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Uses for Russian Olive wood?

 
Rebecca Norman
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We have very few types of trees around here -- only willows, poplars, Russian Olive, apples, apricots, and rarely other fruit. black locust has been introduced. And seabuck thorn gets to a good size. What might the Russian olive wood be useful for, other than firewood? Eg we always need to replace tool handles... Carpenters here start everything from scratch but the one carpenter I know well has no idea what russian olive and seabuckthorn wood are like because he's never tried them.
 
Ben Plummer
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According to this page, "good fuel and fair fence posts." The trees themselves sound pretty beneficial though.
 
tel jetson
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I've heard that russian olive is a nice wood for carving. becomes very hard with heat treatment or curing. never tried it myself, though. I would guess that it might be a bit too brittle for long tool handles, but again, I've never tried it myself.
 
                                                
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Even for firewood it is a poor choice in our experience. It *pops* with low heat and isn't very pleasant to split. Any other uses though?, anyone's guess is as good as mine. Any great woodworker can turn a branch into a gem...
 
Logan Simmering
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Not the wood, but apparently you can make a useful flour from the fruit.

http://www.ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/jas/article/view/21959/15203
 
tel jetson
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Cheryl and Roland Magyar wrote:Even for firewood it is a poor choice in our experience. It *pops* with low heat and isn't very pleasant to split.


my understanding is that a lot of popping in firewood is due to moisture. perhaps a longer curing time would prevent it.
 
Rebecca Norman
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Logan Simmering wrote:Not the wood, but apparently you can make a useful flour from the fruit.


In the linked study, cookies made with a small percentage of oleaster flour were rated not especially tasty. In my experience the berries are edible and slightly sweet but have an unpleasant astringency or something that makes your mouth feel dry and nasty.
 
William Bronson
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Given their name,one would wonder how do they taste made into "olives", which would mean brining,I guess...
 
Rebecca Norman
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The fruits look like olives but are not at all similar. I don't think the fruit is likely to be useful. Kids eat the fruit here so I try a few every year, but they are slightly sweet and very unpleasant with an astringent effect in the mouth. Just the type of thing kids will eat for the fun of it, but not worth collecting as a fruit.
 
S Carreg
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If they taste astringent, is it tannins? (I don't know, I've never had any) If so there are ways you can treat that, for example persimmons are tannic until they are slightly over-ripe, then they are nice. Or elderberries or sloe which are very tannic but you can make excellent wine out of them and with proper ageing the tannins mellow.
 
ben harpo
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I just acquired a property with lots of Russian Olive trees. Most of them are only 5 years old or so with multiple trunks coming out of the ground. I think most of them will need to be cleared to make room for other things. I could use advice on how to deal with them.


I want to build a hedgerow across the frontage of my property for security and as a food hedge. I was thinking of using Russian Olive cuttings as the hugelculture base of my hedge.

Are they good goat feed? Next year I will have goats so maybe I should keep some...

I tried pulling some Russian Olive out with my truck and a chain. Sometimes it works, but if the ground is hard and the trunks of the trees are whippy it doesn't.

I cut a bunch of them with a machete, but I am told they will just grow back from the roots. Any suggestions on dealing with that?

 
Matu Collins
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The astringent taste is oxalic acid which is toxic in high doses. They do have lots of lycopene, the antioxidant in tomatoes. I'm not partial to the fruits. You can make a passable sauce from them, and a fruit leather too but I'm saving that for when society collapses and I'm forced to be less picky.

The tree is considered an invasive species here. It leafs out earlier than native trees because it is Russian and shades out natives. It may be a nitrogen fixer but I would never plant it on purpose. It tends toward a bushy growth pattern here so there aren't many branches of substantial size. I'd throw the wood in a hugelbeet. Sorry I don't have any better ideas than that!

As I understand it the tree is a relative of the olive but the fruits do not cure like olives.
 
Rebecca Norman
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Yes, it tends towardsa bushy shape but I've done crown lifting on it to make one trunk thicker instead. We've got some about thrity feet tall with trunks at least 8 inches dia.
 
C. Letellier
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It is a very pretty wood especially if quarter sawn. But don't go for fine detail in it because it is extremely brittle. All corner should be rounded off and avoid molding or routing for sharp details. The biggest problem is lack of large pieces. Trunks are rarely straight for any distance and trunks over about 6 to 8 inches are almost always rotten in the middle. It is rare to cut a really big one down that isn't rotten in the middle. Young wood is lighter in color and darkens to an almost red in older trunks. Very inclined to split while drying. Really easy to work green but almost impossible to keep from splitting while drying. Between rotten cores, cracking and lack of straight trunks it will never be a popular large scale wood working wood. Be sure to use a good grain filler if you want a really smooth varnish finish on it as the pores are large and even after 6 or more coats of polyurethane varnish will still be popping up as holes in the finish if you don't properly fill.
 
