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Non Timber Forest Products 4: Honey Production and Roundwood Construction and Fuels

Douglas Crouch
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Next in the series on non timber forest products and this time honey production and roundwood construction and fuels. The list is long of the yields that come from the forest and both really are supporting our work at Terra Alta these days.

Honey Production

To produce ones own honey and have extra pollinators around is really a bonus for a Permaculture site. Stewarding the European Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) is a very important mission currently and one that we all can embrace individually or cooperatively in say more urban areas. The harvest is quite rewarding with its divine smell, taste, and healing properties. With this important mission of preserving a hard worker within biodiversity, it really changes ones management style when bees are in your landscapes. We must aim to feed them so they can help feed us; a truly symbiotic relationship. With that, your bees or local apiculturists benefit greatly from having native forest around and it provides another great reason to steward land for yields beyond timber. Bees rely on natures plant and time stacking principle and by having this evolved architecture of a layered forest around, your life as a beekeeper will be easier. The bees will find a diversity of foods at different times and the hives can even be put on the forest edge as to receive protection from sun or winds depending on your climate. Furthermore, a swarm from your own hives may even find a cavity in a tree on your own land and the loss of these pollinators will not occur.

Thus common honey bee aiding trees and shrubs and edge plants back at the families land in Kentucky or in that local area in general are the following:

American Basswood (Tilia americana)
Multiflora Rose (non Native but with control one can have small patches here and there) (Rosa multiflora)
Box Elder (Acer negundo)
Red Maple (Acer rubrum)
black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia)
Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)
Black Willow (Salix nigra)
Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra)
Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)
Honey Locust (Gleditisia tricanthos)
Raspberry (Rubus occidentalis)
Blackberry (Rubus spp.)
Hawthorne (Crataegus spp.)
Sumac (Rhus spp.)
Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)
Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.)
Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica)

Some of those you may wish to favor by selecting other species out in crowding conditions. Alternatively you may need to plant in some of the in canopy breaks in the forest or one the forest edge. Its important to manage the forest for your aims and by being active in your management it will bring more value and help with the need to harvest trees for timber ad its economic return. When other value is created, like having a multitude of species to help feed honey bees, then our forest stay more intact. For example in this above context of Kentucky, I have selected out smaller red maples that grow incredibly dense around emerging basswoods. The basswood is in relatively few numbers on the land as it really only grows at the edge of our lake. However the red maple is everywhere.

In the Mediterranean context, where I have worked many years in Portugal in particular at Terra Alta, the Chestnut tree (Castanea sativa) provides an important forest food resource for bees. Some honey is sold just from this flow and is dark and rich in color and flavor as it is easy to isolate because of its quite late spring/ early summer flowering. Another forest tree there is the Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo), which is also pollinated in part by honey bees and gives another unique time of the year flow. The much despised acacias there in Portugal grow in the forest to provide nitrogen to regenerate land but also give food to the honey bee. Another important forest tree that grows on the edge and regenerating forest is the Hawthorne (Crataegus spp.). They are in the rose family as well as many of the common fruit trees which are found so often in the wild as land has been abandoned and regenerates slowly. Another unique tree from this climate is the Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) that grows often in these contexts and gives a fall flowering which really helps the bees as the weather changes. Oddly enough the whole ecosystem comes back to life after the summer drought and the bees also delight in the plants around the forest edge as the landscape greens again.

Roundwood Construction

While timber is often extracted from forests for milling, this inherently wasteful process is not needed to obtain building materials necessarily. We can still get robust building material from the forest without selecting our biggest trees. Roundwood construction is gaining in popularity and its accessibility within building permits which helps to legitimize it and really spread. This is saving some of our forests from senseless cutting for timber and calls again for a different management style and also consumer preferences. One of my favorite builders is doing just this with his company Whole Tree Architecture. Roald Gundersen manages his own woodlot for many of his buildings and was inspired from the natives of his local area and their tree bending tradition. Theirs was for communication and markers but his is for creating unique pieces for various uses in his popular buildings. He was the lead architect on a building I once taught in when the Sustainable Living degree program at Maharishi University of Management moved into their new building. I taught four PDC’s (2009-2011) there and just loved the feeling of almost still being immersed in a forest rather than a strict linear classroom. Another usage of this roundwood technique comes from reciprocal roofs and their unique design of one on top of the other in a spiral all holding each other up to help create a roundhouse. My mentors Robina McCurdy and Huckleberry Leonard has built one of these in New Zealand and had artfully put it together with timbers and delightful cob work and an earthen floor. The total construction was one of the best representations of pattern application and often mentioned in that chapter here on this online book.
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