growing trees for coppicing for firewood

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growing trees for coppicing for firewood

Postby lucy.lists » Sun May 25, 2008 8:10 pm

hello,

Brand newbie here - only just posted my 'hello'.

We have around 3 and a half acres of land. Most of it is grass, there are a few big, old trees, and an orchard with around 20 fruit trees - not sure yet how well they are going to do as we only moved on April Fools day. Part of the land is currently growing wheat, and we'll only be able to access it once the farmer has harvested his crop - around July, I think.

Part of the grass is very rough, very weedy, and looks (to my inexperienced eye) like it will be a nightmare to make it into grass that can be walked on barefoot or played on. So we'd like to put quite a few groups of trees in here.

I'm thinking the farmer's field bit would be a good place to plant 'proper' grass seed mixed with wildflowers, and go for a wildflower meadow type area, perhaps with a few groups of trees there too.

There is one area of grass which is better than the rest, and that's where we've put the kids toys, the table and chairs, that kind of thing.

Sorry - I'm getting to the point of this post a long way round, but I wanted to lay out the setup. So ... we're soon having a big woodburner put in, and would like to start growing some wood so that in years to come we might have a chance of at least partially stocking it.

I think clumps of trees would work better for us rather than a designated plantation or rows of trees. And perhaps the main amount to be on the very rough weedy thistly grass. It's important to us that we create lttile woody habitats here and there in the garden, that the kids and dog can enjoy, and that encourage new kinds of wildlife into the garden. At the moment the land feels quite open and featureless, not a place that entices you to explore or wander.

At the moment we are just grabbing whatever tree seedlings we can beg, borrow, or find, and they are mostly sitting in pots waiting to go in: so far some hazel, a couple of oak, some lime, some horse chestnuts, some beech ... and we're planning to plonk them in in mixed groups.

I've gathered that some ash would be good for firewood, and so if we buy any trees, I guess ash would be the first choice, and perhaps some fast-growing willow to give us *something* to harvest before 8 years or so. My (vague!) plan then is that, in a couple of years we might coppice some of the trees that have any kind of reasonable growth, to encourage more shoots to come up for later years, when we can really expect some useful wood. I'm kind of assuming that the different trees will show 'reasonable growth' at different rates (and I have to admit I don't know what that will look like but I'm hoping I'll know it when I see it!) and so there will be a natural kind of 'rotation', rather than needing to work it out scientifically.

So ... is it O.K to just plant them in mixed groups? What kind of spacings would work? Should I put a lot of thought into which tree goes next to which, or just follow my fancy?!

(I know oak doesn't coppice well, so the two or three oaks I plant would just grow normally, rather than be destined for firewood)

If anyone has any thoughts on all this they'd be much appreciated.

thanks in advance

Lucy
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Postby colhut » Sun May 25, 2008 8:55 pm

Hi,
Although I've not planted anything yet I have off and on done some research on this. Firstly plant oak, it will be excellent firewood, but possibly for your great grandchildren, it is seriously slow growing which is what makes it hard and strong. The most common coppice trees from my reading are sweet chestnut and poplar, both fast growing and respond well to coppicing.

As for the meadow, souns great, but please don't fall into the trap of thinking it doesn't need managing, it does. you will be amazed at just how fast brambles and nettles can consume land. We have a couple of acres and we have 3 sheep keeping the grass mown. They won't however eat nettles and until I went out a scythed it down the nettle bank was the entire length of the field and 2-3 metres deep and will be back if I don't keep on top of it !
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Postby lucy.lists » Mon May 26, 2008 6:52 am

Thanks for that Colhut. Yes, I hadn't assumed the 'meadow' would necessarily be easy to look after. And we are planning some tree clusters there too. But I'm assuming we'll 'inherit' a ploughed up field of bare earth ... so presumably if we don't proactively sow *something* there, then we'll end up with a field of weeds anyway?

Is there anything better we can do?

Lucy
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Postby lucy.lists » Mon May 26, 2008 7:22 am

Actually I just realised my last comment was a little open-ended!

We had originally planned to put rows of trees for coppicing on that new patch of land. But once we moved in we realised the other half of our garden nearer the house has awful grass (more thistles and weeds than grass, and the grass very different in texture, sore on the legs and feet, and a clear delineation from the other half of grass, so obviously had a different origin). So we thought that it might be a better place for filling with clumps of trees. Also I was never really taken by the idea of rows of trees, I'd rather have them in groups that detracts from the plain, flat feeling of the land around us. Our garden has definitely been formed by adding bits of the farmland around us over the years, and it shows ... so I'd like to try and tie it all together (visually) somehow.

