Wood Is More Precious Than Gold

ohio-woodlot.jpg

From Gene Logsdon
Garden Farm Skills

The price of gold is going crazy as investors look for a shelter from a dipsy-doodling stock market.

It reminds me of one of my grandfather’s stories. During the bad financial times of the early 1920s in Germany, the peasants (ancestors of ours) traded their potatoes for gems that the rich people were forced to pay to get something to eat.

That story is one reason why in 1974, I took my family out of Philadelphia where I had a good job, bought a little piece of land in my home country, built a house on it, and prepared for a severe economic depression, which fortunately did not come. Yet.

The only requirement I insisted on in looking for land was that it have several acres of woodland on it. I knew I could have a garden producing food in a hurry, but it takes time to grow the wood to keep a house warm and to cook with, if it came to that. I did not want to depend entirely on faraway oil to stay alive, and in a pinch I wanted to get by without electricity if I had to.

Whether I am just paranoid or prophetical I don’t know yet, but as I sit in my woods, resting from the work of splitting firewood, that decision has continued to make sense to me even in times of stable economics. (Is our economic system ever stable?) What I have gained in enjoyment alone makes my investment in two mature woodlots at least as “profitable” as investing an equivalent amount of money in gold.

You can’t eat gold like you can the bounty of trees in fruits, nuts, maple syrup, and various edible mushrooms and herbal treasures of the woodland. You can’t warm yourself with gold. You can’t bask in the shade of gold. You can’t make fence posts out of gold. A gold house would be mighty expensive. You can’t make a windbreak out of gold. You can’t make furniture, violins, guitars, wall paneling, picture frames, gun stocks, tomato stakes, flooring, barns, chicken coops, and hog houses out of gold. You can’t mulch a garden with gold leaf. Gold does not take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen to preserve an environment we can live in. Gold does not provide habitat for millions of wild animals and zillions of insects necessary for a sustainable environment. And in fact, you can make methane out of wood much more efficiently than ethanol out of corn. All gold can do is go up and down in price and invariably it turns out to be a poor investment, as many panic buyers learn the hard way.

I’ve known my two woodlots intimately for over 70 years. The one of ten acres was my playground as I grew up. The other, of about four acres two miles away, I also tramped as a child and have lived in, literally, for the last 34 years. There are so many ways to figure the value of woodland, so many intangibles that don’t show up on ledgers, that I doubt anyone can make an accurate estimate. But I want to try, using only my own rather uncomplicated experiences, leaving out intangibles like how the tranquility and exercise I’ve gained from caring for my woodland may have affected my health beneficially.

I paid $700 an acre for the four acre woodlot in 1974 and $2000 an acre for a ten acre woodlot in 1979. The four acre plot was really the lot for our house, so to speak, and so it is hard to try to calculate its value as woodland alone. So I will focus on the ten acres although what is true for one is true for the other.

Twenty thousand dollars for ten acres of woods was extravagant by local standards in 1979 but that’s what I had to pay to keep a corn farmer from bulldozing it away. I presume that if I had invested that money in the stock market, it would have doubled or tripled by now, but then again, after the recession in the 1980s when the market took a beating, and again in 2002, and now in 2008, maybe not.

A few years after we bought the ten acres, a timber buyer offered us $20,000 if we would let him clear-cut it, which of course I had no intention of doing. But I did sell five white oaks as veneer for $5000. A few years after that I sold another $2000 worth of logs. About 1995, my son, who was getting in the home construction business, hired a sawyer with a bandsaw mill to saw about 10,000 board feet of lumber which my son and I have used in various ways. The slab wood “waste” made several loads of firewood too. The sawyer charged thirty cents a board foot as I recall. We figured the wood was worth, above that cost, about a dollar a board foot, possibly twice that. If you have purchased wood from a lumberyard lately you know that you can carry $150 worth out to your truck in one trip. My son used some of the red oak as trim throughout his new home. It is breathtakingly beautiful. What is that worth? I sold another $2000 worth of trees in 2007.

