The Coppice was the first element of my design to be implemented. Much of the survey information is contained in the overall project design, and it may be worth reading that first. It can be found HERE.
The picture above shows the location of the coppice and orchard, shown as 1 on the key. You get a better view if you click on the image. The orchard can be seen as the ‘rough’ patch top center of the area, but had already been expanded by the time that this design was undertaken.
The schematic below should help to relate it to the original design.
Establish Aim and Objectives
The overall aims and objectives are:
- Provide heating and cooking fuel
- Provide bee forage
- Produce food
- Provide shelter
- Assist with soil building
- Aid water retention
- Provide habitat for wildlife
- Create an attractive and peaceful environment
The survey information is largely the same as for the overall design. Exceptions are as follows:
This section contained about 125 trees planted in five lines, running up and down the slope West of the orchard. I don’t have any pictures of these before I started to plant the coppice trees, but the picture below, taken during the coppice planting, shows the original trees with their taller square tree guards, and the newer trees, planted using smaller ‘spiral’ guards. (At this stage some of the trees have been left without tree guards. These are the Italian Alder, which you will read more about later.)
The orchard itself consisted predominently of apple trees on MM106 rootstocks, as well as some pear, plums, and gages.
The picture below shows the orchard at the time of the coppice being planted. It is taken from the North looking down the slope.
There is also some suckering of Blackthorn from the adjacent hedges.
Species that grow well here are Blackthorn, Wild Cherry, Ash, Hawthorn, Willow, Sycamore, Field maple, Crab Apple, Rowan, and Lime. Using these, or related species, is an example of the permaculture principle ‘Observe and Interact‘.
The aerial photograph at the top of this post shows a rotavated strip just inside the Western hedge. At the time of the design, this had regrown with a lot of dock emerging. There is also an expanding patch of Ribwort plantain in the South West corner.
This space benefits from the shelter of the hedge along the Western edge of the property.
What surprised me was the lack of information on planting coppice woodland. There was plenty of information about the actual planting/species, but nothing that linked up with how much you would need. An example of that is that there are figures in the Earth Care Manual, that say how much area you need to heat a well insulated/energy efficient house, for different types of woodland. Patrick Whitefield kindly loaned me the notes that he used for these figures, but I couldn’t find any information there for plant spacings for the Short Rotation Coppice (SRC). When I then researched SRC in more depth, the plant spacings that were given were clearly to make it easy for mechanical harvesting, and were not designed for hand harvesting. For example the plant spacings quoted in ‘Home Grown Energy from Short Rotation Coppice’ (George Macpherson) were to plant in double rows, 90cm between plants along the row, and a gap of 45cm between pairs of rows. Each pair to have a gap of 1.5m, presumably for machinery access/tyres. This didn’t make sense for me. In the end I decided to use my own judgement and intuition.
I had a number of good sources of information for trees that provided bee forage. The most useful was Martin Crawford’s ‘Bee Plants. I already knew most of the trees that were capable of giving nectar and pollen for my bees, but where Martin’s book came into it’s own was the additional functions that these trees could provide.
With almost all trees capable of being burnt for fuel, I concentrated on the remaining priorities to choose the species that would make up the coppice, principally bee forage and food.
I made an early decision to only plant trees that were capable of providing bee forage. This would ensure that my first two priorites would be met in full. Conventional sources say that honeybees focus on the most concentrated sources of nectar to the exclusion of others. For me that means Oilseed rape when it is in flower. To that end, planting trees with a similar flowering period (Late April/May) would not be sensible. However I have observed that if we have a dry Spring, the Oilseed Rape stops producing nectar, and the bees shift to working Sycamore, etc. Ensuring that there is some nectar available during the OSR flowering is an example of the permaculture principles Observe and Interact, and Every Important Function should be provided by more than one Element.
