Woodlot Management and Life

IMG_0603One of the things that I always wanted in life was to own some wooded property. A little over a year ago we were able to make that dream a reality. Now I don’t want to mislead you into thinking that we have some grand forest. Much the opposite. It is just a small section of wooded property that is in some serious need of management. It has been neglected and abused, but I can see the potential in it. With some effort, I hope to get it back into a state that will maximize its productivity from a wildlife, timber, and recreational standpoint.I also find the parallels between nature and our lives very interesting.  If you stick with me through this blog post you will see what I mean.
It may come as a surprise to some that a piece of property that is not managed properly will be much less productive than it could be otherwise. This was the case with our woods. The gentleman that we purchased it from had plans to build a home and raise some animals on the property. When he sold the land to us he was no longer able to do much with it due to health issues. As he took me around the property I could tell that he had at one time really enjoyed owning this land and he seemed a little surprised at the way it had grown up. There were some parts that were so thick that we had trouble getting through.  He pointed out an area where he had planned to build a home and we came up on the remains of the barn he had built to house his animals. As we walked around he relived the past 30 years of owning this piece of land.
One of the first things I did after purchasing the land was to contact the local forester to do a walkthrough and develop a management plan. We spent an hour or two looking the property over and discussing some of the things that were observed and then in a few weeks I was mailed a large packet of information that contained information related to all aspects of the property. There was information about the soil types, plant life, water, endangered species, and invasive plants and animals. I have read through this report a few times and each time I glean new information from it. When preparing the report, the forester asked about the intended purpose for the land to help guide the owner in the proper steps in land management. These goals can include managing the land for wildlife, recreation, and timber. I chose to take a balanced approach and not put too much emphasis on any one area.

Wild grapevine can cause trees to fall erratically wen cut down for timber or firewood

One of the areas in the report focuses on invasive species. There were specific invasive species identified which include Japanese honeysuckle, Russian olive, and multi flora rose. Each of these species was introduced to this area for various reasons,but later on it was discovered that they could negatively impact areas if they were allowed to get out of control. If not managed through mechanical or chemical methods, the growth of these plants will outpace that of the native species. Although I am not a huge fan of synthetic herbicides, this is the method I choose to employ when dealing with these plants. Mechanical removal is very labor intensive and that limits how much land I can reclaim each year. Utilizing chemical herbicides was certainly not a choice I took lightly, but based on the amount of work that needed to be done I saw no other alternative. According to the foresters report, I could utilize Glyphosate for all three invasives so that helped to simplify the process based on is availability.

Multi Flora Rose

The multi flora rose is the most problematic plant we have. It was intended to be used as a dense living fence that would contain animals. The multi flora rose does not have a pretty flower like other rose bushes but it does share the thorns. The characteristics that made it a good choice for a living fence also makes it undesirable in a woodlot. We had sections that were nearly impossible to access due to the number and size of these bushes. When birds eat the fruit of these plants the seeds are spread far and wide so this makes eliminating it nearly impossible. The best you can hope for is to control it. I have sections of the property that are nearly impossible to navigate due to the thick growth of this plant. I had never seen such large masses of plant matter before. Many clumps of this stuff are larger than a full sized pick-up truck. The good thing is that Glyphosate will reduce it to a bunch if dried up canes in short order, and with the aid of a shovel or garden hoe, I can break the canes down and reduce it to almost nothing. What a difference it makes eliminating such a noxious plant.

Russian Olive

The next plant that is present on our property is the Russian olive. This is a large shrub that is very common to see in this area, in fact the state used to cultivate and sell it as a forage plant until just recently when it was classified as invasive. This plant adapts well to poor soil and is a good food source for a wide variety of animals. Around here it is common to see this plant used on old coal mine ground. For me, this is not as high a priority to eliminate, based on the fact that it does provide a good food source for many animals and is a good habitat for birds. I was given the choice to remove it or leave it alone and I believe that I am going to try to allow some to remain but I will be keeping the spread of it in check. The problem with this plant is that it will spread to the point of choking out the other growth and it can make navigation difficult if it gets too thick.

