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Pacific Northwest Coppice Stickfuel and Rotations.

 
Kyrt Ryder
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Right now the highest btu energy coppice trees I know for the Pacific Northwest are black locust and Madrone but I haven't a clue the coppice rotation duration to plan into my woodlot, and there are a few other species that interest me.

In particular, does anybody here have any experience growing and using Eucalyptus or Osage Orange? [In this region especially, but anybody feeding a rocket mass heater with these woods is more than welcome to contribute.]

Any other woods you recommend?

Any advice on coppice rotations is greatly appreciated as well. Not every tree can handle being cut every year or two or three [and ideally, I'd prefer not to have to allow the regrowth more than a few years before harvesting the fuel.]
 
Eric Thompson
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fikbert and cottonwood coppice pretty well, but not the greatest firewood.
Bigleaf maple is also good if you get fast enough growth, the fuel wood is great.
Ash can coppice ok and had great fuel wood.
 
Kyrt Ryder
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By Ash do you mean Oregon Ash?

Ashwood does have a history as firewood, though it's medium btu range [probably not far from Bigleaf Maple, don't feel like looking it up right now.]

Bigleaf Maple's ability to sprout back from coppicing is pretty amazing, I've seen a full sized trunk cut in the dog days of august immediately sprout from buds and turn into a vibrant bush by the time it went dormant that year. Makes me wonder if it might be well suited to a very short rotation [annual or perhaps every other year at most.]

If properly dried cottonwood's not bad at all, really low btu but a really quick and easy high temp burn to prep the burn chamber for something denser is not a bad idea at all, thanks for bringing it up.

I am hoping to hear from others with more experience with denser woods though. Denser wood means less volume for comparable energy [both in transport and in storage.]
 
Dillon Nichols
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I haven't deliberately coppiced any of our local woods for fuel, but I've been able to observe the forest on my parents' acreage for literally as long as I can remember...

No ash here, though.

We do, however, have plenty of bigleaf maple and arbutus(pacific madrone).

The maple would be my first choice by far; it grows a lot faster than the arbutus. It's also a lot easier to cut, and tends to be straight. BTU-wise, you need 4 cords of it to 3 cords of arbutus, but in my experience it outgrows the arbutus by far more than this. Plus, the leaves are amazing mulch rather than a slippery menace, and if it gets cold enough, you can tap it for delicious syrup-making sap! I also use maple branches as garden stakes.

If you're interested I can count rings on some of the regrowth from a maple that we cut back frequently to keep it from shading out the garden...



Arbutus are beautiful, but not really good for much beyond aesthetics IMO. It's not rot-resistant at all, it's not easy firewood, it's hardly ever straightish, it grows quite slowly... unless you have a really ideal environment for it, I can't see counting on it as part of a coppice...
 
Eric Thompson
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Since you're looking at stickfuel you may also consider red alder -- no so much as coppice, but for the natural trim and shed of these branches. An alder stand will shed lots of 2" branches in the Fall and Winter that are mostly free of side growth and very easy to manage. The dry firewood quality is so-so, but very easy to manage.
 
Jack Edmondson
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You may want to add vine maple as an under canopy species to maximize the density. It coppices well and grows rapidly. Also look at the BTU's by weight of Bamboo. You will be surprised.
 
Kyrt Ryder
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I wasn't planning on having a canopy, unless I wanted to integrate Standards into my woodlot for some reason [possibly Mast production for pork production.]

Ideally I want a quarter-acre or so coppice woodlot on no more than a 4 year [2 years would be ideal] rotation to feed a RMH and rocket stove Cooking.

Mixed species is ideal, both to integrate N-Fixers with N-Hogs and for pest resistance.

I know Black Locust is a good choice here for growth rate and BTU, Osage Orange has even higher BTU but I know nothing about its growth rate. I also know nothing about the coppice tolerance [how often the species can be coppiced and remain healthy] for either.
 
Eric Thompson
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Black locust will coppice or pollard ok, but will then sucker like crazy..
Red alder is a good N-fixer but difficult to coppice.
 
Kyrt Ryder
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Eric Thompson wrote:Black locust will coppice or pollard ok, but will then sucker like crazy..

