Modeling Sustainable Forestry

Utilizing our forest as a sustainable source of food, fuel and construction materials

turning a beetle-killed tree into lumber

turning a beetle-killed tree into lumber

Of Windward’s 131 acres more than a hundred acres is a rolling forest of Ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and copse oaks, and while the role of our forest in supporting Windward’s sustainability isn’t as obvious as the role played by our animals or our gardens, our forest is none-the-less a key component of Windward’s long-term sustainability. That’s true now, and given the inevitable impact of the end of cheap oil, it will be even more true in the future.

Softwoods – pine and fir

In the rain forest that begins just west of Windward you’ll only find fir stands, whereas in the dry highlands that stretch to the east of Windward you’ll see only stands of pine. As a result, Windward is located in a sylvan war zone where the wet loving Douglas fir battles it out with the dry land Ponderosa pine. In wet years, the firs make solid gains as the pines fall victim to a burrowing beetle, but in dry years, the pines suvive as the young firs die from a lack of soil moisture.

As stewards it’s not our practice to cut live timber unless it’s necessary to thin out a stand by removing damaged trees. Rather, given the size of our timber stand, we’re able to meet most of our needs as an offshoot of maintaining the health of our trees.


Arguably, the greatest natural danger we face at Windward is forest fire, and when you live deep in the woods it isn’t a question of whether fire will come, it’s only a question of when and will you be prepared. This is our seventeenth year and so far we’ve had to deal with serious fires three times. Note: the picture is of another fire in another place, but it serves as an example of what could happen down along the river.

After the first fire scare, we got very serious about cleaning out the fallen limbs and dead trees that allow a healthy fire to turn into an inferno. A fire will still pass through a clean forest, but it won’t get hot enough to kill. That’s also why all of the building we construct have metal roofs.

Early on we just piled up the fuel and burned it, which was a sad waste of energy rich material but lowering the fire danger around out buildings was too important a task to delay. Now we have a heavy-duty chipper which allows us to convert dead branches into wood chips which lend themselves to a wide range of uses.

turning branches into wood chips

turning branches into wood chips

Most folk just take a dead tree and turn it into firewood. At Windward you’ll learn how we take a dead tree and turn it into a range of useful products—some to use here, and some to create value-added products for sale which is an important aspect of sustainability since no matter how self-reliant we become, it will always be in our interests to make and market items in order to bring in some level of income.

With softwoods such as fir and pine, our first choice is to cut useful lumber out of the trunk. That’s done on our Woodmizer band saw mill shown in the picture at the top of this page. You’ll learn how a round log is first converted into a square cant and then broken down from there into dimensional lumber.

You’ll also learn how to use this process to produce special sizes of wood that can be directly utilized to make marketable products such as picture frames and rustic furniture. Because we control the depth of the cut, we can produce boards which are perfectly suited for the building of re-creations of antique furniture, something that there’s always a good market for.

You’ll learn how to size up a cant so that it yields the maximum amount of useful lumber for projects such as the roof we’re putting on the workshop we’re making out of two storage containers. The greenhouse hoops support a plastic cover that’s effective at shedding the rain, but we found that more was needed.

saw cut rafters

saw cut rafters

So we decided to add a secondary roof to the storage container, one that would collect the runoff from the plastic cover along with the rain that falls on the container. Rain gutters would then collect that water and channel it to a storage tank which will provide pure water for our steam engine power plant. In the picture you can see the 2×10 rafters that were cut from Windward trees on our saw mill. The rafters were then covered with 1×6 boards, again cut on the mill.

Once the useable lumber has been harvested, the slabs and other scraps left over are cut to 16″; lengths and bundled up for sale to the city folk as kindling. Then the saw dust is gathered up and composted. The irony is that we can generate more income from just the kindling than we could if we’d cut up the entire log as firewood. Sustainable practices are necessarily efficient practices, and we’re quite proud of how efficiently we can use our trees.

The parts of the tree that aren’t large enough to mill are cut up into firewood and stored in our solar woodshed to feed the kitchen wood stove come winter, and the smaller branches are chipped up and will eventually be used in an overgrown pellet stove to generate steam to power a CHP (Combined Heat and Power) unit down at the landing.

The steam will generate electricity which will be fed back into the grid, thereby running our power meter backwards, and the steam exiting the engine will be used to heat the water running through the hydronic slabs that form the floor of our main winter workshop.

shiitake mushrooms growing on an oak log

shiitake mushrooms growing on an oak log

Hardwood – copse oak

The other major forest resource we have is in the form of scrub oak. Easily half of the tree is underground in the form of a massive root system, and that part of the tree isn’t killed when you cut down the above ground trunk.

Immediately the root system will send up shoots to start the process of regrowth with the result that years later you’ll wind up with a circle of smaller oaks, called a copse, that all stem from the same root system. Because the tree doesn’t have to start all over again from seed, but rather it has a massive root system to build on, the sustainable yield from copse oak is notably higher than if you only relied on trees like pine or fir for your wood.

At Windward you’ll learn how we can use this sustainably harvested oak to produce shitake mushrooms both for our kitchen and for sale. Indeed, the role of mycology in building sustainability at Windward has such potential that we see the need for a Chair of Mycology in our future; we’re just waiting for the right person to come along—perhaps you’re that person.

Trees as a source of food—fruit trees and copse oak

a young plum tree being fertilized by "duck soup"

a young plum tree being fertilized by “duck soup”

Sustainability is about efficiency, about the balance between the energy invested into a system and the amount of value that is returned. Mainstream society’s food supply is in peril because of the end of the era of cheap oil will necessarily also mean the end of cheap food.

One of the best ways to produce a maximum output of food with a minimum input of fossil fuels is through the use of food products derived from trees. The food trees that spring most easily to mind are the various fruit trees such as apple, plum and apricot trees we’ve been planting around Windward.

Windward is dry enough that young fruit trees need supplemental water in order to get established. In the picture you can see basins of water set out for the ducks to use; once it’s “enriched,” it will be poured on the base of the fruit tree a practice which makes the ducks happy and accelerates the tree’s growth—at Windward, you’ll learn lots of these “two-for-one” techniques which maximize our gain while minimizing the necessary input since the more efficient a process is the more sustainable it is.

As we get more of our land adequately fenced in, we’re looking forward to expanding our orchards to better meet our food needs. Indeed, this is such an important part of Windward’s long-term sustainability program that we see this work developing into an Arbor Chair focused on enhancing this aspect of our sustainability.

Sunshine helps herself to an apple

Sunshine helps herself to an apple

Our oak trees also have an important role in creating a sustainable food supply. Milk is a high energy product, and to make it a doe needs energy rich food in the fall as she rebuilds her fat reserves. Goats give birth in the spring and produce milk throughout the summer and into the fall when they’re dried off so that they can rebuild their energy reserves. Goats love acorns and are quite happy to save us the chore of going into the woods to collect them.

In the future we look to add chestnuts and mulberries to increase the amount of goat and sheep food our forest produces, all without fossil fuel inputs.