Doing the Forest Inventory, by Alice Henry

It’s a dance of sorts. It starts in a circle, holding hands. There’s a break, for talking. Then there are the reels through the woods, discovering the way the forest grows. It’s also a future legend that starts like this. Sustainable Forestry at Earthaven Ecovillage

Once upon a time Earthaven hired a forester, Shawn Swartz (who used to be a Full Member and live here with his family), to guide us towards a forest plan. The plan is designed to inform, instruct and guide us in making choices about how to (or not to) relate to the various forest species we live with.

The first step is to agree on priorities. What’s most important—protection, product, aesthetics, wild life or education? If we manage for protection, will we also get enough firewood? If we manage for product, can we also prioritize restoration? Or the health of one product over others? a footbridge through the sustainably managed forest at Earthaven

“Keep in mind,” Shawn advised, “no management—meaning the elimination of human intervention—is also a management strategy. Leaving a healthy stand alone might be the best choice, but letting the forest take care of itself can also mean letting nut-bearing hardwoods die off, while rhododendron and red maple take over.” We decided protection and product are equally “most important”; if we manage for product, we intend to do so in ways that maximize forest health.

To do a forest inventory, you have to literally take one. The idea is to get a “snapshot” of the forest, a picture of which species are doing well. How tall are the trees? How much timber is there? Are the stands of mixed age and species? What’s in the understory?

Autumn forest beauty as we took our forest inventory at EarthavenTo get a fair inventory of the species in our forest, we worked with samples: one “point” for every six acres. With 240 acres designated to remain forested, we had 40 points to march to. March? More like crawl and beat a way through the thickets! And a whole lot of up and down as well, from ridge to ridge, across slopes and gullies. We’d note the parameters of all trees within range of a point: diameter, height, species, regeneration on forest floor, snags, and presence or absence of invasive species. At one point there were sizable trees, the biggest a northern red oak, diameter 17.9 inches. The understory included pipcissiwa, magnolia, silverbell and cat briar.

And so it went—eleven species in all (chestnut oak, scarlet oak, northern red oak, maple, tulip poplar, sourwood, birch, pine, hemlock, locust and black gum in various groupings) plus thickets of rhododendron and/or mountain laurel. Diameters ranged from 1.2 to 38 inches. Except for a point where there were quite a few two-and three-trunk chestnut oaks (trees that grew together and became one tree at about breast height), Shawn said no doubt this place was logged about 80 years ago.

At the last point, Shawn did a site index, an index of productivity based on age and height. He had record sheets and knowledge of what to record and why. If a tree might have logs, he would ask someone to “get the logs of that tree Marie (or Darren or Gaspar) is on.” Someone would pace off the 66 feet and measure with a special tool called a Biltmore Stick. Sometimes an experienced eye was used to estimate logs, especially where it was impossible to sight the base or if the tree had kinks, bends and flaws. Thanks to a leading teacher, or a teaching leader, we learned by doing.

Natural Building Family Camp, August 24-29

Natural Building CAMP!

Natural Building School Interns and Friends

Natural Building School Interns and Friends

Well, well, well! It’s been many a year since Culture’s Edge at Earthaven hosted a natural building camp. But this August (24-29), we once again are offering a full six-day adventure into the world of cob and its sophisticated cousin, compressed earth block.

Both cob and the blocks are started with the same basic ingredients—a good, clay-y soil, and sand. Cob, however, also has a significant amount of straw crushed into it and is put on quite wet in cobs, or loaves. Compressed earth blocks are made without additional water or straw, and often a small amount (ten percent) of Portland cement is used in the mix.

The other big difference is that the neat rectangular blocks are made by a big machine requiring mechanical power, and are set in place with an earthen mortar, whereas cob can be made by a pair of folks and a tarp (although it can also be mixed several other ways) and requires no mortar at all.

Block

Since cob is a basically seamless material, the way the molecules adhere to each other depends especially on the water and the straw in the mix. Ideally, the soil is soaked in water ahead of time to allow the molecules to fully absorb the water and become as sticky as possible. The straw acts like a crisscross of fibrous “nails” that interweave the cob mix and make it the most solid of natural building materials. Another similar earthen material is adobe brick, which is a hand-made version that is pressed wet into forms. Adobe brick thus takes significant drying time to use and is probably in its best setting in dry climates.

At this year’s Natural Building Camp, participants will be working on a cob and block tower for the new Village Arts Building at Earthaven. The recently built rubble trench foundation with its two-foot stacked stone base wall will take a couple of rounds of cob and then be continued with the earth blocks.

Village Arts Studio

Village Arts Building

The Camp will begin with a comprehensive tour of natural and green buildings at Earthaven, featuring a wide variety of traditional and experimental techniques. Our experienced staff and natural building interns will be on hand to demonstrate, teach and guide participants through the basics of hands-on natural building. There will be plenty of time for questions and discussion, plus all the good things about summer camp—group meals, walks in the woods, dips in the creek, and starry nights around the campfire.

As the famous cob builder, Becky Bee, explains in the documentary First Earth, there’s nothing like natural building to bring people of all skill levels together, creating the very sense of community we seek by the process we use to do it. We’re very excited to be reintroducing this delightful approach to housing ourselves and our activities to the public. Folks are welcome to sign up for the entire six day camp or to come just for the weekend. More information is available at www.culturesedge.net.