what is coppicing

What is Coppicing? (And Why It’s Amazing for Homesteaders)

What is coppicing? And what’s the difference between coppicing and pollarding? Coppicing and pollarding are both very useful methods to sustainably harvest wood for use on your homestead. These methods allow you to harvest your trees in a way that lets them regrow without you having to replant. Sound good? Keep reading to learn how to use these methods on your homestead.

More...

If you like this post, please share it:
Continue the discussion at:
Visit us on Steemit

Posts may contain affiliate links, which allow me to earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Your purchase through the links helps me create content like this post (full disclosure).

So what is coppicing? Coppicing is an ancient forestry technique that has been used in Europe for thousands of years. In theory, it allows for indefinite harvesting of wood from your land without the need to replant.

Being able to harvest wood from your land without destroying the forest makes coppicing a great method for any wild homesteader. In fact, coppicing can even result in increased diversity of wildlife and plant life on your homestead.

This post covers the basics of coppicing, the difference between coppicing and pollarding, and it why coppicing is such an excellent practice for your homestead.

Once you understand what coppicing is, how it compares with pollarding, and why it’s amazing for your homestead. Be sure to get your free and easy-to-print cheat-sheet so you can keep all the pertinent details here at your fingertips and start planning your own coppice grove today.

What is Coppicing?

Coppicing is a sustainable forestry technique that uses nature’s capacity for regeneration to continually harvest wood from a living tree. Many hardwood trees will attempt to regrow after being cut down. Trees like maples and oaks will send up numerous shoots from their stumps, (called a stool if the tree is being coppiced,) which allows for repeated harvests on a set cycle.

When a tree like a maple is cut, the resulting shoots can be thinned, leaving a relatively small number of shoots. These shoots will grow, resulting in a multi-trunk tree. You can harvest these new trunks once they reach the size you need.

Coppicing is a great way to work with nature to sustainably harvest wood from your homestead.

Wild Tip

The bill hook is a traditional tool for coppicing that I highly recommend. You can see it in use in the video at the start of this section. It is a heavy, one-handed, curved blade designed to quickly remove small branches and stems from wood that is harvested from coppiced trees.

If you’re planning to coppice on your homestead, this tool is invaluable.

So that’s the basic practice—cutting a tree at the stump and harvesting the shoots. But how do you harvest it sustainably over time?

To make coppicing work for sustainable timber harvest, you’d want to coppice a number of trees on your homestead. A thicket of trees being managed with coppicing is called a copse.

Traditionally, a copse was managed in sections, or coups, which were harvested on a cycle that allowed for yearly harvests. The number of coups was based on how long a coppiced tree needed to reach the desired size based on the intended use.

This could be as short as 2-3 years, or in the case of oaks, up to 50 years. If it was going to take 5 years for your trees to regrow after being coppiced, then you would want 5 coups, so you could harvest 1 coup each year.

Not all trees can be coppiced, and different trees were historically coppiced for different uses. For example, willows and black locust trees both coppice easily but have very different uses. Willows can be used for weaving, while black locust trees are great for fence posts.

Other trees that were traditionally coppiced include ash, maple, oak, chestnut, elm, hazelnut, and elderberry.

Make sure to research trees that grow in your area to determine which can be coppiced and how long they need to grow after being coppiced to reach the size you need.

Summary of Coppicing Terms

  • Stool: The stump of a coppiced tree. Stools from trees that have been repeatedly harvested can become very wide and take on a distinctive appearance.
  • Copse: A grove of trees that are being managed through coppicing.
  • Coups: A section of trees within a copse. Forests were traditionally managed to allow for a coup to be harvested each year. The number of copses depends on how long a tree needs to regrow after each harvest.
  • Bill hook: A traditional coppicing tool used to quickly remove branches and twigs from harvested logs.
  • What is the Difference Between Coppicing and Pollarding?

    What is the difference between coppicing and pollarding?

    Coppicing and pollarding are very similar. Pollarding is basically coppicing but with the harvest cut made up high resulting in a trunk or "pole" with a bunch of growth on top. The left side pic is a big leaf maple that regrew after being logged.

    As you learn about coppicing, you might hear the term pollarding. Pollarding is actually very similar to coppicing.

