Ash Trees For Firewood

IMG_6137One of the first things I did when I arrived in Maine was to help Dad fill up the rest of the pallets with wood to be burned to heat the house this winter. November is getting very late in the year to be cutting down trees for firewood, so we were only after one species.

The ash tree.

Ash trees are quite popular as landscape trees because they are fast-growing and can be found almost everywhere in the United States. Of course, with the current prevalence of the ash borer, it’s possible that they may go the way of the American chestnut.

Ash trees are not just fast-growing and prone to fantastic fall color. It turns out, they’re also edible. The roots, anyway. It’s kind of amazing where one can find food sources.

The reason we were after ash trees in particular is because of their water content. Good, cured firewood should be around 10% water. Oak, which is a great fuel, but takes ages to cure, starts at around 60% water. Obviously, that simply won’t burn just after it has been cut down. In fact, it usually takes a couple of years to get to the point of being worth using. Ash, on the other hand, is around 20% water. While it’s not ideal to burn something that wet, you can. In our case, though, we will be holding those pallets of wood until the end of winter in hopes that they will cure at least a little between now and then.

While we were taking down the trees, I came to two conclusions. The first is that dry-built stone walls are an ingenious invention. Not only are they built from existing and plentiful resources, but when you drop a tree on them, there’s no permanent damage. All you need to do is reshuffle a few rocks to smooth out the dent. The second is that anyone harvesting wood off of their own properties would be well-served to have a hugelkultur bed constantly in progress. Having a brush pile or two around for habitat is good, but returning the bulk of the twiggy scrap wood directly back into the earth will be better, in the long run.

A hugelkultur bed made up of small-diameter branches probably won’t do the sponge thing as long or as well as one that includes large-diameter trunks. However, it will drive the nutrients, and more importantly, the carbon from the branches right back into the soil far more quickly than would happen if they were left to rot on the surface. At this point in human history, I think that doing whatever we can to sequester carbon on any scale is a good idea. You’re also building lush chunks of ground that you may not need for a garden, but you can certainly use to cultivate the seedlings of the trees that your children and their children will cut down to heat the home in the future.

It felt very good to be doing something both physical and useful upon arrival. Almost a week traveling in the car was a bit too much for me. It also felt very good to be able to look at a landscape and know that I would be able to think about and put into play at least some of the things that I have been learning. This piece of land isn’t my ultimate home, but it is a home, and that’s close enough, for now.

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Ash logs waiting to be split.

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