Every year I harvest about four cords of fuel wood from the 14 acres of both woodlots. My son and other family members have been harvesting firewood from the ten acres too. Experience teaches us that an acre of mature woodland will produce indefinitely at least a cord of wood annually just in deadfalls, blowdowns, and thinnings, without lessening the over all yearly production of wood, and in fact increasing it. One mature tree containing two sawlogs to sell or make lumber from, also has enough branches to make a cord of wood.

The price of cord wood, needless to say, is going up as fast as the price of oil. I’ve always figured that a cord of oak replaced about $100 worth of other fuel but now the replacement value is higher. In general the wood I’ve used to keep the house warm over the last 25 years saved us an average of $400 a year even after deducting the cost of five chainsaws I have worn out in the process. My son figures that today his wood replaces about $300 of other fuel per winter month. He heats almost entirely with wood. I let our woodstove go out at night in favor of backup electric heat unless the weather is very cold.

Actually I rarely count wood by the cord but by the amount I need to heat the house for a day. Experience has shown me that I can cut from the log and split a day’s supply of heat in about an hour if the wood is straight-grained. Could do better when I was young. So to work up enough wood to last a hundred winter days, which is what I do, takes about a hundred hours. Since I like to work in the woods, and since I am not paying money out of pocket to someone else, I consider that labor as part of the profit.

Obviously the original $20,000 was an excellent investment. The woodlot will go on producing fuel and lumber and satisfaction forever with proper management. Even discounting that, the land is still there, going up in value whether it has trees on it or not. And if I were to sell the land, it is worth far more for homesites if it has mature trees on it than if it were bare land.

When I was a boy, farmers followed a code of ethics that proscribed a ten acre woodlot be kept for every hundred acres of farm land. That of course was forgotten when coal, fuel oil, bulldozers and subsidized corn became easily available. Would we not have much better homeland security today if that practice had remained as part of our cultural heritage?
~
See also Gene’s First Spring Things
~~
Gene and Carol Logsdon have a small-scale experimental farm in Wyandot County, Ohio.
Author: The Mother of All Arts: Agrarianism and the Creative Impulse (Culture of the Land) 2007
Gene’s latest book: The Last of the Husbandmen: A Novel of Farming Life
Image Credit: Discover Ohio
Gene’s Posts

[Permanent Link][Top]

13 Comments

Joan Richmond: I do have a two man saw stashed and ready…just in case. Problem is, I don’t know exactly how to sharpen the thing. I have seen at logging contests, two skilled people cut through a log with a two man (two woman?) saw as fast as a chainsaw. And I still split up four cords a winter with a maul. Gene Logsdon

Our family — dad, brother, us — cut up enough wood for all of us just keeping the woodlot cleaned up. After the past few years of ice storms and hurricanes here in north central Ohio, we have plenty to keep up with.

Our house isn’t super-efficient, but it also stays warm on sunny winter days just from the windows and the black roof, I think. We burn about 3 cords or so a year, with geo-thermal/electric for backup. If we burn diligently, our electric bill is about $100 a month in the winter.

I love cutting wood. Dad has a splitter that’s older than he is (he’s 69!), but it still works well. You just have to remember not to fill the gas tank above the leak in a crease and to kinda watch the throttle, since it jiggle some wire or other loose every so often and you have to tighten it down! Sometimes you just have to hold your mouth right.😉

We’re great believers in workplace efficiency — the pasture. We drag the trees out with a tractor and chain to where we want to cut them. Drag off the trimmings to a burn pile. Cut right there, using some old electric company cable spools. We lift the trees with Dad’s Farmall 300 (I think?) front-end loader onto the spools, which makes cutting them easier. Dad likes doing this because it gives him something useful to do — he has it in his back and can’t do the lifting and bending so much.

Then we drag the splitter along the cut up trees and limbs, and either stack it right there along the edge of the woods or throw it in the trailer to take to the house.