Rebecca Norman
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Wow, thanks, that sounds like experienced info!
 
mike mclellan
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For Ben Harpo,
I've used a LOT of Russian olive in wood cored hugel beds. After two seasons I've seen no problems. A few sprouted but those were easy to remove. To kill them permanently, I drilled holes into the stumps cut near as possible flush to the ground. Then I cleaned my paintbrushes on top of them when I lacquered some doors in the house and poured the lacquer thinner into the holes. I used a wood borer bit 3/4 inch (about 2cm). Absolutely no resprout from the "treated" stumps. If you want, cut the main stems (I had some over 30 feet /10m tall) and then manage the resprouts for a few years to make any gain you can from their nitrogen fixing. Cut the sucker sprouts every year so they don't run away from you. It's not the nicest wood to have to work with as I feel as if it fights you from cutting it down, bucking, and chipping. Gnarly and spiny. However, the chips begin rotting pretty quickly.

I second most others here. It's hard to get anything approaching a straight piece of wood of any length and rot in the trunks is common. I do know the birds use the berries heavily in the fall just before migration and when they return in late winter/early spring as the berries are persistent. It is somewhat aggressive in the dry western US but using it as a pioneer and managing it would likely help this species develop a better reputation. I've seen photos of the North Platte River west of Casper, WY where there was no gallery forest back in the 1920s whereas there are hundreds of acres of Russian olive today. The same is true in parts of the Yellowstone River valley west of Billings, MT. Tons of Russian olives but at least some cottonwoods in places. No one seems to know it they will pioneer for native cottonwoods so the tree is cursed and put on the Noxious Weed List both in Wyoming and Montana. If you have them, manage them, select what to keep, what to cut, and you may well find it helps more than hinders in your development plans.
 
C. Letellier
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One other thing to add on cutting russian olive. It eats saw blades for lunch. Best guess is that it is the scaly bark collecting pockets of sand and dirt. Once you are into clean wood all directions it doesn't seem to be as bad.

While sanding russian olive be sure to wear a good dust mask or respirator as the dust is more irritating to your breathing than most wood dust.

As for removal the techniques are wide ranging. Chemically killing the trees is probably the most common. The Shell valley watershed I live in was one of the first places in the state of WY where they tried to clean up the long standing Russian Olive problem after they were declared a weed. They experimented and ended up with 2 answers that work better. The chemical mix is the same for both.( Herbicide, bark oil, and a surfactant.)(your local weed and pest should know chemical and mix rate) Both are winter operations for when the temperature is not getting above 50 degrees F. For smaller trees they do basal bark treatment which is spraying the first foot or 18 inches of the tree trunk clear around in the chemical mix. For trees over about 5 ft they do cut stump. Cut the tree off close to ground level them immediately spray the stump with chemical mix. Wait a few minutes and spray again. This needs to be accomplished within about 10 or 15 minutes of cutting the tree to work fully. Both of these produce a small sterile area around the tree. That area has been taking about 3 years in our soil to fade out completely. The advantage to these methods is resprouts from the roots are less of a problem.(still fighting the seed bank under the trees.) The stumps and dead trees must be left undisturbed for at least a year because if you don't you can cause the tree roots to start resprouting.

An alternate chemical path learned while I was growing up is a multiple spray method with 2-4D. You have to spray and kill all the foliage on the tree each time. The first time should be late summer about 6 weeks before first frost. That way the tree is just starting to put foliage back on when the frost comes along and kills it again. In the spring let the foliage get established solidly(about 3 weeks or a months growth ) and spray it off again. At this point the tree is on a down hill slide and you will spray another 3 times(twice more that summer and once the next spring) each time it tries to put foliage out. Way more work but milder chemical doing it. Probably still not the permie answer but it should at least be mentioned.

From there you are to mechanical means. There is an outfit that takes an 8 ft swath like a giant lawn mower that chips ever thing. It is really expensive. The next door neighbor had really good luck with waiting for the ground to freeze really solid then running with the dozer blade just barely off the ground and shearing the trees off at ground level. Then to control resprouts he was using intensive grazing practices. Livestock don't like olive as a food and will avoid it under normal grazing practices but under intensive they wipe things clean. Another neighbor girded a bunch of trees and used a mixture of hand removal and normal grazing to control the sprouts. From there other answers are pushing and pulling things out with various means or cutting them off with shears. Trackhoes, tractors, bobcats and other answers have all been used. For outfits with tires suggest getting them foam filled. It is expensive but so is the down time of flats. The bobcat user who spent most of a year cleaning his problem up was incredibly happy with that answer. Even running stop leak in the tires he had been doing several flats a week. After he of course never had a flat.