The final invasive that the forester identified was the Japanese honeysuckle. This is a

Japanese Honeysuckle vining up a small sapling

plant that is commonly sold as a ground cover but it is that very characteristic that makes it undesirable in a woodlot.  This vine will blanket the floor of the woods, forming a thick mat of vines that can make walking difficult and choking out other plants.  It will also vine up small saplings, bending them over so that they will never be able to develop into a productive tree.  The forester explained to me that this plant likely took off after the property was logged years ago.  The increased sunlight allowed it to begin growing at a more rapid pace.  The strategy for eliminating this plant is a little different in that you wait until cooler weather to spray it.  Since Glyphosate is a foliar spray, meaning that it is applied to the leaves, you want to wait until the plants in the woods have dropped their leaves and then spray. Japanese honeysuckle retains its leaves late into autumn or early winter, and this allows the opportunity to treat it without harming other plants


IMG_0702Another aspect of woodlot management, where I have much to learn, is the selective removal of trees. A woodlot that is left alone can produce too many trees or the wrong kind of trees.  Since I decided on a balanced approach to management I need to look at the timber potential vs.the wildlife benefit of a tree before I remove it.  So, initially, I have been looking to remove trees that are misshapen and would not bring any money as a saw log.  I also want to make sure I do not allow an imbalance in a certain species.  For example, we have an abundance of poplar trees.  These are some of the biggest and straightest trees we have, but I don’t want the majority of the trees to be this one species if I am trying to promote wildlife habitat.  I will also need trees that provide food, such as oaks and persimmons.   The woodlot should also be thinned to a point that trees can grow to a good size , thus demanding a better price form a logger.  The canopy of the trees need to be exposed to adequate sunlight, and removing less desirable trees allows the more desirable trees to flourish.  To keep wildlife in mind, I will leave some dead or diseased trees standing.  These trees will become a haven for bugs, and thus a smorgasbord for the animals that feed off of them.  Selective cutting truly is the most complex aspect of management for me, and I hope to become more knowledgeable about it as time goes on.

Managing our woodlot is honestly one of the chores that I love to do most around our place. The slow and steady process of taking an abused and overgrown property and turning it into something that is more useful and productive is quite rewarding. Life is in so many ways like our little woodlot. It starts out with dreams of what we want and then things that initially seem good or harmless, if left unchecked, can eventually strangle productivity and vitality to the point that we no longer reach our fullest potential. The “invasive species” of life are numerous and can be difficult to identify at times. It is at that point when we need a “forester” to lay out a plan for us so that we can regain the productivity, life, and vitality that we were meant to have. As we strive to live a more simple life that is pleasing to God, we need to evaluate what we are allowing to grow in our lives and realize how this is impacting not only us but those around us.


Mason Bee Update

As I was at work planting some of our garden this week I happened to notice that there was a bee flying into one of the holes in the nest block that I built over the winter.  Upon closer examination I saw that several holes that had been capped off. I am sure that these bees would have done just fine without me building them a place to raise their young. The nice thing about it is that I will now benefit next year with an increased population of pollinators that will gladly help me in producing some food for my family.  The natural world that God created is truly amazing.IMG_1250

Mini Greenhouse

IMG_1156Today the weather was not what one would expect from February and it gave me the desire to be outside and even work in the garden. I am always trying to push the limits when it comes to planting our garden and I am often met with failure.  My father always told me to just wait until the first of May and it would be alright.  Well that does work but I have a hard time waiting that long and that also limits the productivity of my garden to some extent.  A greenhouse would be nice to extend the growing season and provide a place to hang out in the winter but right now I do not have the time or resources necessary to take that project on.  So the solution to my problem is to build a mini greenhouse.

I have seen all sorts of articles about doing this and they all try to take a slightly different angle on it. Really the concept is simple and that will be my angle.  First off, this little plastic covered hoop structure is not intended to grow tomatoes or other heat loving plants.  Its only purpose is to get a few weeks head start on the planting of cool weather IMG_1161crops.  It could also be used to harden off some of the plants that you start inside if you choose.  I like simple and easy so for this project to work for me it will need to be both.  There are all sorts of various modifications that can be done with this type of structure but I am only going to attempt the most basic of designs today.

First I started with some ½ PVC pipe from the hardware store. I stuck it in the ground 6 inches and set the other end 4 foot away and stuck it in the ground 6 inches.  I repeated the process at 2 foot intervals until I had a 12 foot row of hoops.  I then raked back the mulch that I had covering my garden to expose the soil, removed the weeds, and loosened the soil with a stirrup hoe.  A garden rake was then used to smooth the soil and break up the larger clumps of dirt.

The seeds were planted in a broadcast fashion. I did not spend time making rows or spacing the seeds perfectly.  Once the seeds sprout I will run the garden rake thought the plot just one time and this will provide an adequate thinning for  these plants. I  decided to plant beets, turnips, various lettuce, carrots, and spinach. I left the last 4 foot unplanted so that I can do some succession planting in a week or two so that that we will have new crops coming up as the season progress.  Once the seeds were in place I used the hoe to gently tamp the seeds into the soil.

