View Full Version : TREES: Planting and harvesting on a large scale

10-13-2017, 05:04 AM
Hi there!

My world's geography features an oak forest that spans five miles thick, of undetermined length, and was planted over many hundreds of years. I'm trying to determine the process of planting and harvesting oaks (or trees in general). From the lore, the forest is large enough that there are sections where the trees are hundreds of years old. The city that planted them is home to a population of 50,000, but has fluctuated over the years. Any help or insight is much appreciated!

Thanks in advance.

10-13-2017, 05:55 AM
In the wild, oaks are generally planted by squirrels. That's no joke. There is a strong symbiosis between squirrels harvesting and burying acorns, and oaks germinating. By and large, that's probably how humans would germinate little oaklets, which could perhaps then be transplanted.

Also bear in mind that, in nature of this world, there are hundreds of species of oaks. The U.S. is particularly rich on oak species, with maybe 100 described forms. They are by no means all alike, nor do they all have similar preferences for climate, soil, moisture, etc.

So, in your fantasy world, why exactly do you need oaks? Could you not invent a tree species that would suit the needs of your story? I've actually done that, in a yet-to-be completed work.


10-13-2017, 06:18 AM
I believe silviculture - the growing and cultivation of trees - is the term you want to be looking into, online or at your local library. Ran a quick Google search on "silviculture oaks", and got a rather thick but thorough-looking pdf file, "The Ecology and Silviculture of Oaks" that looks to tell you everything you could want to know about oak forests, natural or artificial (link (http://www.uhu.es/cideu/PreWeb/Boletin/Oaks.pdf)) - it appears to be available in book form from sites like Amazon, too.

Unless it's for religious reasons, I'm not sure that any forest near human habitation would have centuries-old specimens, though - silviculture's tree farming, basically, and why plant it if you're not intending to harvest? (Though there are many plants that thrive in shady forests - these could be the sections used to harvest those plants or maintain animal populations, not the areas thinned and replanted periodically.)

Do you know why your people planted the oaks? And why oaks? Acorns take some processing to be edible, as I understand it, but can be and have been food sources. Wood, of course, is always valuable, though if you want tall, straight-grained planks or posts you might go with a conifer instead. Or are they planting trees more for spiritual reasons, to honor gods or spirits or ancestors?

Good luck!

10-13-2017, 06:23 AM
The Woodland owners' guide to oak management (http://www.extension.umn.edu/environment/trees-woodlands/woodlands-owners-guide-to-oak-management/) is probably a good place to get started.

(It turns up on a Google search for "oak cultivation" -- lots more links there.)

10-13-2017, 07:10 AM
I planted trees once reforesting commercially logged land. You go out in a passenger carrying truck called a crummy (http://www.puresimplicity.net/~heviarti/Logging_Terms.html) with a bunch of folks. Everyone gets a large canvas bag of pine saplings. You spread out in a line and with a pick-ax-like shovel you dig a hole with one whack, pushing the pick-ax away from you making a 'V' hole in the dirt, stick a sapling in, kick the hole closed with your boot and move on to the next one. It's hard work, especially on hilly terrain, muddy, but easier than logging (not that I have ever been a logger).

Looks like this. (https://www.millertimber.com/our-services/reforestation/)

Probably not what you were looking for but that's my contribution. :tongue

10-13-2017, 07:55 AM
Another issue with oaks, worth mentioning. There are two major oak "groups" in the U.S.; the red oak group and the white oak group. They are actually pretty easy to tell apart. Red oak group has leaves with pointy ends, white oak group has leaves with rounded ends. The acorns from the white oak group are sweeter and better for eating than are those from the red oak group, which are very bitter.

Squirrels don't care, but native peoples who have used acorns for food for centuries knew this.


10-13-2017, 07:03 PM
Is this fantasy or more modern?

I ask because in the era when trees were important for firewood, poles for hurdles and the like, a lot of trees were coppiced - so they grew lots of straight poles from the stump and depending on climate and variety of tree, you harvested a percentage each year - maybe a 5 year cycle, maybe a 7 year cycle - which would give the harvested strip time to grow large enough for harvesting. Its a lot easier to chop up poles for firewood than it is large trunks and then have to split them too.

In modern terms, tree harvesting of sitka plantations tends to be done by machine - big machine with a grasp on it, grabs hold of trunk, tree sawn off at bottom, stuffed into another machine that strips off the branches, then they are piled up on a lorry.

If you are felling to use for building and furniture, then you are probably more careful than if you are felling for firewood - you don't want it to split. With cruck frame houses you go looking for trees with side branches that you use whole, rather than doing an upright with a diagonal beam fixed in, you use it as it grew.

10-13-2017, 08:09 PM
I was also going to mention coppicing, but Bolero's description is really good. The BBC's Historical Farm series has a couple mentions on coppicing. Look at Tales From the Green Valley, Tudor Monastery Farm, and Wartime Farm. They're also good for ideas for farming in the different periods. (They also have Victorian Farm and Edwardian Farm.) I think it was mentioned in Tales... that while they did coppice trees depending on what kind of poles/dowels are needed, they also were required to leave a couple trees per acre alone in order to have the larger trunks available for building ships, etc.

