Black Locust Coppicing, Part 1

Pile of harvested black locust poles

In an attempt to move closer to sustainability (Thinking in Long Terms), I have begun the process of coppicing black locusts for many uses, primarily firewood for heating purposes. Black locusts have among the highest BTU’s per cord of North American trees, and have a few properties which make them endearing to me personally and to many of the homesteading persuasion. They are a pioneer species which can compete with grass species favorably if not mowed, are among the fastest growing hardwoods, are leguminous nitrogen fixers, are slightly more deer resistant than other trees due to their sharp thorns, and the wood has been known to last decades as fence posts. Their thorns do make a nuisance for the grower as well as the deer, but a good pair of leather gloves mostly makes it a non-issue. I will try to provide a detailed data-set as this project goes on so that we can all benefit from more than just anecdotes, and over time I think it will if nothing else allow me to better plan my own projects and heating needs.

Photo of area under management

This first area under management is a stand of native seedlings approximately 30′ by 75′ = 2,250 sq. ft. = approx. 1/19th of an acre. Just a garden plot size, naturally wind seeded from the adjacent tree line. Sadly I did not think to take a before picture, this is the after picture, and does not capture a smaller section to the left (included in the total measurement). The management system was STUN (Sheer Total Utter Neglect) popularized as named by Mark Shepard, but a very common management style for forestry for as long as forestry has existed. 20 stems were cut, averaging 3″ in diameter about 6″ above the root flare. Spread of diameters was 2.25″ – 4.5″. Average age of the stems was 9.5 years, or 9-10 years. Spread of age was from 8-12 years. I left 4 standards of greater than 4.5″ diameter and 21 small stems of 2″ diameter or less. There are also 4 Black Walnuts, 2 Mulberries, and 3 other unidentified trees (likely crabapples). The average length of each pole to an ending diameter of 1″ was 15′. I did not catalog each individual stem’s length. The tools used for harvesting were a chopping axe, hatchet, and folding pruning saw (Hand Tools: The Simple Choice). I split the harvesting work into 5 separate 1 hour spurts of work which could have easily been accomplished in a single day by a single person if preferred, and with more efficiency (Hard Work and Faith).

The only opinionated comment I have here is that I suspect the growth rate of this patch to have been significantly lower than what we will see in the future due to it being the first growth of seedlings. They had to grow in a very competitive environment from scratch, and I expect that with each successive round of coppicing, the number of time between each major harvest will shrink. I did leave an almost equal number of smaller stems which will provide smaller harvests in the intermediary years, but mostly I anticipate each plot to provide a main harvest once every 6-8 years once established.

I will post an update once I have cut it all to firewood lengths to document the total volume, and will then follow in the months ahead with updates of sprouting dates, quantities, and measurements. The following are photo records of each trunk for documentation purposes and for later comparison with the sprouted trunks. I tried to estimate the diameter minus the bark to the nearest 0.25″, and did my best to estimate the current age. You will notice A15A and A15B are a combined tag, as they are growing against each other and may in fact be one individual. There will be no more text below other than the captions which will describe the identification, diameter, and age of each trunk.

(Black Locust Coppicing, Part 2)

A1 – 2.25″ – 9 years
A2 – 4″ – 11 years
A3 – 2.25″ – 9 years
A4 – 4.25″ – 10 years
A5 – 3.25″ – 10 years
A6 – 4.5″ – 11 years
A7 – 3″ – 11 years
A8 – 4″ – 12 years
A9 – 3″ – 9 years
A10 – 3.25″ – 9 years
A11 – 3.25″ – 8 years
A12 – 2.5″ – 9 years
A13 – 2.5″ – 10 years
A14 – 2.75″ – 9 years
A15A – 2.25″ – 9 years
A15B – 2.25″ – 9 years
A16 – 3.5″ – 9 years
A17 – 2.5″ – 9 years
A18 – 2.5″ – 8 years
A19 – 2.25″ – 9 years

If you looked at every last one even though there would be no text below, you’re my kind of people. Aren’t they beautiful though?

(Black Locust Coppicing, Part 2)

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Filed under agrarianism, hand tools, homesteading, trees, Uncategorized, woods

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