COPPICING PRIMER

What Is It?     Dating before Roman times, coppicing is an ancient forest management technique used to produce small diameter firewood, poles, and wattle.  Trees (usually 7 years or older) are cut down and the stump or root sprouts allowed to grow.  The sprouts are then harvested every 5 to 7 years when they reach 2 to 3 inches = 5 to 8 centimeters in diameter.

Coppice wood makes ideal fuel for brewers’ kettles, bakers’ ovens, and distillers’ retorts.  The small diameter sticks burn very hot and clean.  Coppice wood is also the perfect size for traditional charcoal making.  Before the discovery and use of coal, coppice wood was the primary fuel for European homes and industries.

Wood Yields:     Coppicing is biologically efficient because harvest cycles are short; coppiced trees produce vast amounts of fuelwood from small woodlots.  In comparison, conventionally managed forests (where trees are harvested at maturity) produce only a tiny fraction (1/20th to 1/13th = 5% to 8%) of the firewood produced by coppicing.

How To Do It:     Forests or woodlots managed by coppicing are typically divided into 7 sections called coups = coupes.  Each coup is harvested sequentially so the entire forest is renewed on a 7 year cycle.  Coppicing encourages biological diversity because each block of forest is a different age and so provides a wide range of food and habitat for wildlife.  Individual trees managed by coppicing can live 1,000 years or more because they are continually renewed by cyclical cutting and regrowth.

In coppiced forests, it is customary to leave 6 to 7 trees per acre (14 to 17 trees per hectare) grow to maturity so they can be harvested for beams, posts, and lumber.  These trees selected for timber are called standards.  In well managed forests, 1 or 2 dead trees called ghosts are also left standing per acre (2 to 5 trees per hectare) to provide food and habitat for woodpeckers and other insect predators.  The mixture of young, old, and dead trees provides biological diversity which helps maintain a stable, productive ecosystem.

Ideal Species:     Any broadleaved tree can be managed by coppicing, but the best species to use are those that grow quickly and sprout vigorously.  Hazel Nut = Corylus species, Alder = Alnus species, Chestnut = Castanea species, Willow = Salix species, Maple = Acer species, Popular = Populus species, Beech = Fagus species, Birch = Betula species, Ash = Fraxinus species, Crabapple = Pyrus species, Hornbeam = Carpinus species, and Eucalyptus = Eucalyptus species are the most common coppice trees, but many other species are equally well suited.  Even relatively slow growing trees like Oak = Quercus species can be coppiced on long rotations for production of large diameter poles and posts.  For best results plant a wide variety of trees to increase biological diversity and ecological stability.

Green Forestry:  Scientific and commercial interest in coppicing has increased recently because coppice wood is an environmentally friendly, renewable fuel source that can be quickly produced with the minimum amount of unskilled labor and simple, inexpensive tools.  Many artisan = handcrafted breads, spirits, and wild crafted essential oils are distilled using inexpensive firewood produced by coppicing.

Would You Like To Know More?     Please contact the author directly if you have any questions or need additional information about farm woodlot management.

Eric Koperek = worldagriculturesolutions@gmail.com

About The Author:  Mr. Koperek is a plant breeder who farms in Pennsylvania during the summer and Florida during the winter.  (Growing 2 generations each year greatly speeds development of new plant varieties).

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