So I think we need to put something on the new field bit that will:

a: stop the ploughed up ground becoming overtaken immediately with weeds/remnants of past crops, etc.

b: look O.K and provide some wildlife interest

c: enable us to plant some clusters of trees around and about, because there is a church the other side of the field that we'd like a bit of screening from, but don't want to plant a continuous hedge

d: be able to be walked on, played hide and seek in, cycled round, poddled through by the dog, and generally brought in as a useable part of the garden.

My Dad thinks we should put a large veggie plot on part of it. They have a big plot at their house but I have seen the amount of time and effort they need to put in, and we've not got much to go round of either time or energy just now, and also it would be a steep learning curve for us! And I'm concerned about what the French farmer will have been putting into that ground over the past years.

We're planning on trying out some square foot gardening in raised beds, nearer the house for our veggies.

We're about to invest in a major mower, because the grass here has very quickly got away from us. My husband is fairly handy with his petrol strimmer. So something that can be kept under control by being mowed a little less often than the 'lawn' type grass would be excellent.

Do you think a 'sown' wildflower meadow will do all these jobs?

Sorry - two topics in one thread.

Lucy
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Postby contadino » Mon May 26, 2008 8:36 am

In order to create a meadow (which is a bit of an adulterated phrase nowadays, but I still see it as a source of hay) you'll need to top off the land in spring, maybe a couple of times. The simplest explanation I've read is in John Seymour's book. Mowing won't help.

Regarding trees, I've found most trees, once established, can be coppiced. I'm coppicing olive and almond quite successfully. Notable exceptions are pines, but they're lousy for firewood anyway. Your choice of trees should be decided based on what's already growing in your area. Willow grows well only if you have sufficient rainfall, lime will shoot up long and thin, which isn't much use as firewood, oak is very slow growing, etc... As a woodworker, I have a particular bias towards ash, but IMHO it's more valuable as a material than as firewood.

If you decide what trees you want to plant, I can tell you spacings for them. I've read that certain mixes of trees do well together, but can't remember which. Maybe google around a bit for woodland management..?
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Postby Clara » Mon May 26, 2008 9:21 am

OH is a tree surgeon and whilst we aren´t coppicing at the moment, he "harvests" by being able to climb trees with a chainsaw, thus removing dead or unwanted branches, whilst providing us with firewood.

The most useful wood we have in this respect is ASH.

Another thing that might be interesting to you is forest gardening, it´s a permaculture principle, try googling it. There is also an interesting book about permacuture woodand management called "the woodland way" by Ben Law.
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Postby Hedgehogpie » Mon May 26, 2008 11:36 am

You can coppice or pollard Ash. It's an excellent wood for burning and strong & flexible for woodworking, hence it's use in making tool handles.

I'd love to create a mixed coppice for our use but at the moment that's just a pipe dream.
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Postby mybarnconversion » Mon May 26, 2008 2:34 pm

For sheer 'burnability' - I guess my vote as many others would be for ash if I had to choose one only. Fast and easy to grow + great for me as it grows in boggy ground... other tree are prettier, but ash just grows MORE...
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Postby caithnesscrofter » Tue May 27, 2008 12:13 am

personally, id go for a very efficient stove and a willow coppice.

If u have ground with lots of thistle it means it is very fertile. Maybe this would be a good place to grow crop?
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Postby lucy.lists » Tue May 27, 2008 6:54 am

Hi all, and thanks for the advice so far.

I've ordered the forest gardening book, as my husband is in the U.K at the mo so it's a good time to get things delivered! It's come up on a few sites I've been reading and looks a whole new fascinating area that I knew nothing about (yet another one). Woodland Management on google did come up with some useful info too, thanks ... sometimes it's just really handy to have the most efficient search term. I had no idea that thistles indicated fertile ground, so that's very promising as we've got loads of those! I think we'll stick with my original plan of using the seedlings we have been given or found, as well as buying some ash and willow, and perhaps sweet chestnut, as I've heard that coppices really well.

I *think* the stove we're planning is fairly efficient. It's got the French "Flamme Vert" label which is like an eco badge ... it means we get a tax rebate on 50% of the purchase price anyway. We're having a double-faced one between the two main rooms (living room and kitchen) though, so I guess that might mean it's hungrier than the usual.

