Timbering Doos-n-Donts

Timbering on the Homestead

Since we moved in to our new place we’ve known taking down trees to for sunlight in the garden area would be necessary. Based on accessibility and Permaculture zone systems we also knew that we wanted the gardens close to the house. The large Oaks at the ‘front’ of the house were out of the question, one in particular serves as our swingset and the kids favorite retreat. That left us with the back of the house, the south facing side closer to the pond. While the shade nearly 20 trees offered in that area was enchanting and kept it comfortably cool, they weren’t conducive to growing food, and while Drew cut down several, some of them were over 100′ tall and a little out of Drew’s expertise.

Having a professional arborist come to cut the trees down we found could be pretty expensive. Our lack of funds inspired us to search out an alternative. After looking around (on craigslist) we found some local companies who would select cut, take timbers to the mill, and split the profits 60/40. So, we chose one of those advertisers somewhat blindly and had him select cut several of the large Poplars and Oaks on the back part of the property; he also agreed to remove the growth around the house where we are building our garden.

garden area before.
garden area after. 
there’s still a huge pile of logs that weren’t worth taking to the mill–according to the guy we used. we’re working on it, Drew is trying to cut it all into more manageable lengths, doing  some splitting lengthwise for a split rail fence, garden borders, rustic benches, etc.
Though it’s sad to cut big trees in one way, in another it’s the best thing we can do for the forest health. By thinning out some of the older trees we give younger ones a chance to grow, also now we have several clearings in which to plant crop producing trees like Chestnuts, Hazelnuts, Walnuts, and even berries. Now we have an opportunity to utilize this wooded area in a way we didn’t originally realize; the forest floor is FULL of highly fertilized soil, perfect for growing and having cut some large trees down, there’s enough sunlight to really get some things started–a ‘food forest’.
Like most of our experiences here there are things we are happy with, and things we could have improved–hindsight ‘doos-n-donts’.
First, we found a guy that seemed decent and interested in timbering a small parcel like ours without tearing it all apart from driving equipment. The company we used had a bobcat with tracks which made it possible to maneuver around very efficiently while keeping ruts to a minimum. It was still a muddy mess. Perhaps taking these trees down before the temperatures warmed and the ground softened would have been better. But, we did ask that they smooth the path they made on their way out which they did willingly. 
We were told that this was a small company, essentially just one guy, and it would take him awhile to get it done. In our minds awhile=two weeks. It ended up taking him about a month and a half. A lot of that had to do with weather, but trying to get a more definitive time frame would have been smart. Hearing chainsaws and bobcats and seeing them parked in your yard for over a month gets old. 
A contract would be a good idea. There was a week where we didn’t see, nor could we get in touch with our guy and it was a little nerve wracking. He had taken the majority of the logs out and we only had an email address and phone number to get in touch, he turned up, but it would have been nice to have a stronger sense of security.

Also, getting a rough price of what lumber is going for would be wise. Foresters are available, they are paid consultants to help estimate what your should get and in negotiating the best price possible. In retrospect we should have done this; the amount we got for all the mess and work was surprisingly low–but then we didn’t have to pay like we originally thought we would so in the end we’re happy.


Lastly, we were not really prepared for the mess. There are piles and piles of tree tops and undesirable pieces all around the property, we were a little blown away by this mess. While there are a few options for getting this cleaned up, most of them cost a significant amount.

One way is to get it in the contract that the timber company will clean it up; obviously this will drastically reduce how much return you get from the timber sale. But, there is a two fold benefit from this approach; one, it will encourage them to load and take more to the mill which means more money on the front end, and two they’ll mulch and leave that for you to use as you wish.

Hiring a forest mulcher to come in and mulch everything is another clean-up option. These mulchers can do everything up to eight inches which will take care of the majority, and they can clean up about 1 full acre a day. But, be aware, they charge about $1000.00 per day.

So, us cheapskate homesteader types are going with the do-it-yourself option: we will *slowly* cut it all for firewood or wood crafts. One of our neighbors has a wood splitter, so he’s offered to trade for some of the wood for himself.

Knowing your property boundaries is also important. You don’t want to make enemies of your neighbors, who we’re learning can be one of your greatest resources in these endeavors, so we walked the lines all around with the adjoining property owners. One maple, we found out, had been planted nearly 80 years ago by one neighbor and his father and we made it to our timber guy not to touch it. It’s magnificent and with a history–even better.

our new ‘road’.
Having a plan where you want the skid road to be. The timber company create a “road” dragging out all the trees which for us was a great opportunity to make the back of our wooded property accessible. If you guide them they should stick to it and when all the timber is out, the road will provide a nearly driveable path. We even had them create a few swales for our permaculture food forests on the way out which is hard to do without heavy equipment like the bobcat.
Having the land timbered served us very well; it gave a us the road to the back, opened up the canopy,  removed some unwanted trees, created a huge pile of firewood, and provided us a little cash to reinvest in planting our new trees. There’s still a mess to clean up, but all in all we were fortunate to have found this route in managing our property. The chestnuts we’ve planted in the clearings are already thriving. 

Perhaps one day soon we’ll post on something less farm related, but as we’re learning this homesteading life is nearly somewhat all-consuming. We hop around from one project to the next! What projects are you working on? 

2 Comments

  • Megan Hutchison Posted May 10, 2013 8:58 pm

    Hiring a consultant is the way to go, they should be certified and be able to negotiate things like cleanup afterwards. Unless you've been doing this for years, you're going to get more $ by working with a consultant.

    • school house oils Posted May 19, 2013 2:32 am

      awesome! thanks for sharing–keep your tips coming!

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