Honeybees can fly up to a mile for a good source of food, so I was never going to provide all of their food for them, nor keep them confined to the property. A full sized hive can visit up to 1/2 million flowers a day….. Not possible on such a small scale, although some flowers produce a significant amount of nectar, reducing the number of individual flowers needed.
Honey bees don’t fly if it is too cold, wet, or windy. This means that early in the year, when their supplies of honey are low, it is important for them to have access to good sources of nectar and pollen. This is also the time when flying conditions are the most dificult. Planting trees that yield pollen and nectar early, and provide shelter from windy weather, would be a significant advantage to my bees. By June, most of the agricultural sources of nectar are over. Most trees have also finished yielding, so using some trees that yield during the late summer, would also be beneficial.
I wrote a blog post back in January 2010, listing what trees I had planted/was going to plant and why. The post can be read by clicking on the title which is Tree Species Selection using Permaculture Principles. I also wrote a post for the Global Permaculture Network called Zoning for bees, which can be read HERE. In effect, my whole property, and this element in particular was treated as Zone 2 in bee terms.
Food was the third priority for this element of the design. Of the trees normally grown on a relatively short rotation, only Hazel was a recognised food source. The ability to tap Italian Alder, and all of the Acer family for sap was noted, as was the production of fruit of some of the early flowering nectar producers. Sweet Chestnut is one of the few trees to flower in Summer (July) and is a food producer. It is not normally grown in a short rotation, at least not if you want to harvest nuts too. Including it would mean a slightly more complicated fuel harvesting regime, but would add a number of useful functions including food.
The clay subsoil would limit the tree species a little, as would the presence of honey fungus in the adjacent hedge. The presence of the existing orchard, and the fenced pens to the South of the field would constrain the planting somewhat.
Normally I would list this in the order Function-Element-Component-Placement, but this design, like many others, wasn’t conducted in a strictly linear fashion. So the choosing of elements, and components, was influenced by the placement and patterning. Please bear that in mind as you read the next section. I have altered the sequence to reflect this, but it still doesn’t fully record the way that each part of this sequence affects the others.
The overall aim and objectives have been listed above, however during the overall design I decided to use the same species within the coppice section, as the Forest Garden. This added the following additional functions:
- Better wind pollination for the Forest Garden
- Better bee/insect pollination
- The ability to increase/decrease the amount of fuel/food production for both elements, depending on the circumstances that I would be facing post Peak Oil. This is an example of the permaculture principle Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback.
I decided to move my beehives into the coppice, below the orchard. The coppice would provide shelter from the wind, adding another function to this element of the overall design. This is an example of Establishing Beneficial Relationships, by the use of Relative Location. Both are important permaculture principles/techniques.
In addition to the existing orchard, I decided to divide the space into four slightly different elements.
- Along the Northern edge, I chose to plant timber trees. These would add shelter from the Northerly winds, without casting shade. The section on patterning elaborates on this.
- Along the Southern edge, I decided to plant a block of trees to provide a more substantial windbreak for the orchard.
- Below each swale I chose to plant pioneer trees, in rows running parallel to the swale, in order to take advantage of the additional moisture.
- To best incorporate the existing structure of the orchard, and previously planted trees, I decided to plant narrow blocks of trees following the existing lines planted in lines up and down the slope, as shown in previous pictures.
With the Orchard, swales, and some existing tree rows in place, I had a number of fixed elements to design around. This is a common permaculture design method.
I had already used the woodland glade pattern for the overall design, and the fixed elements within this space suggested that it would be an appropriate pattern to use. The picture below shows the patterning for the overall design of the project, and for the individual elements.
The Central(ish) location of the orchard suggested that wrapping the coppice trees around it would provide it with additional shelter, and give shelter for pollinating insects, helping to increase yields. The use of the woodland glade pattern would do this. Planting as a single large block would not allow me to maximise edge. The food production trees are normally woodland edge/early- mid successional trees and would benefit from extra sunlight. I therefore decided to create long glades planted using the parallel lines of the existing orchard and trees. The Schematic below shows this.
