Coppicing is an ancient form of forestry practiced in England.
Trees are cut to the ground, with the intent of harvesting stems that emerge from the stump every seven to eight years. The stems grow up to three feet per year and are harvested at about six inches in diameter for firewood, furniture, planking, masts, fencing, and baskets, among other. The stump keeps growing because live shoots keep feeding it. The result is some stumps of coppiced trees are known to be 15 feet in diameter and centuries old.
This is a practise reflecting high management and is applied to consecutive sections of a forest, in patch-work pattern. This keeps such a managed forest in diverse stages of growth, providing varied ecological habitat. This technque is applied to hardwoods only, for once a softwood is cut, it dies.
We don't see much of this in North America, I presume because forests are so much larger and more abundant than in England and have not been harvested or managed for as long. It is more economical to harvest large trees than small ones, so as long as large trees are to be had, small ones are ignored.
But we do witness periodic examples of an approximation of this process. One is when trees beneath powerlines are trimmed back, sometimes to an awkward state of apprearance. But they then flesh out and regrow, to be trimmed again in a number of years. Another example is topping of trees to obtain and maintain a view from a hilltop. When first topped, the trees look like a hedge, but they quickly sprout shoots and within several years the trees look normal, just a bit shorter.
The word coppice stems from couper, which is French for to cut. It is also related to the word copse - a small wooded thicket.
This is long-winded background to our recent experimenting with a form of coppicing at our farm. About 30 years ago, my father planted some Austrees to provide wind breaks. These are a fast growing species of willow, developed in Australia. They have performed admirably, but have provided a surprise in recent years. That is the tree proves to be more of a bush than a tree in its mature state. It sprouts a dense collection of thin, elongated, brittle branches up and down its trunk. When the wind kicks up, a noticeable portion of these branches end up on the laneway below, impeding traffic and testing tempers. This problem has been growing with the size of the trees, now 40 feet tall.
So, when we needed a source of woodchips for winter bedding of laying hens, we decided it was time to venture into the coppicing business and we knew where to start -- with the Austrees!
These are the pile of wood chips from the branches. They couldn't chip branches more then 10 inches in diameter, so we ended up with some firewood and not as large a pile of chips as hoped, but this is nevertheless a good start.
Below is a hogs' nest. The hogs dig a shallow hole and then all crowd into it for warmth and security through the night. It is very effective way to keep warm and it is engaging to witness. The problem lies in what to do with these divets in the landscape. Do we fill them back in after use, leave them alone, or plant grasses in them to stablize the soil? Mowing around them will be a challenge. The weed-load arising from them will be conspicuous. What to do? We are not exactly sure, but this is part of the challenge with raising hogs outdoors. The benefit is the meat is fantastic. We have harvested 9 hogs over the past three weeks, so have a refurbished supply of pork, including bacon. We are selling sides of pork, about 75 lbs, at $7.35/lb., for those interested. Place an order on-line or send us an email.
We recently celebrated this one's 66th birthday with fine fare from Susan's Soulful Kitchen. While the fare looks rather stew-like and hard to discern from above, the flavors were noteworthy with distinction. In the oval pot is slow-cooked shoulder of lamb, with a complex sauce that was complemented by delicate artichoke hearts and leaves. That was a new culinary venture for me that proved absolutely delicious. On the left is brussels sprouts au gratin, and in the middle mushrooms and rice. The piece de resistance was a peach and raspberry pie, with whipped cream. On a cold, dark, wintery night, these collections of flavors were heart warming and soul inspiring! What good fortune.
If any of you would like a heritage turkey for the holidays, we have a few left. They offer remarkable deep flavor which many have commented on. Send an email if you are interested, as they are not currently on the website.
We look forward to seeing you on Sunday.
From the coppiced copse!
Drausin & Susan