Looking into the roots of Oakhurst’s firewood

Posted by Oakhurst Farm Cottage - 21 Jul 2020 | Blog

Nothing beats the crackle of a winter fire, your feet clad in a comfy pair of slippers and a glass of good red nestled firmly in your clutches. But before you chuck another log onto the open flames, there’s a good tale to be told as to where those bags of Oakhurst firewood come from.

Firewood at Oakhurst Farm
Australian blackwood being chopped into smaller pieces ready for packing.

Let’s go back to the mid 1800’s, certain tree species were brought into South Africa from Australia for a number of reasons. The climate was similar, conditions were much the same and these imported plants grew much faster than the indigenous variety. Black Wattle (Acacia mearnsii) for instance was introduced here for commercial purposes. Port Jackson (Acacia saligna), another species indigenous to Australia was brought to the Cape specifically to stabilise sand dunes. What no one realised at the time, was just how aggressive these plants are and how easily they tend to take over, especially along water courses and rivers. Here they have the ability to take such a strong hold that the flow of the river is dramatically reduced and in extreme cases even stopped.

The conditions on Oakhurst Farm are ideal for these trees, which of course keeps us immersed in the ongoing task of controlling them, as well as keeping the farm supplied with an ongoing stock of firewood. 

Taking control and re-generating indigenous growth:

Over the past 25 years, we’ve managed to virtually clear Oakhurst of Black Wattle, and only have a small problem area left along one of our water courses. Australian Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon), found along the indigenous forest edge and streams, remains an ongoing issue on the farm. The way we control these is through ring barking and poisoning. This technique creates suitable conditions for indigenous trees to grow below the alien tree once it has been ring barked and is dying off. As the tree dies, the leaves falling around the base rot, forming compost. This is followed by the small branches falling to the ground to create a mulch layer. The remains of the tree still provide some dappled shade, much needed by the indigenous species in the early stages of their growth. Over time the moisture and minerals from ring barked tree leach out into the soil, and it either falls with minimal damage due to its light weight, or can be cut down.

Another technique which works effectively is feeding our cattle beneath the ring barked trees. We place bales and silage in these areas which results in a healthy dose of manure and brilliant soil fertilisation for indigenous regrowth.

Ring barking and poisoning of alien tree stems.
Planks being cut from a felled blackwood tree.

Many hands make light work

Getting on top of this problem isn’t a one-man job. We employ the services of born and bred Touwsranten local, Nicholas Harmse, who specialises in the task and keeps many surrounding properties under control as well. Nicholas and his team are equipped with chainsaws, axes, sprayers and the technical knowledge to manage and effectively deal with problem areas. They are an ongoing part of the process, from the initial ring barking, right through to packaging of the dry firewood.

Nicholas Harmse and Oakhurst’s Jake Crowther.

It’s in the bag

Larger trees, which have died off from ring barking are cut and felled. These trees are then cut into smaller logs by chainsaw, before a team works on chopping them into smaller pieces by axe and packing them into bags. The bags are then transported to the Oakhurst Farm Shop, where they’re available for our guests as the end product : winter firewood or braai wood.

Our firewood packed and ready for sale at the Oakhurst Farm Shop.

As you can see, a back-breaking process and certainly a task which takes time and an great deal of resources to complete. But what about the future…what happens when the alien trees are all gone? While we hope to see that day eventually, the control of these invasive’s is ongoing. With a planned method and a proven technique, the harvesting of firewood will no doubt remain on the to-do list for years to come.

So next time you light that fire and open another bag of Oakhurst firewood, know that you’re supporting a very worthy cause.

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