Agroforestry: Coppice & Pollard Woodland for Food, Fiber and Timber

I have seen a number of willing people with limited skills evolve into confident woods[people] who are actively working woodlands and finding a livelihood 
— Ben Law, "The Woodland Way"

Kent Food Forest, UK - a managed ecosystem for wild and human habitat. 

When I was younger, forests had always been beautiful, unmanaged, wild and regenerative landscapes; human involvement was only for play and learning. Yet, as I began to understand (I was a late bloomer) the layers of forest ecologies I slowly learned that humans now play, and have played for many years, an integral role in the cycle of forests. In this post, we'll be diving into a particular practice of human intervention termed, Coppicing and Pollarding.

Coppicing: Successful cutting of broadleaf woodland during the dormant winter period, keeping alive the stump or ‘stool’ and allowing for future growth of fine straight wood. This practice feeds both human and tree while allowing the leaf fall to return the needed-nutrients back the roots. Food, fiber, firewood, and building material are a by-product and value-added yield from this practice.

Pollarding: Similarl is the practice of harvesting the top layer (at least roughly 6’ above the ground). The same growth appears as coppicing - strong and narrow saplings -  but instead from the top layer of the tree. Historically cultivated around animals to keep fresh young saplings away from hungry grazers.

"The Woodland Way" by Ben Law

This form of agroecology has its roots all over the world and in the last few centuries has gained environmental traction in the UK. Ben Law, (mentioned above and in image) is a fellow I've been following for around four years now - his books (among those listed below), go pretty deep into not only copping and pollarding but also the financial structure of resilient forest management, cottage industries, and water restoration. 

For instance, sweet chestnut, ash, hornbeam and yew are just some of the tree species Law focuses on in his books - listing average pricing/acre @ around $1200/yr. From timber to food and and from animal forage to biochar. Not to mention sustaining the living habitat for man years. 

Wattled willow makes an attractive fence

For a clients property, we're in the design phase of focusing on their perimeter fence line - taking the old design of a hedge, and incorporating coppicing/pollarding and edible fruits = "Fedge", or fruiting hedge. Not only creating a visual and sound barrier from the road but also cultivating an abundant food/timber-producing habitat. 

Beavercreek, Oregon - potential fedge along this northern edge.

Here's the working plant list (not complete) - mimicking layers of the forest here: 

Overstory

  • Black locust/Honey Locust: Prime species for this, edible blossoms, nitrogen fixer but also one of the most important fast-growing hardwoods for firewood production

  • Red Alder

  • Linden (basswood)

  • Sweet Chestnut

  • Willow (woven throughout)

Understory:

  • Persian Mulberry

  • Black Elderberry

  • Persimmon 

  • Willow (woven throughout) 

Shrubs: Early succession of edible/Medicinal crops:

  • Black Currants

  • Witch Hazel

  • Blueberries

Ground Covers / Mulching

  • Oats, Rye, Clover

  • Lupine, Marigolds, Daylily, Comfrey, BeeBalm 

  • Inoculate woodchip mulch with king stropharia (wine cap) mushrooms


On our homestead here in Oregon, there's a beaked hazelnut (a solid coppicing species) - its wedged between the fence-line and our wood storage. We use it for woven bamboo fence posts and kindling. Note the catkin growth, a sure sign of when one should be pruning (coppicing/pollarding).

Whether you're on a small urban lot or a multi-acre homestead, this practice and other agroforestry techniques can greatly improve abundance, habitat and livelihood! 

Onward,

julian

References: 

*** "Tree Crops" (1929) was one of the catalysts for permaculture (1970's) - note the byline: A Permanent Agriculture!

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