|Cultivating Your Woodlot|
by Brandt Ainsworth
|In winter in the woods alone|
Against the trees I go.
I mark a
maple for my own
And lay the maple low.
Firewood is as important to some of us now as it was when Robert
Frost penned these lines. We all love to warm our bones beside a nice winter
fire, and nothing tastes as good as supper cooked on Ma's woodstove. Most of the
benefits stemming from wood heat are obvious. Less obvious are some of
firewood's other benefits.
For as far back as I can remember,
fall was the time of year when we cut firewood out of the hedgerows. When the
woodpile was getting low, on a Sunday my Dad, our old dog, and I would pile into
the truck and head for a hedgerow with the shotgun and saw. You can't always
find game to shoot in the hedge, but there's always firewood to cut.
Now scientists have proven a piece of wire in a tree has a magnetic
field that draws a sharp saw chain into it. But if we didn't have to file the
saw too many times, we could get a pickup load in about an hour. That gave us
enough time to unload and catch the fourth quarter of the football game.
The three greatest benefits we derived from hedgerow firewood are:
quick easy wood, a field in which equipment can get close to the edge, and less
shading of crops. With the simple bit of knowledge that less shade from the
hedge or from weeds improves the yield of corn, you can improve the yield in
your woods, just like running a cultivator through your corn.
Accordingly, the first thing I do when felling trees for firewood is
find an area that needs to be cultivated. I look for good quality marketable
young trees (corn) that are being shaded by undesirable, lesser value trees
(weeds). Then I cultivate the weeds. I do this by cutting the low value trees
into firewood, while trying not to disturb my crop (the more valuable trees).
Just like corn, trees do better with less competition.
A good example of cultivating a woods the right way is my Dad's
woodlot. When he bought it in 1975, a logger could have cut all the marketable
timber with one tank of gas in his saw. With a common sense approach, my Dad set
out to improve his woods, and heat a large house at the same time.
When a small hard maple, black cherry, or white ash was being crowded
by bigger undesirable dying beech, down went the beech for firewood, thus
letting in light for the more valuable timber. We needed a lot of wood to keep
warm, which meant a lot of woodlot improvement.
After about five years of intensive management, my dad cut a few
thousand dollars worth of white ash out of his woods. While doing so he improved
his stand of timber, because he cut only trees that held others back from
Another five years after that we cut out a few thousand dollars worth
of saw logs, some of which were valuable veneer. Remember, this woods is the
same one just 10 years prior had hardly any value, only potential.
We made a third harvest again in five years. This time we took out
some really nice timber. Three years later we cut out a few loads of logs. We
followed a three-year schedule for awhile, then went to every two years. Then we
reached the stage we're at now, cutting two or three loads of logs every year.
Not only do we harvest more frequently, but the quality of logs gets
The reason this small woods has been such a big producer is selective
crown thinning, or as I call it, cultivating. Dad calls it, "Cuttin' enough
wood to keep Ma warm." Another reason this woods grows fast is that around
the same time the harvests got more frequent I got old enough to have my own
firewood business, not using only tops, but also cutting more cull trees.
More cull trees cut = more light.
More light = faster
The other day on my lunch break I studied the growth rings of the stump
I was sitting on. The seven rings closest to the outer edge contained about two
rings per inch. All the rings closer to the center had at least five, sometimes
more, rings per inch.
These rings told me the tree grew fastest during the last seven
years. The reason is simpleseven years ago I cultivated that woods. It was
my first log job on my own. I must have done it right, because this tree grew
more in the last seven years than it had during the previous 20.
The results of your firewood cutting may not be immediate, but if you hang to
it, after three or four years your woods will increase in value. You will also
reduce your heating costs, be in better physical condition, and have a better
team. The more firewood your team hauls out, the better they get. What's the
sense of taking a tractor to the woods while your team stands in the barn
learning nothing? Besides, I'll bet Robert Frost never wrote a poem about
harvesting firewood with a Minneapolis Moline.
Brandt Ainsworth of New York hosts the DVD
with Horses, Oxen and Mules and is a frequent contributor to Rural
Heritage. This article appeared in the Holiday