Another thing you might want to look into is Permaculture. That topic addresses using forests for forest farming - harvesting nuts and/or fruit, pasturing animals, mushroom farming. I'm sure the local population would use the forest for more than just lumber and fire wood, especially if there are sections where the trees are several hundred years old.

One thing I'm wondering about is how this forest remained in place so long with a city of ~50,000 close by. What are they doing for farming? In order to feed such a large population, they need a large amount of acreage for growing crops.

10-13-2017, 08:57 PM
Hogs will eat acorns unprocessed.
The level of technology in your story matters with regard the utility of any advice from us. I believe Eton still owns an oak forest. Their forest warden has his eye on each oak, knowing the large, curved branch from 'that oak' will be perfect to replace the arch in the Warden's house should there ever be a fire. Many of the trees, or specific branches may be formed and guided to meet the architectural needs for replacement beams at some future time. In New England, you can date certain houses by the width of the floorboards; after 1722 it was illegal to cut any straight pine tree of 12 inches in width or more. There trees were reserved for the Royal Navy as masts for their fleet. There was actually a Pine Tree Riot that presaged the Tea Party and the Revolution. Hence, it became fashionable to build new houses with very wide pine floorboards as an act of resistance. but those are white pines, not oaks.
Know also that the shape of oak trees (tall or branching) depends on the species. Red oaks grow up, while white oaks tend to broaden out. Most barn beams in the northeast US built in the old days are red oak beams. of all the barns I dismantled in my youth, I never saw a white oak beam longer than 10 feet.
If your oak forest has trees many centuries old, then some one, or group, maintains it and has some authority to prevent unauthorized harvesting.
Oak is a very hard wood and can be difficult to work. Construction usually follows economic rules (profit/loss) and builders would tend to opt for softer woods for commodity buildings, reserving the oak for the high end construction.

FWIW and good luck with your story!

10-14-2017, 07:20 AM
Wow, this was all very informative and helpful. Thanks all!

I would describe my world as sci-fi/fantasy/surreal. It takes place in a massive crater called Abyssinia, where two hegemonic empires split the cultures into West and East. My characters are from the West, and are embarking on a year-old journey circumnavigating the crater. The first leg of their journey takes them to the western edge of the crater, where the aforementioned town, called Warden, stands.

At this point, my conception of Warden is a mining town, which also harvests resources from the oak forests outside of it, which were planted over hundreds of years under the leadership of townsfolk. I chose oak because I know it's strong, I'm fascinated by it, I'm my knowledge of trees is limited (as you maybe can tell). The landscape beneath the section of woods through which my characters are traveling contains rocky area, and collapsed mining tunnels in disuse for centuries, and planted over with trees.

The trees are so old in the area they're traveling through because the forest is huge. My initial idea was that Warden would be mostly a mining town, but from what I've learned here (thanks again!) there are numerous resources they can provide, in addition to religious and cultural motives. So I'm thinking the forests and mining could provide a good foundation for the leadership in Warden, and that Warden may play an even larger role in Western Abyssinian socioeconomics than I had originally envisioned.

You've provided an enormously helpful trove of resources for a simple question on trees, and I am impressed, and most grateful for sharing your time and knowledge!

10-14-2017, 07:32 AM
May I suggest that the name Abyssinia might have historical implications that distract from the story.

10-14-2017, 08:10 PM
Agree with Helix - the name "Abyssinia" comes trailing a LOT of associations that are probably not relevant to your story and could distract or mislead readers. Unless you deliberately want to invoke those associations, better change the name.

10-14-2017, 09:54 PM
I hadn't realized that the word came with historical associations, and by the sound of it, negative ones... Thanks for letting me know! But now I'm curious as to what you're referencing that sounds so grave/grim/controversial. Please enlighten me?

10-15-2017, 12:56 AM
Abyssinia, or the Ethiopian Empire existed from about 1150 to 1974. It was invaded by Italy prior to our involvement in WW2. It was one of the founding countries for the United Nations, and the last emperor, Haile Selassie, claimed Judean ancestry. It's current state is absolutely dismal and heartbreaking.

10-15-2017, 01:30 AM
Saddening to hear of all the ways we suffer...

Quite honestly, I wasn't thinking of anywhere on Earth when I chose the name Abyssinia. It seemed to fit well with the fantasy/sci-fi element of my world.

10-17-2017, 09:54 AM
Does it have to have been planted? Forests grow naturally, not because people plant them - blacbird's posts about squirrels is just one example of how this happens.

