One tree, many uses

Sep 18, 2014

Over the past month or two we’ve been slowly cutting down some rather large cyprus macrocarpa trees which were looming over our house. One in particular was massive and blocked a large portion of sunlight to our house and garden and was a significant fire hazard. As soon as we moved in we acknowledged they ‘had to go’ due to practicalities, but we’ve been avoiding the enormity of the task.

It’s such a big task that at one point we tried outsourcing the job to a contractor to chop and mulch it (except the key logs). However when his machinery literally starting sliding off our hill and people’s lives were threatened we called it off. And so, we named it up as another ‘character building’ exercise and have been slowly but surely chopping it down and using as much as possible on site. Here’s how.

Fence Posts

We recently built a floppy fence on our eastern boundary line. Conveniently, we have no termites in Tasmania (yay) and macrocarpa’s timber is well known for its durability for outside uses, so it’s highly sort after for landscaping purposes. Generally it’ll last around 15 years before showing signs of needing replacing, and sometimes more. It sure is doing a swell job supporting our fence line!

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 Retaining walls

Anton’s just created this very organic looking, strong and down right beautiful (in my humble opinion) retaining wall for part of our orchard. It hugs the bottom of a slope and is home to our apricot and almond trees, soon we’ll also have a diverse understory sprawling throughout.

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To make them so sturdy, Anton drilled a big hole through the small logs and used some old water pipe (hard steel stuff) as ‘pegs’ which he put directly though the wall and staked into the ground. We then lined it with geofabric and filled it in with juicy top soil.

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Mulched pathways

We don’t have a chipper. Instead Anton’s been using his chainsaw to ‘mulch’ the greenery that’s come off the macrocarpa and using it as much needed mud proofing on our paths. This has worked surprisingly well. A key thing to be mindful of when using macrocarpa on pathways is that it’s anti-fungal, in an orchard (as the path below is) this isn’t ideal as we REALLY want fungi to thrive in this environment. To speed up the breaking down process we’ll be adding a bit of blood and bone amongst the path. We’re also planning on finding some mature macrocarpa plantings elsewhere which have rotting leaf/branch litter beneath the trees with visible fungi growing and inoculating our paths with it… We’ll see how that goes.

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Espalier fence posts

We’re espaliering part of our orchard so we can fit more trees on our urban block. Providing the backbone for this framework are three long (around 5 metres) logs we salvaged from the tree which are doing a bang up job of looking spunky and supporting our very young trees and kiwi fruits.

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They’ll also eventually have seasonal netting put over them to protect the fruit from being picked off by the many birds which swamp the gardens and orchards around our neighbourhood come harvest time. We put these cute silver caps on the top of each post to ensure the netting can be smoothly put on and off, without getting caught on the rough timber.

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Some of the posts were roughly cut down in size, all with the chainsaw, it’s rough but does the job wonderfully.

Stairs

Stairs – we love em and seriously need them to navigate our slope safely. Once again the macrocarpa has come to the rescue to provide all the materials to create these spunky and solid stairs. We’ve back filled them with sawdust to create mud free, level steps. Below you can see David Holmgren helping bed down the sawdust while he was staying with us recently… Yep, even David gets put to work when visiting. Actually, we couldn’t stop him from wanting to help out with whatever was happening. Seriously top bloke that one.

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We’ve also used a lot of the green mulched needles as deep litter in our chook run which they’re loving scratching through and chopped up a large fire wood pile for coming years. And finally (or maybe not) we’ve left the main trunk (with some short branches) in the ground in order to build an adventure tree house! Apparently it’s for our kid (arriving in late 2014), however it’s quickly becoming Anton’s most desired place for evening beers, so I think it’s really for him. We’ve left one of the tall spikes you can see Anton sitting on below as a flag pole – because, you know, that’s super important.

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The question we asked ourselves at the start of this whole process was, how can we utilise and respect the embodied energy of this massive tree? Our answer was to convert that energy it’s put into growing so big all these years into creating numerous functional and fun structures which will continue to live on for time to come. So, here’s to many more years of our cypress macrocarpa living on in its new and many forms!

* Your blogger is Hannah Moloney, co-director of Good Life and lover of all things fun and garden-esk.

your thoughts:

8 Comments

  1. Sulyn Lam

    Wow! So blown away by the beauty of Anton’s sinuous retaining walls. Has an eye-grabbing, Goudy-esque quality.

    Reply
  2. Nicole

    Gorgeous retaining wall. We have an enormous pine tree tree (killed by a lightning strike a few years ago) to cut down at great expense. We were planning to burn the wood in our slow combustion fire but this post has given me some other ideas. I have also found medium sized branches do the job of keeping visiting brush turkeys from scratching up newly planted shrubs – but I guess you don’t have this problem in Tasmania??

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      No brush turkeys around us Nicole, but I grew up in QLD so I know exactly what you’re talking about! Good luck with it all 🙂

      Reply
  3. Mosh

    I really liked all the uses you’ve found for the tree, well done!
    I live in Southern California, and have a large pine tree that is leaning towards the house which unfortunately I need to take down. I would have loved to use some of the cut timber logs for a retaining wall on my hillside. However, I am concerned that we will put all that labor and the logs will not withstand ground and water contact and will not last long. If you have any ideas about this I’d love to hear. Happy Holidayz!

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Hi Mosh,
      We were comfortable using the cypress macrocarpa in our soils as its renowned for lasting longer than other timbers – so is a particular favourit for fence posts and retaining walls. You’re so right in not your own tree in the ground if it want stand up to the conditions. It may be that the most useful thing for it to ‘be’ is woodchips for pathways or certain garden areas. Just depends what needs you have to meet :-).

      Reply
  4. Rick

    Hi Hana,

    Thank you for an interesting article. I have been watching vids on using tree branches as basis for hugelkulture beds. That’s possibly another thing for you to experiment with? Unless, of course, your land slope may prevent this. It would be interesting to hear of any results should you experiment this way. Cheers.

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Hi Rick,
      Yep, hugelkulture is a great system. However this particular timber is known for its anti-fungal properties so it’s not ideal for that system. It would still work, just take a lot longer… 🙂

      Reply
  5. Daniel Morris

    I had also been using all the sawdust from the chainsaw in our garden – usually just by putting it the compost. But then a friend told me that it’s full of chain bar oil so I probably shouldn’t – this should have been obvious to me but I didn’t think of it! Now whenever I’m working with the chainsaw I bag up all the sawdust and put it in the bin. But do you think it’s alright for use on paths etc? There are more eco-friendly bar oils you can use (like vege oil), but I’m yet to try those out.

    Reply

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