Just to check: if, once the farmer hands his field over we do *nothing* except plant several clumps of trees, we are going to end up with an awful weed problem? Or will it still be a passable 'wildlife area'? At the moment there are lots of poppies springing up between his wheat, and rape plants (I think) from past crops, and I've no idea what state he will leave the ground in.

I won't make any final decision until I've got more of a handle on the forest gardening idea, as we will probably, eventually, have at least 3 woodburning stoves, and so the more trees the better, I guess.

I just want to be ready to go with whatever we're doing, as soon as the farmer takes his wheat off.
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Postby Hedgehogpie » Tue May 27, 2008 8:47 am

Depends on what you call weeds - being a forager I'd tend to look on much of it as a potential larder for myself or wildlife (and possibly medicine cabinet too).

The main thing is not to allow any plants to swamp your seedlings until they've established well and to protect them from animals like rabbit & deer who would decimate them in short time. Perhaps the best way would be to have a watchful eye after planting but otherwise leave things pretty much alone & see what else arrives naturally, some of which might be to your advantage.

Forest Gardening is a great book. :flower:
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Postby caithnesscrofter » Tue May 27, 2008 11:00 am

which forest gardening book did u get? I have 3 and they are all good. Robert harts, patrick whitefield is it? And eric toensmeier has a double textbook which is very in depth if a forest garden is what you r going to go for. I would recommend buying the plants for a future database as well which is an ethnobotany database and its very enlightening. The idea in forest gardening is planting various edible and in my case medicinal trees, shrubs, vines, roots, and perenial plants. So, you calculate tree spacing to provide the right density of the future canopy for everything to grow underneath. My forest garden is roughly half an acre and have planted just to the south of my willow coppice and have only planted the windbreak so far. To rid the weeds i will mulch a strip a year and plant it up the following spring. After it is planted i will keep it mulched with tree bark, leaf mould and straw. This in theory should be the majority of maintenance needed besides pruning as and when and should be sufficient to keep weeds down.

I dont know what kind of stove you mention but, i meant a masonry or mass stove which uses a fraction of the fuel of any commercial stove out there.
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Postby lucy.lists » Tue May 27, 2008 11:58 am

The book is: How to make a forest garden by Patrick Whitefield.

I also got (seeing as my lovely Mum gave me some birthday money!) "Getting started in permaculture - 54 projects for home and garden", because I like to leave books around for the girls to rummage through, because sometimes they say: "can we try this?" and I'd much rather work with them to make a garden than a polystrene crown, lol.

No, our potential new stove isn't a ceramic or soapstone one. It's just a basic plain 'insert' to go in an existing fireplace, to heat the two rooms it faces and also trickle a little warm air into the upstairs. Later on we will need something for my husband's workshop/studio though, which is an enormous, double-storied barn with mezzanine space (he's a sculptor), and I was thinking of a ceramic one for there. We might not be talking about the same thing, though. We're hoping to heat the house entirely with stoves, seeing as we are all here all of most days, but as the house is quite big I think we're going to have to do several smaller stoves strategically placed, which also provide a bit of background 'take-the-chill-off' to upstairs.

At the moment we have oil-fired hot water, and oil central heating (which barely makes a dent in the chill). But as of yesterday I am waiting on the solar man to turn up, as we are having a solar hot water system fitted ... which has taken up the last of our savings, yikes! But I really, really could not bear spending money on refilling the oil tank!

I think the additional bit of land will be around 4000 square metres. So about a third or so of our overall land. So making it something more 'interesting' and useable by the whole family rather than just a tree plantation would be wonderful. I'm looking forward to getting the Forest Garden book and seeing what's possible! :-)

We didn't intend ending up with all this land - which is why we're a little unprepared! The house was originally for sale with a much smaller garden. But then the estate agent told us that the adjoining land also belonged to the same owner, and they'd been made an offer for it as building land. Having such a close neighbour would have completely changed the nature of the house, and we would not have bought it at all. So, because it had been on the market over a year, we said we'd buy if we got the land too. So now we've got it, we need to put it to good use!
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Postby lucy.lists » Tue May 27, 2008 12:04 pm

Oh, one nagging worry I have about growing 'food' or 'medicine' on the farmer's field is because I assume he has used various aggressive pesticides and fertilizers over the years.

How much of a concern would this be for others? Am I being over cautious? By the time we'd have much established and worth using there, would this problem have sorted itself out?

TIA.
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Postby Hedgehogpie » Wed May 28, 2008 12:23 pm

You could try sending an enquiry to the Soil Association or Garden Organic (used to be known as the Henry Doubleday Research Assocation), they may be able to advise you.
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