Once the seeds were all taken care of, I draped a piece of clear plastic sheeting over the entire structure. The plastic is 10 ft. by 25 foot so it will be adequate in covering the remaing 9 foot of exposed PVC with a little extra to secure it from blowing away.  Once it was trimmed to length I place some old pieces of scrap lumber around the edges.  Not the most decorative of methods of securement but it is functional.  The plastic needs to be easily removable so that on warm days the structure can be vented.  One thing I will do to help with the venting is to use some large office type clips to hold the plastic on the ends back when it sun is really shinning and the temperature gets a little warm in the hoop.  That is it!

Management of the mini green house will be a learning experience for me but I am looking forward to the fresh vegies that this little structure will produce. I hope that I will have some success with the mini greenhouse but if not it was a great way to spend a beautiful day in the garden with my son and teach him a little bit about gardening.  That actually makes it all worth it.IMG_1165

Bees Without the Hive

The finished Mason Bee nest block securely attached to the side of our shed.


If you have been reading this blog, you may have seen the posts about building a bee hive. I have been interested in bees as pollinators for some time, and I can appreciate the role that they play in pollinating our crops.  I remember when I was a kid having a yard and garden full of bees but that seems to have changed.  We are also are hearing of this decline in bees mentioned in the media.  People are becoming alarmed at the decline of the honey bee but did you know that honey bees are not indigenous to America?  European settlers actually brought the honey bees with them when they settled this land. Another fact is that there are 4000 species of bees that are indigenous to North America?  With all of these indigenous bees surely we could utilize them to pollinate our crops, right?  That is exactly what I am going to wright about today.

A blog post certain is not the place to discuss 4000 species of bees but I would like to discuss the one variety that got me interested in bee keeping and that is the Mason Bee. Mason bees are one of the first pollinators to emerge in the spring.  I often see them on our Bradford Pear trees since they bloom fairly early.  When the days are sunny and the wind is low, there will be what appears to be thousands of bees swarming around our trees. A close looks at then will reveal an insect that looks much like a miniature honey bee but is darker in color.  As the season progresses, these bees will migrate from our back yard to our mini orchard, which is situated in the northeast corner of our property.  There they get to the task of pollinating the numerous blooms on our fruit trees and berry plants.  As quickly as they emerge and get to work, the Mason Bees seem to disappear as well.  They are only active early in the spring for a short time.

So how can a person promote a healthy population of mason bees? Simple, build them a house to live in.  Mason Bees will lay their eggs in holes they find in wood created by other insects so all you need to do is get a piece of wood and drill some holes in it.  OK, so there may be a little more to it than that but not much more.  There are several different was that I have seen Mason Bee nests constructed such as the previously mentioned wood block or there is paper straws placed in some type of container.  I have also seen nests constructed on bamboo as well.  I much prefer the wood block method just for the protection and durability that it provides for the eggs.

How do go about build a nest block?  you will need to start with a block of wood; I happen to have some untreated 4 x 4 lumber that I use. Drill some 5/16 inch holes ¾-1 “ on center.  Hole size is said to be important because it can influence the sex of the bees.  Drilling them smaller will increase the percentage of males.  Next, add some type of roof to your block to shed the rain from the top of the nest block and then attach the nest block to a sturdy south facing structure.  In the past I have attached it to the side of our little shed.  It is said that is important to attach the nest to a solid structure because the bees do not like a structure that is subject to movement.  That is pretty much it for Mason Bees.  Some people will choose to refrigerate their nest block or move it to a sheltered area to protect it from predators after the mason bees become inactive but I choose to leave mine in place all year.

If you are looking at a simple way to increase the yield in your garden this year, there are easier ways to do it besides a honey bee hive. Find a block of wood and drill some holes and you can be on your way to increased productivity in your garden using an indigenous pollinator.

My Book Review

During winter, there are fewer demands on my time as opposed to when the weather is warmer. One of the things I really enjoy is reading about homesteading type projects. I cannot even begin to count the number of articles, magazines, books, and blogs I have consumed over the years relating to this topic. As the practice of returning to some of the simpler ways of life becomes a more popular topic, it seems the field is crowded with many players.  It is sometimes difficult to filter through some of the content so I thought I would share some of the magazines and books that I have found to be good quality sources of information


Mother Earth News

FullSizeRender 6The first magazine I began reading related to the topic of simple living/homesteading/self-sufficiency would be Mother Earth News. This magazine has been around for many years and has evolved since its beginning in the 1970’s. They offer a CD containing a digital collection of articles dating back to the first issues which is when I believe the magazine was at its best. Don’t get me wrong, it is still a good periodical, I just find the information contained in the earlier versions more to my liking. The current publication tends to lean toward environmentalism and political correctness a little more than I might care for, but if you can get past that, there are some articles that might provide inspiration for projects. Mother Earth News does tend to lack a little in the depth and detail for some of its projects, but sometimes, I find a quick easy read article on a subject enough to get me interested in researching it further. Despite the  lack of detail in the current articles, the archives are so vast you should be able to do an online search of past articles to find what you want.

