A while ago we were given a little 250ml jar of yacon syrup. The price on the lid was $19.50, but as its best before date was passed we were given it for free with our bulk food shopping. It was thick and gooey, with a strong molassery taste. I wasnt that impressed but tried it in a few recipes.
Later on we were given a yacon plant, which sat in its pot for a year waiting to be planted. Finally last spring we had a place for to go in the ground. It grew to about 1.5 metres tall, with lovely big leaves and little yellow flowers. Generally you harvest them after the first frost, but as our frosts this year ( have only had a couple so far) have been pretty mild ours is still growing and flowering in June. But a friend down the road has some and hers have died down, so we were given a bucketful to try. I’m not really a fan of them fresh, though the crispy juicy texture is quite nice. But we like to experiment and even though we eat low carb a little bit of sweetness is nice occasionally. Even better is knowing how to make your own homegrown (or neighbour grown) and home made natural sweeteners.
Making Yacon Syrup.
We washed the yacon tubers, peeled them and cut them into long pieces which would fit into the hand mincer.
The tubers are very crisp and juicy so mincing was an easy task, but you could use a food processor instead.
Once minced the pulp was tipped into a colander lined with cheese cloth, over a pot. We allowed the juice to drain, then gathered up the cloth and squeezed the pulp to get all the juice out, twisting the cloth into a tight ball.
The juice was brought to the boil and then simmered on the woodstove for most of the day. Any scum that formed on the surface was removed.
Once it had reduced to a fragrant syrup we removed it from the heat and poured the syrup through a fine sieve into a sterilised hot glass jar.
There was a small amount of ‘debris’ left in the sieve, if you were doing a larger amount this could probably be saved for baking etc.
From 2.66kg of fresh yacon, we ended up with 208g of syrup. I did notice some condensation it the jar as it cooled, so we probably should have reduced the syrup a bit more, which would have resulted in a lower yield. However we will store it in the fridge so the moisture content should not be an issue.
We were impressed with the flavour, kind of like a mild golden syrup. certainly not as thick and molassery as the commercial jar we were given, which is another reason why we think it may not have been reduced enough. But our syrup was much nicer tasting than the commercial product, we are not sure whether that was due to it being fresher, runnier or just because homemade often tastes better!
Would we make it again? Definitely. The process was easy and once its on the stove its just, check it occasionally, skim it if needed and wait for it to thicken.
Yacons produce the edible tubers and smaller reddish rhizomes, its the rhyzomes which you need to grow the plant or a whole ‘crown’ which is the rhizomes attached to the plant base. As Yacon are frost tender wait till all frost have passed before planting or plant in a frost free area. Otherwise they are a very easy care plant, resonably well drained soil and plenty of compost and mulch should ensure a good crop. But give them a bit of room as they can get to 2m tall, 1 metre spacings are often recommended. Harvest by digging up the whole plant after frosts and when the plant dies down for maximum sweetness. You can set aside the rhizomes or crowns, which can be kept in a paper bag in a dark place or potted up in the greenhouse ready for replanting once the frost have finished, though in warmer areas you can replant and cover mulch the crown over winter.
The edible tubers should be brushed off without damaging the skin, and air dried, before laying them in a cardboard box with newspaper between the layers and over the top. Store in a cool dark place for about 3 months, they can go wrinkly but are still edible.
Yacon can be roasted or boiled, used in stews and casseroles or in salads, juiced or used in smoothies. It has been said to treat it like a juicy, crunchy potato or a mild apple. The leaves are also apparently edible used like spinach or to wrap food and also as a tea. Yacon is considered to be good stock fodder, both the leaves and the tubers, and the plant is thought to encourage healthy bacteria both in the soil and in the human gut.
An interesting plant with many uses and easy to grow, this year I think we will devote a whole garden bed to it!
Managed coppice woodlands were once the source of a vast number of materials needed for everyday life. The wood produced from them was used for tools, kitchenware, furniture, fencing, building, charcoal and fuelwood. They were an integral part of rural life right up until the second world war. After this the woodland harvesting became more industrial with the need to rebuild so many damaged cities. Monoculture plantings of coniferous trees became common place and the old woodlots were either left to wild or were over taken by these single species forests.
But in the past 30 years or so there has been a resurgence in restoring these ancient woodlands and a renewed interest in woodland crafts, green woodworking (using fresh cut wood) and roundwood building. This has spread to other countries with many people embracing the concept of perpetual and sustainable timber woodlots. By coppicing or pollarding specific trees at staggered times, materials are gathered for many uses while the tree itself remains living and the soil and ecosystem only temporarily disrupted.
