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Doug Fir vs. food forest for people

 
Pennie O'Grady
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I have a huge Doug Fir in my yard which provides many gifts, though 
not people food.  I have been mulling over what to do because I also believe 
that growing as much food in my yard as possible will become ever 
more critical as time (and peak oil) unfolds.  Both keeping the tree 
and removing it have significant implications/impacts and I'd like to 
choose the best course of action, of course!  I am gathering 
perspectives on this over the summer (shade is one of the gifts).  What do you think? 
 
paul wheaton
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There are very few things that will grow under or near a conifer.  Blueberries being the most popular.  If you like lots and lots of blueberries, that might be your best bet!

How big is the tree?

How much do you like blueberries?

Are the branches low to the ground?

Can you post a pic?

 
Pennie O'Grady
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Hi Paul --

I tried to post a pic, but it's too big and I don't know how/if I can make the file smaller.

The tree is at least 100 feet tall, branches starting about 25 feet up, and around 100 years old?

Lots of tall grasslike stuff growing right up to the trunk, some blackberry, chickweed, money plant -- but mostly this grassy stuff.

We love blueberries, but I would still like to grow more than that -- more diverse food sources.

I've been told by arborists that any fruit trees should do well -- there's enough light -- but not so sure with the 5 1/2 foot "privacy" fence on the south and east side of the yard (house and garage to the west and north).  An already established apple tree in the southeast corner is doing okay, producing somewhat marred but large, tasty fruit every year -- great for applesauce!  I wonder what would make less wormy apples?  I like the idea of guilds and wonder if the guild described for apple in Gaia's Garden would work with the doug fir hovering overhead?

Pennie
 
paul wheaton
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I found the part of the forum software that allows for tinkering of attachments.  So you should now be able to attach pictures.

Wow ...  so many things to say ....

A tree like that is quite beautiful.  I would have a hard time taking it out.  It is sooooo tall and since the lower branches are gone, it seems like it will cast a shadow straight down only when the sun is directly overhead.  Maybe an hour or two a day?   

The needles will fall and make the soil below acidic.  Plus there will be other allelopathic elements .... 

How many hours of sun per day do you suppose an apple tree might get there?

How about some raspberries?

Reducing worms in apples:  don't leave fruit on the ground.  Compost all fruit!

 
Pennie O'Grady
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I'll respond without the pics.

With the house to the west and the neighbor's to the east, the shadows don't leave more than 3 - 4 hours of light in any given patch of open ground during summer.  Is that enough?  The apple tree is already in the sunniest spot and benefits from its height.  Not sure about starting shorter bushes.

Also, sap dripping is a problem -- berries don't scrub well -- and the pollution in the air sticks to the sap......  I'd want to plant more cleanable fruit if it would work with the fir close by.  Any other ideas?

 
paul wheaton
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By reading your message, I get the impression that you want that tree to go. 

Take the tree.  It is a huge, beautiful tree.  But space in the city is precious. 

Personally, with such limited space, I would convert it into lumber.  It offers no food, and what it adds to the edibles is marginal and countered by blocking the sun and its allelopathic effects.


 
Pennie O'Grady
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I'm still considering, but leaning in the direction of taking the tree down, yes, though with a heavy heart.  I feel alot of sadness about that.  It is a beautiful tree and has been like a good friend in many ways.

I have asked one arborist about miling it for lumber.  He said it would be very costly -- he guessed the cost of the lumber would be 3 or more times that at a store.  But I would like to research this more.  Does anyone that does this kind of thing or know anyone with a portable mill in the Seattle area?  Maybe I could offer "beams" on Craig's list?  Do you have any other suggested strategies?

Otherwise, it would become firewood and wood chips for trade and personal use.
 
paul wheaton
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The trick with the sawmills is that they have to drive the mill to your site and back.  And there is the set-up and take down.  It works pretty good if you have enough wood to saw.  I think you might. 

The lumber would need a few months to dry before it could be used.  Do you have a place where there could be a big stack of lumber?

The next problem with this kind of lumber is that it cannot be used for any kind of authorized structure unless the wood has been inspected.

