By Kayla Weaver, OCJ field reporter
For many people in Ohio, the arrival of fall means it’s once again time to start grabbing a jacket in the morning, enjoying some fresh apple cider or planning a trip to the local pumpkin patch. For farmers, it means another crop cycle is coming to an end and harvest is upon them. In the fall, it is also hard to ignore the grand display of the trees as their leaves change to brilliant colors before making their descent to ground. It may be hard to ignore the changing of the leaves, but often times it is easy to ignore the potential of the woodland beyond the few colorful weeks of fall.
Past the beauty of the fall leaves, woodlands are a great place for hunting, trapping and camping, but they are also produce crops, that if managed properly, can provide a source of income, recreation and enjoyment for generations to come. Jeff Wilkinson, of Richland County, is an independent forestry consultant and over the years has helped many woodland owners discover the best management practices for their land.
His forestry business includes marking trees and marketing timber for landowners, collecting nuts for tree seed and planting trees
as well as growing bonsai trees and mushrooms. Wilkinson also built a greenhouse just before he retired to keep himself busy during the winter months when he grows cool weather crops like mustard and lettuce. He saves space to start his vegetables that he will plant in his garden in the spring as well.
To ensure he can provide tree seeds for large orders, in late July he will go scouting for nuts. Traveling the state, he makes stops to pull out the binoculars and analyze the treetops. Wilkinson keeps track of the locations so he knows where to go if he gets a large order. Avoiding the hassle of collecting nuts from one tree at a time in many locations, he will often head to parks or cemeteries where the type of seed ordered is abundant, allowing his group to pick all day.
“We collect everything. There’s two kinds of buckeyes, the Ohio buckeye and then the yellow buckeye, and we just shipped 125 pounds of that to Oregon,” Wilkinson said. “We collect red oak, white oak, swamp white oak, burr oak, black oak and we pick up tulip poplar cones off of logging jobs. There’s also shag bark, shell bark, mockernut, bitternut and pignut hickory.”
Gathering nuts for seed is best done when the ground is dry. After using a leaf blower to remove a majority of the top cover, they use a “Bag-A-Nut” machine, traditionally used to harvest pecans in Florida, to pick up the nuts on the ground. The nuts are then dumped into a large tank of water where the leaves, sticks and other debris will float and the good seed will sink to the bottom.
The nuts are then laid out to dry with some extra care given to the buckeyes, which if not thoroughly dried before storing, will mold rather quickly. However, the nuts cannot be left out too long as theft is a fairly common occurrence among the area squirrels.
“Once you get them cleaned up and get the good ones separated, they can be direct seeded. They will stratify over winter and then in the spring they grow up into a seedling,” Jeff said. “We sell seeds to nurseries and a couple of metro parks that do direct seeding where instead of planting trees they go out and plant the seeds.”
When it comes to private woodland management, there are a few basic steps to take to ensure a viable woodland continues to prosper. Wilkinson recommends those with no forestry experience contact a forester or private consultant, like himself, that can walk through the woods and give them an idea of what is happening in different areas and give advice on the best course of action.
“There’s things in the woods like grapevines and other invasive species that may need to be cut and killed or they may need to go in and do a thinning. If there is a stand of small trees, what you do is go in and pick your best tree and look in the crown; and if the crowns are on top of each other, you have to release one. The bigger the crown, the more surface area there is and the more photosynthesis.” he said.
Many landowners in Ohio who have seen their woodlands attacked by the Emerald Ash Borer in recent years can take the opportunity to plant new seeds in the openings left by the dead ash trees. Direct seeding works well in the woods if done before the leaves fall off the trees. When the leaves fall, they will provide a cover for the seeds and they will germinate and start to grow. Nuts should not be stored or planted in the spring, since they will dry out over winter and lose 50% of their viability.
Perhaps the most crucial aspect when it comes to woodland management is approach taken when deciding to harvest timber. Wilkinson has heard many stories of people who were offered what they thought was a nice price to harvest their woodlands, only to have trees stripped from the woods to a point where there will be no more harvestable trees for 50 to 100 years.
With proper management, a woodland should be able to sustain successive cuttings every eight or 10 years. An important term in forestry is diameter at breast height (DBH), which refers to the height where a tree should be measured to determine the amount of board feet, or usable wood it will yield. Trees should be harvested when they are at a DBH of 20 to 22 inches and up to get the most board feet, or usable wood, out of them. However, trees that are too large may have begun to rot already. A tree will typically grow one-quarter to one-half inch each year and as a result should gain about five inches in 10 years.
Seeking bids from multiple loggers is another way landowners can be sure to maximize their profit potential from their woodland. He has seen some lots of timber with a $20,000 price difference from the lowest to highest bid.
While it may not be obvious, the forestry industry in Ohio contributes greatly to the economy of the state each year with 300 to 400 million board feet of timber being harvested each year.
“In Ohio, there are a lot of private landowners and a lot of tree farms. I think a lot of people are getting more and more knowledgeable,” Wilkinson said. “I think more and more people are becoming aware of the fact that woodlands are a valuable resource — a renewable resource — if you treat it right.”