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Newb question: How best to convert forest to pasture/silviculture

 
pollinator
Posts: 169
Location: Zone 7a, 42", Fairfax VA Piedmont (clay, acidic, shady)
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Here in northern Virginia (zone 7a-b), woodlands cost a lot less than pasture.  I have long-term interest in buying a permaculture property at some point (70+ acres, under $500k), looking at wooded parcels of land from Winchester to Richmond.  At that price point you will probably get very marginal land, basically clear-cut pine plantations and wooded land, potentially with minimal top soil.  I’m trying to learn how to most efficiently convert wooded land into a grass-based ecosystem that could support animals, food forest guilds, and some annual beds.  The long-term goal would be homesteading for an intentional community of 10-20 people, with capacity to host classes and run camping festivals.

Let’s assume the land wasn’t too steep, to minimize erosion and allow for heavier machinery. Oh, and I’d definitely leave some wooded areas for wildlife, maybe saving 1/3 of the property for zone 5.  This shaded area would also allow for mushroom cultivation and camping.

I think the main problem is how to deal with mature trees.  Brush and saplings go down fast with mowers (and potentially goats/pigs).  But big trees take forever to rot.  Trees provide resources for firewood, wood chipping, hugul, etc.  But manually processing 50+ acres for these purposes would probably take a lifetime.  

Questions: I’m thinking I should avoid pine plantations.  How big do my trees have to be for a logging company to deal with my problem for me?  Would it be cost and time effective to use a large wood chipper to quickly chip up a few acres worth of hardwoods (under foot wide trunks)?  What if I just mowed everything, dropped all the trees, threw down some seeds, and let it all rot naturally (maybe with some goats to eat the brush and fertilize the grass seeds)?  How long would it take for something resembling pasture to emerge?

Incidentally, I’m currently doing this on a smaller scale – slowly clearing about an acre around my house (in Fairfax County) of all but the largest tulip poplars and oaks, with the goal of eventually building ground cover, fruit trees, topsoil, hugul beds, and chickens.  It’s taking a while.  Building terraces with felled trees, raised beds with logs, hand spreading clover seeds, storing firewood, etc.  I’m hoping that over time the felled tree roots rot into the soil and improve it.  Also trying to get fill dirt dumped on top of brush piles to solve grading problems and build large hugulkultur.
 
pollinator
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Your mind set on this is actually wrong, though I say that respectfully. It is not the SIZE of the stump, but rather WHAT SPECIES of tree the stump is. This is in terms of removal and in rotting.

For instance, I have great big Eastern Hemlock here, but I can push them over with a modest sized bulldozer because those types of trees tend to have a root ball closer to the top of the soil. In contrast, White Ash have a top root that goes down to hades where Lucifer is grabbing a hold of it and will never let it go. I am being silly here, but the point is, I would rather push a 2 foot Eastern hemlock stump then a 10 inch White Ash stump. The same is true of White Pine...darn soft tree, but suffering goodness pulling those stumps is like a new dentist pulling a lower back tooth! But Oak...for at is seeming strength...they pop right out, and apple trees have such shallow roots that an ATV could push their stumps out of the ground. But rot factor is another matter. A White Ash is anchored to the ground for sure, but they rot incredibly quick. That is not the case with easy to pull, but rot resistant White Oak. So, it really is not about size of the trees.


I clear a lot of land, for myself as well as others, though the last thing I wanted to get into for retirement was land clearing. There are many ways to do it, and in the farm classes I teach, I discuss many of them, and will here upon request. Mostly though it has to do with time. The more time a person is willing to wait, the less money they spend. The best way is to wait 5 years after logging the wood off before even attempting to clear the stumps. That is because the stump rots from the ground up, and not the ground down. If a person clears right after logging they get a much bigger stump. This takes bigger equipment, that burns more fuel, and costs more to rent/buy/maintain. However, today few people want to wait. they want trees cleared today, and fields tomorrow. It can be done, and it still is worthwhile to do so from an economical standpoint, but more expensive.


Another issue however, is what to do with the rootball. Here in Maine I can still burn them, which is against the law in Vermont, though I have no idea about the southern states. Even then it is a liability because they burn forever. I am talking a year or so and they are still smouldering, but greatly reduces teh size of them. A farmer gets fertilizer out of teh burned stump though (0/1/3) and biochar. Pushing them into a ravine is always nice, or to the edge of the field; all depending on the length of push. That is what makes production. When a person is spending half their time backing up with a bulldozer, it is easy to see where that would affect production.


...

Many people have tried using livestock to clear land, and I suppose it is possible, but I have yet to see anyone who have tried this, not to give up halfway through and bring in the equipment. There is nothing wrong with that because as I said, time only helps landclearing, even if equipment is used.



For what it is worth, Land Clearing for me costs about $201 per acre, but there are a lot of variable in that. To have it done here costs about $3000 per acre.
 
gardener
Posts: 1774
Location: Los Angeles, CA
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Travis Johnson wrote:
Many people have tried using livestock to clear land, and I suppose it is possible, but I have yet to see anyone who have tried this, not to give up halfway through and bring in the equipment. There is nothing wrong with that because as I said, time only helps landclearing, even if equipment is used.