GritFullSizeRender 5

Grit is a sister publication to Mother Earth News. The articles in Grit seem to be geared toward the hobby farmer a little more, with less emphasis on environmentalism and politics. The topics are similar to Mother Earth News, in detail, but again it is a good publication to inspire you in pursuing new projects.

Countryside and Small Stock Journal

Countryside has been one of my favorite magazines for several years. Recently the FullSizeRenderpublication changed hands and subsequently has changed format to some extent. Countryside was a magazine full of wonderfully concise articles of simple projects and old-timey wisdom. I would compare reading Countryside to sitting down with your granddad on the front porch and listening to him tell how they did things when he was younger. The pages of the old Countryside were devoid of glossy print and pictures, and it was as simple as the lifestyle it was promoting. The new Countryside seems to be evolving, and to me it seems as though it has not settled down and developed any particular identity as of yet. I am hopeful that it will remain as good as it had been in the past.

Backwoods Home

I would rank this magazine as my personal favorite. The history of theFullSizeRender 3 magazine and its origin are as interesting as the articles it contains. The tone of this magazine tends to lean more toward preparedness, but I find that there is still much content relating to simple living contained within its pages. Dave Duffy, the founder of Backwoods Home, decided to seek out a more simple life, leaving behind a career in the aerospace industry. He began documenting some of his experiences, and was able to begin a second career publishing a magazine. Articles include diverse topics such as politics, gardening, canning, firearms, and DIY. There is rarely a time that I cannot find something within the pages that do not interest me. As with Mother Earth News, I do not always agree with all of the content but these deference in opinions are easily looked past. Backwoods Home also offers digital as well as print anthologies dating back to the beginning of publication. These make for a very useful reference library for most every topic relating to homesteading. They also offer an online article index that will allow you to locate the information you need.


Encyclopedia of Country LivingIMG_1017

This is a classic book in the living off the land genre written by Carla Emery. I would classify this more of a resource manual. Something that you get out when you need to research a topic. I have found that it does not, for me, lend itself well to being a book that is read cover to cover, although I don’t think it was intended as such.

The “Have-More” Plan

This is another classic that has been around for many years, from Ed and Carolyn IMG_1036Robinson.  The current version is a quick read, and from what I have heard, this version has been truncated from the original. There are various topics covered, from buying your home to raising pigs. Some of the information is a little dated but I have read and re-read this several times. This is a very inspirational read for someone looking to live a back to the land/simple life that is integrated with the 9-5 work week.

Storey’s Basic Country Skills.

John and Martha Storey have put together a very comprehensive resource for all thingsFullSizeRender 4 homesteading. This book contains a wealth of information that I refer to many times. There are several DIY projects with just the right amount of detail as to not be too tedious to read, and yet still providing enough information to be able to complete the project on your own. Where the Robinsons “The Have-More” plane is a quick read, John and Martha Storey have put together a comprehensive collection of very well written articles.

Reader’s Digest Back to Basics

FullSizeRender1This is an older book that was given to me when I first purchased my home. I credit this book with fueling my desire to live a simpler lifestyle. This book contains a wide variety of articles that will spark the imagination. Although the detail in some of the articles is a little lacking, I still find it to be quite adequate. I find myself picking this book up and reading just for inspiration. It makes me want to take on new projects and explore new interests. An online search shows that there are currently used versions of this book available as well as a newer book with the same name. I am not sure whether this new book contains the same content as the one that I have

The Self Reliant Homestead

I do not own a copy of this particular book but it is one that I have checked out many times from the library.  I first became aware of Charles Sanders, the author of this book, through his articles that he wrote for Backwoods Home Magazine.  The book contains various topics that seem to me, to be written in a magazine article format.  In reading through his book I became aware that the author was a Conservation Officer in Indiana, and then later I read an article in our local newspaper that was announcing his retirement.  For a long time I never knew that he lived so close.  This is a very good book that, some day, I will add to my library.

I am sure that there are many other good resources out there; these just represent some of my favorites. I hope that by compiling this list you will be able to find something that you enjoy and that you can find useful. If you have any favorites not listed here please leave them in the comments for others to see.

