Sunday, 24 October 2010

Considerations when planting a new woodland

As the former owner of a forest tree nursery I have been asked this many times, there are no definitive answers to this question, the best guide that you have got is to look around your local area and see which species of trees are growing well and/or make up the most of the local woodland. This way you do not have to worry about your soil type or climate -nature has aready shown you what will do well.

natural regeneration of sweet chestnut less than 20 years after this pasture was abandoned. I thinned this area a year ago and removed about half of the less vigorous and poorly formed trees

Also you should have a clear goal in mind, are you planting for wildlife and conservation, or future firewood or timber production. Your main objective could be to screen yourself off from a neighbour or an ugly development, or it could be a combination of all these factors or many others.

Many people say plant willows, everyone knows that they grow quickly, but really what is the point unless you are a basket weaver or your land is a bog (you have very few other choices in this case), they are of generally speaking little timber, firewood or long term screening value.

I would imagine that cutting a large area of willow manually as a short rotation coppice for firewood could be mindnumbingly boring. (I find cutting hazel stools bad enough-they are a lot of work for not much wood). An endless supply of small round logs that are difficult to stack and burn away quickly on the fire. Volume production isn't everything when considering what species to plant. I am sure that these are great for totally mechanised woodchip production for biomass.

Poplars are also often advised, these are certainly quick with 2-3 meters per year possible with some of the newer clones. They have little firewood value but do have a timber value if they are grown and managed in the right way. I must say that a poplar plantation is about as interesting as the highly disliked conifer monocultures but without the winter shelter.

Another suggestion made by people who are just looking quick wood is the Foxglove tree (paulownia tormentosa) which can be grown to sawlog size in Europe in as little as 8 -15 years. This is a native of China and although its a rapidly growing tree it can also be very invasive. Recent advances in breeding have lead to clones being introduced that can resist temperatures of -15 celsius possibly even -20 celsius. As a wood it is lightweight being around half the weight of oak. It is also noted as being highly fire retardant, so perhaps best avoided as firewood! As a tree it is promoted as not subject to pest problems in Europe, there is a good reason for this-none of our native insect species can feed on it. Pollinating insects however do well as it produces very showy white/pink or purple flowers depending on the species.

After well over 30 years of looking at woodlands I have come to the conclusion that the best form of woodland establishment is to mimic the way that woodland normally colonises new ground. For example in my area any previously cultivated land that for whatever reason becomes abandoned is rapidly covered by blackberry, broom, silver birch, willow,aspen,alder and hazel.

Ok, you would be mad to want to plant blackberry and broom but it is easy to see that the birch and the others are colonising species (oak can also colonise grassland too if the conditions are right).

Oak natural regeneration at 5 years from germination. I'll keep the neighbouring broom bushes under control so that the oak is not crowded out

One the birch starts to gain a little height other tree species start to appear- oak,sweet chestnut, ash perhaps a scattered scots pine or douglas fir and finally beech. These grow better after the site conditions have been made more suitable for them by the colonising species. The colonisers are quick growing but generally short lived so that when they die they are replaced by the secondary species of tree that then go on to make the dominant trees over the longer term.

The problem is that everyone who plants trees wants it to look like a woodland as quickly as possible. It is my conclusion that you should plant a mix of colonisers planted for there quick growth and the other species that are going to make up the longer term which could at sometime in the future become a valuable asset.

7 year old self seeded scots pine growing together with sweet chestnut, beech and silver birch

This will however lead to future problems. It is likely that without management the quick growing pioneers will overtop and surpress or even kill the slower growing "crop" trees. So you need to be in there watching and managing your woodland, always keep in mind your long term goal(s) You cannot just let it do its own thing or your not going to get the result that you wanted.

Douglas fir that I planted 5 years ago inamongst my hardwoods-naturally regenerated sweet chestnut and ash and planted beech. As you can see I don't tend to plant in rows and prefer to plant in groups between the trees seedlings that arrive naturally. It gives a more natural appearance but does need managing regularly to prevent overcrowding problems.

It doesn't really matter because trees grow slowly don't they? Well they can but they don't have to. Everything that you do from even before you plant the trees influences how fast they will grow and develop. Think of your trees as you would the plants in your garden, if you neglect these and don't give them there optimum conditions they perform disappointingly. The same applies to your trees. I shall try to cover these issues in later posts.

Finally to the issue of conifers. To many people these are to be avoided like the plague but in my opinion they do have a valuable place in the woods. Firstly as an economic value, last year I felled 2 large douglas fir, 47 years old. They gave me wood to the value of over 800 euro's. Ok I had to fell the trees,extract them and get a mobile sawmill in to process them. But this is in only 47 years, if you grew an oak or beech you would usually need to double or triple that age to get something of a decent value.