The planting of a woodlot is best done in winter with bare rooted trees, these trees are often more affordable and it allows for root development before dry weather sets in. Spacings should be approximately two metres square and can be done in rows or random placement, nitrogen fixers should be planted in the midst of this spacing to give maximum benefit. Some protection may be necessary from rabbit damage and mulch will help give the trees a head start against the grass and weeds.
Coppicing is the cutting of broadleaf woodland trees to low stumps, during their dormancy in winter. The cuts should be on angle to allow for water run off and preferably south facing. In spring the stump re-sprouts and these shoots are allowed to grow on till they reach the desired size. This can range from one year to twenty plus years, depending on the tree species and timber requirements. The tree is then cut back to a stump during the winter and the process starts again. Interestingly the regrowth times are usually considerably shorter here in New Zealand than in the UK, how this may affect the strength of the timber I do not know. Regrowth times for the trees below are for UK.
Pollarding is a higher cut, often around head height, this can be useful if there are browsing animals within the woodland, keeping the fresh growth out of reach. This process is best with deciduous trees, which are cut at low sap in the winter. This unfortunately means most of our native trees are not able to be successfully coppiced, Mahoe, Cabbage trees, Hoheria and possibly Pohutukawa being among the few that will.
Trees that reshoot after coppicing or other crown ‘damaging’ events like fire or wind have Epicormic buds. These buds lie are dormant under the bark, suppressed by the hormones of the actives shoots above. When damage occurs to those higher shoots or the light levels to the epicormic buds is increased, by removal of nearby plants, they can be activated into growing. While these shoots occur in many deciduous trees and shrubs they are not usually found in conifers and many other evergreens.
Maintaining the health of your woodlot.
By their very nature deciduous trees create a fertile self-perpetuating system. Their deep root systems draw up nutrients from the soil and sub soil, these nutrients are then returned to the ground by leaf and branch litter return. This process can be enhanced by including nitrogen fixing and mineral accumulating trees and shrubs in your woodlot. By utilising species such as the fast-growing tree lucerne (tagasaste – Chamaecytisus palmensis), as nurse species for your slower growing trees you are not only feeding them, but are providing protection and weed suppression, plus stock fodder, bee food and firewood while you wait for the other trees to establish. Once you begin the coppicing and pollarding of your trees the return of ‘slash’ as ramial mulch feeds back into the system to support the new growth. A herb layer can also be used to provide ground cover and nutrient cycling, suitable plants are comfrey, clovers, lotus, plantains etc
Coppicing is the cutting of broadleaf woodland trees to low stumps, during their dormancy in winter. In spring the stump resprouts and these shoots are allowed to grow on till they reach the desired size. This can range from one year to twenty plus years, depending on the tree species and timber requirements. (Interestingly the regrowth times are usually considerably shorter here in New Zealand than in the UK, how this may affect the strength of the timber I do not know. Regrowth times for the trees below are for UK) The tree is then cut back to a stump during the winter and the process starts again. Pollarding is a higher cut, often around head height, this can be useful if there are browsing animals within the woodland, keeping the fresh growth out of reach. This process is best with deciduous trees, which are cut at low sap in the winter. This unfortunately means most of our native trees are not able to be successfully coppiced, Mahoe, Cabbage trees and possibly Pohutukawa being among the few that will.
Planting a woodlot is best done in winter with bare rooted trees, spacings should be approximately two to three metres and can be done in rows or random placement, some protection may be necessary from rabbit damage etc. Many of the trees listed below are easily propagated by seed, cuttings or poles. It may take a little longer to establish, but it means a woodlot can be created at a very low cost.
Alder, Black or Common – Alnus glutinosa
Alnus glutinosa is a fast-growing deciduous tree reaching approx. 25 m high by 10 m wide. Able to fix nitrogen and preferring wet sites it is a very useful tree where ground moisture is high e.g. Ponds, swales and boggy areas. It is able to spread easily through waterways and should probably not be planted along streams or where native riparian are planted due to its potential to become a pest species in such areas. The black Alder produces both male and female catkins on the same tree which are pollinated by the wind. Its seed is a good winter food source for birds and the leaves can be used for stock fodder/forage.
Traditionally Black Alder has been used for clog soles, woodturning, carving, broom heads, furniture and underwater foundations, it can also be used a fuel wood. The wood is not very strong but has the ability to dry very fast, it is however durable underwater. The tree coppices well and will produce many straight poles in a damp or marshy woodland environment. It is useful for erosion control and for water purifying in swampy ground.