Top Bar Hive part 2

Spring is quickly approaching and I have yet to finish the bee hive that I started prior to the holidays but it is coming along nicely. If you recall I decided to build a top bar hive due to the simplicity of the design and hopefully less time spent managing it. In review the top bar design is supposed to mimic a more natural environment in which bees would choose to build a hive in nature. The one drawback to this design is that there is less honey production but since I am more interested in pollination I was not worried with a little less honey.  I found my plans for free at http://www.biobees.com/ but a recent search shows that they are now charging for these.

The first step was to edge glue some old 1 by 6 board for the sides and ends.  This took a few days to complete since I only have a limited number of clamps.  To strengthen the joints I also utilized a biscuit joiner.  This cuts a notch in the edge of a board and a small oval “biscuit” is glued up and placed in the notch.  This should add some strength to the joint.  This is probably not really necessary but I did it anyway.While the ends and sides were setting up I cut a bunch of top bars.  These are what the bees will build their comb on.  Prior to installation I will run these through the table saw to make a small channel down the middle and it will be filled with melted bees wax.  The purpose for this is to act as a guide for the bees when they begin building their comb.

Another part of the hive is the follower boards. These are two identical pieces that act IMG_0991to contain the bees into a particular area of the hive so that they concentrate their efforts of building comb in a particular area.  At least that is how I understand it.  I glued then nailed these to a top bar.  The follower boards will also be utilized to establish the angle of the sides.

IMG_0755I drove a small nail in the top bar of the follower board and then I sat the side in place. I placed the other side piece in place and commenced to square this assembly up the best that I could.  This part of the process was time consuming.  Once it was all in place I marked where the sides should be attached to the end pieces by marking an outline of where they meet.  I them disassemble to this setup and proceeded to pre drill, glue, and screw the ends to the sides.  Once both ends were in place I needed to attach the legs.  I had run out of the 1 by 6 scrap that I had been using.  That was ok though I wanted something that would be more rot resistant.  I don’t want to use any pressure treated material in this project for the safety of the bees so I looked around and found an oak pallet.  I disassembled the pallet and used some of the wood for my legs.  I made these a little long incase I need to adjust the height or if they were to rot I can shorten them without any worries.

For the moment that is as far as I have made it. I still need to construct a bottom and fabricate some type of roof.  It is also getting time that I will need to place an order for my bees.  I am thinking about placing a viewing window in the side so that I can monitor the progress of the bees with minimal disruption.  So far this has been a fairly easy project.  I could have done a more precise job with the construction of this hive but I wanted to keep this more utilitarian and keep the budget low.  Some of the wood was a little warped or split but I did not let that stop me from utilizing it.  There are cosmetic imperfections but so far I have paid nothing for the project.  It was made from scrap lumber that was left over from other projects.



Garden Seeds Already?

IMG_0983Here we are in the middle of winter. Snow is on the ground and the wind is blowing outside. It is too cold to get outside and do anything. It is days like this that I long to be working in the garden. I enjoy tilling up the soil and laying out my rows in preparation to receive seeds or transplants. Even though I have been gardening for several years now, that first spring day that I put plants in the ground still gets me excited. But that day is still some time off.
One way that I like to spend cold winter day, passing time until I can get outside and work the ground, is reading through all of the seed catalogs that seem to start showing up shortly after Christmas. This for me is a signal that I am getting closer to that first day in the garden and helps with some of the cabin fever that is starting to sit in. Of course I could go to the computer and pull up the seed company’s web site but there is something special about holding a seed catalog and flipping back and forth through it, dog earing pages that have a certain variety that interests me, all while dreaming of the delicious food that will spring forth from my garden this summer.
IMG_0984I also find some of these catalogs to be good sources of gardening information. Some of them will have detailed descriptions of the product along with planting instructions. Some of them will also offer suggestions on how much seed to purchase based on the number of people in your family or it will indicate how long of a row a package of seeds will plant. In my early years of gardening I found this type of information very helpful when it was time to plan my seed purchases.
This time of year is also a good time to go out to the local farm store, or where ever you buy seeds, and start picking up some packets of seeds. At this time of year you will have a very good selection of seeds so that you are not left planting something just because it was all that was left. There are also fewer other people looking at seeds this time of year, giving you more freedom to examine the various varieties and compare them to one another. One final reason to start seed shopping now is that it is getting close to time for cool weather crops to be started indoors. Here in Indiana, there are some seeds that we will start in February. Even our heat loving plants, like tomatoes and peppers, will be started indoors by April.
Even though you may not typically think of January as being a good time to start gardening this is the perfect time of year to start planning what you are going to plant in your garden, come springtime. Take this time to plan and educate yourself so that your gardening experience will be better this year. Enjoy spending time inside this winter dreaming about the warm weather that will soon arrive while reading through those seed catalogs.