Wild apple trees, firewood

A stunning, glorious late summer day. This morning I took the chainsaw-on-a-stick over to the north side and spent some time cutting branches to let some sun in on a bunch of reasonably healthy wild apple trees that are growing on the property, mostly in the shade of huge, unruly pasture pines (at least that’s what we call the white pines with half a dozen crooked interwoven trunks). There are already a goodly number of small apples on some of the trees, and I think with some additional clearing and rough pruning we will have at least as many wild cider apples as we’re willing to backpack/wheelbarrow across the bridge. We’ve also made a start at grafting over some of the younger and better-formed trees to recognized varieties.

The danger in this is the potential to give aid and comfort to invasive species. We’ve already got glossy buckthorn and bittersweet established on the property, and creating openings in the canopy risks allowing them to run rampant. So far my approach is to only work in places that I imagine are tending towards orchard in the future, and that I’m willing to scythe once a year – the buckthorn can’t grow bigger in a year than can be cut with a scythe, and the bittersweet can’t do much if it doesn’t have anything to climb. We’ve been attacking the buckthorn groves with chainsaw and loppers, and spraying the cut trunks with glyphosate to keep them from suckering the next year. The place it gets sticky is where you want to leave some undergrowth, say some bayberry or wild blueberry is growing; this makes it labor-intensive to cut out the bittersweet without damaging the natives. One thing we’ve learned since last year is that we need to be really fastidious about swamping out all the brush we create; it’s a nightmare to try to scythe around fallen brush, especially once the vines start twining around it.

By the time I managed to put a whole tank of gas through the pole pruner and swamp the brush, it was early afternoon, and my forearms were totally spent, so I took a bit of a break, then worked on firewood. I hauled the oak from the tree that blew over in Irene, and Alexis and I split it up – we don’t have a hydraulic splitter here yet, but AC is getting pretty good with a six pound maul. I think we’ve got about as much wood stacked under cover as we’re going to have for the winter, and there’s a bit more left to split that will get stuck on a porch or somewhere. I have a notion of a design for small, skid-portable (when empty) three-sided woodsheds that would hold 2-3 cords and encourage us to get a year ahead on firewood. But that’s lower on the priority list that a lot of other house projects, so it will probably be some years before it comes to pass. It would be a lot more satisfying to build them out of wood harvested off of our land, but that would require we come up with some sort of traction solution for the north side, and a high line or something to get across the river.

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