Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Even More Windbreak Thoughts

I said I wasn't making any promises about building a portable windbreak on my last post about building one, but I didn't realize that it was way back in almost-mid November when I was all set to start building one until I actually looked at the date of my last post on the subject.  Deer hunting, bathroom remodeling, and a handful of smaller projects all sidetracked me on my windbreak project, but that might have been a good thing since I've changed my mind on a few of the building details.

The main change to my building plans is that I decided not to cover it with sheet-metal, but instead I decided to use something like 2x6's or decking boards spaced a couple of inches apart to make it a more porous windbreak (optimum windblocking is supposed to be with about 25-30% porosity).

I don't know how I missed it before, but after looking a few more times at the Portable Windbreak Fences Publication I wrote about before, it finally sunk into my brain that a windbreak with boards spaced about 2" apart, around 80-85% of the wind would be blocked for about 80 feet downwind.  With a solid windblock, about 90% of the wind will be blocked really close to the windblock (about 8 feet in my case), but only about 60% of the wind will be blocked farther out.

It's a little counter-intuitive, and at first thought it seems like a solid wall would block more wind, but after some informal testing (I stood in a bitterly-cold wind next to the loafing shed and then walked downwind), and a little bit of observation (on one really cold and windy day, I noticed all of the cattle standing downwind of some parked farm equipment which wasn't anywhere close to being a solid wall), it eventually made sense that a more porous wall would drop the wind velocity more over a larger area than a solid wall would.

It's rare, but it looks like my habit of taking forever to finish a project might have helped this time and when I get around to building a portable windbreak I'll be using 2x6's or decking boards so I can build a more open wall.

Besides changing my mind about using sheetmetal to cover a portable windbreak, I've also decided to do a few more of the the things I wrote about when I was trying to figure out how to build a windbreak. 
How good will those stacked bales work as a windbreak?  I don't know, but I'm going to try it out

So, I stacked up some hay along a fence line inside the hay storage lot.  I'm not sure how well it will block the wind since it's similar to a solid wall although because it's hay it might help break up some of the downwind wind current eddy more than a solid wall would, but it didn't really cost anything to build (a little time and diesel), it's better than nothing, and the cattle can't get to it behind the fence (so I won't have to clean up a mess of wasted hay after a storm).  As long as the wind blows out of the north, I should be able to figure out something during the next snowstorm (stay turned for that exciting update).

I'm also thinking about planting a line of cedar trees (actually eastern red cedars which are junipers) as a windbreak or shelterbelt out in this pasture which is more of a controversial subject than most people would think it is. Years ago, Grandpa fought a losing battle trying to control the cedars on the farm, wearing out both his body and a bunch of chainsaws in the process.  After all that effort, the cedar trees just kept growing back.  I've also spent a lot of time cutting down cedars on the farm, which I'm looking at as an ongoing battle instead of a war I can actually win, and I hopefully won't wear my body out quite as much or as fast with that mindset.

But I've also been thinking that all the bad things about cedars might also make them a good choice as a windbreak if I manage them correctly.  They grow quick even in a drought, are thick enough to block a lot of wind, and if I plant them up on a flat spot instead of down along a creek then there should be less chance of erosion under the trees and they will be easier to remove if I change my mind about having a line of cedars in the pasture.

It'll be tough to wrap my head around planting cedars instead of cutting them all down without mercy, so I'm not sure if I'll ever get around to doing something so unconventional.    


  1. Now that you mention it, it does make sense. I think the reason for why a porous fence works better than a solid wall has to do with the principles of laminar flow and turbulence. A solid wall will produce a bubble of turbulence on the down wind side and laminar air will flow up and over the wall and turbulence bubble very nicely. (Kind of the same principle of why a solid truck tailgate is more aerodynamic than a net). Where you have a porous wall, the field of turbulence extends further downstream and takes longer to return to laminar flow. Turbulence equals warmth to animals. I think your hay bale wall will work better than solid smaller windbreaks simply because the bubble of turbulence to fill in behind it will be much larger.

