[Market-farming] wood for posts - Coppicing?

Bill Shoemaker wshoemak at inil.com
Thu Nov 15 08:16:51 EST 2007

This conversation reminds me of something I wanted to ask this group. Is anyone here practicing the art of coppicing to raise trees for fence posts and/or fire wood? For those who aren't familar with it, coppicing (sp?) is raising trees to a certain point, cutting them down, then allowing them to regrow several shoots till the shoots reach a specifized size, depending on their use. Then the shoots are cut down and the process repeated. Trees can be made to repeat this process several times, allowing for the farming of wood through the perennial production of trees. Is anyone out their familiar with this practice, either personally or through an aquaintance? I'd like to know how productive and difficult it was. What species of tree did you work with? Many of the livestock producers who farmed near me when I was a kid used Osage Orange, which seemd to last 50+ years. But the posts were awfully gnarled and crooked sometimes. I wonder if coppicing would improve the quality of posts from Osage Orange or Black Locust, or even Catalpa (I didn't realize it was so rot-proof). Do coppiced posts last as long? I'm establishing an organic wine grape vineyard next Spring and will need posts that comply with organic standards. I'd like to use some untreated and native if I can find something reliable.

Bill Shoemaker, Sr Research Specialist, Food Crops
University of Illinois - St Charles Horticulture Research Center

  On Nov 14, 2007, at 7:59 PM, Shawnee Flowerfarmer wrote:

    Catalpa trees provide one of the few temperate forest woods that don't rot the way expensive lumber like teak doesn't.  A professor at Morton Arboretum says that there are still Catalpa fence posts in Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin from the 1830's/40's. 
    Catalpa seeds germinate within two weeks of harvest, and the tree, while young, can grow five feet a year with nurturing.  Before using a source like teak, you might be on the look out for catalpa salvage.  Just this week, a young arborist told me about cutting down a 100 year old catalpa; he wanted a place to dump the wood.
    Also, today an elderly farmer asked me if I could start a crop of Osage Orange trees for him.  He remembers how rot resistent the wood is and recalled that a chain saw could barely cut down an old one, throwing sparks in every direction.
    Remember, there were solutions to lumber decay before there was treated wood and before it was common to clear cut tropical rainforests to meet our needs.
    Shawnee, zone 5 with spectacular sunsets this week....

  The classic wood for fenceposts in this area used to be thorny locust (black locust I think); still occasionally available.

  If it's not already growing in your area, however, use caution: in some situations this can be invasive. And it's very hard to get rid of, once established: it regrows very fast when it's cut, which is useful for fenceposts or firewood, not so good if you don't want it there. 

  -- Rivka; Finger Lakes NY, Zone 5 mostly
  Fresh-market organic produce, small scale


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