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Preparing for winter

Well, here it is fall and there is much to be done regarding the management of land and estates. There is the firewood to get in, road work including erosion control and rock to be put down in those bad spots before spring break-up leaves us with ruts and giant mud holes and then there is some seeding to be done yet, too. And of course, the clean up and organization of all the stuff which has been pulled out, stacked, piled, accumulated, etc. and needs to be put under cover before being covered for the winter by the inevitable snow. Yes, this is the stuff of fall estate and land management.

I like to manage my forest for firewood, as well as, timber, wildlife, water and esthetics too, so when I go out to cut the down and dead trees on my property for firewood, I think it is a good idea to pick out some trees which need to go anyway and girdle them for next year’s firewood. I pick a tree in a clump of trees which are too close together, or maybe one which is leaning into a road (and will eventually come down in a storm and block the road) and/or I find the trees which have beetles in them or root rot or blister rust or even ones which may block a view I want to open up and I will girdle them. 

Girdling is when you cut a strip of bark away on the base of a tree (cut about six inches wide and a little bit into the wood, all the way around), so the tree will die and dry while standing up. Next year when I come out to get firewood, those trees I have selected to girdle last year will be standing dead and dry, ready to cut. Then I will select some more while out getting the firewood that year, for the next year, and so on. In this manner I have a steady supply of firewood and also I am working to improve the health, functionality and esthetics of my forest.

Now every spring my roads develop some ruts, some mud holes and parts may even threaten to slough off here and there too. A properly graded road, crowned, out-sloped or in-sloped in the proper places, with rolling dips installed in the proper places too, is the best way to ensure that your road lasts, does not erode and develop mud holes. If your roads were not built properly in the first place and you cannot get them redone, then there are some things you can do each fall to help keep your road in better condition during spring break-up. 

Each fall I try determining where the problems will pop up this next spring. In that endeavor I must notice the previous spring where the water is running down the road and/or sitting on the road, causing the ruts and/or mud holes. First make sure there are ditches on each side of your road and that they are not clogged or have places which are too shallow and need to be dug out. Put water bars or cross ditches (kelly humps to some folk) across the road at appropriate intervals, to take the water off of the road and into the ditch. When you dig a cross ditch to drain water off the road be sure to angle the shallow ditch slightly downhill and pile the excavated dirt on the downhill side. In the low spots you will need to put in some rock and if you can come up with some road fabric to put down first it will do wonders. Then put down some bigger rock (pit run) and top that off with quarter minus rock if possible. If having rock hauled in is not an option, see about filling a pickup truck with some rock from abandoned gravel pits (with owner’s permission) and use that to put in the low spots. 

There are some spots in a road where a simple water bar or cross ditch will not be enough and a culvert is needed. I have been able to come up with old junk culverts many times which have cost little or nothing and worked very well but if a culvert is not an option, then you can make an old fashioned water crossing by digging a good sized ditch and lining both sides with some treated 4”x4” timbers and staking them in with rebar. Make the gap narrow enough that a tire can roll over it without being obstructed and the ditch deep enough to carry a good amount of water across the road.

Also, each fall I like to identify areas along the sides of my roads, or even on the lesser used roads which have bare soil. There are also places all around my property which may have been over-grazed, dug up by the dogs or for some reason have bare soil. In those places I put down a seed mix in the fall, so that the seeds will start to sprout as soon as the snow melts and get an early start. I recommend a seed mix which will both stabilize soil and makes for good wildlife forage too. The Co-Op Country Store in Ponderay has an excellent mix called the Forest Service Mix which is composed of the following: 20 percent Orchard grass, 15 percent each annual rye, timothy and mountain brome; ten percent each Idaho fescue, white Dutch clover and Alsike clover, and 5 percent red clover.

This seed mix will provide forage for a wide variety of critters, including deer, turkey, rabbits and even bear. I recommend that about 13 to 14 pounds per acre of this mix be used.

Yes, fall is the time to plan for winter, spring and even next fall’s firewood season. Go out there and get your wood in, girdle some trees for next year, fix up those roads and put down some seed mix. Then get all the junk picked up and stored for winter and for gosh sakes, clean and organize “the resource yard”.

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Author info

Michael White Michael White is a Realtor with Coldwell Banker - Sterling Society and a consultant for Northwest Group In-Land. He has a BS in Forest Resources & Ecosystem Management and specializes in land, ranches and homes with acreage.

Tagged as:

firewood, tree felling, water bars, road repair, girdling, grass, lawn

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