Ash – Fraxinus excelsior
This large deciduous tree grows to approx. 30m, the trees bear both male and female flowers but often not in the same year, these flowers are wind pollenated. The seeds known as ‘Ash Keys’ are best sown while still green to achieve faster germination. The Ash is able to grow on many types of soil but is best in limestone where it will seed freely. While recent times have seen Ash suffer with Ash Dieback it was once a highly important resource for smallholders and farmers due to its resilience and rapid growth. Though considered non-durable the timber has the qualities of high flexibility, shock resistance, and resistance to splitting. This makes ash wood an excellent timber for making bows and tool handles. The trees are often coppiced on a longer cycle of 10 to 21 years and therefore are often grown in a mixed woodlot. Ash is also popular used green for chairmaking.
Beech, English – Fagus sylvatica
Though this large tree, approx. 30m, is deciduous it will in fact hold its browned leaves until spring when the fresh growth appears. While this particular tree has green leaves, changing to yellow then brown through Autumn, there is a natural mutation the Copper Beech (Fagus sylvatica Purpurea) which has purple new growth which gradually turns deep green and then copper in Autumn. The male and female flowers appear in spring and are wind pollenated. In autumn the hairy Beech husks drop, each husk has two seeds known as beech nuts, these are apparently edible and were often used as pig fodder. The leaves are also edible when young (for humans) and can be used as fodder/forage for stock. The beech grows best in well drained limestone soils. It is not usually coppiced in a woodlot situation due to its slow growth, but is pollarded instead to prevent browsing animals killing off the trees. However, it can be cut back quite hard and used as a hedging plant. Used in green-wood craft for furniture, tool handles, and kitchen utensils like spoons, spatula and bowls, beech is also excellent firewood.
Birch – Silver Birch – Betula pendula
A fast growing, deciduous tree reaching approx 30 m, it is very noticeable for its white papery bark. The Silver birch has both male and female catkins on the same tree and can seed throughout an area very easily. It is considered a colonizer, growing on poor soils, but its leaf litter can improve the soil over time allowing other species to grow. While it can be coppiced while young, older trees tend not to grow back. These are often replaced by seedling trees. An interesting feature of the Birch is its fungal relationship with the Birch Bolete an edible mushroom which grows under the Birches in Autumn. While the wood is not durable, it does have many uses, such as small furniture, cooking utensils, spoons and toys. The bark however is considered to be very durable and is used for canoes, pots, baskets, shoes and roof tiles. It is also an excellent fire starter. The sap is another product, harvested in early spring to make wine and Birch syrup. it is worth noting that some people do experience hay fever/allergy symptoms from the pollen of Silver Birch.
Black Locust – Robinia pseudoacacia
This hardy deciduous tree is very fast growing and reaches approx. 25m in height and is commonly used as windbreak or shelterbelts, though it does not tolerant severe winds well. It is able to grow in most soils, though prefers well drained situations and can handle drought. Black Locust is also tolerant of low fertility soils which means it can be used as a pioneer species. Its nitrogen fixing and mineral accumulating can support the growth of other plants, plus its light canopy allows sunlight to penetrate. In some areas it is considered a weed species due to its fast growth and ability to spread via seed and sometimes suckering. If used in a woodlot or food forest situation it needs to be managed regularly.
Its timber is considered highly durable, fence posts of Black locust are said to last 100 years in the ground. It is used as greenwood for furniture, tool handles, building and pasture posts. The tree is able to be coppiced and pollarded, but there can be some variation in growth form. For this reason, selecting seed from straight trees is more likely to give you suitable timber for building or posts. Root cuttings of 5cm length and about thumb thickness can apparently be propagated or stakes/poles can be planted direct into the ground.
There is conflicting information of the fodder value of this tree, some sources claim the whole plant is toxic. While others compare its nutritional value to Alfafa and apparently Black locust is used as a fodder crop in many countries. It is well recognised for its benefit as bee food with Robinia honey common in USA and Europe. The white racemes of flowers in summer are said to be edible, as are the seeds once cooked. It is also considered to have medicinal qualities.
Worth growing for its fence post potential alone, as we try to move away from using treated wood on the property. The discrepancies on its fodder value can be negated by simply planting the Black locusts away from grazed areas. Most stock will not browse on toxic plants unless there is a shortage of other feed, with low level toxicity some browsing may occur in a medicinal manner. We believe that the animals have an instinctive knowledge of what they can consume and to what level, however, as said above this can be over ridden if feed is short.
