When we first inquired about our new property, the realtor told us that it had recently been logged, and a good number of trees had been taken down. That fact didn't really matter to us for two reasons: first, we would have probably cut down most of them anyway to open up some of the land for pasture/browsing land for our animals; and secondly, it lowered the price of the land to what we could afford.
However, when we first arrived on our land and walked around, one thing became quite clear - the lumber company only took the large diameter wood that was useful for turning into lumber and left all of the branches smaller than about 12" in diameter strewn about the land. This left us with a formidable task, mainly clearing all of this brush off of 12 acres of land. But how best to do it?
The Original Plan
We went back to our house in the city and started to plan what to do with all of the brush. After much thought about what we hope to do with our house in the country, we came up with a plan to triage the wood as follows:
1) wood that is fit for use as firewood
2) wood that is too thin for splitting into firewood, but good for growing shiitake and oyster mushrooms
3) wood that is either too small or too rotten to use as either firewood or growing mushrooms
Then, I would make piles of the wood from the 3rd group and burn it. Because what else could you do with that wood?
Well, when we went back to the land a second time, I went back armed with a chainsaw and a wheelbarrow. We planned on being there for one week, and our hope was to sort all of the wood into the three aforementioned groups. No problem!
Oh, naive city dweller. You don't really know how much wood can fit on 12 acres do you?
I learned that the simple answer to that is.. a LOT. Far more than you could ever hope to cut, sort, and move in a week. After several very long (and very rewarding) days, I had a nice pile of firewood and mushroom wood in the garage, and about 6 different over-the-head-high burn piles around the property. However, I barely made a dent. After actually doing the week's worth of work, I estimated that it would take me at least a month or two of work working from morning till evening to get it all done.
Somewhat disheartened, I had to return to the drawing board.
The New (and Better) Plan
After returning to city house, I began to wonder if there were any other possibilities. But, in reality, it wasn't the time requirement that upset me, it was the massive amount of waste. At the time, burning the wood in the third group seemed to be the only option besides leaving it where it was and letting it continue to rot and take up space. I knew there had to be a better thing to do with it all. It was a resource that was provided for us, so what could we actually do with it that would use it well?
It was also at this time that I began looking into something called permaculture. One of the tenants of permaculture is closing the "loops" in the system. Many of our city ways are one-way flows: we buy stuff from the store, use what we can, and then throw away the waste which ends up in some landfill. Living this way requires constant input because you have a massive outflow from the system. In permaculture, you try to close these loops by reusing the "waste" of one thing as an "input" into some other system (which really begins to redefine what the word "waste" means).
I started to look at that third group of partially rotten wood and the huge piles of it that I had. It is not good for firewood because rotten wood doesn't burn all that well. It is also not good for cultivated mushroom wood because there is some other fungus that has already infested it. However, rotten wood still does have a lot of nutrients in it - nutrients that were taken from the very land that we now own. I couldn't in good conscience burn any more of it and watch all of that go up in smoke.
Enter hugelkultur. It turns out, that in hugelkultur, you need copious quantities of partially rotten wood. Any size wood will do - from branches to logs. Basically, you dig a long trench, put in the wood, and then put the previously dug up soil on top of the wood. Presto! You know have some of the best and most drought-tolerant raised beds you can find anywhere. And they last for many years. (I will do a post on hugelkultur later.)
So now, I am very thankful that I was unable to burn as much wood as I had hoped in my original plan. And these piles of "waste" products are going to serve as a very long-term and slow-releasing fertilizer that is much needed on our land. That is a better use of the resources entrusted to us!
We are a husband and wife who are trying to live simply. We are learning much as we transition from life in the city to life in the country. Come along with us, and maybe you can also learn a thing or two as well.
We love writing for these fine folks as well!
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Simple Life Homestead