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Jim Mickiby
Posts: 8
Location: Arkansas, USA
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Good afternoon, Permies!
I’m in the very early stages of planning a retirement homestead that I hope to inhabit in 15 years or so.  I will be living in Central Arkansas (Zone 7) on roughly 10 acres and I am trying to figure out the best way to eventually have a sustainable wood harvest to heat my future home.  A few of the givens for my future settlement:
- Living in the South, my general need for firewood will be relatively light compared to more extreme climates
- My plans assume an eventual efficient home (passive solar), so I am making plans to sustainably heat an efficient home, not an aluminum camper or anything
- I would like to minimize my managed woodland in hopes of maximizing the area of land available for other functions (pasture, pond, etc.)
So far I am leaning towards one-to-two acres of rotationally coppiced/pollarded hardwoods, a mixture of black locust, red mulberry, red/white oak, osage orange, hickory, etc.  The hope is that, given 10+ years of maturation before I will depend on these trees for heating, I will be able to sustain myself indefinitely on just the one-to-two acres.  My questions are:
1. Are my expectations of producing enough firewood on this small of an area unrealistic?  Even if it’s all high-BTU wood and some species are very fast growing? 
2. By focusing on a small area to be coppiced/pollarded, am I missing the boat on other efficient ideas for setting up a sustainable wood harvest?  Instead, should I just spread different trees throughout my 10 acres?
3. Assuming average soil/weather conditions for zone 7, is the above list missing any obvious wood choices for good home heating?
4. Research tells me that Willow burns poorly, but given its crazy-fast growth and my desire for maximizing land usage, are there any mild-winter people who burn it successfully?  I guess the questions is…does the poor burn quality really matter when you aren’t located in the far north?
5. How bad is it to manage an area of black locust?  I know their thorns are not supposed to be as bad as other varieties (honey locust, hawthorn, etc.), but is it bad enough that you would want to keep grandkids out of the coppiced woodlot if there are black locusts interspersed with other species?  If I plan to harvest at least some black locust every year, can I go ahead and count on getting torn up by thorns once or twice a year?  Or am I trying to make too big of a deal out of the thorns? 
6. Should I even mess with the slower-growing species like oak and hickory?  I’ve read somewhere that these are coppiced/harvested on a 30 year cycle, which seems like it might be impractical on such a small acreage…ie, I might get an oak harvest every 5-10 years if I rotate properly.  I have no desire for a monoculture of trees, but if efficiency on a small scale is paramount, should I focus only on a mix of fast growing trees and plan to source oaks and hickories when possible?
Thank you in advance for your input and baring with my long-winded post!
Jim
 
Mike Jay
Posts: 661
Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
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Hello Jim, welcome to Permies!  I heat with wood so I have some knowledge to share.  But I'm up North so my advice may not apply perfectly (as you know).  I'll keep to your numbers below and add more at the end:
1. I think 2 acres should be enough for you.  I've heard that an intensively managed woodlot can generate a cord of wood per year indefinitely.  That's 4' by 4' by 8' of wood.  I heated my moderately efficient house on 5 cords last winter but it was an easy winter.  If you can get 1-2 cords of good hardwood from your woodlot I'd think that you would be fine.
2.  I like having some woods in different places so I would let them grow where you can get away with it.  Use their shade, wind protection, etc if you can and cut them later if they get in the way.
3.  Pine grows fast and burns wonderfully.  People will say to never burn pine inside but that's based on rumors and horror stories.  Seasoned pine is fine.  Keep your chimney swept annually and you'll be good to go.  It's particularly good for early winter and early spring when you want a quick fire to take the chill off.
4.  I'd grow pine instead of willow.
5.  No idea (doesn't grow up here)
6.  Your other hardwoods sound wonderful, I wouldn't stress about getting the best possible.  Last winter I burned pine, poplar, maple, birch and hemlock.

Other thoughts:

I cut a birch and poplar tree today that were about 12" in diameter at the base.  They generated about 1/3rd of a cord of wood.  So 6 trees of that size would be about a cord of wood.

There is a lot of wood out there for the scrounging.

Wood should be seasoned.  I like to be 3 years ahead on my wood supply.  If it was a retirement situation I'd want to be even farther ahead.  You never know when you might not be able to cut/process wood for a year.  So plan some good wood drying and wood storage into your property design.

Good luck!
 
Glenn Herbert
gardener
Posts: 2226
Location: Upstate NY, zone 5
78
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Black locust, at least in New York State, is a fine wood to grow. It coppices and comes up all over from the roots whenever it is cut, and 10 year old wood is likely to have enough heartwood that it will make good fenceposts etc. (Older is better, of course.) The thorns on young trunks and branches are more of a nuisance than a danger - they are so short and fat that even if you get stuck, you will not be likely to get a thorn broken off in your skin.

Red oak, when cut young, coppices very strongly, and if you were looking for smallish firewood rather than structural poles, could probably be harvested every 10 years or so. Ash is one of the best coppicers, and unless you are in an area where the emerald ash borer is approaching soon, it would be an excellent addition to your mix. It also makes great straight poles for short-term or out-of-the-weather use, handles, etc., and splits like a dream if it is big enough for that to be relevant.
 