 
                            
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There are at least a dozen portable mills in the area (http://ext.nrs.wsu.edu/forestryext/sawmill/index.htm).
They charge about $1000 for a days work. I was thinking of the same thing with my 60+', three trunk maples. This would produce about 15K worth of wood. It would be a shame to just use it as firewood. But, unless you can dry it correctly, it could all end up as firewood anyway (I say that because I don't know how to do it, but was warned by the mill operators). Optionally, you could buy/rent a portable mill and chainsaw from aurorarents or someplace else. You could rough cut beams for sure. I know nothing about inspections, so Paul is the expert there.
 
paul wheaton
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Drying hardwood is challenging.

Drying conifer (pine, fir, cedar, etc.) is easy (provided the pieces are not thicker than 2 inches):  just sticker stack and cover in such a way that air can circulate.

Pennie,

If you could convince a local rental outfit to buy a skill mill ($3900), and you rent it, I would be happy to do the work for free. 

 
Pennie O'Grady
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Wow.  Thanks, Paul, for the offer!  We could explore your milling the wood in more depth if I get enough questions answered.  Would you like some of the lumber yourself (in trade of course)? 

You have milled lumber before?  If I wanted to sell the lumber, would you (or anyone else milling it) need to have some kind of certification along with the inspection?  How much would an inspection cost? 

How much wood would a wood chuck chuck? 

And how could I get an estimate of the amount and value of the lumber ahead of time?  How did you arrive at the 15K figure, chezball?

Any ideas on how I'd get a rental place to buy a skill mill? Is anyone else interested in this if I went to a rental place and let them know there are a couple of folks I know who would also like to rent a mill..... ?  I wonder if the city would be interested in this idea if there is a commitment to replace the tree with other (fruit) trees?  Or if losing more large trees is just too far afield of tree loss issues at present?

What is "sticker stack"?  Paul, if you have experience in milling, could you help me estimate the volume of drying space I would need for the size tree I have?

Finally, I think I learned how to send a smaller photo file.  I hope this works!
IMG_1282.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_1282.jpg]
IMG_1283.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_1283.jpg]
 
paul wheaton
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My experience is that I once did a huge amount of research to buy a sawmill.  Then I bought a sawmill.  I assembled it.  I drug some logs up to it.  And then I got deee-vorced and the mill went with her.

It would be nice to have some of the wood.  I'm not sure what for at this point.

I remember reading that an inspection is about $300 no matter how much (or how little) wood you have.

I suppose the thing to do would be to call around to rental places and ask if they have a mill.  If they don't, suggest this one - then ask them if they got it, how much would they rent it to you for one day.

A sticker stack is where you cut some pieces that are about one inch thick as you go.  Then you lay those cross-wise on the stack so that air can circulate between all the boards.

The pics came through great!
 
M. Kachi Cassinell
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Hi, I too support you in removing the Doug Fir if you decide too. However it is kind of a neat study of the natural guilds of the N.W. .Doug fir is the dominant tree here. The amount of plants that can live under it are plentiful if the soil has lots of course woody debris (logs) and mulch. Without that the soil is dry and hard and the tree drips lots of resin on the plants. But when conditions are good I see Ribes the flowering current does well as I would imagine the red and black ones would. The salmon berries, Huckleberries even cherries Indian plum also. The floor could have nettles, chickweed, salal (berries are edible) Oxalis and mushrooms!! It could be full of forest garden potential. I have been working with the same situation in my yard. Soaker hoses can really help with the transition as you build up soil fertility.
I love the Doug Fir community so I just needed to put in an endorsement for her.
 
paul wheaton
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M. Kachi Cassinell,

Can you tell us more about the resin?  Why does the resin drip when the forest floor is clear?
 
Pennie O'Grady
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Well that's interesting and inspiring, and something more to think about, Kachi! Thanks!

Meanwhile, I will also check around for milling rental possibilities, Paul.  Ultimately, I don't want to pay more than what it will cost to cut the tree, which makes it all sound less feasible (if I do finally decide to bring the tree down).  Thanks for continuing to answer so many questions!
 
M. Kachi Cassinell
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Why do coniferous trees drip more sap when the ground is cleared?  Hello, I don't know for sure. Please if anyone has more information chime in. Here is a educated guess though.