    We have a lot of eastern red cedar in our rolling hills and we even use one for a Christmas tree every year after we dump a bottle of green food coloring in the first water we give it. I have thus spent lots of time walking in groves of eastern red cedar trees during cold windy weather looking for the Christmas tree. They provide excellent wind break! When the sun is out, it can feel 30 degrees warmer inside a grove than out on the prairie. They grow fast and propagate well but are easy to control with a regular burning program which we do to our CRP acres. You have to burn them when they are young or you can't get enough heat to kill them. But they do provide great wildlife shelter, help control erosion and make a nice Christmas tree in my opinion.

    1. For the past four or five years, I've spent weeks and weeks in late winter playing logger and cutting down big cedars on the farm trying to clear them out completely. I've finally gotten to the point where I've removed most of the big ones, but they're already starting to come back in the spots I cleared first.

      A prescribed fire isn't really an option due to houses, stored hay, oil wells, pipe lines, etc., plus I'd probably have to burn down all the other trees on the farm to completely burn out the big cedars.

      Cedars are some of the worst sort of weeds, which is one of the reasons I'm slightly reluctant to intentionally plant them. Locally, there are lots of former pastures or farmland (80-320 acres) that is just solid cedar trees and it would probably cost more to clear that land than the land would be worth. I used to wonder why someone would let that happen to land they owned or managed, but I finally decided that some people are just morons.

      I'd probably be rolling over in my grave 100 years from now if it turned out that I had planted the seeds of destruction for the farm by planting a windbreak of cedars.

      Long term, I've been thinking that it would be nice to have clumps of hardwood trees out in that pasture. A hundred years from now, I'd rather be remembered for planting a bunch of huge pecan and oak trees than for a thick unproductive cedar desert.

  2. Looking back, I should have said that the hay bale windbreak should work better than the smaller windbreaks 'with solid walls'. I still think your idea of using boards with gaps in them is a much better idea than the hay bale wall plus like you said before, you can move them a bit easier.

    I'm not sure why but I don't often see any large eastern red cedar trees here. They mostly get about 12 or 15 feet tall and then peter out. The biggest one I ever saw was one that was maybe 25 feet tall and about a foot in diameter but it was in a farmyard and well taken care of I'm sure. When my parents bought that place and tore out the tree, I had it cut up and made a dandy cedar chest out of it. Once they get more than a couple feet tall however, they are almost impossible to kill short of a chainsaw and Tordon.

    1. It was in the teens today with the wind blowing like a banshee, so I was looking forward to going out today and checking to see if any cattle were hunkered down next to my haystack, but that bitterly cold wind was blowing out of the south instead of the north.

      I'm not sure if a blizzard would ever come up with a south wind, but at least if I had a windbreak out in the pasture the cows could get out of the wind by walking to the other side.

      The cedars growing down along the creeks where it's more shaded will grow nice and straight trunks almost like a pine tree. I've been able to get four nice big eight-foot posts out of some of the bigger trees, so they were probably around 50 foot tall (as a bonus, they're both fun and dangerous to cut down). You could probably peel some of the smaller trees and make a big pile of teepee poles.

      The ones growing out in a pasture are more brushy and gnarly, and are about as wide as they are tall. It's almost like they are two different types of cedar trees.

    2. "... I've been able to get four nice big eight-foot posts out of some of the bigger trees, so they were probably around 50 foot tall...

      After thinking about it a little, I think I was getting about three posts out of those trees and they were closer to 30-35 feet tall. Still big, but not as big as a fifty foot tall tree would be.

  3. Your second description of bushy, gnarly and as wide as they are tall pretty much describes the majority of them here too. I wonder if it is a matter of water conditions since you said the nice ones were down by a creek and the nice ones I've seen were all in a farmyard where they probably got watered. I'm not sure though that I'm curious enough to spend the next 40 years of my life running an experiment on two to find out.

  4. I ordered 100 cedars to plant here this spring. In my case, it is mainly to add some winter screening from the road, and from the land next to us that was logged this winter. I also like that they create quite a lot of habitat for birds. And they can handle drought just fine up on a rocky ridge, which is a big plus.

    I figure I might need to do some strategic clearing by the road so they grow bushy and not just vertical... on the other side, the loggers cut a couple of our acres (we got paid for it) so there's plenty of sunlight. I might mix in some short-leaf pine on that side, eventually, for future timber/diversity.