    The main difference is that pollarding involves cutting the tree at a specific height above the ground depending on the situation.

    By cutting the tree above the ground, the resulting new growth can be above the reach of livestock or deer. But the resulting harvest can be used to provide feed for livestock. Between harvests the pollarded trees can provide shade and shelter for them as well.

    Why Coppicing is Amazing for Your Homestead

    Coppicing is a great way to provide fuel for rocket ovens

    A rocket oven is a great way of cooking food on your homestead using wood harvested through coppicing or pollarding. Since a rocket oven uses small pieces of wood a short cycle coppicing can easily provide you all the wood you need to cook your own food in a rocket oven. This is just 1 of many uses of coppicing on your homestead.

    Now that you understand the basics of coppicing, you might be wondering why you would want to use this method on your own homestead. Here in the United States, this is not a well-known method for woodland management.

    But as a homesteader, coppicing and pollarding can be very useful. Here are some great uses for coppicing and pollarding:

    • Firewood: Coppiced trees can provide a regular supply of firewood for heat and cooking. Coppicing works especially well with highly efficient wood-burning systems like rocket mass heaters and rocket ovens.
    • Woven Fence Material: Coppicing and pollarding can provide a large amount of long, narrow wooden rounds that are ideal for building the iconic woven/wattle fence.
    • Small-Wood Projects: On a short coppicing cycle, you can generate abundant material to make trellises, weave baskets and other useful items.
    • Livestock Food: Trees can be coppiced or pollarded on a short cycle of 2-3 years to provide regular food for livestock. Historically, this was called tree hay.
    • Chop-and-Drop: Coppicing and pollarding is also a great way to create a large amount of biomass/mulch as largescale chop-and-drop. This can be a great way to build the soils in your food forest.
    • Lumber/Fence Posts: Coppicing can also be a great way to sustainably harvest wood for lumber and fence posts. This will require a longer coppicing cycle, but if planned correctly, you could grow all the wood you need for fence posts and on large homesteads and even provide for your lumber needs. Roundwood construction is a great fit for coppicing
    • Hugelkultur Beds: Coppicing and pollarding can also be a great way to grow the wood you need for building your own hugelkultur beds.

    So are you ready to start using coppicing or pollarding on your own wild homestead? This is a great way to sustainably harvest wood on your homestead. If you want to get started with coppicing, check out Ben Law’s great book The Woodland Way: A Permaculture Approach to Sustainable Woodland Management. You can find it on Amazon and likely from your local library.

    But also don’t forget to grab your free and easy-to-print cheat-sheet so you can keep all the information here at your fingertips as you start your own coppice grove.

    what is coppicing?

    If you like this post, please share it:
    Continue the discussion at:
    Visit us on Steemit
    If you like this post, please share it:
    Daron

    Daron is a restoration ecologist, a lifelong gardener, and the founder of Wild Homesteading. He manages the restoration program for a local non-profit, and he applies restoration and sustainable gardening techniques on his family’s own wild homestead. He loves sharing the joy of growing food with his two beautiful children. In addition, to running this site Daron manages the restoration program for a local non-profit and is a husband to an amazing wife who makes this site and the homestead possible and daddy to 2 perfect kids.

  • Rosie says:

    Thank you for posting this! I’ve been wondering about coppicing for a while now.

  • Nancy says:

    Great info, Daron. I’ll be looking at my two hazelnut trees differently from now on 🙂 And, possibly, our native alder (a nitrogen fixer, also, I believe ?) will be a good fit for coppicing. Nature is so utterly helpful (well, now I’m off to tackle the bindweed… which provides great biomass ‘bundles’ – if the roots are not include 🙂

    • Daron says:

      Thank you Nancy! Red alder is a bit picky when it comes to being coppiced. If it is older than 7 years it may not regrow and it tends to only last through a couple cycles of coppicing. But I was thinking about trying to pollard it or coppice it where I only removed half the shoots at a time after the first cut to see if that helps.

      I’m currently experimenting with Sitka alder which is also native to the Pacific Northwest but generally found at higher elevations. It naturally grows to about 25 feet as a multi-trunk tree or shrub in areas like avalanche shoots. I think it might handle coppicing better though the wood from it would be relatively small diameter.

      And yup! Both are nitrogen fixers!

  • >