How is suckering a bad thing in a coppice woodlot?
Red alder is a good N-fixer but difficult to coppice.
Yes, I am intimately familiar with Alnus Rubra, it's the most populous species on my property. [Followed by Black Cottonwood, Douglas Fir or Hemlock]
 
Dale Hodgins
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Big leaf maple. It grows along my road with no help from me. Cuts and dries fast. Alder is your best nitrogen fixer and usually makes a smokey fire. It's commonly used for smoking fish and meat.

Amongst food trees, plums produce nice straight suckers if pruned too heavily. Many people are producing coppice accidentally, by pruning too heavily.

Bamboo is hard on loppers and chainsaws. The sealed chambers can explode.

Here's my maple, cut from the side of the road. About 20 times a year, someone pays me to trim maples. I give most of the wood away, since it is produced in the city and not worth the labor and trucking. Anywhere that big leaf maple are abundant, there are people who will pay to have them removed.

Notice how straight the grain is, on the wood by my road. Even knots split easily if done on the day that they are cut. I sit on that bench and use a concrete splitting block. Very little bounce that way. Splits like celery.
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The roadside is the perfect place to dry wood. Hot, dry and easy to gather. Water weight is not moved to the wood shed.
 
Kyrt Ryder
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Dale do you have any idea how Big Leaf Maple handles repeated coppicing at stickfuel size? [Say no more than 30mm diameter or so]
 
Dale Hodgins
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You can't accidentally kill them. I needed to kill some stumps before putting them in a hugelkultur. They were dug up with an excavator and allowed to roast in the sun for an entire dry season. Without this treatment, my mounds would be maple coppice groves. If you do manage to harvest one to death, there will be dozens of little ones waiting for enough sun to allow them to replace the lost one.
 
Kyrt Ryder
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There's not going to be a deep canopy for those little ones to be growing in Dale. I'm hoping for a 4 year or less rotation of cutting stuckfuel.

The plan is for none of the trunks to get much over 30mm in diameter
 
Nicole Alderman
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Is there a specific height one should coppice a maple at? We have at least three different maples that were hacked down to a stump before we moved in, and they all happily coppiced. Do we need to hack them back down to the base, or can we hack each little trunk at, say, elbow height for more ergonomically cutting, and keep cutting them at that same elbow height year after year? Thanks!
 
Eric Thompson
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Nicole Alderman wrote:Is there a specific height one should coppice a maple at? We have at least three different maples that were hacked down to a stump before we moved in, and they all happily coppiced. Do we need to hack them back down to the base, or can we hack each little trunk at, say, elbow height for more ergonomically cutting, and keep cutting them at that same elbow height year after year? Thanks!


Most any height is fine for growth -- you will probably get the best stability cutting all the way to the ground since the stump can break apart if heavily coppiced every year.
 
Hans Quistorff
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Do you have scotch broom? It makes excellent stick fuel. It is a legume that fixes nitrogen. The wood is high in oils yet dense. I find it burns with an intense flame but not explosive like ceder. It can be coppiced but makes better trunks if grown from seed. If pulled new ones will sprout in the disturbed soil. Only takes large loppers to cut to desired length. You can get paid for removing it then burn it for heat. In treeless areas of Scotland I believe it is a common source of fuel.

I find it works best to stack it uncut until the leaves turn black to pull some moisture out of the wood. Cut it to length before it is fully cured because it gets harder to cut as it drys. The leafy stems are messy to use but make good fire starter. I still need to come up with a really good puller.
 
Kyrt Ryder
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Ok now THAT is cool.

I don't have a whole lot of scotchbroom despite having a half-dozen to a dozen mature plants that flower and seed every year. Either my soil is too fertile for it or I just don't have enough disturbed soil, not sure which at this point.

I'll have to experiment with growing it from seed before I decide to integrate it into my fuel system, but it seems like a great idea.
 
Andrew Schreiber
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I am on the dry side of the cascades in the heights of the klickitat river watershed. So I have personal experience with the dryland forest species, however I also know many of the moist forest trees ability to coppice as well. I am working specifically in establishing coppice species for multifunctional hedgerows and agroforestry systems in the pine/oak forest ecotope typical of the foothills of the eastern cascades. So I have given this a bit of thought.