The trees always seem to drip more resins when they are stressed. Not enough moisture. The leaves (needles) transpire more to keep the plant cool. Resins production increases to protect the plant from pathogenic invasion when stressed.  When the ground doesn't have enough mulch the soil dries out quicker the fungal network that extends their root system and improves their immunity is depleted. Read Mycelium Running (paul stamets),  the fungal population can have a huge impact on other soil microorganisms, soil fertility, aeration, water holding capacity. The whole ecosystem is just amazing!! Larger woody debris would not have an immediate impact but over time could act like a water sink for draughty times. Does anyone know about the tree physiology?
 
paul wheaton
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Interesting question. 

Does it drip more during stress or during abundance?

I remember a picture of a forest taken in the same place every 20 years for a hundred years.  The first picture is supposedly untouched land where it is dry.  Lots of big trees and just a few logs.  The idea was that fires came through regularly.  I suppose when it is dry, a fire would take out most of the ground material.

I always thought that the resin was for pushing bugs out.  Maybe lots of resin is a sign of lots of bugs trying to get in. 
 
M. Kachi Cassinell
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Hi, You' re right. After looking at some research abstracts on line, it seems that the trees transpire more when there is plenty of ground moisture (flooding is a different story). Stomata on the leaves can open or close in response to the environment. It's not just in response to the crown temperatures but with the soil moisture. When the stomata close the tree is able to transpire more slowly and conserve water.  Also, One study indicated that resin production is greater in trees (Abies grand.) with more vigor. Hmph. So much for an educated guess.
 
Kelda Miller
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That was an interesting point about the mushrooms! Among native berries, etc. a doug. fir guild could have mushrooms. I love this topic, because doug firs are the reality in most of this watershed, and I don't want to lose them. I have yet to see a site that really experiments with the doug fir guild. Has anyone else?
 
Dave Boehnlein
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Species selections: Mushrooms are a good solution. Have you considered creating a small water feature under the canopy? If so you could use a recirculating pump and give wasabi a try (if anyone has experience growing this, please chime in!).  I've heard it does well with some shade. Also, is it possible to limb the Doug fir up so that more sun gets under it? If so you could really open up your options for food production.

Resin: Does anyone know if there is any use for Doug Fir resin? I know some tree resins provide a plethora of products, but I've never of any from Doug fir.
 
Pennie O'Grady
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Hi All --

I'm the original poster and have moved on -- no doug fir guild for me.  Thanks to all who helped me think through this!!

I've decided to bring the tree down.  Right now I'm offering 8 foot segments of 3 1/2" diameter trunk (3 or so) to anyone who would like to mill or otherwise craft it and would be able to make a firm commitment to taking it in the next couple of weeks.  The tree will come down January 24.  So far, I have some of it going to a wood turner.  I am NOT offering free firewood!  I live in the Greenlake area.
 
paul wheaton
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For something that big across, you should be able to make a round table 3.5 feet in diameter where the legs are all part of the same block of wood.  I once saw a table like that.  Pretty cool.

Another good thing for really green wood like that is to carve off a slice with the bark, drill some holes and stick already dried small branches in the holes.  As the wet wood ages/dries, it will shrink around the small stuff and pinch it permanenty without any glue. 

 
Pennie O'Grady
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Hi Paul!!

I like your ideas.  Not being a wood craftsperson, I have to ask how you'd make the legs come out of the top of the table all from one block of wood?  You want any?  It's right in your neighborhood.
 
paul wheaton
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I suppose I could borrow a chainsaw from a friend ....  I could take a two foot chunk from the fattest part of your tree .... 

The idea is to start with a big block of wood and then cut away the part you don't want to expose the legs ...

When the wood is green, it is easy to shape.  But as it dries, the top could (and probably would) crack.    There is where the real skill is - how to get that top to dry without cracking.  Anybody know about that?
 
                    
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Trees anchor the soil you use to grow a garden. Pine needles provide excellent ground insulation during late fall and early spring which is best appreciated when that freak frost hits your precious food bearing plants. Your Douglas fir cools the air around your garden in the summer and helps maintain warmer temperatures in your yard during cold months. Douglas firs especially are noble trees and their presence supports even miniature Eco-systems like a yard and garden. It is an inspiration every day if you know what to look for...a truly amazing contributor to your health, happiness and well-being.

Your Douglas Fir protects your yard and garden from battering rains, from those freak hailstorms we experience here every so often. It drains your yard and helps keep the soil alkalinity and dampness constant so that your plants thrive and your soil is working right. Fir bark sheds can be used to start the fire in your burn barrel (the ash of which you can use to enrich your garden soil).

