August 18, 2012

Next Year's Firewood

One of the things on our to-do list this summer, was to trim the two ancient oak trees in the yard. They are one of the first things I admired about this place, visual distractions on an otherwise rundown looking piece of property.

Street view before.
Photo from August 2009

Unfortunately, they are dying.

We had them trimmed back quite a bit that first summer. The biggest branch taken down had over 60 rings. We knew they wouldn't last forever and I've planted a sassafras and two redbuds nearby for less than majestic replacements.

With more overhanging branches dying, we had estimates made to see about another trim. Even the best quote to do both was more than we had, so we opted to have the worst one done, along with a dead branch from the other one, a large dead branch which overhung where we park the cars.



I'm definitely going to miss the shade.

A topped tree is a sad looking tree.

Honestly? I think topped trees look stupid. I never could understand why some folks regularly do it to all the trees in their yard. However, we just weren't ready to cut them down completely.

On the bright side, we now have firewood for next year. Why next year? While the dead parts can be used this year, it was cut back to live wood, so quite a bit of it is still green. This will need to cure for awhile.

While tidying up and sorting it, we discussed this year's firewood pile...

A rather raggedy looking woodpile, I'd say

Neither one of us is too keen on a plastic cover. It looks sloppy and is a nuisance to deal with, especially when trying to get wood while it's pouring down rain. Still, if firewood isn't protected, it will decay from rain and ground moisture. What we need is a proper wood shed.

That, however, was something we couldn't decide on until I saw this at The Weekend Homesteader...

Photo courtesy of The Weekend Homesteader, click for bigger

I loved this idea because it could accomplish two things for us: a tidy, accessible place to store our firewood, plus something I've wanted very badly, a privacy fence.

To put a fence along here will only take 7, 8-foot panels (buy 5 get 1 free to boot). I'm very pleased about this because it will not only define our yard, but will block a straight shot view from the street. I have seen passersby crane their necks to see what's going on, and I will be so happy to not feel on display all the time.

Next year's firewood from this year's tree trimming

Plus it will be great to have proper firewood storage. [UPDATE: Photos of the finished fence here.]

Next year we plan to do the second old oak to match. We figure if we take them down a little at a time, we can spare them as long as possible without them damaging anything, and without letting them die wastefully. As sad as it is to lose them, if we can accomplish that, I'll be satisfied.


  1. Sounds as though you have been busy! I love the wood pile, and I've been working on getting things tidied up a bit. It's always nice to look around and see everything in its place.

    Have a wonderful weekend.

  2. Well, not to burst your bubble but... I'm a Master Gardener and you never want to top trees, ever. It opens them up to all kinds of potential insect damage and rot. It will aslo never look normal again. I would suggest you take it down completely before it's weakened further. It's safer and you won't need to worry about any more damage. It also lowers your property value...

  3. My 2 maples were "topped" years before I bought my farm for likely similar reasons. Like you I don't like the look, however if mine are any proof, they do bounce back. How long that takes I am not sure but I have four very very healthy maples around my house. I agree with you completely about making them useful until you can't anymore. Good luck, I do hope yours responds as mine did, with luscious, new, healthy growth!

  4. Ha! If I lived near you I'd STILL be rubber-necking trying to see what's going on. (I do like the idea though:)

  5. Jaclyn, seems like tidying is the perpetual chore! There's always something to do, isn't there? I blame the 2nd law of thermodynamics. :)

    Nancy, there's no bubble to burst because its just sad to have such beautiful trees reaching the end of their life. Unfortunately they were dying before we even got here. The fact of the matter is that we could not deal with the amount of wood if we took them down; if we took even one down. The circumference of one is 11.5 feet, the other is 10.5 feet. There's not room in the yard nor could we process it for firewood in a timely matter; it would rot on the ground (and attract all those insects you warn of). Our decision to cut off all the dead outer branches was the best one we could make in our circumstances, and with our resources.

    AHH, thanks! I would love to get a lot more years out of them. One thing that came down with the limbs was the mistletoe the tree was infested with. Of course the other old oak has quite a bit of mistletoe, but hopefully we can deal with that next summer.

    Tami, LOL. The thing that really got me was one of our neighbors. Very nice, but was always commenting on things we were doing toward the back of the property; things you wouldn't see simply driving by. Made me feel very uncomfortable. This will block the view from his house. :)

  6. I do love tidy! What I envy is flat land. The flat, however, gives the peepers an opportunity. I am excited to watch it take shape!

    Congratulations on the two birds with one stone effort!