As has been stated already the native thin barked decidious trees such as alders (grey/speckled, red and white), Maples (big leaf, douglas and vine), Poplars (black cottonwood - should be managed as a shrub form from early on), and Oregon Ash all coppice fine and can generally be cut in 3-10 year intervals without ill effect. However that length of time depends on species as well as species genotype (where it specifically came from) and environmental conditions such as fertility, soil moisture, light availability, herbivory, age of stand, and pest/disease.

As is perhaps obvious to those who have worked much with coppicing, the more environmental stress there is the slower the tree re-grow and the longer in between cutting is best. Also, the longer you wait between cuttings, the less suckering will occur. The optimum time/growth balance is something that will be species and site specific.

There are many native shrub/trees which coppice quite well and provide a lot of easily harvestable thin whips. Native coppiceable shrubs which readily come to mind:
  • Willows,
  • Dogwoods,
  • Hazel,
  • Ocean Spray,
  • Mock Orange,
  • Hawthorn,
  • Choke Cherry
  • Indian Plum
  • rododendron could also be coppiced, as I see it re-sprouting in peoples yards all the time.


  • Some are better than others --in that they have less side branching (Salicaceae especially) which is desirable for making facenes for stick fuel. Generally speaking, species with a shrub form can be coppiced in faster succession 1-5 years. Also, shrubs which grow in low-severity fire-conditioned ecosystems are more likely to respond well to coppice by resprouting from dormant adventitious buds in the root crown (basal sprouts).

    Garry oak, douglas hawthorn, beaked hazel, scouler willow and california buckeye are natives which have evolved to resprout after fire as well as holding lots of reserves of energy in their root systems.

    Others will tend to re-sprout more from suckers (as in cherries, and b.locusts) if you let it first grown into a tree form and then try to train it as a coppice. Coppiceing trees early (second or third year of life) they are more likely to condition themselves to hold basal buds or endocormic buds in reserve for re-sprouting.

    non-native shrubs

    There are also non native deciduous trees which seem to grow well throughout the temperate-maritime conditions of the coastal northwest and have traditionally worked well in medium to long term coppice systems in Europe (7-20+ years). Europeans have been coppicing for a long time, and they have developed semi-wild cultivars which respond more favorably to being managed in a coppice. European silver Birch (B. Pendula), Italian Alder (A. cordata), Black Alder (A. glutinosa) and Common Lime (T. cordata) have traditional cultivars used specifically for coppiced fuel wood. Notice the species name "cordata" which I believe comes out of the same root for cord of wood, which was traditionally measured with a unit length of cordage commonly called a "cord" of rope. etymology. Here is a short list:
  • Most everything in the Betulaceae Family (Beech, Birch, Hornbeam, hazel) beech and birch are common fuel wood species, see below.
  • Most everything in the Fagaceae family - (Oak, Beech, chestnut) Sweet chestnut is very traditional coppice for building material.
  • Most everything in the Salicaceae Family (Willow, Poplar, Aspen)
  • European "lime" / Linden / Basswood (Tilia spp.)
  • "horse" chestnut (Aesculus spp)


  • On poorer sites you have the tried-and-true Black Locust, Honey Locust, and Osage Orange. Also, Oaks are also pretty darn hardy, however slow growing, for poorer sites, and can be managed in a more long tern rotation of 30+ years to get poles and/or splitable firewood rounds.

    We manage sections of our native Garry Oak (Q. garryanna) for long term coppice (20-80 year cycles) for fuel and pole wood. if you prune oaks early on, they have nice straight branch-less grain that is super easy to split. However, a long time ago it would have been blasphemy to burn straight grained Oak - as it was a primary wood for nearly everything.

    Keep in mind, thorny plants really suck to coppice and work with as fuel wood. really. I am working a lot with thorn-less honey locusts for this reason.

    If you are looking for coppice cultivars of trees I recommend Sheffields Seeds. If you are looking for any non-food producing "farmers trees" (for windbreaks, hedges, riparian buffers, etc) I recommend Sheffields.
     