Goats and hogs are companions to the process, but each of them require fencing and knowledge about care and handling.  Goats would rather browse than graze, so they do a fantastic job of clearing brambles and low hanging branches.  They are great with weeds of any height.

Pigs like to root and can be very destructive if you leave them on a space for too long.  If there are oak trees, the hogs will go wild for the acorns.  They'll turn the entire forest floor over in their search for every last nut.

Between the two, goats and pigs, they'll do a fantastic job of opening up the understory of a forest.  Once they've done their work, you can go in and thin much more easily.  Drop the trees and let the goats once again convert the leafy biomass to food and fertilizer.

However, as Travis said above, they are not the full solution.  You'll still need heavy equipment to take out large trees and stumps.  
 
Josh Garbo
pollinator
Posts: 169
Location: Zone 7a, 42", Fairfax VA Piedmont (clay, acidic, shady)
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Thanks to both of you: that was quite helpful.  Goats and hogs sound like great options to replace brush mowing and tilling... just not the stump removal.  Running them before and after heavy equipment, like Marco mentioned, makes sense.

Interesting there's so much variability in species stump rotting.  Presumably a fast-rotting tree like the White Ash would also make a great "nurse tree" if you felled some without cleaning them up for firewood.  Do you think a large pine plantation would be easier to clear/rot than a large hardwood forest?  I would probably be keeping some deciduous food-producing trees (like oaks or black locust), so maybe the leaf cover from those would help with stump rot.

So, heavy equipment work for stump removal could run from around $300-3000/acre depending on the types of trees, degree of rot, method of removal, and other variables?  That's not too bad.  I assume on steeper ground I wouldn't be able to run heavy equipment (and of course there are more erosion issues there too, so I might not want to cut everything down).

Currently I have about 50 new stumps over an acre (6" to 20", mostly oak, poplar, beech).  I'm hoping to just cut them down to ground level, pile on manure/filldirt/compost/topsoil, and seed.  Hopefully they will rot in a few years and put more biomass into the soil.
 
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Hi Josh, I'm curious if you ever made any progress with this. I've been looking and thinking about doing the same thing in the same area. I started looking in Frederick County Md, then Loudoun, Fauquier, Clarke, etc., and reasonably priced land is pretty tough. Looking more at Culpeper County now and there seem to be some pine plantations. I'm thinking maybe I could clear cut the pine (loblolly seems popular in Va, not sure why), leave the hardwoods for diversity and aesthetics, and turn the clear-cut pine area into pasture. Thanks a lot for any info or lessons you've learned in your process. - Jim
 
pollinator
Posts: 210
Location: Japan, roughly zone 9b - wet and warm climate
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A bit late, but talk to any woodworkers that mill their own material, I don't know the size of the trees but if they're even reasonably big you could probably get some cooperation. Luthiers and craftsworkers can often use small stock if it's desirable wood.
 
Josh Garbo
pollinator
Posts: 169
Location: Zone 7a, 42", Fairfax VA Piedmont (clay, acidic, shady)
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Hi Jim.  I haven't bought more land, but have had some success with my property in the last two years.  Let's see - what have I learned.  White clover comes up well hand-sown in poor, acidic clay soils.  Black Locust also grows into any soil (currently experimenting with growing even more by seeds).  Stumps last forever.  I have not ground down any, just using logs to build out terraces between the stumps, and then mowing this to help grass and clover develop.  Rye grass, hand sown has done well.  Scattered some lime, but it has probably not done much; my ground is so steep and rugged that I broke a spreader.  Have gone over some sections with a power aerator and rear tine tiller, but not sure how much they have helped, given the difficulty of working ground.  My stumps have grown some nice fungus (have not had time/money to do mushroom growing, but was fortunate enough to have Lion's Mane volunteer on some of my logs).

Shade is my problem, in terms of getting grass to grow in certain areas that are more fern or vine dominated currently.

Have also done well planting daffodil bulbs in forest.  Currently planting a lot of Japanese Arrow bamboo to hopefully grow a shade-tolerant hedge.

I've talked to folks at Living Energy Farm that got clear-cut former-land land (presumably for a really good price) and in only about a decade have crops, buildings, fruit trees, etc going.  I'm not sure what methods they used.  

In terms of location I'm still looking into the Madison/Gordonsville area, but am also looking into Louisa and south of Charlottesville.  I'm prioritizing flatness over price/acre and budgeting down a bit too, in terms of building a house for a reasonable price (looking into archedcabins.com).  I think 5-10 acres will do what I need, which is have complete privacy, host events of up to 50 people, and support 2-10 people perpetually.

TL;DR - I think my basic idea is sound, but will be moderated somewhat to be a bit more practical.
 
Posts: 134
Location: Appalachian Mountains
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Keep in mind also that forests are fungal dominant and pastures are bacterial dominant.  So making the transition slowly over a couple of years might be best.  As fungal dominant soil is disturbed and air incorporated, it naturally becomes more bacterial dominant. The grasses are going to need more calcium/phosphorus and other nutrients than most trees do.  I like to use goats to clear an understory, and we have an Alaskan saw mill.  It just takes a lot of time/energy to process everything.  If we cut a couple of trees every day the goats can take care of the leaves and nibble on the twigs.  When you have a thousand trees, it might take a while.
 
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