Hazel – Corylus avellana
Though more of a deciduous shrub than a tree, the Hazel is one of the most useful woodlot plants. Fast growing and multi stemmed it can still reach 12 m or more in height if left to grow. But Hazels are often coppiced and the many straight stems produced have many uses. Both the pendulous male catkins and small female flowers are born on the same tree and are wind pollenated. In nut production a different cultivar of pollinator Hazel is often necessary to achieve high pollination rates. These early spring flowers can provide early feed for bees. While mostly known for its nuts, the Hazel leaves are also a highly palatable forage for livestock. Widely used as a hedgerow plant many English villages would often have an area of Hazel coppice, which was traditionally cut on a seven-year cycle. Hazel is the traditional material of hurdle making (woven fence panels) due to its ability, when twisted, to form a strong ‘rope’ of separated fibres. This means the wood can be twisted back upon its self to form the woven panels of the hurdle. Other uses include thatching spars, walking sticks, garden stakes, garden climbing frames, baskets, traps, crates and many other useful everyday items.
Sweet Chestnut – Castanea sativa
An attractive deciduous tree reaching approx. 30 metres in height. Preferring slightly acidic free draining soils and dislikes waterlogged, alkaline soils and exposed sites. Both male and female flowers appear in summer on the same stalk, these are wind and insect pollenated. The edible nuts develop in a prickly case that splits open in autumn when they are ripe. The nuts and leaves etc. can be used as stock fodder and all parts of the tree, except the actual nut, are said to have anthelmintic (anti worming) properties.
Sweet Chestnut is a durable wood which coppices very well and can be coppiced at various ages for different purposes. At 5 years timber is used for walking sticks, yurt poles, garden stakes, woven panels, balustrades and rustic furniture. At 7-12 years, rustic furniture, laths, pales, garden arches, gate hurdles, trellis panels and trug handles. 20 years, rustic furniture, laths, pales, charcoal, firewood, barrels, fencing posts. 30 + years, roundwood timber framing, post-and-rail fencing, fencing posts, decking, cladding, arbours, gates, shingles, window frames, charcoal and firewood.
Willow, Osier or Basket Willow – Salix viminalis
A deciduous, fast growing multi-stemmed shrub up to approx. 6 metres tall with straight thin branches used for basketry. The Basket willow is best grown in wet non-acid soils and propagation is easy from stem cuttings, this is preferable to seed as it can cross pollenate with other willows. Coppicing is done yearly to provide the long straight flexible rods needed for basketry. It is also used to create living screens and sculptures in gardens by inserting rods into the ground and weaving them into required shapes. Other uses are fodder/forage for livestock, water purification and it has the ability to absorb heavy metals, often planted to ‘clean up’ contaminated waste ground. Other willow species can also be used but Salix viminalis and Salix purpurea (purple stems) are most commonly used for basketry.
There are other trees which can be included in your woodland, the ones above are chosen here for their ease of coppicing/growing and specific uses, including food or forage uses.
Wild Cherry – Prunus avium, Elm – Ulmus procera, Linden – Tilia cordata, Oak – Quercus species, Maple – Acer species, Gum – Eucalyptus species, Poplar – Populus species.
The Brandenburg Coppice at Lincoln College New Zealand was planted in about 1985 as a study on coppicing woodlots and suitable tree species for New Zealand. It is a very informative read for anyone with an interest in establishing a coppice woodlot.
As the nights begin to cool many people start to focus on firewood, but for those of us living off the land and reliant on our wood burners this year’s wood should be in the shed and ready to burn. Leaving it till the cold sets in could leave us with smoky fires which struggle to warm the house or a hefty heating bill. Better still we aim to have at least two years’ worth of wood cut, with at least one years’ worth dry stored. The just in case factor.
What trees are good firewood trees?
Honestly, whatever you already have growing…
The existing trees on your property are your first resource. I’m not saying go and cut them down, there are other, better, ways to get firewood. Look at pruning them, lifting branches, thinning if planted to close. If they are able to be coppiced learn how to do that and you will have renewable, sustainable firewood* But learn what your trees are and how best to manage them. Buying a property with trees is an amazing resource and removing trees should only be done if they are a risk or negatively impacting their surrounding environment.
We believe that if you are going to plant trees, they should have many uses, multipurpose. The main uses would be edible crop producers, fodder and forage for livestock, timber or woodcraft sources.
Fruit and nut trees can cover all three of these uses and are great firewood. Planting a large orchard and nut grove or including them in hedgerows, will eventually yield a decent supply of wood just from the pruning’s.
Coppicing trees such as Alders, Birches, Hazels, Sweet Chestnuts, Poplars etc.* these provide a, usually, fast-growing renewable and sustainable resource for timber, nuts and fruits in some cases and livestock food as well as firewood.