As you can see from the schematic, as well as creating a sheltered glade for the orchard, the design creates a series of smaller, long glades between narrow blocks of trees. This gave me a massive amount of edge, where there would be increased sunlight, and shelter. Ideal conditions for fruit growing, and for pollinating insects.
One of the problems to overcome when planting trees into grass is the competition between the two. Conventionally the grass would be killed by the application of a herbicide, and the space around the trees kept clear by sparaying for the first few years of tree growth (unacceptable to me as a beekeeper). Alternatives include the use of individual mulch mats (expensive), and ploughing/rotavating, and planting of less competetive species. This couldn’t be done here as there were already trees planted. To solve this I used my own observations, and used a permaculture technique, known as ‘chop and drop’.
Observe and Interact.
Having previously planted hedging trees without prior preparation, I saw that after the first four or five years, the trees started to create enough shade to suppress the growth of grass, and change the soil structure/composition enough to favour plants such as cow parsley. This shade effect spread to about four/five feet either side of a closely planted tree row. Using that observation, I decided to plant my trees at a close spacing. This, combined with the information from the Coppice book, suggested that a spacing of three feet between trees within each row would be a good compromise between shade, and competition. If I spaced the rows closer together than five feet, the shade effect would be intensified, and the grass suppressed earlier on.
Chop and drop
This is a technique that plants excess trees, particularly Nitrogen fixers/fast growing pioneer trees, and then prunes them hard (chop), and then uses the prunings to mulch around production trees (drop). This appealed to me as I knew that many of the trees that I had planned to grow would need/prefer a fungally dominated soil, but that to create those conditions would need woody material. This ‘chicken and egg’ situation is solved in nature using succession, with pioneer trees that can cope with a less fungally dominated soil, growing and adding their bodies to the soil, creating the conditions that later succession trees prefer. Chop and drop accelerates this succession. It also fitted in well with my observation about dense plantings.
Row Spacing and Number
Having decided on a spacing of three feet within the row, and a maximum of five feet between rows, I needed to see how this related to to the available space and the existing elements. I did this by using some sticks as markers, and worked out that I could produce five blocks of trees running up and down the slope, with three rows of trees in each block. Three rows also seemed to be a sensible number for the rows below each swale. If you look at the schematic above again, you can see each of these rows depicted by a green line, in a fairly accurate representation of how the trees were eventually planted.
Tree species selection
The use of chop and drop, suggested that a Nitrogen fixing pioneer tree would be beneficial. Of those available, Italian Alder was the most suitable for my climate and soil conditions. I therefore decided to plant one between every other tree in the whole scheme. Not only would this assist with the processes mentioned above, but also significantly boost soil fertility, and support a healthy population of wildlife. Both functions that I wanted to fulfil. It also made the Italian Alder the largest component of the coppice for the establishment phase, after which some may be removed.
For the main coppice species I chose Hazel. Although wind pollinated, bees use the pollen as a very early food source that helps with colony build up. It also produces nuts, and it’s leaves help to produce a fertile leaf litter.
Along the outer edges of each block I chose to plant Cherry Plum, and Cornelian Cherry. Both are very early sources of nectar for bees, and provide fruit for people and for wildlife. They, along with the Hazel, were also going to be a component of the Forest Garden planting, which was one of the criteria that I set myself at the beginning of the design process. Other Prunus and Cornus species grow well locally, so they were always likely to do well.
For the central rows of each long block, I wanted to widen the number of species, and functions. For late nectar sources I only had a limited range of trees to choose from. My preferences were False Acacia (flowers June), and Sweet Chestnut (flowers July), however they were not ideally suited for my soil. To check this I had previously planted both species close to the house, in order to see how they would cope. Both had grown satisfactorily, and so were used. This is an example of the permaculture principle Observe and Interact. False Acacia is a Nitrogen fixer, with edible seeds, and Chestnut produces nuts. I wanted to add an Acer. With Honey fungus present, I chose Acer Negundo, which is tolerant of the fungus, and provides bee forage, and an edible sap.
