April 9, 2012


People frequently ask us when a certain project they're interested in will be completed. We rarely know how to answer that since so much of what we do is weather dependent. We have our personal projects and priorities, but each season has its own window of opportunity, and it doesn't matter much what plans we have‒when the weather's right for a certain type of work, we set aside current projects to focus on what's seasonally appropriate.

Opalyn gives the fallen tree a hug

A year ago, the spring rain and wind took down one of the large Ponderosa pines that line our pasture. The soil there is fairly shallow, so trees like this are unable to sink a tap root and have to rely on lateral roots. When the shallow soil becomes saturated and the wind blows just right, even a hundred-year old tree can't withstand the stress. This particular tree was large enough that we contented ourselves with cutting off the limbs and left the remainer to wait for access to heavy equipment.

We look forward to this time of year because the pliant ground is easy digging, and we're able to lay the foundations for the summer's work. And so March and April are the months when it's time to get the digging done. We're fortunate to have a helpful neighbor, George. He owns and operates some heavy equipment that we're able to rent without having to pay travel time‒given how far we are away from town, paying travel time can be quite expensive.

the trackhoe extracts 12' log sections

One of our long term projects involves creating a new entrance off of the county road that runs along our eastern boundary. We still need the old entrance to handle heavy or wide loads, but the new entrance is very convenient for passenger traffic. The problem we're dealing with now is that the county has decided that we need to improve the new entrace and bring it up to commercial standards in order to handle potential traffic involved with Herland Forest, the natural burial cemetery we're developing.

The key requirement there is to widen the road bed from the current ten feet to twenty feet. To do that, we needed to remove five trees and bring in many cubic yards of dirt and rock. Two of the trees that had to go were at the bottom of the berm which is about 8' high in the middle. That's deep enough that the stumps would be unlikely to decompose being buried under that much dirt, but the other three would be close to the surface, and their decomposition would jeapordize the integrity of the road bed. As a result, they had to come out roots and all.

clearing the space for widening the road bed

The way that's accomplished is for the track hoe to scratch around the base of the tree to sever some of the lateral roots, and then using the trunk as a lever and taking advantage of the saturated soil, to just push the tree over.

A few minutes with a chain saw and the trunks were ready to load into George's dump truck for the run up to our sawmill. The large log in the center is from the windblown tree described in the start of this article. That tree was too large to be easily bucked into sections with the 16" chain saws we use, so folding that task in with the clearing of the trees from the new entrace saves us a lot of work down the time line.

The dump truck dumped the logs out uphill from our sawmill, which is a very good thing since moving heavy logs downhill is much easier than the reverse : )

Then the track hoe took a few minutes to straighten up the pile, work which not only makes the stock of logs look neat, but also makes it easier and safer to extract a given log when it's time to saw it up.

Between the five trees that had to make way for widening the new entrance, and the wind-blown tree from the pasture, we now have quite a bit of timber decked up. Looks like the sawmill will be very busy this summer turning out lumber for a variety of future projects.