Orchard logging with CCUA

We’ve made good progress over the last month on finishing our orchard-clearing project. This hillside above our house has a good southern exposure, and we’ve been working for several winters to clear the thick cedars off it and get various fruits established (see our newly added Human History & Management page for aerial photos of this work). We have a hard deadline to finish this spring, as we have more fruit trees coming, and need to put in a good permanent deer-proof fence around the whole area, which means taking down all the trees both within the area and along a wide enough perimeter that future logging won’t drop anything on the fence. On Friday we made especially good progress, as we were joined by a work crew from the Columbia Center For Urban Agriculture. I tried to take some before-and-after photos, but at the small online scale they aren’t as clear as I’d like. So here are some basic views of the area instead.
The photo above shows the overall area, though the few large cedars on the near left obscure significant progress behind them. Look closely on the right, and you’ll see an area we’ve deemed finished and a line of tall fence posts already installed. More cedars need to be taken down around the upper/back perimeter, and on the near left, but we’re getting close. The temporary fence around the berries (foreground) will go away once we’ve finished the permanent fence, which will also give us a lot more room to work with. Note chicken shed at upper left, which we built up there so we can pasture the birds both in the orchard and in the surrounding forest areas we’re working to renovate into open savanna/pasture for poultry and goats.
Above, a view from the opposite angle, taken standing on the future NE corner of the orchard fence. Note the fruit tree sites laid out with logs, and the brushpiles waiting to be burned (we partially burn and then bury these to make biochar, an excellent soil amendment that helps capture the carbon in the wood). At far left you can see the line of fence posts marching up the hill toward this corner.

You may notice that much of the landscape looks somewhat barren; one of the reasons we’re clearing these thick cedar stands is that they block most sunlight from the soil and inhibit anything else from growing. We’ve found that after clearing a cedar thicket, a significant (partially native) seed bank springs into action and produces good ground cover by summer. The first spring after clearing an area is when we have to be most careful, because there is a bare-soil interval between tree clearing and seed germination. This is one reason we only use equipment and/or haul logs in these areas when the ground is frozen or dry, and also tend to leave some cedar material as ground cover. We’re also being especially careful with the chickens on some of these new areas until the seed bank has time to take hold, rotating them regularly and using straw or other mulch to help protect the soil until spring. In the long run this area will have much more biodiversity and ground cover than the cedars allowed, but we’re taking care not to cause undue damage before then.

A view from within the orchard, looking NW up at the chicken shed, sited just outside the perimeter. The large green pile in center right is a chipping pile of branches for mulch. This was all dense cedars last fall; the shed is built from trees logged from its site, milled on-farm, and reassembled into something more useful. While there are many trees to go, this view gives a partial sense of our long-term goal; acres of pasture with scattered shade/shelter trees on which we can rotate the chickens (and goats), while giving the birds access to the orchard at times to help manage pests and clean up dropped fruit. We’re leaving a few of the larger cedars in place, as the birds enjoy foraging in their shelter and perching in the branches.

Working with the CCUA folks was great, as they’re hard workers and really good company.  They can use a bunch of fresh cedar mulch for their urban farm, and purchased it with a day’s work. It was a good opportunity to cross-pollinate ideas and experiences between rural and urban farmers, while still getting useful work done. We fed them well with fresh pizza (various combinations of smoked pork, goat cheddar, caramelized onions, dried peppers/tomatoes, garlic, tomato sauce, potatoes, sweet potatoes, herbs, etc.) and more. Our deep thanks to them for a great day and significant forward progress on this time-intensive long-term project.

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