I will say if you are going to be doing anything close into the trees like sawing, girding or pulling with chains I will make the strong suggestion to have a bunch of goats in to eat the under story away before hand so you are not fighting as many thorns while getting close to the trees. It will greatly improve your attitude and experience.

 
Brenda Groth
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easiest way to make a hedgerow from your russian olives is to set posts and wire where you want the hedgerow..and the birds will plant them from the berries of your existing russian olive bushes..they grow here under every elec or telephone wire..
 
Denis Huel
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I'm not sure how to provide a link but found an interesting paper of the growing and use of Russian olive for fuelwood. If you Google Fuelwood production Aral Sea Basin you should find it. Perhaps someone smarter than me could find it and post the link.

Russian olive is a difficult species for me given its reputation as an invasive in many areas. I live in cold dry (zone 3) climate on the Canadian prairies and find Russian olive is the easiest species to establish on dry infertile sites. Deer are not an issue with it and it grows extremely well on sandy infertile soils. I want to plant a lot of it but I do not want it to spread and be an issue elsewhere. Not sure what to do.
 
Rebecca Norman
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Well, it will be impossible to contain if you feel containment is important. It will propagate itself very handily by root shoots, especially if disturbed, and by seeds as mentioned above.

If you want to propagate it, hardwood cuttings in later winter are very successful in my experience (like willow and poplar but needs less water).
 
Kent Hessenthaler
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I have been making furniture with Russian Olive wood for several years and have found it to be very hard, beautiful, and nice to work with. The biggest problem is finding trees that are large enough to have cut into dimensional lumber. It is important to cure it in a dry place for at least a year. When green it tends to warp a bit. I find that it has a beautiful grain and looks similar to oak. I have used it to make tables, chairs, picture frames, vanities, mirror frames, etc. A really neat look is to leave the bright yellow wood just under the bark intact on the outside of tables. The bright yellow wood really makes the rich chocolate color of the heart-wood pop. Kent.
 
Jenna Ferresty
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I use thin, green branches from my Russian olive trees to make baskets as one might otherwise use willow.
 
Rez Zircon
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Woodturners like to use Russian olive -- it's a beautiful wood once finished.

They'd started to clear out the Russian olive and saltcedar in MT but found that was doing more harm than good because wildlife had adapted to depending on the trees. Last I heard the program was on hold.

 
paul wheaton
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In this post, C. Letellier said:

For firewood it burns good and hot, moderate amount of ash and isn't bad about creosote. The bark is extremely hard on chain saw chains making cutting a bit of a pain. Best guess is that it collects a lot of dirt in its layers. Splits decently if good wood and dry. Miserable stuff to harvest for firewood because nothing is even mildly straight and because of all the thorns. Best answer to help with harvest that I am aware of is goats followed by some cribbing horses. Goats wipe out the under story and the horses get rid of the rest up to more than head high. Normally the branch thicket around the base of the tree means cutting to even clear a place to work to fell the tree. Giant Mechanical shears or cutting blades help here so humans don't have to get close to cut them down. The thorns are rough to work around.

For construction wood the answer is unlikely. The trees tend to spiral crack with changing moisture levels and getting straight pieces even 4 to 6 feet long for wood working is difficult. The other problem is that if the trunk is over about 8 inches in diameter the odds are the heart wood will be rotten. Lots of years spent looking for cabinet size pieces taught me that. For every about 15 or 20 trees cut down with large trunk size I find one tree with good heart wood in the big part of the trunk. Now it might make artificial timber. The process that uses scrub wood and crushes it and adds glue to make an engineered wood might work with these.(I have wondered about this one for 25 years since I saw the original article on it.) It is a beautiful wood working wood especially quarter sawed. Really bad for fine detail work because places in the grain tend to be really fragile. For good durability avoid sharp square profiles along with fragile profiles and round all edges over.
 
Rez Zircon
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There's a guy in our local woodturning club who makes tables out of Russian olive -- he's cut some huge trees (6 foot diameter), had them milled, and got a bunch of big slabs out of them. These were trees along the river, getting a lot of water which might make a difference. The ones in my uncle's tree patch, which haven't seen water in 50 years, rarely grow two feet in the same direction.
 
Rebecca Norman
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Rez, I'd love to see photos!
 
Rez Zircon
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I'll have to ask him if he has a website, or if I can take some pics (assuming I can remember to bring the camera to a meeting!) His pieces are absolutely beautiful.
 
Jason Hall
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If you let the fruit fully mature it does not dry your mouth out, and has a tomatoish back flavor.
 
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