Timber volume extracted from oak and beech has exceeded all my expectations
It is now 19 years since I first planted 40 hectares on my home farm in Meath and the volume of timber extracted from the oak and beech following thinning has exceeded all expectations.
I did not expect to get anything similar to the return one could expect from conifers but, in general, broadleaf growth rates have been remarkable.
This only further proves that the management practices used in other countries are not always appropriate for Ireland.
Not all planted areas on my farm, however, are as good as one would wish. There is an area of oak that grew so poorly, I intend to remove all bar a few good specimens next winter and replant, possibly with Italian alder which grows rapidly on heavy soil.
Italian alder (Alnus cordata) makes good firewood and the few specimens I planted around 15 years ago have grown faster than any other species on the farm.
The Common alder that was part of the original planting has performed poorly, however, so despite its origin in sunny climes, it appears the Italian variety has to be the best choice for here. I will also include a light mix of conifers to see what is also suited to this difficult section.
Matching site to species is of primary importance and it is pointless planting broadleaves where they will not thrive.
There really is no substitute for putting in a few small groups of varying species to find out what is best for your own farmland.
Soil conditions can vary hugely within a farm and each field has its own micro climate. Evaluating this can take a bit of time, but the growing tree will tell you far more than soil samples ever can.
The ash has been thinned three times so far and with all the "bad" trees removed, many of the remainder are now 18m or more in height. I measure these with a handy little gadget supplied by Kestrel forestry which eliminates the need for any complicated maths.
At almost a metre a year, the increase in height is as good any day as Sitka spruce. When I refer to "bad" trees I mean trees I believe were of poor provenance originally, including some brown budded ash that arrived in during beating up in year two.
These and others that grew poorly due to varying forms of canker or other problems are now gone. I am hopeful that having given the remainder plenty of light and space, we can avoid the ever-present threat of Chalara.
There is no point in worrying about it at this stage as there is nothing we can do to prevent it other than to ensure the woods receive the best management possible and no trees are under stress.
This is achieved principally by allowing plenty of room for the crown to expand rapidly.
The thousands of freshly seeded ash regenerating on the forest floor after thinning are another matter and, given their youth and density, they would appear vulnerable to potential diseases.
It would be a shame if the best of them don't reach maturity as there are many excellent fast-growing specimens among them - shooting up straight and true, unlike so many from the original plant.
Most of the regeneration is occurring under the sycamores and, to a lesser degree, among the oak. Due to so much light reaching the forest floor beneath the thinned ash, nettles grow in abundance and smother any seedlings trying to emerge.
Perhaps I should spray them, but this would be as a last resort.
Last winter, in between thinning, my son and his team planted a few thousand Western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) and hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) in spaces throughout the ash.
Both these species are tolerant of some shade but, unlike beech, are better suited to the existing heavy ground conditions. If the worst happens and the ash die, at least we will have an alternative crop established.
Western red cedar (Thuja plicata) is also shade tolerant, but any I have planted so far appear to need different ground conditions.
Because of the heavy infestation of nettles, we used tubular tree shelters to provide protection for the first few years. These enable us to locate the young plants and prevent them being smothered in late summer.
Interestingly, I see the oak is out before the ash this year. Will this mean a long, hot summer? Only time will tell.
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