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Surrounded By Pines and Tons of Pine Needles.

 
                    
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Our mountain property is forested in ponderosa pines predominantly, with some fir and aspen. The area surrounding the cabin and outbuildings has been cleared off all small brush. There is some grass that is spreading slowly since the decades deep accumulation of readily burnable duff (mainly pine needles, broken off branches and fallen trees) was cleared over the past three years. Last year our toil was rewarded when a small wildfire ripped through the adjacent naturally cluttered property. The fire fighters credited our clean up with providing space for them to stop the fire before it came any closer to our buildings.

Our plan has been to rake and burn the fallen needles in the immediate area surrounding our building each spring to make it difficult for any ground fires to get close enough to do any damage to buildings. Does anyone have any better idea other than raking into small piles or low rows and burning them?  Thoughts?


 
Brenda Groth
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i certainly understand your desire to have the tinder away from your home..Have you thought about clearing a few of the trees that are say within 30' of your house so that you could have an area for some food crops..and that would also eliminate the needle drop so close to your house? Let in some light..etc?

I think that would be my direction if i was living in an area so heavily planted with pines.

i have a lot of pines around my property too..and spruce and hemlock and cedar, but most of them are at least 30 feet from my home
 
                              
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Location: Coast Range, Oregon--the New Magic Land
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No need to burn them, just scatter them further out in the forest, it's like peeing in the ocean. It would help like Brenda said to further thin around the buildings. It's good you dont' have a lit of short dead or unhealthy stunted trees, or pitchy brush, those help heat things up more as they burn and get the fire up into the trees than what's on the ground.

Keeping the needles raked down to the bare dirt is a good idea re fire issues. Looks like you're doing a great job of keeping the fallen branches picked up too, that helps!!

You'd probably do well to take out all the anorexic "pencil" trees too. Those trees are still pretty thick. It would help the remaining stockier trees to beef up more.

THose are cool buildings, did you build them? any more pix anywhere?
 
                    
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We're trying an experimental compost pile for the pine needles. The problem with that though is we have an overabundance of pine needles and a dearth of green material.  My plan is to harvest grass from the meadow using an old scythe I inherited from my Dad and granddad. We'll have to wait and see how that goes.


Re the buildings, yes I built everything. I hired out the actual installation of the metal roofing to a neighbor as I do not really like working on the slick metal.

More pictures and the whole story from land acquisition through the building stages may be found at    http://countryplans.com/smf/index.php?topic=2335.0   It's a long thread and meanders a little here and there.
 
                              
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Location: Coast Range, Oregon--the New Magic Land
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Don, up here in Oregon on the east side of the mountains there are ponderosa pine forests(huge trees!).  Along the main highway over the mountains(between Salem and Bend) I've noticed a lot of clean up each year of the fallen slash, they gather it into piles and torch it in the winter. POnderosa forests especially have fire as part of their cycle--it cleans up the slash, opens up the cones, and thins out the disease, etc. Low ground fires don't affect the larger trees(who have shed their lower dead branches and have thicker bark). I dont' know what the plan is for the land along the highway(I think most of it is state), but watching over the years now it seems they are doing a good job "simulating" fire and restoring the historical structure of the forest manually. I do know the Warm Springs Tribe is using controlled burns and cleanup(they use the slash to fuel a "vitually" zero emissions power plant to provide power to the tribe)to manage their timber lands, both for timber harvest, restoring natural structure, and provinding jobs and free power(I saw a show on this, haven't been able to find a link, sorry). Pretty cool!

I would say if there is any pocket of mature timber in NM etc that is in as historically natural a state(ie pre-Smokey Bear) as possible, to go visit and look around. Get a feel for the size of the trees, the density, the species present--even the smell of the place. How many snags, how many monster grandfather trees, how many baby trees etc. How deep the duff goes. That will give you a full surround sensory image that will help you restore your plot to a better balance--frankly better than any book can imprint on you(IMO, ha).

Fire is a natural part of a forest's cycle, and obviously the drier it is(less rainfall I mean), the more fire will happen. Fortunately nature has it's own structure to deal with that, but it's been FUBAR'd by dear ol SMokey Bear(personal bias rearing up, smacking...it...back...down...).





 
                    
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We are very dry for a forested area and at 8800 feet the growing season a little short.  I've counted rings on several 10 to 12 inch trees and found them to be 85 to 95 years old.  We have a few 24 inch diameter Ponderosa's that must be truly old.

I agree, Old Smoky Bear did us all a dis-service for many years. The FS has thinned a thousand acres a half mile from our property in the past 2 years. It's a truly magnificent looking area now. We aim to work towards the same thing. Over a period of three years we have already removed something like 500 trees from three acres, many just broomsticks, but many in the up to 6 to 8 inch diameter size.

At this very moment we are watching a 2000 acre fire about 10 miles from us.
 
gary gregory
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Location: northern california, 50 miles inland from Mendocino, zone 7
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don miller; MountainDon wrote:


Our plan has been to rake and burn the fallen needles in the immediate area surrounding our building each spring to make it difficult for any ground fires to get close enough to do any damage to buildings. Does anyone have any better idea other than raking into small piles or low rows and burning them?  Thoughts?





I've never made a pine needle basket but own a couple and they are amazing and the pine odor stays with them forever.  Looks like you could make several hundred thousand with the material you have there.
 
Jordan Lowery
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those baskets are far easier to make when the needles are fresh and green.
 
gary gregory
Posts: 395
Location: northern california, 50 miles inland from Mendocino, zone 7
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soil wrote:
those baskets are far easier to make when the needles are fresh and green.