Fodder trees are well worth looking into if you have livestock, they are a great resource in times of drought but also provide diversity and added nutrition for your animals. If planted in areas where they are protected but next to or in paddocks, they can also provide shelter and shade. Two factors which are unfortunately often not provided for on many farms. An excellent small tree for fodder is Tree Lucerne (tagasaste) it is a high protein feed, drought hardy, fast growing and good firewood. Many of the fodder trees also fit in the fruit and nut category and can be coppiced. Mulberry is another high protein feed and if you can beat the birds has very tasty berries. It is also apparently, one of the top heat producing woods.
Many people think gums when asked for firewood trees and they have their uses, but are not really for us. Having experienced the effects of root rot on a massive gum from our neighbours property, which took out our fence line but thankfully fell away from the house. They are also heavy feeders, sucking nutrient out of the surrounding soil, which can be mitigated by planting a nitrogen fixer/mineral accumulator such as Acacia. They are fast growers, but if not dealt with at a decent size they can get oversized and felling becomes an issue. As they age, they can also start dropping limbs which is a hazard for you and your livestock. We have a large gum at the end of our paddock which is now in this scary stage, with many broken limbs on the ground beneath it. If you are keen to grow the larger trees Acacia would be family to look at, they support the soil around them via their nitrogen fixer/mineral accumulator properties, are fast growing and make great firewood which is hot burning and easy to split. We especially like the Black wattle and Tasmanian Blackwood. But there are also Oaks, deciduous Beech and Maples, which can also be coppiced and are good firewood
Finally, we will look at native trees, Manuka and Kanuka are great fast growing pioneer trees, they can be used with other small trees like Tree lucerne (not native), Mahoe, Kowhai and Pittosporums, to fill in the gaps while larger slower growing trees like NZ Beech and Mahoe are establishing, then felled for firewood etc. when no longer needed. Personally, we would not grow the slower natives for firewood, as it does not really fit into the sustainable woodland concept as they are generally not able to be coppiced. Only small number of native trees can be coppiced Mahoe, Pittosporums and Pohutukawa are among them.
Harvesting and Drying your Firewood.
‘Cut at low sap’ is some traditional advice, this would mean cutting your firewood in winter to early spring depending on the tree, while they are dormant. There are several reasons for this: 1. Traditional woodlots were also often Coppice Woodlands*. The trees were coppiced in winter for various timber uses and regrowth from the stumps occurred in spring.
2. Tree sap ‘runs’ when they are actively growing, however there are differing views on how that effects the moisture content of the tree. One view is that apparently over summer they can contain up to 50% or half their weight in water. While they are dormant the sap supposedly flows to the roots, lowering the moisture content of the tree. The opposing view put out by forestry industry is that there is no real difference in seasonal moisture content and that trees in fact hold a relatively constant moisture content all year round. It is believed that cutting down a tree in sap run can actually speed up seasoning/drying time, due to the tree effectively ‘bleeding out’.
3. Deciduous trees lose their leaves over low sap/dormancy and this can lower the weight of the tree and make clean up easier. However, if you are making full use of the tree, Ramial wood mulch can be made from the branches under 7 cm diameter, with or without the leaves. In full leaf there will obviously be a higher green matter content to the mulch and the fresher the branches the more nutrient available for the soil.
4. Firewood can be hard and heavy work, cutting, moving and stacking firewood over the cooler months, which are often quieter farm wise, can be easier than doing it in the heat of summer. You have a higher appreciation of the results when you enter the warmth of the house after hours in the cold.
There are of course other factors for timing of firewood cutting. Pruning done at any time is potential firewood or wood mulch and can be specific to what season suits each particular tree. Fruit trees are good example of this with stone fruit usually pruned in summer to avoid disease. Weather being another factor, in very wet climates the drier months might be the only time to get firewood done. But the general time frame would be cut wood in the winter or early spring, dry over summer and into the shed by March ready for those cooler nights.
So, the trees are down or the branches are pruned, what now?
The wood needs to be cut and split into sizes suitable for your woodstove, often we will just ring it into the right length and leave it in piles until we are ready to shift it. It is thought that by leaving the wood in the elements the rain will wash out the sap which keeps it green and speed up seasoning. However, most trees are best split fresh as they can harden over time and if you are hand splitting with an axe it is easier to split the wood fresh. We then stack the cut wood on pallets to keep the wood off the ground and allow airflow underneath. A tidy outer wall layer is stacked with attention put into stabilising or ‘locking in’ the corners with crossover pieces. It’s a bit like building a 3D jigsaw, most of the wood is either flat, triangular, half round or round and can be fitted together to make a stable structure. The gap in the centre is filled with the odd pieces, short bits and knobbly bits etc. These are put in randomly but the space needs to be filled as you stack the walls and be relatively close packed to support the walls. Air will still flow through as there will be many small gaps in the stack. Once the stack reaches about 1.2 metres we level it off and place several sheets of old corrugated iron on top, weighed down with some heavy chunks of wood.
