Moving the woods – trees

I mentioned we are moving woods from the back of our property to the North-east side in the previous post, To say “moving the woods” is somewhat deceptive, as trees are not easily moved.  What you end up doing is you you re-move the woods, by cutting trees, and then plant new ones elsewhere.   Our woods consisted of many Norway maples, which are not particularly beautiful, or edible – they are a non-nitrogen fixing, colonizing tree (great for taking back deserted human waste-land).    We also have two Elms, a treasured suburban tree that was decimated by Dutch Elm disease, and a Catalpa, which fixes nitrogen and produces pods, which we decided to leave as canopy trees over the planned hillside with hazels.

I spoke with a couple of companies about re-moving our woods — both companies that love trees, and doing things right.  Talking with people who really know trees is immensely enjoyable – they can see so much about the trees’ health, future, past, relationships.   I find it amazing that people can have learned so much about trees – beings that are so different from us (even while being such a part of our world).  I engaged Land of Plenty.   The day after the fiddlehead transplant, they came for two days to take down eleven Norway maples, a few other small trees we wanted to replace.   There was a team of three: Ben, Luke, Brad.  Below is a photo of one of Luke up in one of the trees.

By removing the Norway maples, we will create space for hazelnuts and honey-locusts (which fix nitrogen, provide lots of nectar for pollinators, grow pods for livestock, and can be coppiced for young wood).  We will also get more sun in the southern half of the site.  A third use of the cut Maples is to store their carbon.  All of the wood from the Maples will go underground to form the core of hugelkulturs, swales and terraces (the latter two on the hill).  There, the wood will decompose into humus, and the carbon in the humus will remain underground for a long time.  Yeah, goodbye carbon!

Luke from Land of Plenty cutting one of the larger Norway Maples


Moving the woods – understory

At the back of our yard, we have the “woods”.   When Charlotte and Josephine (our girls) were small, these were a mysterious place, in which grew the “Witch Tree” with a twisted, hollow trunk, and where one might find treasures, such as an ancient china figurine of a man.   I loved the woods, too, because we kind of let Nature do her thing there, with minimal interference, such as keeping choking vines at bay, and planting edible or medicinal native plants such as the Ostrich fern for fiddleheads, ramps, Black Cohosh, and sweet woodruff.

But with this project, the woods need to be moved.   The tall trees at the south end of the yard expand their shade over too much of our small bit of land; it is better to have the tall trees in places where they do not add to our shading.  That is why I planned a new woods, with paw-paw trees, on the north-east side of our garden, where it is already shady.  It takes quite a lot of work to move a woods (duh!).

On one day, I moved the precious fiddlehead ferns – these had multiplied from five I bought about 10 years ago, to 87 plants (I counted, really).   It was the only day I could do it before tree guys were coming with big boots and machines that would tread on and ruin the ferns.  I dug out wheelbarrows full.  Then I wondered: there is (scrawny) grass growing there, will the fiddleheads be strong enough to out-compete the grass?  Should I spend a day getting cardboard, which I’d put down to block the grass, first?   But then the roots of the ferns will dry out…  Oh dear, so much planning, and then poof!  you find yourself at an unexpected junction.  I decided there was nothing to do but put them in the ground and promise to put leaves (which also block grass) around them.  I laid them in the area planned for them along the curved garden path and dug them in.  I felt extremely satisfied at the end of the day – it was like an instant-garden.

The other plants, are still asleep underground, so these will come sometime in April after they pop their heads out.  They will join the fiddleheads, in a blanket of grass-blocking old leaves, along with a few new valuable herbs for the new woods – five giant solomon seal plants; seven American ginseng plants, mitsuba for salads; and a to-be-decided-on shade-loving nitrogen fixer (bird’s foot trefoil, bush-clover/lespedeza?…).

Ferns in the process of being placed in their new home along the planned path (marked by old tomato stakes).





Some Real Work

On Saturday, we started our first Real Work in the food forest to be: taking down lots of saplings and brush.   We don’t like to take down trees and bushes, but we also want to create the space for our intentional plants, ones that are really good at producing food for us or for wildlife, or super providers for the soil in our little micro-ecosystem.    It was exciting to get outside and use some muscle power to move a lot of Stuff around.

Mark went out with a chainsaw in the morning, in full protection gear with a face mask, mufflers, thick gloves and knee pads (chainsaws are super dangerous).  The chainsaw is noisy.  WHRRRRRR!!  WHRRRRR!! Crack, Swoosh, the sounds of the saw and wood falling.  It is also super-smelly, because it runs on gas and pumps out bad climate-harming stuff.   But it cuts through a lot of wood very quickly.    Meanwhile, I took my hand-tools – my new, sharp clippers, loppers, and tree-saw – pruned two apple trees and took out some of the black rot from the sour cherry tree.  Clip, clip, swsh, swsh.    Much slower pace – especially because I am such a novice when pruning trees! – but quiet.

Mark taking down some bushes

The next couple of afternoons, I was putting all of that wood into organized piles.  These piles will be the basis for our hugelkultur beds – raised mounds with a core of wood covered with soil and compost that are great for growing in.  Mark’s work had left lots of branches and trunks of all different sizes all over the place, some of them full of long, tangled vines of bittersweet that held everything together.  When you grabbed an armful of stuff a whole mess of more stuff would want to come along.  Still, it all got moved into intentional piles – some with small brush, others with sapling trunks, gnarly trunks, or straight branches – just going at it one armful at a time, taking the clippers or the loppers where needed to cut things into carry-able sizes.    Organized piles are really satisfying and have this great aesthetic balance between pattern and random shapes in the selected wood pieces of each pile.  Below is a little mound-collage taken at the end of the day with the setting sun (I am in three of the photos, but somewhat hidden – game for silly kids: can you find Babette?)