Farm Beginnings: Farming Trees for the Wood Stove

Splitting wood as people have done for hundreds of years.

Splitting wood as people have done for hundreds of years.

Farm Beginnings is the chronicle of a city girl starting to farm. Last installment Corinna spoke of inoculating logs with fungus plugs. Today she speaks of farming trees and splitting firewood.

When I think of farming, I think of neat rows of greens interspersed with chickens and a cow in a field or endless rows of corn – but as you know, one can “farm” many things: honey, Christmas trees, apricots, maple syrup, hickory nuts, mushrooms, etc. As I become more and more excited about perennial cultivation instead of annual plantings (my bedside table is currently groaning under the two-volume tome Edible Forest Gardens), I am beginning to shift my timeline for what farming can encompass – like the farming of trees.

Tree farming is a long term endeavor. I think immediately of the story from one of the Oxford Colleges where they planted oak trees when the college was founded in the 1400s; 450 years later they had the wood they needed to replace the 2 feet wide and 45 feet long beams in the dining hall. That kind of forethought and planning is a long cry from the annual gratification of most vegetable farming.

A wood splitter is the easiest way to crack the big logs.

A wood splitter is by far the easiest way to crack the logs. (Just watch your thumbs!)

According to the rings I counted on the trees we harvested when the land was cleared, most were probably around 50 years old, and most were around the diameter of my hug. (They would not have worked for the Oxford College dining hall.) Fifteen years before I was born these trees started taking in the sunlight and turning it into carbon. This winter we will release that carbon back into the atmosphere when we heat our house. On a side note, I am sure you read that we are just about to cross over 400 ppm for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – but that is a whole different can of worms.

Or is it? Living in a northern climate means we need to keep ourselves warm somehow in the winter. After three layers of long underwear and a few thick wool sweaters, it is still nice to not have to wear gloves inside the house when cooking, or typing, or reading a book. So therefore what are our choices? We can heat our farm with propane (economical these days thanks to fracking). Or we can heat our buildings with electricity – generated from coal, natural gas, biomass, or the 13.2% garnered from renewable sources. We could add solar panels and insulate the heck out of the house (thank you Transition Challenge Month for listing those as energy challenge ideas), but the sun goes down every night and it is nice to be warm in bed. Ideally we would not be adding more carbon to the environment at all, but that is not the current reality most of us live in.

Hopefully this will last us at least two winters.

Hopefully this will last us at least two winters.

Using wood to heat our house will be one way we can reduce our carbon emissions to help the Keeling Curve return to the 350 ppm so touted and celebrated by

Because at the end of the day an issue that seems like a Gordian Knot the size of a fire-breathing Leviathan is really very simple. I don’t think anyone but Mother Nature knows how to plant more propane or coal, but I know I can plant more trees.

And I will plant,

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