so I could have clerestory windows to open for ventilation. The finished building is 16 feet wide and 32 feet long. I put a 4×4 post every 8 feet down the middle and along each side. Then, I filled in with a patchwork of windows. I used corrugated polycarbonate panels for the roof. Odd spaces are filled with scraps of greenhouse plastic. I discovered that digging post holes in dry, packed chert is impossible. Instead, I wet the area where I wanted to dig each hole, and dug down a few inches. Then, I put more water in the hole, waited for it to drain out, and then dug some more. Little by little, I got down to the rock.
I wanted to be able to say I built the solarium myself, so I handled all the construction except for the roofing panels. Richard and our friend James insisted on helping me with that so it would finally be done and I could start my spring plants. In retrospect, I probably should’ve let them help me sooner, but I grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania, and my Yankee blood and pioneer spirit wouldn’t let me.
Martha Ann Burgard
When Life Gives You Lemons…
Image by Amy Perez
I’ve been reading MOTHER EARTH NEWS for about eight years now. I’ve saved almost every issue, because there’s always a reason to go back and reread an article. I’ve also, as far as I can recall, been a frugal person, sometimes out of necessity, but also because I just plain hate to waste. I want to share with other readers what I do with my lemons when I have an overabundance of them.
Lemons come in season in winter, and they’re usually cheapest then. That’s when I’ll buy what I can, take them home, wash them, and zest them. I keep the zest in a Mason jar in the freezer, and measure out whatever I need as I need it. I was worried at first that the zest would turn into one hard lump in the freezer, but it’s actually crumbly when frozen. After zesting the lemons, I juice them and put the juice in silicone ice molds in my freezer. This way, I can easily pop a cube out whenever I need one. Each mold is approximately 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. This also comes in handy in summer when I make iced tea and don’t want it to be watered down with ice cubes. It’s been great to be able to go to my freezer and get my ready-made lemon juice or zest when I’m in the middle of a recipe.
The goldfish pond in my yard has a rubber liner to retain water year-round. Every spring, I wade into the pond to remove leaves and branches that have fallen during the fall and winter months. In the past, I would use a medium-sized fishing net on a pole to retrieve the debris. However, sometimes goldfish would get caught with the debris and die.
To accomplish the same job without the casualties every season, I decided that a three-pronged pitchfork might work if I could avoid puncturing the pond liner. So, I came up with the idea of putting a wine cork on each prong to solve my problem, and it worked great.
I call it my “pitchcork!” While the job takes longer, there aren’t any casualties.
Matawan, New Jersey
Sump Pump Savior
A few years ago, we suffered near drought conditions in western New York. Because of this, we weren’t able to douse the garden with the water from our rain barrels. I decided not to use well water for the garden. That’s when I discovered that my sump pump was pumping an outrageous amount of water. Each day, I was able to fill a kiddie pool with water from the sump pump hose. Then, I put a submersible pump in the pool and, with an attached garden hose, was able to water the garden. We grow about 75 percent of our vegetables, so I wasn’t about to give up on the garden. In this manner, we made it until harvest time. The next spring, my handy husband took it one step further by setting up a sump pump watering system. Water comes out of the pump and, with the turn of two ball valves, fills the barrels. I then use the submersible pump attached to a garden hose to water the garden. It even has enough pressure to run a sprinkler for our daughter. Mother Nature provides us with about 100 gallons of water, even on the driest of days.
Prattsburgh, New York
I free-range my chickens during the day. A while back, a family of foxes moved into our area and paid a visit on two separate occasions. Both times, I scared them off by yelling at them. I realized they don’t come around if we’re outside. So, I moved a radio into my greenhouse to protect it from rain. When I let the girls out, I turn the radio up real loud. I haven’t seen a fox in over a month.
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