For the more damp conditions below the swales I added Willow. Both Salix daphnoides, and S. caprea are very early flowering pioneer trees.
The descriptions here don’t really help to give you a feel for how the planting was planned, so I just quickly drew a sketch to help, which is below. The key/explanation is below the picture, within the text.
Overall the sketch above gives you an idea of how the patterning works for each block within the planting. At the top is a blue line which represents the swale.
Below that there are two black lines. These are planted below the swales and consist of Italian Alder, Willow, and some Hazel. There is also a small quantity of random trees, like some ornamental Sycamores, which I had available in pots.
The outer edge of the pattern is shown in green. This consisted of Italian Alder, with Hazel, Cherry Plum, and Cornelian Cherry. These are placed to make best use of the increased sunlight and shelter at the edge of the planting. This will increase once coppicing starts.
The inner red line planting was of Italian Alder, with False Acacia, Sweet Chestnut, and Box Elder.
The picture below shows the bottom right (South East) ‘Glade’ as it is today (June 2012). The little box at the center rear of the glade is a full sized beehive. The trees are starting their third year of growth and are about 5-6 feet tall. It will be easier to see this once the grass has been mown, and I’ll try and add some pictures when I’ve done this years scything [Done.July 2012 picture 2 down].
During my research I identified Eucalyptus as one of the potential suppliers of late nectar. I grew a number of species from seed, and these were planted into the timber block at the Northern end, and the shelterbelt to the South. Eucalyptus is a good fuel tree, fast growing, evergreen, late producer of nectar. I also wanted to identify any signs of allelopathy affecting other trees. Of the many species available, I grew a variety of them from seed, concentrating on Spinning Gum (E. perrinianna), Cider Gum (E. gunni), along with E. viminalis, and E.coccifera. I was particulary interested in Spinning Gum as one source quoted it as flowering in August, which was a gap for me. (Note that my trees flowered for he first time last year, in JULY…..).
The table below shows the main tree species chosen, along with their functions for this design.
These were the only trees planted into this space that did not have to include bee forage as a seconday function. Species planted included some of the other trees (Sweet Chestnut, False Acacia, Eucalyptus), plus Oak, Larch, Western Red Cedar, and Lombardy Poplar.
All were planted into the belt North of the field.
I wrote a blog post with some pictures of the Implementation. It can be seen/read by clicking on Tree Planting Pictures, and gives an explanation of the layout written at the time that the design was implemented.
Implementation began in Winter 2009/2010. Each tree was planted with a proper hole dug. I have a specific method that I use. First I remove the turf and put it to one side. I then dig the planting hole, about 4 inches overdepth. The turf is then placed into the bottom of the hole, upside down, and broken up with the spade. This gives some organic matter for the microbes to break down, and to help retain water. I dig about fifty holes a day, then dip the fifty trees into a gel with mycorrhizal fungi, to help the trees to establish, and plant. Finishing by using a tree spiral. Fifty trees a day is a sensible number for me to plant using this method, without straining my back or working in the dark. This is an example of people care.
The trees were planted alternating Italian Alder with the remaining species. I had some prunings from some Leyland Cypresses that I had cut down. These were used to mulch the trees, and to add woody material to aid the establishment of fungi. I did the same with old Raspberry canes, and as many leaves as I could find.
The picture above was taken during the planting. It is the same block as in the previous picture, which gives you a feeling for how much the trees have grown in the last two and a bit seasons. The picture also shows some of the woody material added to help the establishment of fungi.
The picture below shows the Western block of trees at planting. The larger square tree guards are the pre existing trees, around which the new planting was made.
The picture below is taken from the same place 15 months later. Quite a difference. I tried to take another picture of the same space today, but the view was totally obscured by foliage. I was quite pleased.
My initial estimate of the total number of trees planted was 1500, but I think that this is a bit low.