Yeah....., I know, and its also a lot easier to seek out the longer needled varieties.    I wonder if pine needles would make a good slug barrier around the garden?
 
                              
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Will goats eat pine needles ? or will pigs ?
 
                              
Posts: 262
Location: Coast Range, Oregon--the New Magic Land
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gary gregory wrote:
Yeah....., I know, and its also a lot easier to seek out the longer needled varieties.     I wonder if pine needles would make a good slug barrier around the garden?


Yes!
 
Robert Ray
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I have quite a few ponderosas on my property a several day spring cleanup operation.  what I do is use them for paths, still perhaps a fire danger but localzied rather than all over.
I don't see it in the PNW but in the South bales of needles were sold as mulch in many garden supply stores.
 
gary gregory
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Location: northern california, 50 miles inland from Mendocino, zone 7
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Biogroovy wrote:
Will goats eat pine needles ? or will pigs ?


Our goats love pine needles but also love pine bark, especially young trees.
 
                    
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Robert Ray wrote:

I don't see it in the PNW but in the South bales of needles were sold as mulch in many garden supply stores.


I've seen that in GA and wondered about the safety. Perhaps with extreme high humidity levels the needles don't ignite as readily. All I know for sure it takes very little to ignite them here in the desert and high mountain desert forests.  Annual average moisture at the cabin is 16-17 inches; down in the desert home it's only about 8-9 inches annual average. Makes it hard to grow things.
 
paul wheaton
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bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
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For me, I would want a patch or two of sun for a garden.

And I would want to reduce conifers and add more deciduous trees.

Conifers acidify the soil and they don't play fair with other vegetation:  they make the soil toxic for most plant species.

I think I would want to build a wofati or two, using some of the trees.  Maybe one to live in and one as a root cellar.

I might want to use some of the trees for a hugelkultur bed.

Conifer duff, especially the needles are loaded with the stuff that kills other plants.  So I wouldn't want to use it as a plant mulch.

Some folks do use some of that stuff for "pine straw" - they bale it!  I suspect that they use it for animal bedding, but I'm not sure about that.

People with conifers that want grass to grow under the trees typically take one of two approaches: 

1)  rake up the needles.  All of them.  Regularly.

2)  put down lime to counter the acidification of the needles.  The grass seems to tolerate the other allelopathic stuff from the needles pretty well.

 
Jordan Lowery
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i realized another thing you can grow under pine trees, gooseberrys. they LOVE deep shade and pine trees. so much i would consider them guild partners.
 
                              
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Location: Coast Range, Oregon--the New Magic Land
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paul wheaton wrote:

2)  put down lime to counter the acidification of the needles.  The grass seems to tolerate the other allelopathic stuff from the needles pretty well.




now see this is where the natural fires would quickly run through, burn up the dry trash on the floor and leave the(tall and mature enough) trees singed, and the roots of shrubs would sprout again from the ground as well as bulbs and rhzomes would be unaffected. The ash would "lime" the soil.

Maybe Don can mimic this by burning the trash(fallen twigs, pinecones, small sickly trees, pine needles etc, what ever would burn in a quick grass fire), and then spreading the ash back around the ground. I'd do this before the rainy/snowy season--the moisture would leach the ash down into the ground better too, and it wouldn't be yucky dusty anymore when the heat came.
 
Brenda Groth
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blueberries and cranberries also use a pine needle mulch..as do some other highly acidic loving plants..i agree with Paul..I'd remove some of the pines and get some usable area unless you don't want garden plants.
 
                    
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wyldthang wrote:
......The ash would "lime" the soil.

Maybe Don can mimic this by burning the trash(fallen twigs, pinecones, small sickly trees, pine needles etc, what ever would burn in a quick grass fire)......


We are planning a small controlled ground burn on a section of the south slope this fall or early winter to do just that very thing. We'll see how that goes and then wait to see what happens next spring and summer. From what I've seen from hiking around previously burned areas in the national forest it should bring the grasses along nicely.

Some blueberries would be nice, although I've never seen any in these mountains. We do have loads of wild red raspberries, though the bears tend to eat most of them. As for other things like veggies, the deer make short work of anything that looks to be doing well.

We do want to try some elevated beds though, but that will have to wait till next year as we have a planned July absence and nobody to caretake a garden.

 
Joel Hollingsworth
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If you wanted to build a polytunnel or similar, it might be worthwhile to dig a trench around the garden plot, and fill that trench with needles as insulation. It could be dug deeper and wider than otherwise, because you have access to so much insulating material. A wall filled with (made of?) pine needles on the northern side of the structure might also be worthwhile.

If you're short of greens, I could imagine piling the needles deep and growing carefully-chosen plants and/or fungi in the pile, using moisture stored from the wet season. It may take a lot of experimentation to find species which produce some usable yield in the meantime, but until then there will be many routes to good compost. If all else fails, the pile will (slowly) fix its own nitrogen just with native microbes.

Do the pine needles retain some smell? It might be possible to distill turpentine or similar from them. Low-temperature pyrolysis can produce some sort of valuable liquid from most any biomass, and the solids left in the retort can be an excellent soil amendment.
 
Lisa Lebeau
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Location: Bitterroot Valley, MT
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I think you ought to plant lots of blueberries... they LOVE the acidic soil and will prosper there and you will be blessed with delicious berries and beautiful shrubs that turn bright red in the fall. Best to clear out and cull some of those Ponderosas though. Clear any within falling distance of your house or buildings (a danger with shallow-rooted pines), and clear a sunny area for pasture and your food forest. You can make hugelkultur beds with all that old wood!
 
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