Trees clear and cool the air we breathe - those vehicle fumes? Your Douglas fir reduces those poisons. Amazingly, even though it has needles instead of leaves it is JUST AS efficient as a broadleaf deciduous tree in cleaning our environment of smog and emissions. Without air we don't breathe and oil wars become a moot point. Your Douglas Fir is a contributor to the overall positive energy and strength, not just of your yard, but of your neighborhood and across the city. There aren't many of these forest dwelling trees around and when we recognize their beauty and importance amid the grit and grime of the ugliest, starkest urban landscapes we are making a connection with them as living organisms that benefit us and them and every living thing in our vicinity. A tree supports our survival just as much as a garden.

If you are growing your own food due to oil concerns your Douglas fir is a statement about your politics. The Douglas fir is definitely your ally against oil barons and petty politicians. Nothing is green without trees.

I hope I saw this soon enough. Please reconsider - perhaps just trim some branches to open your garden area a little.

 
                    
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Sap drips in response to ground temperatures. Pollution raises ground temps (suppresses,represses or obliterates natural heating and cooling elementals in the ecosystem). Clearing cools the ground.  Your tree is working its arse off it sounds like.

Uses for sap: chewing gum (try it - you can swallow it just don't consume too much) and a bunch of stuff we can't do anymore that goes more properly under the homesteading heading as wistful "recovered wisdom"
 
                            
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Oh...Douglas Fir is one of my most precious allies. 
Douglas Fir is a wound healer....physical, social, emotional. 
It would be in your best interest and that of our planet to keep this grandmother
fir.  You can make infused oil with the needles.  It is anti-fungal, heals minor wounds and soothes the nervous system.  I also make Douglas Fir Vinegar which contains vitamin C.  I harvest the needles in the dead of winter when they drop during wind storms.  You can also make infused honey from the needles and pick and dry the needles and make a steam with them when you have a cold. 
Here is a link to my website where I have some of my writing about the healing of evergreen trees.  http://www.crowsdaughter.com/nourishing-news.html Scroll down and you will find more info and a recipe for making infused oil with the Douglas Fir Needles.
May you enjoy this tree's bounty.
Peace, Julie
 
paul wheaton
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So I took a sawmill to it.

Pennie, do have any pics of the space now?

 
Pennie O'Grady
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I will take some photos and include some of the milling project.  Last weekend I had some Harvest Collective friends over and we began to layout and dig garden beds. 

The tree gave Paul a chance to learn milling.  I used the lumber from Paul's milling to build a chicken coop.  Logs became source material for a wood craftsman who carves large bowls.  2 slabs served to build a gift of book shelves.  It provided a job for a homeless youth to earn money by cutting it into firewood.  It was used as firewood by several families and for school camps.  Wood shavings have been great mulch as well as chicken bedding material.  Wood chips have made it into several gardens (moved by wheelbarrow) for path material and mulch.  Some of the smaller rounds are being used as seating and for chopping blocks.  The stump at grade will be used as a central feature in my garden layout.

I have made and enjoyed many gifts from this tree over the years, including doug fir infused oil and many boughs brought inside in winter, which I will miss.

Once it was down, someone came by who studies windfallen trees and said that though there were no outward signs, the extensive inner scarring from stress fractures throughout the lower trunk was very substantial and his opinion was that it had been unstable and a definite candidate (had it stood) for a blow down in a stiff wind within the next couple of years.

I have planted 7 fruit trees and 2 blueberries this spring.  I am glad for the light and am working for more urban scale plantings, since I do live in the city.
 
Ryan Henry
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paul wheaton wrote:There are very few things that will grow under or near a conifer.  Blueberries being the most popular.  If you like lots and lots of blueberries, that might be your best bet!




Actually Here in the lower mt. forest of CO currants, gamble oaks, and mountain mahoghany love to grow under the Ponderosa pines... and a plant which I don't know but looks like a comfrey/sorrel... not the best plants to live off of but a cool food producing guild would be all those plants mentioned plus sorrel, comfrey, and strawberries... and if you wanted to build one from scratch a Siberian/Korean Nut Pine, with crandall clove currants, mountain mahoghany, gamble oak shrub layer, a sorrel/comfrey/borage herbaceous layer, and strawberry ground cover would be killer!!! However Paul is right in that not much grows under Douglas Fir or any other thicker montane forest species...
 
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