Harvest and Maintain
With no realistic way to estimate how much wood the coppice will produce at maturity, I have taken the decision to establish a 6 year coppice rotation for the majority of the trees, and a 12 year rotation for the Sweet Chestnut and False Acacia. This will mean that the five long blocks running top to bottom, and the bottom windbreak, will each be cut in rotation. When combined with the external hedging, and shelterbelts planted within the Forest Garden, I had hoped that this will be sufficient for our needs. Having just (Winter 2011/2012) harvested wood from a smallish section of the external hedging, I am more confident that this will be the case. Half of the Sweet Chestnut and False Acacia in each block will be harvested each time the remaining trees are cut, giving them a 12 year rotation. As it stands, I am planning to Coppard the trees, not coppice them. This will help to prevent damage from rabbits, and Muntjac deer, which are present. It should also reduce the amount of bending that I do, helping my back. I have ample space for storage, and the surplus ‘brash’ will be used to speed up the establishment of the Chicken Forage area, which is directly below the coppice. Details of this can be found in the Chicken Scavenging System design.
The short rotation will allow me to use hand tools to harvest poles of a sensible diameter that will also be ready to burn without splitting. This will save me work, and is another example of the ethical principle People Care used in this design.
Much of the maintenance is aimed at steering succession towards a point that provides me with the outputs that I am looking for, and then resetting the clock so that it again moves towards that mid successional stage, rather than progress to a late succession system.
The initial problems of establishment will be helped in two ways. The first, chop and drop, was explained earlier. Next Spring (2013) should see this begin, as the trees are starting to overlap. This is an example of how the implementation and maintenance of a design informs and directs the design itself. Here, the use of Chop and Drop gives me a spacing and species to include.
The second method is mulching with grass. I am proficient with a scythe, and have observed that if I leave windrows of old grass in situ, this dead grass helps to suppress the living grass underneath. Using this observation, I decided to mow around the edge of the trees, and use this to add to the grass suppression created by the shade cast by the trees themselves. This is another example of the permaculture principle Observe and Interact. I plan to expand on this in the Forest Garden Design.
The other maintenance task is maintaining the balance between fuel and food production, but this will have to happen after I see how the system develops. This is an example of the permaculture principle Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback. Here it is designed into the maintenance regime, knowing that I cannot predict exactly how things will develop after planting.
Fuel production has not yet started, although there is an opportunity to harvest wood from some of the earlier tree plantings. This makes it impossible to evaluate the primary function of this design. Food production and bee forage has started, but it is too early to see how successful this will eventually be. What is working well is the establishment of the trees. They are far larger than trees that I planted for a local farm less than 100 meters from my house. The extra care, mulching, and use of fungi seems to have made a significant difference.
I haven’t devoted much time to the wildlife and aesthetic functions of the designs. There has been a significant increase in the number of insects and birds since planting this section. That pleases me. Aesthetically it is still a little early to judge. With some of the trees already above head height, the feel of the space is changing, it will not be too long before it feels like a wood, rather than a plantation of saplings.
Additional functions realised by the design include better pollination for crops in the Forest Garden, Shelter for the trees in the forest garden, shelter for the orchard, shelter for the Chicken Scavenging area, and shelter for the beehives. All due at least in part from the relative location of these elements, creating beneficial relationships.
Design Process and Method
Again, my process and method have worked well for this design.There is the need for some flexibility in its use, as with any design process, as the design is never totally linear. In this design some of the placement, implementation, and maintenance decisions were taken before the choice of species was fully made. This is difficult to portray in a written account.
The use of the Woodland Glade Pattern at all levels of the design works well for this type of project, and helps to make possible a far wider range of functions, although the act of coppicing will give an additional edge that will change over time (succession).
September 2012 Addition
The wet Summer has seen the Italian Alder putting on up to three feet of growth this season, with many of the them at a height exceeding 9 foot tall. They are outpacing their companions, and so starting the chop and drop regime next Spring will be necessary.