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One Hack of a Tree  RSS feed

 
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It was the best of times…it was the worst of times; depending who you worked for that is. Here where I live, in the early 1990’s the paper mills were in their heyday, making paper and unsure where they were going to get their wood, some mills were consuming 900 cords of wood per day, others consuming 2500 cords!

But where to get that wood?

Farmers on the other hand were going under, and in 1988, after growing potatoes on this farm since 1838, we grew our last crop. Sadly, we were not the only ones. Suddenly, dairy farmers that had scrounged for land to lease in the area, had thousands of acres available, and chose only the most fertile, the biggest, and easiest fields to get to.
 
Travis Johnson
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For two years I bushogged the smallish fields, the ones with too many turns, and the ones that would take too much manure and lime to turn into something that would grow a decent crop. I spent all summer trying to keep up with them, trying to keep them from growing up with trees since my forefathers had worked so hard to make rock and stump tillable land.

Then the Paper Companies came up with a solution for all of us; they would provide seedlings, landowners would plant and nurture them, then sell them back to the paper companies when grown. There was a few hurdles to overcome; but overall it was a very sweet deal.

The trees they chose were Japanese Larch, guaranteed to grow to 1 foot in diameter, 60 feet tall, in 12 years time. Hog wash I said, the tree proved me wrong as did they ever grow!

But at last; disease!
 
Travis Johnson
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Despite nurturing these trees along, I noticed some started dying. Only a few a year, but still some. The Forest Service came in with a Forest Pathologist and determined they had a bark beetle that would kill 3-4 trees per acre, per year. Instantly 20 acres of forest was put into quarantine, but paper companies still wanted the wood, so no one really cared. Besides, its hard for beetles to survive being made into paper!
 
Travis Johnson
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But the heyday was over just about the time the trees had grown. Recycling and the internet was making paper of the 1980’s a thing of the past. Softwood was especially hit hard as it was used to make newsprint, and no one was reading newspaper anymore.

In a few weeks time, 3 paper mills shuttered their doors, never to be restarted again. Thousands of Maine jobs gone, and landowners with fields now growing with trees.

Worse yet, the Amish had moved into the area, and suddenly the demand for tillable land rose. In fact people started clearing forest to make fields again…including us. But what to do with 20 acres of hackmatack? I sold some for biomass, but at $15 a cord, it was hardly worth it. It has no use as firewood as it will burn so hot it will warp a stove.
 
Travis Johnson
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But the wood is used for piles along the coast because it does not rot, so after being used as poles to make a road for logging trucks, I plucked some of the wood up from the ditch and started running it through my band saw mill.
 
Travis Johnson
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It was rough going. Some of the smaller logs would only net (2) 2x4’s 8 feet long, yet it only took 5 minutes from start to finish, so it was not all that bad, and pressure treated lumber is not cheap. This stuff is better than that though, because it will NOT rot...ever!
 
Travis Johnson
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So in the end, the hack (the Japanese Larch, the Juniper) has come full circle; from me planting it in 1994, to harvesting it in 2018, to me bucking it up, sawing it into lumber, and finally nailing it onto my house in the way of a porch. Twenty-four years, from the time it was planted until it was nailed up, and the distance from stump to house: about 100 feet.

It is not very often a farmer/logger/sawyer can say: “I planted the trees that made the boards on my house.”
 
Travis Johnson
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This was a photo I took back in 2003 of bushogging between the rows of trees. At the time of this photo, the trees were 9 years old!


Kobota-and-Hack.JPG
[Thumbnail for Kobota-and-Hack.JPG]
 
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Thanks for the story Travis, that gives me some hope.  I can't grow black locust here since I'm a bit out of their range and it's frowned upon by the state.  But I have some tamarack (or larch) trees.  I thought I just had 6 out past the back yard but now I realize I have more in a swampy area (yay).  They're nice and straight so they'll make great fence posts. 

I've been using cedar for posts but am about 15 short for my next project.  Tamarack to the rescue.

From what wikipedia tells me, tamarack and larch are the same tree.  The old timers here call them tamarack and the ones I have are native (likely not Japanese).  How rot resistant are they compared to peeled cedar posts?  Do you need to peel tamarack?  Is cutting them in winter best for the longevity of the wood?  It will certainly be best for me reaching them with dry feet...
 
Travis Johnson
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Mike Jay wrote:Thanks for the story Travis, that gives me some hope.  I can't grow black locust here since I'm a bit out of their range and it's frowned upon by the state.  But I have some tamarack (or larch) trees.  I thought I just had 6 out past the back yard but now I realize I have more in a swampy area (yay).  They're nice and straight so they'll make great fence posts. 

I've been using cedar for posts but am about 15 short for my next project.  Tamarack to the rescue.

From what wikipedia tells me, tamarack and larch are the same tree.  The old timers here call them tamarack and the ones I have are native (likely not Japanese).  How rot resistant are they compared to peeled cedar posts?  Do you need to peel tamarack?  Is cutting them in winter best for the longevity of the wood?  It will certainly be best for me reaching them with dry feet...



Hackmatack (larch/Juniper) are very rot resistant, way more so then cedar. Here we use them for piles (logs that hold up wharfs along the ocean). I alluded to that earlier, but will take the time now to explain it better. Most times wharfs lie where fresh and salt water mingle, and here in Maine where the tides go from 12-40 feet, subjects the log (piles) to a lot of wet/drying in a 24 hour period. This all adds up to the most severe rotting that can take place. The fact that cedar cannot stand that harsh environment, but hack/juniper/larch can, says a lot.

If you have trees that are bigger, you might be able to glean a few more posts by "splitting" the logs into halves or quarters. It is easier with a sawmill, but a chainsaw works too.

You can get even more longevity if you have a lot of flat rocks. Placing them on top of the fence posts will help shed water, the bigger the better to keep wind from knocking them off. On the coast they flash the tops of the piles with lead, but I do not recommend that, I mention it just because it shows that if the wharf builders will go through that to help prolong the life of a pile; it really does prolong the life of a pile. In a fence post more so because the tops can get beat up and splintered when be driven in.

The round post in the foreground is clad in lead and made out of Hack...

Irene-Carrol.JPG
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Mike Jay
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Thanks Travis, that sounds awesome!  Should it be peeled?
 
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