(The first paragraph is a note from Roxie)
In spite of the lower prices we have enjoyed on our heating oil, the cost of keeping the house warm remains the largest utility bill we face. If you are using wood to help decrease this cost, wood prices aren’t cheap. With the heavy snows, you may have trees that are bending over or have gotten pushed completely over. These are perfect candidates to help reduce your costs for wood. But it should be seasoned before being used. Glen Holt, our Cooperative Extension forester, wrote the column this week to tell you the best processes for deciding what to cut, how to dry it and how to use it.
Our changing Alaska seasons also often bring on some events not so lovely. A couple of those events include heavy snows that bend and break some of our slender trees and strong winds that break off or topple some of our largest trees.
Storms that cause power outages because of heavy, wet snow on power lines also cause many of our slenderest trees to bend far over and touch power lines. They can sometimes create snowy tunnels over driveways and narrow roads. Never cut a tree that is touching or could fall on a power line. Contact your local electric utility, GVEA in Fairbanks, to handle the situation.
Trees that break off or tip over can’t be saved. Likewise, young pole-size trees bent far over by heavy snow and nearing the ground will never again be able to overcome the stress they’ve undergone and stand back upright. Within a few years, they will die due to lack of sunlight. Trees in this condition need to be cut and salvaged before they rot and become a total loss.
Snow bending is apparent within a stand of birch trees located on forested hillsides and slopes. Slender birch are also prone to bending when adjacent to an opening in the forest. Roadways, driveways and home sites create openings and trees that are used to growing in a dense stand become exposed on one side. Little can be done to prevent tall, slender trees from bending adjacent to forest openings. Eventually, the forest edge adjacent to an opening is naturally thinned of those more slender trees and the sturdiest, most robust ones survive.
The best way to deal with bent or toppled trees is to cut them up for later use as soon as possible. Spruce beetles will infest windblown spruce the following summer by late May. By July, adult beetles will fly and infest other live standing spruce. This buildup of beetles can infest nearby spruce. It is important to cut up downed spruce before they attract and become infested by spruce bark beetles.
Dead or dying birch trees begin to rot within two years if not cut up into firewood and split more than once to adequately season.
While most of us can’t get all our firewood from our yards, we can save money on the cost of our woodpile by promptly processing downed and damaged trees and adding them to the woodpile to season.
Remember, if you cut, split, stack and dry your wood in late winter or early spring — before the sap flow begins — it will become seasoned and most likely dry to 20 percent moisture content or less for use when you need it the following wood-burning season.
Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is associate director of Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 907-474-7201.