What to do now? Thanksgiving and fall firearms deer season are behind us, and in a few short weeks Christmas and New Years will follow suit. Short of chasing bunnies, treeing squirrels, or shooting ducks and geese out of the air, what’s an outdoors enthusiast to do? If you own your own land, any land regardless of size, you might just want to pass the winter by growing or managing your own forest.
Admittedly, not every outdoor lover owns his or her own hunting, fishing or hiking property. The vast majority of Missourians who enjoy the outdoors spend most of that time on publicly-held and managed property. But even if you just own a lawn in town, there’s still likely room to maintain a tree or two. If you’re blessed to own more property you might even be able to plant your own forest. Or maybe you can devote some time to better managing the forest you already own. Winter is a great time for such tasks.
A couple years ago we planted our first state nursery trees in our yard and on our farm. The tiny pine trees arrived “bare root” and ready to put in the ground. Our neighbor at the time, Grizz, a retired forestry worker, split some bundles of pine tree seedlings with us. We each planted a row of the trees on each side of our adjoining fenceline. We planted a couple dozen more along the county road fronting the farm.
The state nursery, officially known as the George O. White State Forest Nursery, located near Licking, offers Missouri residents "a variety of tree and shrub seedlings for reforestation, windbreaks, and erosion control, as well as for wildlife food and cover," according to the Missouri Department of Conservation website.
You can order between Sept. 1 and April 15. The nursery provides shade and nut trees, along with evergreens and fruit bearing varieties. A list of what’s available can be found at: https://mdc.mo.gov/trees-plants/tree-seedlings/order-seedlings.
If you already have trees in your yard, mild winter days can be a good time to prune them. As we learned in earth science class in middle school, the sap goes down in a tree in the winter. That’s why you prune in the fall or spring, or during a mile stretch of winter. Of course, you don’t want to prune during a frigid snap because the extreme cold could damage a freshly-pruned limb.
About 10 years ago we planted a small orchard in our front yard. We have three varieties of peach trees, and two kinds of apple trees. Each fall we raise enough fruit to keep us in peaches and apples for pies and snacking, and to support a growing population of gray squirrels. Those tree seedlings came from a private nursery, but the process was much the same as ordering from the state nursery.
You can find great online resources on tree care at https://mdc.mo.gov/trees-plants/tree-care.
And winter is a great time to cut firewood. Whether you use the wood to heat your own home, or sell it to offset the cost of time and money spent managing your wooded acreage, this is a great time to spend a few days turning trees into woodpiles.
If you’ve never cut wood before, check out these great resources for beginners. Be sure and read "Maintaing your woodpile" at https://www.lehmans.com/blog/maintaining-your-woodpile/.
We’ve used wood as a secondary heat source in our home for the past 23 years. We have a wood furnace that burns very efficient. We only use the furnace when it turns bitter cold (the rest of the time we’re either too busy to maintain the fire, or it’s too warm to light the thing just to have it sit and smolder during the warm days). It's also a good backup during power failures in the wintertime. I can run the blower on the furnace with my generator, keeping us toasty warm until the power grid is restored.
Only using it a limited number of times each heating season, we only use about six to ten rank of wood each year. At first I would cut all our wood and split it by hand with a maul. As I grew older, and my young helper grew up and moved off to college, I began buying a portion of my year’s supply. Still, I try to cut the remainder myself from storm-downed and unwanted trees on the farm. This year I've lost several large limbs and one entire tree from our front lawn. We try to waste nothing around our place. Those big limbs and dead tree became part of my woodstack.
Yes, it’s hard work, but there’s something rewarding about spending part of a day running the chainsaw and cutting trees into blocks, then splitting and stacking it in the truck. When I drive home after a hard day of cutting wood I feel as if I’ve accomplished something when I look in the rearview mirror and see the uniform wood pieces stacked or rounded over in the back of the truck.
My muscles are tired and my clothes dirty with sawdust and sweat, but inside I know I’ve provided for the warmth of my home. It’s a feeling you lose in the disconnect between working a job for money to pay the utility bill and then simply thumbing the thermostat on the wall up a few degrees when heating with electric or gas.
With the recent purchase of a new tractor with a front loader bucket my wood gathering has taken another big leap forward. I can now lift the logs to a comfortable height with the forks on the front of the tractor and now strain my back bending over to cut up those logs into blocks. Any any logs that are marketable to a sawmill can easily be loaded on the big trailer to be hauled off and sold for lumber.
It’s said that “He who cuts his own wood warms himself twice … once when he cuts it, and once when he burns it.” Whoever first said those words obviously saw the value in owning trees.
Whether you're managing a tree or two in a small yard for aesthetics and your feathered friends, or maintaining a firewood lot and timbered land for wood production and wildlife management, the fact is there's value in paying attention to your trees this time of year.