Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Grand Garden

A couple of years back, I walked around my land with a forester to learn more about the state of the forest. He encouraged me to view the forest like a large garden, with mature plants, weeds, and young plants all struggling for the resources of nutrients, light and water. A couple of recent experiences really drove this point home.

On the hill above my house is a spring. When we dug the pond, we also developed the spring by having a large cement cistern dug into it with pipes that ran to the pond and to a hose spigot. The spigot provides water that I use for my garden powered by gravity, what could be better! The only problem was that the water stopped flowing every year in the late summer. Last year, at the suggestion of a friend, I cut down about 5 trees that lived right on the edge of the spring, and sure enough, the spigot continued to flow for the entire year. It really showed how much water those trees consumed.

The other day, I went to the woods to scavenge some turning material off of a hard maple that I cut down last fall. I love the winter for its preservation of downed trees! When I got back to the shop, I counted the rings to figure out the age of the tree, guessing that it would be about 35 years old. To my surprise, it was more like 58 years. In the photo above, you can see the reason for my missed estimate.

In the first years of its life, the tree grew about 3/8ths of an inch in diameter each year, but that was when the woods were young and resources aplenty. As the forest grew, and competition stiffened, the growth rate slowed and the last 15 years or so show little more that 1/64th of an inch gain per year. This may seem obvious, but it still astounds me and has strong repercussions for how I view my woods. This was a tree that lived too near to one of my mature hard maples to thrive. It was merely diluting the resources. Of course that leaves the choice of culling the smaller trees for the sake of the larger, or removing the larger to make room for the younger. This is one of the basic notions of forest management that the forester was trying to impart to me.

The cherry tree that I took down last fall, due to a disease and pending chair orders, was one of the larger trees and more importantly lived on the edge of the woods, where light and nutrients are far more available. That tree was growing at a rate of more than 1/2 inch per year!
I still have lots to learn, but luckily the trees are patient teachers.

On a technical note, you may notice that I've started cataloging the archive of posts by labels available in the side bar. It may take me a while to get them all cross referenced etc... but I hope it helps you get to the information you desire.


David said...

Good day Peter, I realy like your blog, i also like your philosophy. The hardwood forest... That's what i miss the most from from where i'm from(Quebec). Now I leave in the Yukon, where, well the biggest trees are probably 20"across and 90 years old!! Conssisting in spruce and pine, poplar and willows...So I get my wood shipped from down south!!! You make realy nice chaires, Ilike the "windsore" chaires, I made one in a handtools workshop, with David Fleming and it was a lot of fun and good lerning.
Anyway, keep up the good work in the shop and on the blog

Peter Galbert said...

Thanks David, I appreciate the encouragement and feel humbled for whining about my winter blues!

PLF and LFP said...

thanks for the reference chart - its worth your effort. There is a forest behind my dad's house that is managed by Michigan State University. There are plant species in the reserve that haven't been found anywhere else in Michigan. I've watched with interest as they have started on a project to return the land to a more natural state - at least what can be known about that, from records made before the logging days...

Peter Galbert said...

Sometimes I dream about spending all my time working in my woods. It consists of a series of old fields separated by rock walls that were abandoned at different times, so different areas are at varying levels of growth. It's fascinating to watch the species battle it out. As it is, I'm happy to get to spend as much time out there as I do. I recall a time when I lived in the city, my wife and I took a trip to the countryside and dreamed of the day that we would own a tree!