In the main house at Leafhopper Farm, we heat with wood. This is a controversial choice in some circles, especially places where towns and cities are located in a valley bowl. Well, the farm has chosen wood with the following in mind:
- Wood grows prolifically here in Washington State; and though it is labeled a “renewable resource”, that belief is a partial fallacy
- Wood is cheaper than electric heat, and more efficient for the trailer habitat construction that is the main house
- The house is on a hill with great wind circulation, preventing the smoke from stagnating in the area and causing smog
- I can gather my wood personally and avoid supporting continuous need for fossil fuel consumption or coal burning plants to heat my home.
- Fire is an amazing element which produces heat, light, and a comfort to humans unlike any other.
- When the power goes out (which is does on occasion here) we still have heat, and something to cook on, and boil water to drink
- Forests can be beautiful places of ecological productivity, as opposed to mines or fracking to obtain energy.
There are many more examples to support wood fuel, but there are other elements to be reflected on. Trees are not just quantitative parcels of biomass, but complex ecosystems with immense lifespans including the very conditions to grow them. Some varieties have been enhanced through selective methods of agricultural manipulation, but environmental health plays a role in forest growth no matter what GMO is presented. This environmental oversight may ensure at least awareness of the impacts our demands make on the finite recourses available here on earth.
I gather wood from Campbell Global Forests, a resource management company which owns 100,000 acres of timber land less than 8 miles from my house and farm. The logs have been cut and seasoned, then stacked along the edge of the road for pick up. This is great because, though I have fell a few trees, the danger of felling trees is great, and I’d rather have professionals doing that part for me. Seasoning wood also takes about a year, and that’s already been done so I can harvest my logs at the time I need them without the wait. I also get to select the wood I want from the piles, cutting sizes that I can manage on my own.
As mentioned earlier, though forests are praised as renewable resources, this is a misleading claim. Trees do regrow, but if the previous forest is removed from the environment, the wood that would have gone back into the ground to renew the soil is taken out. The natural staggered death of the trees over time, which allows natural decay of wood annihilated, leaving the landscape exposed and less fertile. It takes a long time for soil to regenerate a new forest without inputs.
Campbell Global, like many other forestry management companies, explored alternative nutrient to replace timber resources. For timber bearing forests, treated Seattle sewage is sprayed on planted stands. This does put nutrients back into the soil, along with antibiotics, prescription drugs, and whatever else people are exposing themselves to. What goes down the drain will come back to haunt us in another form.
Studies show there is no harm done to lands properly sprayed. The swaths are marked for public notice, to prevent wild gathering for a year, after treatment. This is the same common practice the county requires of herbicide applications. In my own foraging, I think about what is down hill of these locations as well. Sometimes they are on the upper part of an entire hillside. Whatever water basin that runoff goes into is not wise to harvest from.
Firewood is not something I eat, but I would not want to handle any in a treated spot. Also, the seasoned logs have sat for a year, applications of herbicides and bio sludge are not applicable until replanted spaces have been established, which takes years. The logs are providing heat to a living space, the sunlight energy that grew them is releasing its flame. The strength of the lumber wood is influenced by what nutrients the tree received during the life of its growth. This powerful resource takes time and great nourishment to flourish sustainably. May the ecologists who study and monitor our forest industries, help to cultivate rich biodiversity and healthy water systems. The more biomass we remove from these places at one time, the greater time it takes to renew them. At our civilization’s rate of consumption, demand is outstripping sustainable return.
The wood stacked in firewood piles at Campbell are what the industry considers subprime material; mostly slightly rotted wood or odd length ends. The thinned small trees of a given grove are sometimes available, and those are easier to hand split. I use a gas powered splitter in barter from a friend and neighbor. That machine uses a fraction of the gas that would have been used to heat the house. The stack and pile pictured above are part of a 2016 seasoned supply. The ideal supply is 9 months, a little more than 3 seasons worth, because sometimes Western Washington summers can be cold, and heat keeps humidity down. This is after all, a rainforest.