At age 47 an oak can show great promise but not great financial value. I'm not saying lets plant only douglas - private forestry already does more than enough of this around here, but why not plant a handfull or a few dozen conifers inamongst your hardwoods? The birds like them for nesting and winter shelter. They are useful for screening and also add a bit of body to your young woodland during the winter months and can have a highly beneficial nursing effect on your broadleaves. Many species can be removed for Christmas trees. You can think of conifers as a temporary but beneficial addition to your woodland or leave a few for perpetuity like I do.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The Ginkgo Trees of St Sulpice Lauriere (87)France

Pictured below are the magnificent Ginkgo trees of St. Sulpice Lauriere in their full autumn splendour photographed during the first week of November.

They were planted in 1864 during the construction of the Paris-Toulouse railway and are thought to be the finest linear planting in France.

If you would like to purchase seeds collected from these trees, prices and purchase information are to be found at the bottom of this page.

The Ginkgo or Maidenhair Tree as it is sometimes called is a remarkable tree, fossils of related species date back 270 million years. During the time of the dinosaurs it flourished across the world before undergoing a rapid decline with an eventual disappearance from North America around 7 million years ago and extinct in Europe 2.5 million years ago. Even in China where it was discovered there are no recent fossil records and until it was seen by the first westerner in 1690 was thought to be extinct. It is not even certain that wild populations of this tree still exist in china and it may owe it's survival to Buddhist monks who cultivated it in the temple gardens where specimens exist that are thought to be in excess of 4000 years old.

If you are interested in finding more indepth detail about anything and everything to do with the Ginkgo tree visit The Ginkgo Pages

The history of our ginkgo's in St. Sulpice Lauriere starts in 1864 when the chief railway engineer M. de Leffe invited the imperial prince of Japan to stay at his chateau near Limoges. The imperial prince brought with him 13 young ginkgo trees which M. de Leffe had planted at the newly built station at St. Sulpice Lauriere. At this time the tree was mostly unknown in the West. Of the 13 trees planted, 12 survived -9 male trees and 3 females and have flourished to become such an impressive sight today.

It is a truly remarkable tree, not only is unlike most other conifers, being deciduous and having very unique broad leaves. It bears fruit that look like apricot coloured plums that have the most powerful stench. It is also highly pollution tolerant, resistant to insect,virus,fungal and bacterial attack. When the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on the 6th of August 1945 the only thing left alive were 6 ginkgo trees, the closest of which was only 1130 meters away from the epicentre of the explosion and they are still alive today a remarkable example of the tenacity of life.

So if you are ever passing our quiet corner of the Haute Vienne take 10 minutes to pop down to the station in St. Sulpice Lauriere and marvel at these truly amazing living fossils.

This is the plaque at the station telling the story in french of these trees. If you want to read it in better clarity have a look in my ginkgo album on picasa click on the link on the top right of this blog.

Infact the plaque below incorrectly states that there are 10 male trees and 2 females. This is wrong, this autumn there are definitely 4 female trees bearing fruit, so therefore there can only be 8 male trees.

If you would like to try to grow some of these most ancient and fascinating trees you can purchase seeds that I have collected from the trees written about in this blog post.

The seeds are priced as follows.

5 Seeds £0.99
10 Seeds £1.65
25 Seeds £2.75
50 Seeds £4.85
100 Seeds £9.00
250 Seeds £23.00
500 Seeds £44.00
1000 Seeds £80.00

You can email me to discuss and reserve your requirements. Postage costs to the UK and European Union are £1.90 extra.

The seeds require around 12 weeks of pre-treatment before they will germinate, this is not difficult to do and I include free information on how to do this with every order.

And finally pictured below, one of the male trees is particularly easy to identify!

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

How to build a log skidding arch

Anyone who has viewed my log arch web album will have seen a piece of equipment almost identical to the one in the picture below. This was made in a weekend by Steve from West Virginia and his friends Ed and Mark.
If you click on the album cover below it will open out into a step by step photographic record of how they contructed this simple but highly effective log skidding arch.
This was of course the inspiration for my own. It is constucted using an engine hoist as the main body, then adding a towbar, an arch structure to support the log and to add ridgidity to the frame and finally a pair of stub axles, hubs and wheels.

 For my own arch I purchased a 2 ton engine hoist from Carrefour (France) for 189 euro's delivered, 52 euro's worth of 3mm box section steel and a pair of stub axles and hubs from Autow warehouse (UK) for around 60 euro's. I already had a suitable pair of wheels. So allowing for a can of spray paint and a pack of welding sticks it cost me about 310 euro's.
In addition I also bought an arc welder, mask and gloves as I had never done welding before.
So this was my project that taught me how to weld, a skill that has been really useful over the last 2 years. Once you learn a skill like this you find so many applications for it and you wonder why you didn't learn it years earlier.
It is amazing the size of log that you can haul out using a log arch, even with my tiny 12hp kubota I have pulled out 3m lengths of Douglas Fir 70cm in diameter. Although it helps if the ground is not too wet and the hills not too steep!

This log had to be pulled up a steep hill to get it home so I added a "back axle" to the log held on with a ratchet strap. It worked very well once I had worked out a technique of getting it under the log!
So thanks Steve for putting this album on the web, without it I would never have made my log arch, I would not have learnt to weld, most of my logs would still be stuck in the woods and my fledgling timber enterprise would still be just a dream.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Tree species guide for firewood

Here is a guide to the firewood qualities of each type of tree that we have growing in this part of southwest France.

