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Most permaculture way to remove red alder (Alnus rubra)  RSS feed

 
Fredy Perlman
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Location: Mason Cty, WA
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Red alder is a logging regrowth tree that quickly colonizes open areas here in western Washington state. It fixes nitrogen in collusion with Frankia bacteria and rehabs soil with its leaf litter in a region known more for conifers and acidic soil.

I have land with a crazy amount of young red alder in combo with many old bigleaf maples (Acer macrophyllum). The alder must be radically thinned to about 10-20% of population. It has many uses: mushroom beds, mushroom logs, mulch, dye plant, sap/syrup, biochar. There'll be no problem deploying it gainfully once the trees are down.

But how to remove them? The wood, though classed as hard, is so soft that small ones can be axed down. A weed wrench can pull trees up to 6" wide out at the roots. An excavator can push them over effortlessly. I've even heard of using a 10,000 pound winch to pull them down.

The stumps, if left intact, will gradually release their nitrogen into the soil as they die off and rot. So it seems good to cut some down and pull others. But in what ratio? Does anyone have experience with massive young tree removal, and doing so in the most constructive way? Thanks!
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Why do you want to slow down Mother's restoration of the soil?

The Maples that are there most likely started in the shade of a canopy and now have light and growth, creating a different forest canopy coming along.

If you plan to plant gardens, then simply remove the alder from that space and turn it into mulch, mushroom logs, etc.
It isn't just the roots and stump that hold nitrogen, the whole tree does, make the best use of that.

When you talk about ratios there is usually some mention of what is planned to come afterwards.

More real information of your plans for this area would be most helpful in giving you useful advise.

Redhawk
 
Fredy Perlman
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Location: Mason Cty, WA
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Hey Redhawk, I don't want to slow it down, only to steer it a little bit. Nothing would be removed without planting to take its place. There is a lot of room for trees and guilds if most alder were removed. I'd like to plant a thousand or so trees , or more space permitting, but have to plan carefully around the maples, hydrology, and topography. Animals, mushroom beds, ponds (for drainage via subsoiler, I'm thinking, to be used as amphibian refuges, reservoirs for irrigation, fish and wetland production maybe) and tapping operations will also have to be mapped in. I am at the design stage and hoping Paul's PDC/ATC will help me plan.

I don't know if it's better to cut down the alder and let the stump and roots gradually release nitrogen into the soil, or pull it up entirely. but it has wonderful and restorative uses even once it ceases to be a tree. I'm grateful most of the Doug firs were removed 20 years ago because I'm sure that, with the maples and alders, has made the soil more alkaline.
 
Daron Williams
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Since you are in western Washington one use of the stumps would be to let them rot a bit and then plant either red huckleberry in / right next to them or plant western hemlock in / right next to the stumps. Perhaps do a bit of both?

I'm down in Thurston County and much of the South Puget Sound used to have forests that were dominated by western hemlock. Areas that you wanted to keep more open could be planted with the red huckleberry and other areas with the hemlock. Both species will often grow out of decomposing stumps and logs - both species need this environment to get started and are also very shade tolerant. In addition, chanterelle mushrooms are often found near hemlock trees and with the replacement of these trees with Douglas firs it has become harder to find chanterelles.

The hemlocks would grow slowly so you could also have other trees and plants growing in the mean time.

Just some ideas depending on what your ultimate goals are. I have a couple large restoration projects near Shelton WA in Mason County. Great to hear about someone wanting to do permaculture in this general area!
 
Fredy Perlman
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Location: Mason Cty, WA
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Thanks Daron. Nice to meet a local! I was hoping for some (post-)guildy suggestions like that! You know we have nuff evergreen huckleberry, but red, eh? Do the stems come off those more readily? The evergreen are great but the clingy little stems make it teeeeeeeeeedious to make anything out of them.

And I didn't know about chanterelles and hemlocks. It's true that they are greatly reduced on timbering land which, it seems, is everything except parks. I wonder if I can dig some saplings up somewhere? I'll have to read about the other benefits hemlocks confer. And I love chanterelles!

My ultimate goals do involve a lot of forest gardening, but also gravity ponds fed by subsoiling (this might be nutty) dotted around the property. Might improve drainage, provide habitats, bank water, give duck cover (birds will be challenging there given owl predation), and provide wetlands for different crops.

Yes, Mason Co. seems underserved by permaculture, for a number of reasons. What kind of restoration projects are you doing near Shelton? That poor town, too, needs all kinds of rehab. On the one hand Belfair is booming, but on the other, it's only because Seattle is colonizing it...and I came to the woods in part to flee gentrification. Didn't find a better place for that, with an agreeable climate (but yes lots of rain) and affordable land, than here!
 
Dale Hodgins
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The most expedient method is to just cut them off with a chainsaw. They seldom resprout. Stumps will be virtually gone in 3 years. Unless you have a use for all of that maple, I would get rid of them, to make space and leave lots of alder. They will self thin, as they struggle for light and moisture. When you do thin, there's no need to haul the wood anywhere. It can be piled in the immediate vicinity and used as a mulch for the other trees or to build garden beds. It will be the first one to rot out, if used in hugelkultur.

I have gathered most of the humus layer from beneath these trees, without any obvious negative effect. They can grow on gravel.

We don't get much lightning here, so the red alder is our primary nitrogen fixer. Many Douglas fir forests, grow quite well until they run out of nitrogen. This is happening in many reforested areas, where alder growth was suppressed during regeneration.
 