Roberto pokachinni
pollinator
Posts: 1332
Location: Fraser Headwaters, B.C., Zone3, Latitude 53N, Altitude 2750', Boreal/Temperate Rainforest-transition
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Another thing that could be considered when dealing with coppice wood, is chipping it when green and full of leaves at young ages, piling it up in well watered layers with pipes in it and having the pipes heat your house through in floor pipes.  The end result is that you have no combustion, but ample heat for your house and shower/dishes needs, and an eventual output of massive amounts of compost.  One can also generate methane gas (for cooking or for machine use) with a biodigester inside the mound.  If you are interested in this, check out  This Link.

If one was using this method, there would not be a concern about hardwoods, or BTU's, and one could focus on the fastest growing woods, like willows and poplars.

While the inventor in the above article had a methane powered chipper, a person could rig up a non combustion chipper geared from a windmill {   only chipping in windy weather... but... you are retired... so you have a different type of schedule based on natural rhythms.    }.

One thing to consider in the planting of your coppice area, is the stages of progressive harvest, and landscaping to maximize growth potential.  For instance, If one developed a swale system with tractor or (truck or quad or cart) paths between the coppice beds, one can plan a selective rotation of harvesting the rows or groves so that you never have to wonder if you have enough for coming years, and one always has access to the entire system.  The swales irrigate themselves, or you can easily flood irrigate them, for quicker regeneration after a cut. 
 
Nadine McKenzie
Posts: 13
Location: Old Fort, North Carolina, USA. Sandy Loam.
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I've heard black locust is great for coppicing and has a very high BTU.  It sounds like you're in the South and as you said your heating needs are far less aggressive.  You might consider a passive solar heater/collector.  Plenty of videos on how to construct them and good designs at builditsolar.com.  You could build one over the course or 2 afternoons.  I'm planning on building one of these and having an exterior door to the unit that I can close at night and insulating the unit.  Beats cutting wood I would say.  Another idea is to build a passive solar house and possibly build with hempcrete?  I understand hempcrete has R ratings off the scales.   I'm not sure what the building codes are for your area but I do know that NC has 2 hempcrete built homes.   My last idea is a mass rocket heater.  It has a very efficient burn and uses fewer cords of wood.  I would personally build an outdoor one that heats a greenhouse which is attached to the house. 
 
Daron Williams
pollinator
Posts: 221
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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Hello Jim! I'm looking at this issue for my place too. I'm up in the Pacific Northwest on the west coast. Temperature is not too bad overall in the winter but we tend to get a single or couple cold snaps per winter when arctic air drops down with the jet stream. My plan is to coppice big leaf maple and potentially red alder and have these mixed in my food forest. The advantage is that red alder will fix nitrogen and both species drop a large amount of leaves and woody debris which should help create a rich forest floor. These trees will serve as support trees for my food forest and by coppicing I should be able to keep them under control and ensure my main production trees have enough space.

I picked these two species because they are native to the area I live and have a decent BTU - big leaf maple is superior to red alder for firewood but red alder has other advantages. My goal with these two species is to stack functions within my food forest to get the most production out of a smallish area (I only have 2.86 acres). You will likely want other species in your area, you mentioned black lotus and several others, but stacking the functions so the trees are providing a benefit while growing could be a great help regardless of the species you pick.

I'm also planning on having a rocket mass heater in my house so I can rely on small sized pieces of wood. My goal will be to be able to harvest each coppiced tree on a 7-year cycle - a study I read from the US Forest Service stated that red alder did not coppice well after 7 years and that big leaf maple coppiced extremely well.

Good luck with your project!
 
Jim Mickiby
Posts: 8
Location: Arkansas, USA
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Thank you all so much for your replies!  I apologize for taking so long to get back to everyone - I'm not able to get on here as much as I'd like. 
@mike - thank you for the heads up on the pine!  There is a ton of pine grown in my area and it can be bought very inexpensively through the state forestry office...or university extension...can't remember exactly which one, but they're stupid cheap!
@Glen - thanks for the clarification on the BL thorns!  And yes, unfortunately we have a large area of EAB in my state .  Although I've been reading a lot of people saying how the EAB only attacks the older trees, which could still leave ash as an option for coppicing?  Not sure, but I'm definitely going to continue looking into it.
@Nadine - I've never heard of Hempcrete!  But off-the-chart R values sounds just about as cool as "hempcrete" .  Thanks for the heads up on that - I'll definitely be looking into it
@ Daron - Best of luck to you as well!
 
Glenn Herbert
gardener
Posts: 2226
Location: Upstate NY, zone 5
78
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I think "off-the-chart" is a relative term... in this case, probably relative to standard concrete. The first chart I found says hempcrete 12" thick has a U-value of 0.23, or a little better than R-4 (total, not per inch). You could call it R-0.4 per inch.

For comparison, light straw-clay is supposed to have an R-value from 1 to 1.5 per inch, and fiberglass is r-3.5 per inch.
 
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