    Dale Hodgins
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    No need to pull Scotch broom by the roots. If you have the right conditions of full sun, heat and dry, it will be the dominant plant. The seed is everywhere and can sprout 75 years on. I cut smaller ones with loppers and large ones with the chainsaw.
    IMAG5792.jpg
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    This is why it's called big leaf maple.
     
    Eric Thompson
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    Kyrt Ryder wrote:

    I don't have a whole lot of scotchbroom despite having a half-dozen to a dozen mature plants that flower and seed every year. Either my soil is too fertile for it or I just don't have enough disturbed soil, not sure which at this point..


    You don't need to grow Scotch Broom. There are many fields of it around that people would pay you to cut truckloads of it -- just find a heavy field and ask. I seem to remember the Tenino/Rainier area being full of these places.
     
    Kyrt Ryder
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    Eric Thompson wrote:
    Kyrt Ryder wrote:

    I don't have a whole lot of scotchbroom despite having a half-dozen to a dozen mature plants that flower and seed every year. Either my soil is too fertile for it or I just don't have enough disturbed soil, not sure which at this point..


    You don't need to grow Scotch Broom. There are many fields of it around that people would pay you to cut truckloads of it -- just find a heavy field and ask. I seem to remember the Tenino/Rainier area being full of these places.

    Do you know what many people spray on those fields to try to get rid of the stuff?

    I wouldn't introduce it to a place that didn't have it at all, but I've got a few plants [strong and healthy mature ones at that] and I'm wondering why only a few.
     
    Hans Quistorff
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    Kyrt Ryder wrote:Ok now THAT is cool.

    I don't have a whole lot of scotchbroom despite having a half-dozen to a dozen mature plants that flower and seed every year. Either my soil is too fertile for it or I just don't have enough disturbed soil, not sure which at this point.

    I'll have to experiment with growing it from seed before I decide to integrate it into my fuel system, but it seems like a great idea.

    I think you are correct on both points. on my property The seeds sprout where the vegetation cover is sparse because I have over harvested it or eroded quality from animal hooves on hillsides. It has not sprouted where I have pulled the mature plants that have neared the end of their life cycle because the highly enriched soil immediately bursts into heavy grass cover.

    The other area of scotch broom infestation is where the land was logged. Where the topsoil was heavily disturbed the scotch broom became dominant. Where the ground was heavily covered with logging debris the small blackberry vines covered them. Where the soil was lightly disturbed scotch broom and Himalayan blackberries came up together. The blackberries continued to multiply with tip rooting but the scattered scotch broom has not reproduced and is now finishing its life cycle.

    Which brings up coppicing Himalayan blackberries: once their root crown bulb reaches the size of a soft base ball you can coppice it every year for forage with hardly any decrease in vigour. The ones I trellise for fruit production have 1" or larger vines which produce for about 2 years. When they turn brown I cut them out and occasionally use larger sections for fire wood just because they are hard to run through the chipper. In the undomesticated patches these sturdy dead vines serve as the trellis for the next generation allowing the new vines to gain greater height then with their light dominance grow laterally farther and reach the edge where they can put down new tip roots.

    I obtained a hedge trimmer head to go on my combie power unit and that has proved to be efficient at cutting back the blackberries which brings me to the mature scotch broom. I cut down 4 60' poplars each year which are shading the plum orchard that they invaded and of course they com up from the roots so I can coppice them later when they are small enough that I don't have to split them. I cut them after they have leafed out so that the leaves draw some of the moisture out. then it takes 2 summers and a winter to season them to put in the woodshed and I am just now beginning to burn them predominantly. The best wood is the old growth Douglas fir limbs that break off each year during winter storms. I also get some maple and madrona limbs that way. I am also able to coppice wild cherry. It is very dense and the ark makes it hard to split so I should try to keep ahead of it getting to splitting size. When we had a row of maples along the highway we would cut one each year and my father would mill the main trunk into furniture lumber and we would burn the rest for firewood. The new owners failed to maintain them so the state cme along and cut them all down and poisoned the roots To keep the limbs and leaves off the road. [we also gathered the leaves each year to mulch the garden below. Now the cars come flying off the hillside and roll down into the garden. Just anecdotal evidence that you have to culture your permaculture.
     