Why go to all this trouble you might ask? Firstly, firewood is an extremely important resource for us, it not only heats our home, but all our hot water via wetback and we use our woodstove for cooking, we do have a gas stove but the gas is an outside expense and the wood is a homegrown sustainable resource. Secondly, the structure that is created is very stable and can be built in the paddock where the livestock are, the cow might occasionally try to knock it around a bit but the structure stays standing. The size of the stack, which is the width of a pallet and usually 3 or 4 metres long, means we can stack for drying a large quantity of wood, approximately 2 cord, in a relatively compact space. Most firewood stacking advice that I have seen says to single width stack, while this works, for us it would take up too much area, not be as stable in the paddock and be difficult to put a corrugated iron ‘roof’ on.
The corrugated iron provides a heat sink which warms and dries the air inside the pile, while keeping the majority of rain off. Yet the outside of the stack is still exposed to the elements especially wind and sun. We find the stacked wood is ready to be transferred to shed storage in about 3 to 4 months, it will be bone dry and excellent burning. Bone dry wood burns hotter, longer and, when the fire is shut down, turns to charcoal which creates a low burn to last through the night. Once shed stored it should stay dry, but it pays to check the roof for leaks and have a shed that is North or North West facing for maximum sun and that allows air flow. A simple cheap design is a corrugated iron roof on four poles/posts 2m or taller. Cover the floor with pallets to let the air flow under and keep the wood off the damp cold ground. Hurricane netting can be used around the outside ‘walls’ to hold the wood in but still allow air flow and if necessary, a wall can be built on the prevailing rain side or to the south, as long as the sun side is left open. Any wood on the outer edges that gets rain wet will soon dry on a sunny day as long as it was seasoned/dried before going in the shed. The 1000l pod cages (without the plastic tank) or the big wooden produce bins can be used, but make sure to cover the top with corrugated iron or something to keep the top rain out.
Burning wet or unseasoned firewood firstly produces less heat and secondly can cause creosote buildup in your flue, especially with softwoods, which can cause chimney fires. A good example of this is when we first moved into our property in the winter. The note from the previous owner said we would need to clean the flue every month to keep the fire burning well and that the drier wood was in the rear of the middle bay, which involved climbing over wood to get to it… We thought what the hell, well used to wood fires, it should only be cleaned once a year and why would I want to climb over wood to get the firewood. But once the stack of wood by the back door was gone, we realised the issue. The whole three farm shed bays of firewood, which was pine, had been wet stacked. It was moldy and damp. This was causing excessive smoking and clogging of the flue, and we wondered about the health impacts of burning moldy wood. Luckily after a few days of wet weather it cleared for a couple of weeks and we pulled out the front of one stack to open more wood up to the sunshine and air. Each time we went to get firewood it had to be checked for dryer pieces, while still not bone dry it was a lot dryer than before. As the wood dried out the smoking and flue issues eased as well. Our primary wood shed is about 100 metres from the house, this is not ideal and we will build one closer. It is a good idea to have at least a weeks’ worth of wood close to the house in the event of bad weather. Trudging across a paddock in the rain with a wheelbarrow load of firewood is not cool for you or the wood.
There are many views on firewood and systems to manage it, but this suits us and provides us with loads of well-seasoned firewood throughout the year. By planning a sustainable woodland or large multipurpose orchard and nut grove, we can provide ourselves not only with firewood but food, livestock food, garden mulch and stakes, fencing materials, timber and a beautiful landscape.
Whether you are thinking of planting a home garden, an orchard, food forest, hedgerows, shelter belt, or a firewood or fodder/forage woodlot, planning for your Autumn and Winter planting is a must. (As my Husband always says… ‘Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance, the five P’s’ but I think I might change it to Planning Planting Prevents Poor Performance…). Planting at this time of the year allows for the plants to develop a good root structure prior to spring growth. Also bare rooted plants are available over the winter months and this makes the larger deciduous trees more affordable, especially if buying through mail order. As long as the roots are kept moist at all times this method of buying trees and shrubs is very convenient and easier than lugging around heavy planter bags.
So where do we start…
Evaluating your site’s conditions is the first step. Sun direction, wind direction, wet or dry, soil type and temperature all influence what you can plant and where. A useful tool for this is a site map or plan, if you do not have one already a simple method is to use Google Earth Pro to print an image of your property or area you wish to plant. You can then either draw directly onto the image or use translucent paper to trace the key objects like fences, buildings, existing trees etc.
Next, finding your focus for your property will help decide what you wish to plant. Are you looking for low maintenance, but attractive? Functional? Self-sufficiency? The time you have to spend on creating and maintaining the planting will greatly influence the style of planting too.
