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How best to manage a volunteer birch forest?

 
judd ripley
Posts: 4
Location: denmark
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Hi everyone, im looking for some advice on what to do about a volunteer birch forest on my property, i have a small stand of birch trees, which have self seeded about an acre or so of birch saplings, the saplings are about 3-4 years old im guessing, based on size and what the previous owner told me. I bought the property last year, and im more than happy to let them run wild, but they are so densly packed in, that there must be an issue with competing for nutrients etc, and part of me thinks that it being a natural occurrence, then surely natural selection will sort out their future, but i would like to hearsome opinions on the best strategy for managing them, ( or not managing them) and also their value as a possible resource. Thank you!
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Travis Johnson
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What are your plans for the property and how many acres do you have?

I ask this because there is good birch, which is white and yellow, and then there is Gray Birch which is almost utterly useless...even for firewood and there aren't too many trees that suck at being firewood. To me they look like gray birch, which tends to fill in unused fields really quickly and is considered a weed since they grow up fast, do not get big in diameter, and are super prone to rot. They contain no BTU's for firewood either.

Still if you have plenty of land, then you could justify their existence. I mean if they occupy say 1 acre and you have 30, it may be worth keeping, but if you only have 5, and you have an 1 acre of them I would think there is more beneficial things to do with that acre then grow birch saplings. Out of experience, I have a few acres of them myself and I keep them only because they are on ledge rock (thin soil) and my plan is someday to mow them down as mulch and plant wild blueberries atop of them since we can grow blueberries wildly here.

You could build a rocket stove and use them for firewood to heat your home
You could fence them in and let goats (or sheep) graze them down to non existence
They could be mown with a sickle bar mower and thrown into a hugel
They could be tilled under and used as eventual nitrogen

White and Yellow Birch have far more uses, but on the edge of a field they tend to get "limby" that is they stretch their limbs out towards the field and are usually short and stubby. Naturally the gray birch stand will self prune itself, but like anything with forestry, your talking many years out. In the intervening yours you will not even be able to walk in the stand; like lambs, they look cute and cuddly now, but that will soon change as they grow bigger! Your first step is figuring out just what they are.
 
chip sanft
Posts: 323
Location: 18 acres & heart in zone 4 (central MN). Current abode: Knoxville (zone 6 /7)
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We've got a nice stand of white birch on our 18 acres (~7 hectares) in USDA zone 4 and we just let it be. My dad cuts some for firewood (my parents have a cabin nearby), especially if he's walking and notices something blown over or whatnot, but that's irregular.

Mostly we leave it for two reasons: 1) It's really, really pretty, and 2) the wildlife like it. We're working on improving other parts of the land parcel but those two things are enough.

I think Travis' point about the amount of land you're working with is a very good one. It seems from your post like you have the option of leaving the birch alone, at least for now. I think you can just let them grow and they'll sort themselves out. That's what happened on our land and it turned out well without any special management. In terms of reaching a nice stasis they seem to be quicker than other trees. That said, if there are some you don't like as growth progresses or some that you do like and want to encourage, you can always make judicious cuts on a case by case basis. That's one of the advantages of small scale. But I myself never cut a healthy birch on our land and they're doing well.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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chip sanft wrote:

Mostly we leave it for two reasons: 1) It's really, really pretty, and 2) the wildlife like it.


These are two reasons I'd like to see people use more often for their decisions. Seems like so often folks focus only on the productive capacity of something for human use, ignoring esthetics and the vital importance of wildlife. I'd like to see more discussion of creation or preservation of wildlife habitat in folks' permaculture designs.

 
judd ripley
Posts: 4
Location: denmark
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Thanks folks! I should have mentioned that they are in fact white birch, at least, that is the only type of birch on the property and in the vicinity. I have 6 and a half acres, but more than happy to let one be a birch forest! Its old farmland, so pretty much old pastures. I am homesteading and have more than enough land for mu needs. I also value them purelynfrom an aesthetic/ wildlife perspective, and seeing as how im surrounded by farmland, im very happy to let nature run its course and reclaim some of that land! My concern was whether it was wise to let it be, and not interfere, or better to thin it out, to allow fewer trees a better chance for a quicker healthier growth. I have no experience at all with a situation like this, it amazes me that so many trees are able to occupy the same space. My instinct tells me to selectively thin, to have bigger healthier trees faster, but was hoping someone else had experienced a situation with so many saplings in such a small space. I should mention that all over the property there are birch saplings, but growing much further apart from each other.
 
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