Sustainable firewood harvesting – Cut it green!

It is that time of year on the Rock Farm, when harvesting firewood becomes a high priority.  With our first frost on the ground, the dog has taken up residence in front of the slow combustion stove, and will only venture outside for calls of nature.  It is a beautiful time of year, but only if you can be snug and warm inside.

Our slow combustion stove is fired by firewood I try to harvest from the Rock Farm.  Our farm isn’t heavily wooded, but I want to ensure that I am able to sustainably harvest firewood into the future in a way.  And I do something a little different – where possible I try to harvest green wood!

There are many advantages to cutting green wood:

  • Green timber is far easier and quicker to cut that seasoned hard wood
  • Chainsaw maintenance and sharpening is reduced
  • Green branches are less likely to be hollowed and therefore homes for native animals
  • The green leafy parts can be used for paddock mulch
  • Larger logs can be left in the paddock to encourage insect activity
  • The smaller branches mean less splitting of logs later.

The main disadvantage of course is that you need to leave the timber for a year or two to season, and this means you need to plan ahead.

One paddock on the Rock Farm has many brittle gums (eucalyptus mannifera) and I have selected these as the primary target for my sustainable firewood harvesting.  This allows the Red Stringybark (eucalyptus macrorhyncha) and the red box (eucalyptus polyanthemos) to continue to regenerate.

I select a tree with many branches originating from the stump.  After checking for birds nests, I select one or two of these for harvesting.  Being quite small, they are easy to handle and safer to cut than old standing timber.

This young tree will recover quickly from such a small trim.  I have left a log to encourage insect activity into the future

One of the key components of soil fertility is insect activity.  Around any old log you will find richer soil and a multitude of insects and worms of all types.  Unfortunately when most paddocks are cleared, all the logs are also removed.   Down the road at Mulligans Flat, scientes and rangers have added hundred of tonnes of ‘coarse woody debris’ or logs to the reserve to boost the biodiversity of the area. It is a fascinating topic worthy of much discussion, but you can read about the science behind it here: http://www.mfgowoodlandexperiment.org.au/aboutMFGO.html

The small branches are leaves are used to cover bare earth and boost young trees – native mulch

I also use the small branches to cover bare soil or areas in need of some protection.  This is a technique we have been using on all our bare patches of soil with great success.  Garden clippings, basically any organic matter is placed over bare soil, encouraging plant growth.

This wood has seasoned for just over 12 months. In the background you can see the large log that will be left for the beetles and insects

The smaller pieces dry out quickly meaning they are able to be burnt after 12 months, however I find a minimum of two years is ideal.

12 months on – the leaves are breaking down slowly… and the young trees are growing strongly

And does it work?  Yes it does, but it does require a fair commitment to build a big enough reserve of timber far enough in advance to see you through winter.  We don’t always cut green timber – I did fell a large red-box stag this autumn.  Its stump is surrounded by young red box trees which are far to small to harvest in this manner, but it is an encouraging sign for the future.

Of course the one who gets most benefit of the slow combustion fireplace doesn’t care where the wood comes from… as long as it works!

Apparently it is cold outside

Apparently it is cold outside

 

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How to sharpen a chainsaw

It is that time of the year again when the organised people have all their firewood neatly stacked in preparation for the winter season.  For the rest of us, the chill in the air means it is time to give the chainsaw a pre-season service and get ready to harvest firewood for the winter.  One of the most important parts of a service is to sharpen the chain,

Chainsaws work best when they are sharp.  Dull chains are slow to cut, and become dangerous.  An easy way to tell how sharp your chain is, is to check the size of your shavings – good size chips mean your saw is sharp.  Fine powdery dust means you need to sharpen your chain.  It might also mean you are cutting seasoned Australian hardwood, which can be almost impossible to cut with a chainsaw.

Cutting seasoned hardwood can be extremely hard on chains

Cutting seasoned hardwood can be extremely hard on chains – I used two sharp chains to cut through this trunk.

Many people find it easier to have more than one chain on the go.  I generally buy a new chain each year, and over the past few years have gathered half a dozen chains.

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