Nicole Alderman
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I have crazy amounts of alder in my woods. They fall down ALL THE TIME. They break half way up the tree, they crack at the base, they fall over with their roots half out of the ground. You can probably just PUSH some of those alders right over--my husband has! For the soil, I'd probably do like Dale said and just chainsaw them at the base. Those trees rot quick, and those nutrients are good for the garden.


Another use for those logs is as base material for hugels or lazagna gardening beds. They stack well, and decompose quickly.

Red huckleberries are often TINY berries. like, eraser size up to pea size. The pea sized ones are usually the least seedy and most tasty. I wish I knew exactly why some bushes make bigger and juicier and sweeter berriers than others. Is it the soil, the lighting, the genetics? I've seriously been wondering that since I was a kid. ANYWAY, as for their stems, about 1/10 comes off the bush with it's stem. They're pretty easy to take off. But, picking red hucklberries takes a long time to get a good amount, since the berries are so small and are usually varying degrees of ripeness on each branch. I've never picked blue hucklberries, so I don't know if the red ones are more or less annoying to pick, but I do know I don't usually spend much time/effort picking them unless I've already picked all the black caps and trailing blackberries. As for flavor, like I said, some are big and sweet, all are a little tangy--none of them taste like blueberries (or, I would assume, blue huckleberries)

I don't know if alder wood is really the place to grow red huckleberries, though I'm sure they would grow there if you planted them. Most huckelberries I see are growing out of cedar stumps or soil that's full of cedar/hemlock. Under my maples, I see salmonberry, thimbleberries, black cap raspberries, nettles, blackberries and elderberries. I'm north and east of you, though.

Hmmm, reading your post, I also noticed that you said that you had both alders and OLD maples. Maybe the alders are where they are because nothing else can really grow there? My alders are primarily around my stream--where the ground is drier, there's a lot of hemlock and cedars, but very few in with the alders. The maples seem to be interspersed everywhere. I our climate, monocultures of trees are rarely seen unless somewhere was logged. You don't generally see a forest of just maples, for instance. But, there are areas where one gets almost a mono-culture of alders, with them being the climax species, simply because that's all that really can grow there (due to it being wet).

Here's some more info about red alder forests. I'll try to find more info (I really should bookmark pages like this, because I always forget where I find my info!) https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/tree/alnrub/all.html

https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/tree/alnrub/all.html wrote: Generally, five types of red alder communities have been described:
(1)  Upland, pure even aged stands of red alder, with a dense shrub
      undergrowth dominated by salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) or
      elderberry (Sambucus melanocarpa), occurring within coniferous
      forests.

(2)  Upland mixed stands of red alder/other deciduous trees and
      shrubs/conifers within coniferous forests less than 100 years
      old, with red alder occurring as a dominant or codominant.      
     
(3)  Riparian red alder communities within coniferous forests.

(4)  Mixed stands within deciduous riparian forests, red alder
      occurring as codominant with black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa)
      and bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum).

(5)  In swamps often occurring with, or codominant with, western
      redcedar.  In this type of community, red alder appears to be a
      climax species.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Those areas that want to grow a monoculture of alder, are the perfect place to scrape up the humus layer. If it's a spot prone to seasonal flooding, the accumulation can be quite substantial. This is better stuff than you will ever find bagged up for sale at the grocery store.
 
Fredy Perlman
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Location: Mason Cty, WA
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Dale: I guess you mean cut them at the base, not higher. They definitely coppice and I was thinking of doing that with some to continue nitrogen fixation and generate wood for other purposes while keeping the canopy open.

As for the maples, they are perhaps almost a century old. Gnarled behemoths that make a very shady canopy where they are. The loggers took all the Doug and red cedar out, leaving only the massive maples. A logging family has always held it, so it wasn't, say, Weyerhauser or Green Diamond Land. Willow, bitter cherry and cascara sagrada (gonna cut ALL of those) also extensive. Alder grew up everywhere in between. There are many Doug seedlings (not any cedars I could find ) that have been struggling inbetween for years; some have been growing for 20 and are strapping, but most are sickly or dead, smothered under the maples.

Cutting down the maples would be quite an undertaking (I think I may have a qualifying saw, 70 ccs with a 24" bar), but I can't think of a use for them cut down or otherwise. I've been trying to plan around them. The alder ARE self thinning, have been for years...was thinking of having an Alder Push work party in the lowest part of the ppty, where we have a contest to see who can topple the most alders in 3 minutes. Everyone who's visited has shoved a couple out.

It seems especially good for hugelkultur given its nitrogen content and quick rotting. I could see stacking it with maple limbs...there are countless dead maple limbs, everywhere between fire-ready and still-green.

I think some of the alder is in a seasonal flooding area. I have only seen the property in spring/summer but have guessed at the hydrology by indicator plants.

Nicole, I just had red huckleberries for the first time at a state park. Yum! I don't know that I have any on the land. SO MANY salmonberry and trailing blackberry FOR DAYS. I don't have thimbleberries (very sad) but raspberries, nettles, and blackberries...need to plant some elderberry canes.

There are many alder near the maples but the craziest density down the hill where I'm told it's wet. I was going to tailor my growing to some of that wetness. I have no idea what the climax species is there but the alders are all under 25 years.

Thank you for the red alder info as well; in another thread you provided some other info on alder that was very helpful. I copypaste and sort all useful links into either Gmail draft emails or Google docs.
 
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