By mid-December, with the ground solidly frozen and lightly snow covered, work on the farm transitioned from the fields to the woods. While hunting this fall, I noticed a good stand of white cedar just the right size for garden poles and posts. The stand was located in a two acre woodlot on the west corner of our land. This area had been in mature pine and spruce that was harvested the winter before I purchased the farm, leaving the land stripped of trees. My neighbor, who did the cutting with his brother, suggested that it was a perfect opportunity to clear the stumps and return this area to the fields of former times. But, lacking the resources, I did nothing and harvested only a few Christmas trees from the area over the past forty years.
As is typical in Maine, the woods regenerated in a natural cycle that will often switch between softwoods and hardwoods. Initially, there was a jungle of “pioneer” species, notably poplar and gray birch with some cherry and soft maple. On the wetter slope towards the swamp were the firs that became Christmas trees and the wisps of cedar fronds that would shoot up in clumps that assured future growth of straight stems.
Over the past ten years or so, the poplars have been dying out, replaced by a beautiful stand of red oak, representing the mature phase of the forest regeneration process. I began cutting the cedar among many nice “pole size” oaks that will eventually close their canopy and dominate the stand. To aid in that process, I used the saw to “girdle” two large “bull pines” (also called “pasture pines” because they will colonize abandoned pastures, throwing limbs in all directions to grow short and bushy, never having the potential to make a good saw log). By making two cuts into the bark about an inch deep around the circumference of the tree, the growing crown is cut off from its life giving roots.
Over a two year time frame, the tree will lose its needles, then its bark and become a dry skeleton, perfect for stove kindling wood. This allows the neighboring oaks to grow into the space occupied by the pines. We have carried out similar “release” cuts on the upper portions of the land, where we are cultivating a sugar bush for a future maple syrup operation.
It is very satisfying to be able to harvest a product from a woodlot while at the same time improving the growth and utility of the remaining trees. Unlike the immediate payback of vegetable growing, forestry is a lifetime pursuit with a generous payoff for future generations.