Also spend some time investigating garden/landscaping philosophies. There are many different methods and ideals, finding one that resonates with you can inspire ideas you may never have considered otherwise. These can range from ‘conventional’, to relaxed go with the flow, or to Permaculture, Regenerative or Biodynamic.
We are Homesteaders so this means our focus is on creating a functional property which supplies most of our food, home and medical needs, it also needs to provide us with an income. Our philosophy is to do all this as naturally as possible, but we are also realistic and if a ‘conventional’ approach is needed we will resort to that. We do not follow any one established philosophy but take many great ideas from across the board and adapt them to suit our family and property.
When choosing plants for your site make sure you consider its full growth potential and the possible impacts this may have on other plantings or structures etc. This could include shading, root invasion (especially for willows in water pipes), crowding out, incompatibility, etc.
However you choose to manage your property there are some pretty consistent processes when it comes to planting.
Clear the area to be planted. There are two main reasons to do this, firstly it removes competition for nutrients and water allowing the new plant to establish well. The other reason is allelopathy, this is when a plant releases a growth inhibitor toxic to prevent plants growing around it. A good example of this is walnut trees which release a compound juglone into the soil surrounding them which is toxic to many other plant species, this often results in bare patches under the trees. This can also occur with many conifer species and also Gums which suck the ground dry. Some grasses have a similar action, rye grass, which is very common in most New Zealand pastures, is being studied for its effectiveness as an herbicide. 1
(note; this doesn’t apply if simply inserting a plant/tree into an existing garden with compatible or support plants)
If using a loose mulch this can be applied to the area some weeks or months prior to planting along with manure to create a ‘bed’ into which planting can be done. This method has the benefit of improving the soil prior to planting and reduces the work at planting time. Another method is to cover the area temporally with a plastic sheeting, cardboard or another solid material to ‘smother’ the existing plantings at least a couple of months before planting.
Ensure the area to be planted is moist and if the plant is bagged it is also moist. Dig a hole wide and deep enough for the plant’s roots to spread out. If the plant is bare rooted create a small mound in center of hole for the roots to spread over. Ensure the plant will sit at the same ground level height it was in the bag or ground and carefully full back in around the roots firming as you go. If planting into clay soils or other poorly draining soils plant into mounds to allow for better drainage. If it is a grafted tree site the graft so it is facing south. Consider the shape of the plant when placing it, they tend to grow more on the sunny side so place it to achieve balance or if in a windy site consider placing any lean towards the wind. For fire wood trees consider where it will eventually be dropped and place any lean or weight in that direction.
Stake if necessary, this is often needed for bare rooted fruit trees as their roots have been trimmed or larger trees to give support until established.
Water well and mulch around plant, this could include spreading out wet newspapers, cardboard, old carpet (wool) etc. and covering with wet straw, bark chips or old sawdust (untreated) or compost to 90 -120 mm depth. This will protect the roots, keep moisture in and control or suppress weeds. But keep mulch away from the stems of the plants.
If planting where there is livestock ensure plantings are protected from their reach.
Many properties or paddocks I see are devoid of trees, some believe that the trees and shrubs take up valuable space or grazing. But what they do is change the space to create vertical productive space, micro climates to support other plant species, they can provide food for you and your livestock, bring in the bees and other insects for better pollination. They can actually help protect the area from drying winds and excessive sun, or absorb wetness and redirect surface water; it is all about choosing plants which will suit your property and needs. So plan, plant and enjoy…
Foreword… I do not presume to know a lot about horses, their dietary and other needs, but at the encouragement of a horse owner I have forayed into the equestrian world to expand on our fodder/forage and hedgerow information. Please feel free to share feedback or information you may have in regards to this topic.
Many of the recommendations on our Fodder and Foragepage are for ruminant animals – cattle, sheep and goats. However, horses have a very different digestive process therefore need to be addressed separately. There are many different thoughts on how horse nutrition should be managed and I will not enter into these here. This article is to discuss a system, which is more our focus, of providing constant free choice forage feeding. On the advice of a horse owner I have been investigating the ‘Paddock Paradise’ system developed by Jaime Jackson. This system aims to mimic the natural grazing/foraging of horses in a fully natural environment, but within the confines of a smaller area. There are other terms for this method, creative pasturing and track grazing etc., but the effect is the same, allowing the horses more room to move without excess grass.