Sweet Chestnut.
castanea sativa

Sweet Chestnut small roundwood from the first thinning of the coppice at 17 years.
These really need 2 years to dry out properly as they are unsplit.
This species makes up about 50% of my woodland. This wood must be split to enable it to dry out. If
left unsplit it will take years to dry out even if it is covered. Straight, knot free pieces are a pleasure to split parting easily and cleanly. Old, twisted and knotty pieces can be nearly impossible and it saves a lot of time and frustation if you precut through the knots with the chainsaw. On reasonable sized knots it is best to either steer well clear of them or to go for a split that will run right through the centre of the knot splitting the base of the enclosed branch. The latter is a technique that works well for me. Usable the following winter but larger pieces are better for leaving for the one after!

Silver Birch.
betula pendula
This makes nice firewood. when dry it's light weight and burns well. It must be split within a few months of felling or it will rapidly deteriorate even if kept dry. I guess the bark must be waterproof and the humidity within the wood cannot escape so that the wood that has absolutely no natural rot resistance turns to mush leaving just the outer circle of bark. The basel 50-80cm of a birch tree of any stature is an absolute sod to split even by machine. It is so tough and stringy. Best solution is to cut into short lengths of 30-40cm for splitting. I still sometimes even for these short lengths need the help of the chainsaw to cut a full log round in half. In general the wood is a little stringy and a hand axe or small chopper is a great help for cutting through the last persistant fibres. In a sunny spot it dries very well for use the following winter.

fagus sylvatica
A lovely firewood - one of my favourites. Once again it must be split within a few months or it will start to deteriorate becoming mottled (spalted) in appearance as it becomes invaded by fungal colonies. It has no natural resistance to rot so it must be kept dry. It splits fairly easily and cleanly except for the lowest 50-100cm of the trunk. Cut this part into short pieces for splitting. If you take the effort to follow these guidelines it is super firewood. It dries easily for use the following winter and burns well with a good sustained heat.

fraxinus excelsior
Widely regarded as the best firewood. When freshly felled it naturally has a low moisture content and lovely white wood. It will dry well even when not split. It is a little stringy at times which can make it a little difficult to split. It is however well worth the effort. Unfortunatly it is only a minor species in this area growing mostly in the valley bottoms on the more fertile and humid soils. The few trees that I have tend to be of great form and are much too good for firewood. I normally use only the branchwood for firewood production. I plant and encourage the regeneration of ash more than any other tree. Please try to do the same if you can.

quercus robur
Great firewood but it can be quite hard work to produce. Open grown trees are very knotty and these are hard to split. This is easiest to do when the wood is still very freshly felled. Cut through the larger knots with the chainsaw and or cut into short lengths to make splitting easier. Keep the logs dry or the sapwood which is often quite a large percentage of the log will quickly rot away even on split wood. If the logs get repeatedly rained on they produce several types of fungi which are soft and slimy and not a pleasant experiance without good gloves! Small splits will dry before winter but all larger pieces need an extra year or even two to get the full potential from this hot burning, long lasting wood.

corylus avellana
Don't overlook this as a source of firewood. The wood dries well without splitting and burns nicely. Hazel is a quick growing species that coppices readily and will provide with a good crop of round logs and kindling if cut every 12-20+ years. As this grows as a dense cluster of stems make the first cuts at about 1m above ground until all the stems are felled and cut up. Then with the chain saw horizontal, cut through the top of the stool to cut free all the 1m legths that are still attached to the it- of which there can be well over 100 individual stems. This technique taught to me by my old french neighbours greatly reduces the danger of kickback caused by the guide bar tip touching the crowded stems.

tilia platyphyllus and cordata
It's wood and it burns when it is dry is about all you can say from a firewood perspective. Don't make an effort to aquire or produce firewood from it, but if the tree has to come down use it.

Fruit tree wood
Malus and Prunus species
These burn well but are usually a pain to split especially with old knotty trees

salix species
Found growing on damp or boggy soils. We have a lot of this, I have found this to be a better than expected firewood. It dries well both split or unsplit. It burns a bit quickly and therefore I would never sell it to anyone. We burn it at home as well as all the other odd left over pieces of wood, the horrid knotty bits, partly rotted logs etc. and find that they all burn and heat the house pretty well.

Wild Cherry
prunus avium
One of my favourite trees so I never cut them down unless they are almost dead or they blow over. The wood burns well but should be split first for drying. Any good straight stems should be planked and used for something better than burning!

Sycamore and Norway maple
acer pseudoplatanus and acer platanoides
Easy to split and burn pretty well. They are both only very minor species in this area so I don't get to cut a lot of either.

abies, larix,picea, pinus,pseudosuga etc. species
I have used many species of conifers for firewood and have found that they burn fairly well, but quickly. They have a more open wood structure and therefore dry more quickly than hardwoods. For splitting I always cut them into short pieces about 30-45cm in length and always split around the knots.