  7. I hear you.. We just had to have our huge Norway maple taken down - it dropped two branches on our new shed and our old shed.. sheesh... We also had a four prong poplar taken down. All four of the trees were well over 100 feet tall. It was scary watching the guy up in the top of the tree cutting while the crane held up the top 30 feet of the tree. They were not healthy and so had to come down. We are going to be eating a lot of beans this month. lol Elizabeth

  8. I don't agree with not topping trees. it's quite an old tradition over here and has been done for centuries. just not with every tree! we have ash trees around the property that have been coppiced first in the 1950. it's usually done, when the trees are about 20-25 years old. ash trees recover extremely well, as we could see when we had to coppice them again in the late 1990s (should have been done earlier, to avoid very large branches). they sprout out again the same year and don't look odd at all, when the coppicing has been done properly. as with you the trees had grown branches too close to the house roof, so we had to take them down. it's a lot of work, but it paid off with more safety inside the house and 3 years of firewood:) and the trees grow away nicely again. of course you have to choose the right time to do the job and it pays off if you can seal the larger cuts.
    the reason behind this is the need for firewood and poor people, who couldn't afford to wait a lifetime or longer to have very large trees to fell. of course I love large, old trees - but if it isn't practical I think coppicing is a good choice. not everybody has enough land to grow large trees for firewood - and the space to fell one without doing major damage to everything underneath! and btw - the ash trees are still healthy and grow away again nicely:) I have to agree though that doing this yourself takes a lot of time and isn't without danger either!
    oh yes, I forgot: I saw interesting timber stacks in wales once. they put the timber on the ground in a circle, slightly stacked towards a lower middle. the outside was done with the smoother, larger pieces, the inside was filled with the crooked bits. when the stack was high enough, it was covered with a piece of corr. iron etc., weighed down with a stone. sheltered against the weather, but easy to build and easy to use up....

  9. Barb, thanks. :) I'm definitely hoping the fence/wood storage helps with tidy! Too, it will hide the untidy times. This has pretty much turned in to our firewood working area, so at times like this, there are branches and twigs scattered everywhere.

    Elizabeth, I think the key is to get them before 1) they do more damage of course, and 2) while they can still be utilized. I have to add that we're fortunate nothing ever got smashed by a falling branch!

    Bettina, interesting comment, thank you. I first read about coppicing in Dave Jacke's Edible Forest Gardens. That actually may be an excellent idea for the last stage of taking these trees down, assuming they're still alive at that point. Those coppices usually grow straight, don't they? Might make good poles, etc.

    What a clever idea for the Welsh wood stack! I'll have to google images for that.

  10. I guess it's all up to what you want. I have seen awful toppings with tiny water sprouts growing up, ruining the look of the tree. Many people might love to buy your oak, if you can't use it all up. Arborists can always give a good estimate on trimming or removing tress, but they're spendy. It's sad to buy a property and then find a tree like yours that was never trimmed right, that can contribute to it's demise. We had to get our huge maple tree trimmed this spring, and we were happy when he told us the previous owner had gotten it trimmed. It can really extend the life of the tree...

  11. I like that...shed and fence in one. Clever! Nice to have your wood piled up for 2 years. Sad to lose the tree eventually but c'est la vie.

  12. Sad-looking, but also kind of enchanting in a story-book way :) Love the dual-purpose firewood pile and that the wood won't be wasted. We're trying to think of a privacy-fence type solution for our back - new McMansions on all that acreage now, and they sit up on the hill much higher than us. :( So sad to see all that valuable land that could be farmed wasted on a covent-controlled community, each with their own entire acre of lawn! And, I'm sorry to say, they hate our chickens. We need lots of fast growing evergreens or something to reach high enough to block their view...

    (sorry for my rant, btw. I do feel better now though)

  13. I'm feeling for you, Jaime! ^^^ We don't have that particular problem, living in a 1940s-era, well-developed neighborhood, but my parents' house has a beautiful, huge sheep and cow farm near it that's up for sale. All that's going to go in are more giant houses on tiny lots that all look the same.

    Oh, the pains of the (ever-expanding) suburbs. Anywho! I also wanted to say I LOVE that wood pile on Weekend Homesteader. Thanks for sharing! It sounds like you made the best decision you could. I have friends who are trying to take down a bunch of dying trees right now - they are getting an estimate today, as a matter of fact. It ain't cheap.

  14. Nancy, considering the rundown appearance of our house, outbuildings and yard, the looks of that tree won't make one iota of difference in property value, LOL. We didn't buy the property as an investment however, and fully intend to live here the rest of our lives. In the unfortunate event we did have to sell, we'd never recoup what we've spent on unseen structural repairs, remodeling, land improvements, plantings, fencing, etc. Especially around here.