Photo credit- Claire Ewen
Photo credit- Claire Ewen
Photo credit – Dini Kudlak
By fencing the outer edge of paddocks or pastures to create separate walking tracks and allowing limited access to pasture the ‘Paddock Paradise’ mimics how horses would forage in the wild, spending only brief spells on open grass land due to avoiding predators, often early morning or twilight when the grass sugars are low. Planting these tracks with various trees, shrubs, herbs and wildflowers gives the horses a more natural browse system and the ability to self-medicate. Strategically placed hay slow feeders and water encourage the horses to move around the tracks. In the wild horses would naturally roam many kilometers per day, but domesticated horses are often kept in smaller paddocks with easy access to food and water in close proximity. This can decrease the amount of voluntary exercise and therefore result in less burning of the calories consumed. Another point to consider is that exercise, especially voluntary exercise on pasture or tracks, is very important for the overall mental well-being of the horse, as is companionship.
Many of the articles I have referenced below are from other countries, there is limited information on this topic in regards to New Zealand so I have gone back through our fodder and forage lists in regards to horses. Including a diverse mix of plants around or in your horse paddock is beneficial no matter what method of grazing you use. Options for the planting and protection of these plants could include fencing off or hot-wiring part of your race/track or boundaries to createhedgerows. In paddocks, corners can be fenced off providing a cost-effective area to be planted or shade trees with under-planting through the center of paddocks, again with adequate protection. Consider soil, moisture and aspect when deciding placement of trees or hedgerows, observe where your problem winds come from and what areas need more shade or shelter, but also which areas you do not want shaded. All plants benefit from mulch to retain moisture and also eliminate competition from grasses as they become established. This could be wood chip (add nitrogen, e.g. manure, to eliminate nitrogen leaching if mulch is fresh), wet cardboard with added mulch on top, natural carpet, old silage, hay, straw or stable muck, or just green waste (make sure no pest weeds are in it).
The Fodder/Forage Hedgerow.
Fodder is feed that is harvested and taken to the animal, forage is browsed on by the animal while still on the land.
Tree Lucerne – Tagasaste – NZ research indicates digestibility of 82 per cent for plant tips, and 59 per cent for stems up to 8 mm thick. Figures for crude protein content varied from 18 per cent to 25 per cent for tips, and 8 per cent for stems.
Japanese Fodder willow – is highly palatable and contains salicylic acid which is the natural origin of aspirin. All willows are edible.
Basket Willow/Osier – is highly palatable and contains salicylic acid which is the natural origin of aspirin. All willows are edible.
Mulberries – considered high value forage/fodder in many countries. They do produce berries which are edible but may pay to be aware of if you need to limit sugar. Though in a fenced off hedgerow access to berries would be limited anyway.
Rugosa – Apple rose – highly palatable fodder/forage, also medicinal.
Hazel – the leaves and small branches have forage value, while the nuts, which are edible for horses, are high in protein and fat, in a fenced off hedgerow access to nuts would be limited.
Copper Beech – hedged – nontoxic, colourful hedgerow or addition. There is some discussion on whether the nuts are safe or not.
Wattle– Coppiced – Acacia sp. Are considered to have good forage value, are fast growing and nitrogen fixing.
Alder – Black or Italian – coppiced – Alnus sp. are considered to have good forage value, are fast growing and nitrogen fixing.
These are primarily smaller trees or shrubs or can be coppiced to keep lower. But there are also larger trees which can be used as shade and shelter within the paddocks or track areas.
Poplar sp – commonly used fodder tree in New Zealand.
Chestnut, sweet. – nuts are high in starch which could cause issues in some horses. But tree is non-toxic.
Linden – leaves are highly palatable.
Weeping Willow – is highly palatable and contains salicylic acid which is the natural origin of aspirin. All willows are edible. Excellent for wet areas.
Tortured/Corkscrew Willow – is highly palatable and contains salicylic acid which is the natural origin of aspirin. All willows are edible.
Birch, Ash, Liquidambar and London Plane tree are other options which are considered safe.
New Zealand Native Forageable Hedgerow
Flax and Karo are considered to be natural wormers.
Toe Toe, Cabbage Tree, Kohuhu, Lemonwood, Griselinia (highly palatable), Hebe, Ake Ake, Manuka are all classed as non-toxic and will be browsed by most animals.
Five Finger and Seven Finger are also considered non-toxic and browsed by animals, however there is some concern over the berries being toxic as they are both in the ivy plant family.
Fruit trees – Apple, Pear, Peach, Plum, apricot etc. These are not recommended as they can be toxic to horses.
Mulberries, Rugosa – Apple rose (or other rose species) and Hazel are mentioned in fodder and forage above.
These options are all considered non-toxic…
Hawthorn (medicinal also)
Berry brambles – Raspberry, Thorn-less Blackberry etc.
Herbs are also worth considering as many have medicinal properties, these herbs listed are considered safe for horses.