2013: Our Woodlot
Hobby or business?
When we purchased our 'farm' in 1967, it was not really a farm anymore. The people who sold it to us had done nothing more than have a local farmer come and mow, bale and take away the hay of accessible fields. The not so accessible fields were abandoned and were slowly turning into bush. With guidance and financial aid from the Ontario Government's Department of Lands and Forests, we planted close to 30,000 trees in most of the accessible fields, only keeping a few of the better fields for hay and grazing; the rest of the property we let go into whatever Mother Nature saw as its natural destination. We then bought a cow, whom we called ' Big-Tit Bridget', and gradually made our rural oasis into a version of Old Mac Donald's Farm – EIEIO, i.e. we kept a variable menagerie of all sorts of animals, from cavies and chickens to pigs and ponies. The big barn that came with the land became the home for all our livestock, as well as for a variety of uninvited rodents from the little white-bellied mice to ground hogs and porcupines, but also feral cats, racoons and a dozen or so pairs of barn-swallows' who festooned the barn's ceiling beams with their lovely mud nests.
Our woodlot provides us with all the firewood we need, roughly five cords per winter. A cord is a 128 cubic feet pile of stacked logs. This little pile is overwintering where it was cut to clear a fire-lane of miscelaneous trees that started as seedligs in the 1960s. My photo.
The first transformation came when the boys left home, and I went for three weeks in the summer for a research project in the arctic. I asked Jeri if she was going to take care of the animals – she simply and reasonably said: 'No!' That was it for our animals; they all went, either to the knacker or to new homes. It also meant that the big barn became a silent, ignored space, used for long term storage; it stood lifeless and started to decay. Even the swallows abandoned it, but that is a different story. By that time, the planted trees, augmented by a vigorous natural growth of shrubs and naturally seeded trees, had become a rapidly growing forest, and the hay fields and the pastures were once again hayed by a local farmer who took the hay away for cash.
Sandy Sellers bush-hogging the South Field in October 2013. My photo.
We are now well into the second transformation. The forest is rapidly approaching maturity, and will need more management in the future. We have already had the entire plantation thinned in 2005, by taking every third row out, mostly for lumber. The management of the forest now demands a second thinning, planned for 2015. This will be a more difficult operation. We will have to remove on average every second tree in the still standing rows. The objective is to create adequate space for the trees that remain, but also selectively taking out lesser quality trees and favouring trees of species other than the spruce we planted to gain biodiversity. The fields, which have produced wild hay since the clearing of the original forest in the early 19th Century, are now changed into small prairies. Since the market for wild hay is pretty well gone, we decided to stop all summer mowing, but decided to 'bush-hog' the fields in October, after all flowering plants have shed their seeds. The main reason for this treatment of the fields is that it creates a high quality habitat for wild bees and other pollinators, as well as for threatened grass-land nesting birds.
Starting on the north corner - 120 more feet of partly punky barn wall to renovate. My photo.
Leif and I took a good look at the big barn, and decided that if we did not start a four year program of repairing the building, we would create a hazard and would have to have the entire building removed at considerable cost. This lead to the decision to start to think about the forest/field/barn as a set of three interacting operations one could call a business. We have tried a few sources of income previously, such as renting space for other people's horses (did not work), storage of other people's stuff (promising), selling standing hay,(not worth it) and selling the thinned trees (very promising). So, we decided that the barn had to be saved and more of its space should be rented out for storage. Focusing on the part of the barn that was in worst shape, we hired a barn roofer, who did a great job putting a new roof on the two-story high West wing, and I started on one-eighth of the decaying west-facing wall. I got it mostly done, but the early winter and our trip to Denver made me stop before the outer cladding planks were put on. This section was a kind of prototype; it went well, so that I am confident that we will complete the entire wall this year. All this costs a good deal of money, but we are already charging for storage in the barn, and expect to get an annual storage income of $1,200. Then, we also expect an income from the second thinning in 2015, estimated to be in the range of $4-5,000. And all this also means that we will be able to deduct the cost of the barn renovation and the forest management from our taxable income as legitimate expenses.