Forest management. Seeing the trees and the forest is a skill for sure. Zooming in and out not only on what is in front of you but also what is now and what it will become in 20 and 30 years. We are always observing with an eye on understanding life expectancy and transition from pioneer species like our cherry and alder to apex species like cedar and maple.

Observation is great but it is most useful informs action.



This is like thinning really big carrots, and the scale of it is a little daunting. One day’s work allows me to cruise and actively thin an area about 400 feet square. It is hard to see the difference.

First out are the little guys with no chance of getting leaves up into the canopy. Shade tolerant species stay put since they represent the successional canopy as long as they get enough light to stay healthy. We spend a lot of time looking up, then looking out.

I’ve opened up a little gap


It’s easy to see the first trees to thin here

All this gets done by hand, so bucking logs into lengths I can carry is the rule. Stumps get cut even with the ground, tops get chipped for mulch projects. I try and leave about a third of the volume of wood in place and in contact with the soil. Doing that builds soil fertility by adding organic matter and alder roots will begin to release nitrogen in the coming year or two (red alder is a nitrogen fixer).

Tools for the job


How many tools does it take? The more tools the harder the job, right? A tape measure is handy too as is my roofing hatchet. Distance between dominant trees should be between 15-20 feet, and bucking logs in 16″ divisible numbers is handy so we don’t end up with the inevitable “shorty” that makes woodpile management a little harder.

Progress before breakfast

Big carrots

Near the end of the day it looks like we did a lot of work if we look at the pile. Looking back into the forest shows the need for continuing the thinning operation. The last step is unloading the full truck bed of chips in an area that needs it. Cistern garden is lacking so we put this pile uphill from the trees it will be spread on. This pile is slow release nitrogen and good fungus development waiting to happen. I can probably assume at least two more full time weekends of doing this to get the first of 10 woodlots finished out.

I’ve been thinking about a work party for this kind of work, at least the hauling and chipping. A pig roast, a bonfire, some entertainment as a reward for a hard weekend’s work and camaraderie seem like a good trade off. It’s just that this is kind of dangerous so we’ll have to think through the method and planning well before we ever host a party.

Remember, when getting a little dirty always wear protection. Safety first!


Woodsy smooches are my favorite


About M. Agriculteur

Designer, motorcycle junkie, traveler, wanna-be iron butter (more butt than iron), builder, foodie, farmer wanna-be.
This entry was posted in Farming, Forest Management, Sustainability, Tree Care and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Thinning

  1. Masha Zager says:

    Nice. Are you leaving any snags for bird/animal habitat?

    • When I have big enough widths yes, these are too narrow for nest holes. These maxed out at 6-8″ breast height diameter. When we do our second pass cruising 10-16 inch BH trees I’m bringing a ladder to drop a few and leave 6 foot high snags in place

  2. Looks beautiful! We live in a gorgeous and fertile part of the country.

    The resident woodcutter got a firewood marker this season, and he is in heaven. Who knew something so simple could bring so much joy. All these years of painstakingly marking 16″ lengths is a dim memory now.

    • That’s pretty neat! I’m using a tape like this. It hangs from my belt and uses a sharpened nail in the end to keep it on the log. Retracts automatically so your hands are both free. Nice for cutting milling lengths, tree spacing, and almost as nice for log lengths as your gadget. I keep a lumber crayon on me for marking.

      • He wanted to graduate from the scaling tape and speed things up since wood cutting usually ends up being an evening after work kind of deal. For me growing up in a family of loggers the sound that tape makes when it comes back in after the log has been marked for bucking really reminds me of my childhood being in the woods with my dad and brother.

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