25th March 2019.
Almost ten years to the day after planting them, I coppiced my first alders down by the river. It was hard to do. Moderately hard physically, but challenging mentally too. Not so much the act of cutting the trees down; I have faith that the trees will grow back bigger and faster than before (see below). More challenging was which trees to cut so as not to lose all the shelter, and whether to cut back fully, leave a longer stump, or just take out one trunk or more of a multi stemmed tree. The bowsaw is a bit blunt, despite having a new blade not so long ago, so I actually used my folding pruning saw for much of the cutting. I must look and see what small electric saws are available. I think a rechargeable could save quite a bit of elbow grease and be kinder to the trees as well as me!
I have to cut what I am going to this week. Leaves are starting to open and buds to swell. The trees will find it harder to recover if they put too much life back into what I am cutting back. Also the wood would take longer to dry out ready for burning.
The alder wood is supposed to be useful in areas that are permanently damp – like the tree itself funnily enough. They used to use the wood for clog soles and protective boot soles in foundries even after the second world war. I don’t think my trees are quite big enough for that, although it would be amusing to make one’s own shoes. It’s not excellent for firewood, supposedly it tends to smoulder, but this is less of a problem in a stove. It has the big advantage to us of being a fast growing, nitrogen fixing tree that likes damp soil. I wish I had planted much more of it. When first cut the wood surface is pale in colour, but it quickly goes an orange colour that then fades to brown over a few months.
As well as larger trunks (some of which should be good for an ‘overnight burner’ or two) there is a vast amount of smaller branches. These will still feed a growing fire and even the tiniest make good kindling. What I have tended to do with the prunings I have gathered to date is leave it in piles down the field, roughly where it was cut. Over six months to a year the twigs dry out, the grass dies back a bit underneath, and grows lush nearby where it is sheltered. Every so often when taking the dog-boys down the hill for a run, I bring back an armful of kindling and put it in the woodshed to dry. The more twiggy bits tend to break off and get left in the grass, but that adds to the soil biomass.
Taking the wood up an armful at a time isn’t going to be practical for the larger stuff. We are intending to put up little shelters and pile up the branches cut to size near to where the trees were felled. Hopefully we have enough pallets and fenceposts together with the old roof sheets off the byre to create shelters to keep the worst of the weather off.
S. has stripped out an old Land Rover Discovery vehicle and equipped it at the back with a framework to act as a saw bench. This is also to be used to bring the dry cut wood up to the wood shed after it has dried for a year or so. Although whether it will be worth keeping the vehicle mobile for many more years, remains to be seen. The engine is sweet, but the electrics and chassis are rotten!
Anyway, I definitely felt the first warmth of the firewood today.