Some years ago, I happened to pass a good sized woodlot whose owner I knew and where I’d hunted more than once.  He’d decided that the timber could be more profitably converted to corn and soybeans, and therefore decided to bulldoze down the four acre lot to plant grain crops.  The man didn’t timber it first, didn’t offer to let friends remove some firewood, didn’t do much of anything (I want to plant it this spring), just piled in tires and burned the whole pile up.  It was pretty close to stupid.

Because woodlots, whether they be a few acres or fifteen or thirty are useful additions to any farm.    They’re nice places to find the makings of tasty fried squirrel, or maybe a nice buck.  Good places to gather a never ending supply of firewood, or sack up some hickory and walnuts each fall.  And they’re particularly great spots to enjoy a periodic source of income, money that you can enjoy, and also your kids and their kids.  It’s steady money, a cash crop as fine in its own way as an acre of corn and soybeans.

John Jolliff, Service Forester with the Ohio Division of Forestry, who bases at Mohican State Forest, knows that better than most.  “We need woodlots” he said, “and they can be made into paying proposition with very little work as well as for for wood and recreation.  All landowners need do is follow a few simple steps.”

Woodlots in this part of Ohio are typically made of mixed timber, usually beech, oak, and maple, with some ash, hickory, walnut, and smaller trees like dogwood and elm.  So Step No. 1 is to call that local forester or the Ohio Division of Forestry toll-free at 1-877-247-8733 and ask for an experienced man to come and cruise the timber with you.  He’ll check the soil, check the standing timber, find out where the best trees are, and decide whether most are young, mature, need cutting, or should be saved.

“It’s up to the landowner”, Jolliff said, “but it’s usually a good idea to get rid of most of the “weed” trees like ironwood, slippery elm, dogwood, sassafras and box elder which won’t make good timber or even firewood.  They compete for nutrient and sunlight and have little use, though a few dogwoods might be left to provide berries for wildlife.” 

He recommends that owners not worry much about understory, unless it’s far too thick as in heavy stands of little seedling and sapling maples.  Nature will thin these trees eventually as they lose the competition for food and sunlight, but thinning them now will let those left grow much faster.  Are there openings in the forest?  Or places close by where little grows, but farming isn’t practical? 

Such areas can be planted with little effort, either by using seedlings provided by the Division of Forestry, the Soil and Water folk, or other places, or by perhaps planting nuts and seeds directly.  The forester can note the soil type and tell whether this group or that group of trees will grow best in low, damp soil, high dry ridges, or rich loam with good drainage, even poor ground with little water. 

Some of the best timber plants are white and red oak, cherry, sugar and black maple, ash (if emerald ash borers aren’t a problem), and hickory.  Black walnuts are always valuable trees and thrive in low, fertile  lands near water.  They grow fairly rapidly, but still need about 50 years or more to reach useful size.  You might plant a few butternuts, shagbark hickories, and other nut trees and use the nuts for yourself or to sell.  One man in Mansfield and another south of that town grow LOTS of various kinds of nut trees and make a good profit from their presence.

There are several ways to plant nut trees and other bits of useful timber.  One choice is to direct plant seeds from hickories, oaks, and other species and let them grow, this in a clearing where competition will be scant.  It’s wise to gather the nuts in fall months, let them sit in your unheated garage and get cold over the winter, then plant them in spring, since they need cold and dormancy to sprout.  A few growers plant them in 3 pound coffee cans, let them grow all summer and fall, then plant them after dormancy has taken their leaves.  But directly planting saves lots of trouble and time.

Harvest is payback time, and now you should go through your woodlot with a trained forester , look the trees over, and spray X those to be cut.  Typical good timber trees are 24 – 30 inches plus in diameter, and they can be worth more than you think.  A prime white oak, for example, that’s undamaged, has a tall trunk, and corresponds with other factors might be worth as much as $2,000, though they’ll average $200 -300.  A black walnut might reach $2,000 too, if prime and used for veneer.  But since there are so many uses for wood, anything from furniture and floors to baseball bats, it’s best to expect that the wood, high and low grade together, will average $1,000 – 2,000 per acre.

And how often can you cut?  “About every 15 years is average.” said John Jolliff.  “It’s something you don’t want to overdo.”  Cutting out timber isn’t the end of profit taking.  The tree tops make excellent firewood, and can be used in the landowners home or sold for good prices to others.  Remaining bits make fine wildlife habitat, and any clearings that result can be replanted to bring more income in the future.

But when it comes time to sell those trees, John had some good advice.  “You’ll want to contact multiple buyers to get their bids” he said. “rather than just one.  And I recommend selling trees “on the stump”, which is as the tree stands with a price for each tree.  A few cutters like to “cut on shares”, which means they cut the timber, haul it to designated area, and bring in buyers to make bids.  If you do that, and the bids are low, you’re stuck, because the trees have already been cut.  On the stump, you can walk away and wait until next year or next when prices might be higher.

(originally published July 2005)

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