About half way through, my step-mother comes down with baloney or tuna-fish sandwiches and a nice spread, so we eat and talk (now that the chain saws are quiet again) and then get back to work. Kids, men, women, all hauling limbs & cutting and splitting and stacking. A few weekends of this and we’ve got most of the wood we need. Plus, it’s fun.

I do wonder at the work that people did before engines. Imagine — no tractor, no chain saws, no splitter. Ours are all ancient, but they do work. Sometimes I wonder if it might not be a good idea to stash a couple of two-man saws and some sharpeners, maybe a bucksaw or two, some mauls and such. Economic times being what they are. Maybe I just worry too much!

John, I would leave them in the woods. Scattered out, they soon decompose. Piled into brush piles they can be good shelter for a variety of wildlife and wildlife experts advise doing this. Of course they will protect rabbits and the like from hawks, and if you have too many rabbits now, you may not want to make brushpiles. If you hunt, the brushpiles are sure fire places to get rabbits. Gene Logsdon

Gene,

Love this post. I bought a 40 acre parcel in So Illinois recently that has around 25 acres of woods. I was worried that I bought too much woodland but now see the value of that wood. Thx for the insight.

I have to log out some larger trees (not many) that are badly in need of thinning (or they will fall over – carpenter ants). I am pondering about what to do with the tree-tops. I will cut up the larger parts for firewood but what about the small stuff? I have some pasture that is in need of organic matter. Should I burn the tops and spread the ashes on the fields, or should I rent a chipper and make chips to spread? Or do I leave the treetops in the forest to be naturally composted. Your opinion would be appreciated greatly.

John

Greg, passive solar is the way to go. But here in northern Ohio we like to joke that the sun never shines from Nov. to April. Gene

I heated with wood for many years. I recently finished building our super-insulated passive solar house and it does not take much to heat it. The heat does not come on at all if we have a string of sunny days. Our highest electric bill (all electric house with PV now) was $90. I used to cut and split 5 cords of wood for a small farm house here in MD. It probably would only take a 1/2 or 3/4 cords of wood to heat all winter now . Kind of miss going out in the woods cutting and splitting the wood but, more time to enjoy walking through our woods.🙂 I have noticed that the downed trees that I used to cut up attracted a lot of large woodpeckers now.

Enjoy your essays also. Keep up the good writing!

Greg in MD

Yes, Jeannie, it is the secure feeling of having heat enough to keep the pipes (and us) from freezing should the electricity go out, and having a good soup warming on the stove, that makes wood more valuable to me than a million dollars of paper money. How long will a million paper dollars keep the stove hot? Gene Logsdon

Dear Gene,

Heating with wood is just one of the valuable lessons that I have learned from you. My husband and I try to heat as much as we can with wood and have natural gas as a back up.

With work during the day and letting the fire go out at night we have never had a heating bill over $100. And we never worry about what will happen if the power goes off.

That is a peace of mind that makes for a good and toasty nights sleep.

Gene, you’re the best!

We wish you and Carol all the very best in 2008 and I can’t wait for the new book too!

Jeannie

reply to Greg Jeffers: no wonder everyone I know is richer than I am. Gene Logsdon
reply to Sarah K: Oh, do I so agree. And we have lots of cornfield mansions in my part of the cornbelt. Gene Logsdon
reply to Jason: I hope we can keep it up. I know it helps my motivation when readers make comments so thanks. Gene Logsdon

Thanks, Jason!

Dave

Actually, had you invested $20,000 in 1979 in the S & P 500, with compounded dividends you would have made well over $1 million…

Still, I imagine that that was not the point.

I am really enjoying these essays, and the site in general. I tend to find them at energybulletin.net. Thanks!

Amen! I grew up in the woods and never have felt right in the absence of trees. I wonder if that is part of why the sight of new houses standing so exposed on former cornfields, with no trees around, strikes me as so forlorn and unappealing. (Besides the sprawl aspect of it.)

Please leave your comments...

Name and email address are required. Your email address will not be published.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title="" rel=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <pre> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>