When I was a kid, there was a hurricane on the South of England which felled huge numbers of trees in our woodlands, pretty much flattening entire historic forests. People tried to grow new trees but attempts to grow them back didn't work very well... meanwhile the forests left to their own devices grew back all by themselves and had gone back to being healthy, self-sustaining woodland, while the planted trees looked small and kind of sorry for themselves. Deforestation is a problem caused by people keeping on chopping down more and more trees and/or grazing animals on the land which used to be forest. When the people and their farm animals go away, the forest grows back pretty quickly, as long as there's still enough topsoil (if that goes away it can end up as desert, especially if the climate's hot and dry - in a temperate, wet climate desertification isn't really an issue).

Managed forests do exist (e.g. for sustainable sources of wood where they plant trees to replace the trees being cut down) but in most cases it works just as well or better to leave the land alone as it does to physically plant trees.

Get an A-level (UK school year 12 and 13, or equivalent leve in other countries) biology textbook and look up succession (ecological succession) - this is the process by which barren land gets colonised gradually by more and more life. It also refers to the process whereby land that isn't forest becomes forest (it's a later stage in the natural succession of land). And other examples of how ecosystems in any location change over time (changing from one ecosystem to another, etc.) Usually some kind of forest is the end result of succession (called a climax community), i.e. it all becomes stable and there are no more lifeforms (apart from industrialised* humans and their chainsaws selling to a global market that wants more and more and more and more and more) to move in, unless there are massive changes in environmental conditions.

*I'm not going to tar all humans with the same brush. There are plenty of humans that can live in forests without destroying them.

In some cases, the prevention of further succession is necessary to protect ecosystems, for example here in Dorset where I live there are areas of heathland. Traditionally, people grazed sheep and stuff on the heath and this prevented trees from growing, and the heathland ecosystem was stable and home to various heathland wildlife. In modern times, without grazing animals, heathland quickly gets taken over by trees and starts to become woodland. People remove young trees of certain species in order to protect the heathland and various wild species (such as the Dartford warbler) that rely on it. Oaks tend to be one of the later species that move into forests and oak woodland is pretty stable. Oak woodland isn't 100% oak though, there are all kinds of other trees, but oaks tend to dominate. A lot of British woodland is oak and it grew naturally.

If your scenario's on an alien plant where there was no life before humans came along, then I'd find it more plausible that they had some process whereby they could introduce hundreds of species in the right order for succession to happen (lichens first, then mosses, etc) than to just go there and plant a load of oak trees. You can't plant oaks in barren land and expect them to survive. Even planting trees in Surrey and other places in SE England that are famous for their woodlands and already have the right soil for trees to grow didn't work out after the hurricane. Squirrels and other mechanisms that nature has of growing life where life will grow worked way, way better.

Traditional ways of managing forest involves 1. the forest was there before the people, 2. cutting down the trees that you need (to build dwellings, etc) and 3. when the people move way the forest grows back. Traditional small scale farming communities don't cut down enough trees to endanger the forest. They don't need to do anything to make the forest grow back. If they're grazing animals then that will prevent forest growing back on the land that's being grazed, but when the animals are moved to other bits of land, the trees will grow back.

10-17-2017, 10:25 AM
At this point, my conception of Warden is a mining town, which also harvests resources from the oak forests outside of it, which were planted over hundreds of years under the leadership of townsfolk. I chose oak because I know it's strong, I'm fascinated by it, I'm my knowledge of trees is limited (as you maybe can tell). The landscape beneath the section of woods through which my characters are traveling contains rocky area, and collapsed mining tunnels in disuse for centuries, and planted over with trees.

The trees are so old in the area they're traveling through because the forest is huge.

The most likely scenario for an old town/settlement to be overgrown with trees is simply that the people abandoned it and the trees grew back by themselves. You wouldn't see much signs that humans were ever there at all after about 100 years. If you look online you can find pictures of old, abandoned buildings, roads and small settlements that are partially overgrown by trees.

10-18-2017, 09:33 PM
Not sure if this fits into what you want but I've had government officials from the department of forestry call up to want to look at my woods. They have aerial surveys that don't match their algorithms.

"Trees aren't supposed to grow that fast! What are you putting on them?"

The answer as always, sow clover or some other nitrogen fixing plant the year before dedicating a field to forest and surprise surprise, don't mow it. Woods want to spread. There are little saplings sprouting up all over the place even in urban areas. If you know what to look for you can save the sapling either by not cutting it and letting it grow where it is (usually the best as far as the tree is concerned) or transplant it immediately or pot the sapling for transplanting at a later date. It's really amazing that people in the biz don't understand that if you just leave nature alone it will do just fine without people.

Quill Works
12-20-2017, 09:26 PM
If you are looking to be incredibly realistic I would suggest planting other trees aside from oaks, or maybe different varieties of oak trees. Monoculture, the cultivation of a single crop (or in this case trees) in a single area, can drastically decrease genetic and biodiversity and leach a lot of nutrients from the soil. Phosphorus is a limiting factor in plant/tree growth, so it's important to make sure it's in sufficient amounts or else the forest won't last very long. Planting different species could combat this issue, however, and lead to a much more natural and healthy forest :)