Forestry Management and Barn Build

Our hard working cats take a break in the shade during the hottest days of the 2020 summer.

Part of any forest stewardship plan is “management” of the woods; this can look like very little actual work within the landscape, once it’s rehabilitated. Maturing forest can work towards climax without any help from people- though there are few thriving examples left to point to, because of man’s impact. Many smaller acherages in this area of hill country, western Washington presents properties which have not been stewarded at all, or poorly, since their clear cutting in the 1800s. Lands left to naturally reseed are doing alright, and at EEC, there are some good acres of this on site.

Other acres and edges, were evergreens did not reseed- remained open, likely related to short term livestock operations, or attempts at hay fields, which, on wet hillsides is quite challenging. Other lots are overgrown with blackberry, or dominated by choked red alder stands, where evergreens will take a long time reseeding successfully into the area once more. One of our management plans to help speed up the re-establishment of evergreen stands is by cutting down the red alders and planting native evergreen tree root stalk in the opened up under story.

Valentine and Dorian explore a recently dropped red alder. This tree is about 2o years old, and its growth rate has almost come to a stand still. Neighboring alders were already standing snags, as further south, maturing evergreen trees, which naturally seeded on the land after clear cutting, are now high enough to block out light. The evergreen seedling we’ll be planting in to replace the alder thrive in dappled low light when they are small, as they usually mature under the sprawling ceiling of old growth parents of intact canopy. Ecology is so complex, and that’s an understatement.

My partner takes photos of our cat company in the forest

Above is a picture of the area we’re working on. This 1/2 acre stand includes maturing evergreens to the south, and a pasture, which remains open and in use, and the stand of alder and cherry to the west, on a slope, which we are thinning back and replanting with more evergreen species, like western white pine, Douglas fir, and a few deciduous species like cascara and big leaf maple. We’re staying away from hemlock, because it’s getting too dry in our fast changing climate to support wet environment species, which are sensitive to prolonged drought. Red cedar is also on this list, and unless you are planting them next to a seep, spring, stream, or wetland, you’ll see them drought stressed, and in 100 years, they will be drought stricken like the hemlock.

With tree cutting comes a lot of wood, and there are many options for what to do with the logs. Ideally, we would leave them on the landscape where they fall, adding that incredible nitrogen rich biomass to the soil for our future forest. However, another part of EEC Forest Stewardship involves connecting stewardship to place; what better way than to use timber from the land in a building project. Our old sheep shed was on its last leg, so we scraped the structure and begun a new barn in its place. Our red alder from the forestry work will become vertical pillars in our new building. The structure fits within the old footprint of the shed, with an open plan interior for maximum diversity of use. It’s going to be completely full of lambs by next spring.

Taking on a self build barn was not my first choice of projects, but I have to give a very special shout out to my partner, who has spent the entire summer and fall of 2020 throwing up a complex building by him self, with little experience. He does have rigging training, and utilized it to level the beams as the bones were lay- so to speak. I did a lot of log stripping, and hauling, but my other half really built the barn, and entirely on his own. These are the supportive ambitions which make EEC Forestry a community vision. I’m not a builder, but someone else is- and can see the value of sharing their work. Gratitude for all the diversity that helps get things done.

As with most self build projects, the going is slow, but the roof will be on tight by the end of November. This barn will have a small loft for a few bales of straw and bagged shavings, but our hay will be stored in another lean-to nearby. It’s important to keep hay in its own shelter, if possible. This divides the risk of fire threatening stock (like storing your firewood away from the house). Temporarily (winter 2020), our winter alfalfa ration stores in another covered space that is also sheltering the chicken coop, and sheep. Talk about putting all our eggs in one basket- but many farms do! Limited covered space in our Pacific Northwest climate can be tricky- especially with flooding and livestock.

The log posts sit on cement blocks, and hold aloft a sloping roof, one pitch- like the previous shed before. The water collection off this structure will be worthy of a cistern, and we’re planning to move a few cistern to accommodate the new flow. I’ve even been thinking of ways to divert the water towards the pond, or at least into a grey water catchment. Designing drainage (or better yet- retention) is a crucial part of any building in our climate. Thousands of gallons will come off this new building, and it has to go somewhere. If we do nothing, it will erode the bank down hill from the structure over time, taking away the stable foundation for the structure. With a gutter, cistern, and some long hose, we can at least set up a winter diversion system till the dry months return. In the summer, we’ll dig to lay pipe and redirect the roof catchment permanently.

This is one of the largest self-builds we’ve attempted at EEC Forest Stewardship, for agricultural use. It was a great ambition, slowly coming to realization. As of November 2020, we have a roof on, with enough materials on hand to finish outside walls and loft. Inside the barn, I’m keeping the floor plan open, so animals can be moved and penned as needed. Lambing will start in a few months, and I want to have small pens for the ewes and their offspring set up, along with a larger general milling space for the girls who are not ready to drop yet. We’ll be overwintering out young ram, “Lotto”, who was purchased this year from Canfield Farm. This new barn will allow space for him too- out of the way of the girls when they are balloons about to pop.

Turning logs into a solid structure was not an overnight process, and there is still a lot to be done before the building is completely finished, but the work has been so rewarding, and cost effective. We’re also ahead of our forest stewardship plan by a few years now, having taken down a considerable number of alder to open up planting for new long term old growth evergreen trees. One thing to note about red alder, through it is a hard wood, it will rot fast if exposed to damp conditions, so make sure your structure is water tight. We’ll be sheltering our logs with a 2 foot overhang, and additional wall liners, including metal skirting on the weather prone southwest side of the structure.

Putting up a barn in 20202 was not originally on the schedule either, but when the materials collect, and a willing builder shows up, you activate. We received a donation of metal roofing from a neighbor, and had a lot of standing lumber from other building projects, which could be cobbled together for this barn. We did still buy additional lumber and hardware, but the overall cost of this build was about a quarter of what it would have been with a professional building team, though finished much sooner. Gratitude to my beloved partner for finishing this monumental task, the shelter now provided for the animals, and the stewardship of our forest.

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