May 20 2010

The Forest and Us

Published by at 6:56 pm under Expeditions and Experiences

Since I have lived most of my life on a very remote mountain farm I know a thing or two about forest management. This is not very important to primitive lifeway as such, but is offered as an insight into ecology and it carries relevance to forest gardening. The way I see it, there is but a small step from realising that you have an impact on nature to consciously directing that influence.

For the last couple of centuries up until about 70 years ago, this valley was largely deforested and heavily overgrazed by cattle, goats and sheep. Since agriculture became less profitable in marginal regions about 95% of the valley is yet again forested. However much of the orginal fertility and diversity has probably been depleted. Some of that original diversity can be found in the least accessible parts of the mountain slopes. Here elm and hazel usually dominates.

Only since I was a child I have observed the forest gardening area closing up and a new set of plants emerging in the enriching soil. The birch, aspen and alder is slowly being replaced by maple, rowan, bird cherry, hazel, ash and spruce. Despite the name Norway spruce, it is a recent invader, filling the gap left by the abandoned fields. It would probably newer have reached the kind of dominating position it has today if it wasn’t for the deforestation.

If your goal is high firewood or large craftswood production don’t clearcut, but cut the majority of the birch or whatever decidous tree you’re harvesting. Keep enough trees to keep a fairly closed canopy. We usually save the biggest and most desirable ones plus a few stong saplings for every stump. This will prevent a million of saplings sprouting. These millions will grow very slowly and weed themselves thinner at a rate which isn’t interesting to most landowners. Despite the disadvantages I see several neighbours mowing down all of their sapling thickets every 5 years or so. What do they get out of it? A few wrist thick firewood pieces and dry, infertile soil.

An intermediate solution is to keep a few trees and let sheep graze freely in there.

For my forest garden I am going for a different regime. Firewood and materials are here byproducts and food the primary goal. I can not afford to buy plants so I have moved semi-domesticated plums, cherries, viburnum and currants to supplement the hazels and wild strawberries already there. I have also moved a few alders for nitrogen fixation. I am lacking greatly in the herbal layer, I need a few very low maintainance and vigorously spreading ones. That is the “theme” for this garden: Very low maintainance, moderate production and high ecological value.

In order to further build the soil, especially on dry slopes, most of the felled trees are left to rot on the ground. The rest is taken for firewood.

We usually leave the trees until fall with their foilage on so they will evaporate most of their moisture through the leaves. Some of these were left from last year. Any good birch bark is skinned while fresh.

In not so long the plan is to (re-)introduce oak, chestnut, walnut and linden as well as helping to spread the elm which produces excellent food (I’ll tell you about it later). And after then maintain the forest garden with fires every few years. Any trees that are not utilized, but needs removing are ringmarked to die standing, providing more habitation nieches.


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One response so far

One Response to “The Forest and Us”

  1. notwithmeyouwonton 27 May 2010 at 1:38 am

    Hi Torjus,

    very interesting to read all thes ethings
    I have been offline for some weeks due to having to move and so on
    but am pickin up on your stories again
    am enjoying it and find it enriching

    any news on your earthlodge?

    keep it up man!

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