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Sapling removal?

 
J. Shapiro
Posts: 2
Location: Central VT
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I have a hillside that's covered in 5-15 foot saplings that I'd like to clear. Whoever cut the timber on it before I bought the property just left it laying, so there are a fair amount of fallen hard- and softwoods to deal with as well. A local excavator quoted me $7-10K to clear it due to some sections being rather steep. I think his price is fair for the amount of work it would take him, but I'm hoping somebody has some experience with doing this in a cheaper and less industrial way, even if it takes a couple years.

I don't mind doing the labor of cutting and clearing/piling the saplings and dead wood myself, but I need a way to make sure they don't just all root sprout afterwards. Has anybody experimented with covering large sections of cleared forest with black plastic for a year or two?

Hit me with your ideas and experiences.
 
Ken W Wilson
Posts: 337
Location: Nevada, Mo 64772
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What is your goal for the hill?  Some of the tree sprouts are likely to be desirable species. I would determine what they are first thing. It sound like you have a good start on a forest. A 15' tree is read to grow really fast.

That price sounds like it might be way too high. What will they be doing for that? How many acres is it? A dozer can clear a lot of trees in an hour. An unbelievable amount if you haven't seen them at work.

A steep hill will erode very fast.  There may be very little topsoil there now.

The best way to keep sprouts form coming back may depend on what you want to use the land for. Maybe goats.

 
J. Shapiro
Posts: 2
Location: Central VT
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My main goal is to maintain the canop no more than 15-20' tall, in order to allow sunlight to reach the house and the rest of the property, as well as maintain a stunning long-range mountain view. Secondary goals include using the space for a mixed medicinal and food garden (it's about 2 acres), with an assortment of perennial woody and herbaceous medicinals, and fruit and berry bushes. I have some species in mind but haven't done a final design yet. I have done a good inventory of existing species and none fit my goals for this particular area of the property.

Your point about erosion is a good one, and I have some ideas on how to deal with that. The one I like best is swales a couple degrees off contour, running in opposite directions, going down the slope at the points where it's steep enough to need it. I've had good luck with conservation grass seed mix taking root fast enough to stop erosion until other plantings mature and I'll probably do that as a first step. Any other suggestions or recommendations for further reading are welcome.

I do have some experience with excavating, and the price he's quoting me is fair. The access to the slope is tricky and there would be a lot of maneuvering required with the excavator and would be very time consuming. I'm not averse to paying it if it's the only option, but I want to know for sure that it is.

Tell me more about goats!
 
Justin Fader
Posts: 5
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I am in a similar situation.  I have approximately 15 out of the 20 acres I recently purchased completely covered in thick saplings.   Most are 5'-10' tall and were so thick in areas that I hadn't even seen over half of the property until I cleared some paths. 

So far I have rented a Bobcat with the Brush Cat attachment & cleared maybe 1/4th of the property.
I dont have a steep slope but maybe a 15° slope over a large section of the land. 

What I have accomplished so far with clearing was mostly so that I can access the land & see what I have to work with.  Im not sure if I should just continue going over it periodically hoping to eventually win the war with the saplings?   This particular acreage was burnt off in 2008 & was basically let to go after that.   Now there are 2 neighbors so I'm not too excited about a major burn off again with the volunteer Fire department.

Wish that I had some solutions for you....but I am looking for some myself. 
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Mike Jay
Posts: 246
Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
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I've seen people on YouTube using a dubious combination of a circular saw blade on a weed whacker to cut saplings.  Here's a video that makes it look somewhat safe with possibly a blade that is designed for the purpose.  YouTube  It would save your back as long as you don't cut off your own foot.  I'd think you could clear quite a bit with a tool like that. 
 
Travis Johnson
Posts: 337
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Why don't you rent an excavator yourself?

I recently did this on an 18 acre pasture project on extremely steep land. It seemed bad from a distance, but once I got working on it, it really was not that bad at all. Things always look different until you actually start the project going.

I was clearing about 2 acres per day with a 34,000 pound excavator at $2500 per week, while the mid sized bulldozer (3-1/2 cubic yard dozer) was $2200 per week but cleared 3 acres per day. I used about 75 gallons of fuel every other day with the excavator and about 100 gallons per day with the bulldozer, so plan accordingly. Still renting a dozer or excavator and doing so yourself would save you a lot of money as saplings may not require a 34,000 pound machine (I was removing 2 foot or bigger stumps)

I personally like a bulldozer because it is nearly impossible to flip one over on steep ground. The center of gravity are just so much lower, and it does not change with how far out your bucket is, or how much you have in the thumb like an excavator. And with a wide blade you can grade the field smoother and push debris a lot farther. Plus it is just amazing the difference a pass or two makes even on steep ground. But an excavator is nice too because on really steep ground (like I was), you hook your bucket onto a stump or ledge rock and by using your hands and feet in unison, can pull your excavator up the mountainside that is too steep to climb by its tracks alone.