    Jay Angler
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    Just a little to add to this interesting thread. I believe "madrone" is the same or similar to what we call Arbutus. https://www.for.gov.bc.ca/hfd/library/documents/treebook/arbutus.htm

    An Ethno-botanist who was staying in the area many moons ago, told me that the natives believed that the red colour of the Arbutus was the blood of their ancestors and it should never be burnt. The Ethno-botanist's take on this belief was that the high level of natural creosote in the wood increased the risk that those burning it would burn their homes down and join those ancestors! She appeared to be very knowledgeable and well informed, so I've followed her recommendation and make minimal use of Arbutus for firewood. There are so many alternatives to choose from, it's not difficult.
     
    Roberto pokachinni
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    If a person whacks most of the way into a half grown willow or poplar, and bends it over with it's trunk still partially providing sap from it's stump, all of it's branches will go vertical and provide additional coppice trees. This can be enhanced by creating a living hugulkultur (much as Dale mentioned trying to avoid with the big leaf maple), by burying the bent over trunk or trunks, leaving the branches to be coppice. By doing this with some of your woodlot, this would accelerate the growth potential, or at least get the project rocking a little faster.
     
    Roberto pokachinni
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    Yew was used as a coppice in order to make long bows and hedges. Arbutus and yew are potentially stove melters, they are so dense. This would work in your favor with a rocket stove which performs best with the high temperatures.
     
    Kyrt Ryder
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    Roberto pokachinni wrote:Yew was used as a coppice in order to make long bows and hedges. Arbutus and yew are potentially stove melters, they are so dense. This would work in your favor with a rocket stove which performs best with the high temperatures.

    That was the plan. Hence the talk of Madrone/Arbutus, Black Locust and Osage Orange [haven't heard any feedback on how the latter grows here, I'd like to incorporate some into a hedge at least, if not as a woodlot plant.]
     
    Roberto pokachinni
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    I would also recommend birch. Suckers like mad. Select some of the suckers and cut the rest back. Steady source of sticks.
     
    Roberto pokachinni
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    I'm not at all familiar with locusts and osage.
     
    Tristan Vitali
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    Kyrt Ryder wrote:
    ... and Osage Orange [haven't heard any feedback on how the latter grows here, I'd like to incorporate some into a hedge at least, if not as a woodlot plant.]


    Same sort of situation here, just with more extreme winters. Did some research on this in the past and settled on rotated coppicing of a motley crew including black locust, sugar maple, yellow birch, beech and black willow. All but the black locust is already here in abundance, trying to grow into a pioneer forest since the last logging, and can be easily managed. These all coppice beautifully and the beech, maple and locust are all decent btu-wise, even when dealing with young boles (2-5 inch dbh). In our 8" RMH, I've been burning a lot of split pieces from the damaged larger trees, as well as a few that are just in the wrong places, that were taking down now. Many of the birch, beech and sugar maple stumps have 6-8 feet of new growth on them in only 1 or 2 seasons. The few ash stools, on the other hand, are still only 4-5 feet after 2 full seasons. ...and black willow, well, it burns cool but you can't beat 6-10 feet in one season from a cutting!

    On the Osage Orange specifically, from my previous research, is not as fast growing the farther north you go. That made it a non-starter for me. I'm not sure, however, if it's the cool summers, cold winters or lower sun angle at play (probably a bit of all three). You're on a similar latitude as us here in New England, so your sun angle and growing season length is short like us, but because of your more temperate conditions, it might perform better than it would here. In, say, Kentucky, with hot summers, relatively mild winters and a strong summer sun, it would perform beautifully (maybe better than black locust), but further north, with the cooler summers, less intense sun and harsher winters, it may survive just fine but never 1) grow as fast or 2) get as large. Someone more familiar with it would know more, and whether it would be worth a shot, but I personally wouldn't bother with it in the PNW when there's so many ready and proven alternatives that will work just as well, if not better
     
    Kyrt Ryder
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    Thanks for the advice Tristan. It looks like I may be restricting Osage Orange to a small experimental section for now.

    If anybody has actual experience with it in the PNW though, I'd love to hear from them.
     
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