Throughout the fall, winter and early spring much of my outside work revolves around thinning and limbing the native forest for tree stand health and forest fire mitigation. Much of the major tree felling is more concentrated, happening in a window of time in the depth of winter (usually late December though to the 1st of February). This is in order to mitigate bark beetle infestation of the wounds on the Pines and Firs.
The land this past winter
We also cut deciduous trees in winter when they are dormant in order that they can resprout - continuing to enrich the ecosystem by adding a more "shrubby" structure to the understory of the forest which is utilized as nesting sites for many types of birds.
The woody biomass generated from these forestry activities is an important yield for the community. There is an ongoing negotiation about where the biomass ends up, balancing the needs of our intensive growing systems, deep litter beds for animals, the biomass2methanol project, firewood heated spaces, sawmill timbers, and the long term health and development of the landscape towards greater productive, resilience, and ability to meet more of the communities core needs.
Understanding the land, loving the land
It is hard to overstress the importance of simply spending time with landscapes in order to be able to properly steward them. As we are fond of saying here, "we can only steward what we love, and we can only love what we understand and invest our lives in".
Engaging in thinning is a great opportunity to build a relationship with the land. We typically work on about 5 acres of thinning and limbing of the forest every year. Over the course of the year I spend a lot of time walking and working in those 5 acres.
The intensity of that presence on a small bit of the land results in ample time to observe, interact and commit to memory many of the special qualities inherent to that bit of the forest.
A slash laid out on the contours.
One new development in this process over the last few years has been the utilization of unprocessed slash (AKA course wood) in order to condition the soil within the forest in advance of the planting new trees and hedgerows.
We are working to create a pattern of land development based around parallel "countour" plantings of hedgerows that provide laneways for intensive rotational animal grazing, as well as firewood/stick-fuel, pollinator support, medicine, food and supplemental animal forage.
The basic idea is to laying down biomass a few years before we intend to plant trees. Doing this results in several important functions.
Most importantly, the wood is a food source for soil fungi. The fungi loosen the soil and charge it with carbon simply by living and moving through it. The underlying clay soil is "fractured", and the carbon from the wood is metabolized and deposited deeper into the ground where it can be stored for the long term in the form of soil organic matter.
This process Is generally referred to as "bioturbation" and is a VERY passive way to loosen up hard soils over the course of a few years, in advance of planting.
Additionally, the logs and sticks capture leaf material that otherwise would continue to fall downhill. This "leaf trap" dynamic ensures that the surplus leaf material is consolidated precisely where we want it too. A simple and effective use of some "edge effects".
Scouler's Willow, Autumn Olive, and Caragana Arborescens. Three species (of over a dozen that were planted on the hedgerows this spring.
We had a great time this spring with a group of about a dozen folks who came out a learned/worked on the contour hedge row systems, as well as on our hugelkulture landscape on the main hillside.
We have laid out slash piles over about 10 acres of the property, and plan to continue to utilize this synergistic slash management / forest stewardship practice throughout another 60 acres of the property in order to facilitate the establishment of a more functional and efficient pattern or parallel grazing lane ways flanked by multi-functional hedgerows.
Tree tubes as seen across the main hillside.
Tree tubes as seen across the main hillside.
We are working to integrate more diversity into the overstory of our 120 acre forest, including honey & black locusts, full-sized apple trees, chestnuts, and walnuts.
The ultimate goal is to develop low cost ways to establish productive overstory trees without the need for supplemental irrigation within the establish dryland forests of the Eastern Cascades region.
We're marking growth rates with a sharpy on the tubes.
In pursuit of this goal we are experimenting with an added layer of deer protection and microclimate creation to our tree establishment practices this spring with Treepro tree protection tubes.
Some fast growing trees, like the Black Locust in this picture, have already overgrown the tubes.
They're made from recycles milk bottles, and provide a physical barrier to deer browse while creating a greenhouse-like environment around the young trees..
We purchased the full length, 6ft, tubes to provide maximum protection
They seem to be working well - serving several important functions simultaneously. Obviously, they protect the young trees from the deer by physically sheltering them.
The tree tubes also appear to be providing a relatively warm and humid microclimate around the tree, allowing them to grow faster and make more efficient use of the water they take up from their roots because the dry winds cannot immediately blow the moisture away from the leaves. This dynamic increases the moisture retention within the leaves cells each time the stomata open.
The tubes also encourage the trees to grow upward first, enabling a faster establishment of canopy trees.
We will see how the tubes work over time, but at this point I am pretty convinced that they are worth the investment.
We've been building and installing bird houses for cavity nesting birds for several years now. This past spring we built about 2 dozen more boxes and placed them throughout the main hillside, Herland Forest natural cemetery, and the campground.
Not only are birds nice to look at and listen too, they also are an important part of our integrated pest management.
Most birds eat insects, and many insects eat our trees, garden plants, and our blood. The more birds one has around, the more insects the birds eat, keeping the insect populations in balance.
The basic strategy here is that "the enemy of your enemy is your friend". By providing preferable year-round habitat for as many birds as possible, the ecosystem will have the insect predator population (i.e. birds) to keep in balance "outbreak" of insects. This predator-prey population dynamic is a homeostatic feedback loop. Ecological stability is largely a result of the self-adjusting relationships between organisms, and the organisms that eat them.
For instance, violet-green swallow eat flying insects. We are partnering with them as an ecological control mechanism for flies and mosquitos in areas where we inhabit the most.
Wikimedia image showing the snag succession.
The birdhouses are one part of the equation. The other part is providing more habitat relatively-benign insects for the birds to eat throughout the season in order to keep the populations relatively high. We do this primarily through increasing the plant-productivity in our garden spaces, and leaving 1-2 large snags per acre on the property.
birdhouses on the main hillside, two made this year and one naturally made from rotted out oak limb.
Junco's, Chickadees, Finches, Grossbeaks, Robins, Sapsuckers, Woodpeckers, and more, all eat insects to varying degrees, and are a welcome partners in our agro-ecological endeavours.
They also are converting those insects into hi-value fertilizer which they contentedly spread across our growing systems. :)