    Bridget, isn't the internet the best place to get ideas! Hopefully we will always have the next year's firewood in preparation.

    Jaime, that is unfortunate indeed. Would Leyland cypresses grow well in your part of the country? Ours grew to pretty much hide us from passing cars, in just three years. See comparison photos here

    Christie, it's terribly expensive. We got an estimate of $1500 to trim out both trees without even hauling the branches away. Might as well have been 15 million, LOL. Can't imagine what it would have cost to cut them all the way down. That's why we decided to do one at a time, which for us is better really. We don't want to waste the wood.

  15. That is a brilliant idea! Can't wait to see what it looks like finished :)

  16. not sure that the circular stack is a special welsh thing, but you can see it here:
    and of course there are even films on youtube about how to make one:) the new shoots of course go straight up until they become to heavy. the tree makes lots of small ones in the first year, but you can kind of steer the whole new growth a bit by cutting off branches that grow into directions where you don't want them too... or you can leave them a few years and cut them a bit later, once it is more obvious what's what. and use the small bits for firewood of course:)

  17. Love that fence/wood shed idea! Since I'm not dealing with rain in the winter while I'm heating with the wood stove (snow, sometimes lots of snow), I deal with the tarp cover on my pile. Luckily, the guy I get wood from has learned that stacking it as he delivers it really doesn't take any more time than just throwing it out of the truck, so I just have to cover it for storage, and bring it in the house for use. Time to start think about calling him. Hard to think about winter when it's almost 100 degrees outside!

  18. As someone else said previously, if these trees are already dying, a radical trim like this will speed them along the road to demise. The now don't have enough greenery to store nutrients in the roots for winter, which means they might not come back next year. If they do, they will be weak, and won't do well. So says the Urban Forester for a town I used to work for...

    However, you will have LOTS of firewood!!

  19. Stephanie, Dan got two of the posts in before he had to go out again, so we're on our way!

    Bettina, wow, reminds me of Gene Logdon's description of early American hay stacks! Very cool. I'll have to show Dan when he gets home. :)

    Sue, I agree about that 100 degrees! So nice your wood delivery guy stacks it for you. He's a keeper I'd say. :)

    Laura, yes, folks knowledgeable about trees think our timing incredibly stupid. I think if we hadn't had such severe weather this summer with a number of limbs blown down, Dan wouldn't have felt so strongly about trimming this tree back as quickly as possible. Fortunately nothing hit the house or vehicles, but the possibility was there and hurricane season isn't over. About the top quarter of the tree was dead, so taking it back to live wood left it as photographed. Most of the green in the "before" photo was actually mistletoe.

    Should we have taken the whole thing down? Well, we had done as much as we could afford. (I never dreamed cutting down trees could run into thousands of dollars :o ). If it doesn't make it next spring, we'll take it down even more then. We should have yard space to deal with it by then too. Honestly? We aren't expecting to live more than a few years anyway, it's that bad. Taking it down in stages is just the best option for us.

  20. I love, Love, LOVE the wood shed/ fence idea. I may be a copycat in the near future!!!

  21. I don't like to see a topped off tree either. I am in the same boat with you... this morning we'll be heading off to get a new chain saw blade to cut down half of our oak tree that split during a storm. We plan on using the limbs to line a new garden bed. I hate to see it go. I hope you do a future post on your new fence and log storage. I would like to see it being I love my privacy as well.

  22. great wood pile and I'm not a fan of topped trees either. they just look...wrong but if it helps save them, that's a good reason.

  23. Michelle, isn't it great? What would we do without the internet, LOL

    Bernadine, it is always sad to see a beautiful tree damaged, diseased, or otherwise dying. I know I'll miss our two old trees when they're eventually gone.

    Sandra, they do indeed look wrong. I can't believe it's so popular around here, though usually they cut them down way shorter than we had done. I'm not sure this has any chance of saving the tree, but at least we can utilize the wood without potentially damaging anything else. sigh

  24. I'm looking forward to seeing the finished product. We've been very happy with what we have since it keeps the split wood off the ground, organized and dry, and I don't have to struggle with a tarp whenever I need wood.

  25. Candace a whole lot of people love the idea. You may see a lot of copycats all over the internet!

  26. It is interesting to read of your tree story. We don't have a dying tree...but two huge, huge maple trees that are going to do damage if we don't do something. The wood will be welcomed but the severe trimming will be difficult!
    Putting a place back in working order sure creates a lot of work!! :))

  27. Flower, well put! When we first moved in, our insurance company required these two trees be cut back. At the time we only had branches over the house cut off. We were told then the one in particular wouldn't last much longer. Very sad and hard to see it go, but at least it's safer.


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