I have my own bulldozer and heavy equipment, but a lot of time it just makes sense to rent it. Either way doing it yourself is often the best way. It saves you money and is done the way you want.

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Glenn Herbert
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Location: Upstate NY, zone 5
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Everyone is talking about bulldozers and excavators and clearing the land (hillsides) to more or less bare ground. My question is, what is the benefit to that when you want to establish a low forest and garden landscape, which would benefit from terraces and organic material? Is there something wrong with the shape of the land as it is? Why would you not want to gather the logs and cut brush into rows on contour to form an organic base for garden terraces? The logs would act as swales when properly placed and give the land a head start on being water-retentive and erosion-resistant. The added work to move enough earth to make terrace/swales would be less than required to do so from scratch.

Keeping enough of selected species to coppice would give you a permanent fuel and pole supply.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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J. Shapiro wrote:I have a hillside that's covered in 5-15 foot saplings that I'd like to clear. Whoever cut the timber on it before I bought the property just left it laying, so there are a fair amount of fallen hard- and softwoods to deal with as well. A local excavator quoted me $7-10K to clear it due to some sections being rather steep. I think his price is fair for the amount of work it would take him, but I'm hoping somebody has some experience with doing this in a cheaper and less industrial way, even if it takes a couple years.

I don't mind doing the labor of cutting and clearing/piling the saplings and dead wood myself, but I need a way to make sure they don't just all root sprout afterwards. Has anybody experimented with covering large sections of cleared forest with black plastic for a year or two?

Hit me with your ideas and experiences.


My first question is ; Why do you think you need to "clear the land"? 
My second question is; Why not wait and get your plan more solidified before doing something that may take more work to change?

In permaculture it is better to move slower than faster in almost every case.
The order of approach for creating a disturbance for the purpose of changing the direction Nature is taking is: Water control first, without it you may end up undoing much of what you just did.
Once you have your water control features (swales and berms, terraces, etc. in place, it is easier to move to planting trees and shrubs since you now know the best places for those. 
If you are growing shade preferring bushes (most berries) then your best method of current tree removal would be a chain saw or bladed weed whacker.
The thing about disturbance is you only want to do enough to get to the place where nature can take over instead of you going to war with nature (as mankind has always done and big Ag still does).
Constant disturbance prevents succession from starting.

Why not cut your swales and berms first, letting those features take out the trees that are in the way as you go.
This way you get the benefit of the wood that comes down being ready to rot and thus form soil improvement as nature does.
Once you have your swales set (1 degree fall is just enough to move water and still let it soak in deep, 2 degrees fall is ok if you are also installing several ponds along the contour of the swale) then you will have a better view of what to do next since some of the trouble trees will already be gone.
With the swales and berms in place you will be able to see where alleys can go for best use of the land as it lays. From there you can perform thinning and plant the shrubs you want without having to worry about scorching.
From there you can lay out your two to three row trees scape with the alleys between so you can have better diversity and productivity with the least effort, this gives you the best gains for the work output.

Redhawk
 
Brian Levesque
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If you have the time and don't mind the work how about a brush grubber? Assuming you have a tractor or atv or can get somewhat close to the area with a truck.

http://www.tractorsupply.com/tsc/product/brush-grubber-original-brush-grubber



 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1573
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Someone has already mentioned goats. I'd like to re-emphasise that. All you need for goats is a decent electric fence and energiser. They will ring bark all medium trees, demolish smaller ones entirely, and probably leave all the largest trees (with tougher bark) entirely alone. They will also deal with any regrowth of stumps or new trees germinating from the seed bank.

One thing you need to seriously consider is what will happen in about five years time when your nicely cleared hillside is covered 10ft high with regrowing saplings, even denser than before due to more light? Basically any plan that doesn't involve regular thinning - either by humans or animal browsing - will fairly quickly revert back to forest.

You do mention that one of your aims is to secure lines of sight for the properly. I'd suggest that views can be improved by allowing glimpses through gaps in the canopy, rather than clearing it completely. Think - nice bench in a sunny spot, with just enough trees cleared for an interesting view, but enough left to stay sheltered from the wind.
 
Glenn Herbert
gardener
Posts: 1859
Location: Upstate NY, zone 5
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The OP said that all the big trees are already down, logged by the previous owner, and apparently lying helter-skelter on the hillside.

So I think the task priority becomes shifting those to lie on contour in rows to begin the base of swales or terraces, while taking out enough of the regrowing saplings to accomplish this. All this becomes, yes, biomass to decompose in the new swale berms and increase the fertility. My guess of the best mechanical aid might be a bobcat or some kind of agile, low-center-of-gravity machine that can push or pull logs around on a scrubby hillside. A winch, truck-mounted or otherwise, that can apply leverage from a distance, might be good.
 
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