    I was reading that some of those cedars you see impossibly hanging onto a crevice in rock on a bluff can be 1000 years old...

    1. If you'd asked real nice, I'd have let you dig up as many little cedars trees to transplant as you wanted, I'd probably have still let you dig up a bunch even if you didn't ask real nice.

      As much as I've battled the cedars around here, they do a good job of putting a little greenness into the scenery during winter to take a little of the bleakness away. It can look pretty bleak around here after all the leaves have fallen off of the trees and all the grass has turned a greyish-brown color.

      If I plant some cedars as a windbreak, I was thinking that if I planted them pretty close together (5-6' apart?) than I'd get the thick screening that I'd need for an effective windbreak a lot quicker. Most of the cedars around here seem to double in size each year (which is why they are such a problem), so I should be able to get some decent height pretty quick.

    2. "...I might mix in some short-leaf pine on that side, eventually, for future timber/diversity..."

      After thinking about it a little, I remembered that I had thought about planting something like pine trees the last time I was thinking about planting a windbreak.

      If I planted something like pine trees, I wouldn't have to deal with all the problems of cedars and as a bonus I could get all those pine needles to use in the garden or I could go sit under the trees when it was raining to sort of remind me of the mountains.

    3. There are quite a few stands of short-leaf pine around here. They have a nice bushy form that would be good for a windbreak or screening when they are young... but the ones I've seen grow very tall, straight, with just a bush of greenery at the very top. Great for lumber, but I'm not sure how effective they would be for a windbreak in the longer term.

      Then again... they might have grown that way just because they were planted densely and had to stretch for the sunlight, too. Maybe in a more open environment they would retain their limbs down to the ground...

    4. After thinking about it even more, I went turkey hunting a very long time ago in the Black Kettle WMA in western OK. Black Kettle WMA is basically made up of a bunch of former farms or homesteads that the federal government bought during the Dust Bowl.

      When I was hunting in the area, I noticed that it looked like some of the units had been used as research farms or demonstration farms to plant some of the shelterbelts that were supposed to stop the Dust Bowl. On one bigger unit, I stumbled upon a fenced off area (maybe half of an acre?) that looked like it had been planted more recently to something like ponderosa pines (I'm not exactly sure what sort of evergreen trees they were) as some sort of trial or test.

      Those trees had a weird sheltered oasis feeling out in a relatively open area and it instantly reminded me of some of the forested areas in the Rockies I'd been to.

      It might be worth it to plant some trees like that so that when I'm an old man I can take credit for that cool group of trees out in that pasture.

  5. My parents have been big on planting trees on various corners and oddball parcels of land for over 30 years. They planted a lot of short leaf pines over those years and they did very well, until about three years ago. There was some sort of disease that swept through the state and it killed about 90% of them (while leaving the cedars untouched). I can't think of what the disease was called other than some sort of pine wilt. So before you invest too heavily, I would contact the local extension office to see if the same thing is in your area.

    1. It's possible to buy 100 seedlings from the Oklahoma Forestry Department for around $80, so there wouldn't be that big of a cash investment.

      In the past, I've wasted much more money than that on projects that didn't have much of a chance of working, so it's worth it to me to plant some trees on the off chance that 10-15% of them survive long enough to go from little seedling to big trees.

      If I end up with just one 50-foot tall tree in twenty years, I'll bet that one tree will be worth more than that initial $80.

    2. I do not know what the policy is on out-of-state purchases... I think there is just a $10 handling fee... but the MDC in Missouri has short-leaf pine (and a number of other varieties) for $0.16 each when buying 100, I believe.

      The cedars were a bit more, at $0.32/ea... but I wanted the cedars for my specific requirements (screening mainly, and hardy like a weed).

      Short-leaf pine plantings are encouraged by the MDC here, and the ones I see do very well up on dry ridges during droughts.

      I figure I can throw fifty bucks at tree plantings per year without missing it too much, knowing there's a fair chance they'll do ok. I wish I had a decent market for firewood, but I'd have to pretty much give it away... otherwise, I could justify a pretty extensive improvement project. Maybe I'll get bored enough to do it anyway someday, and leave things better than I found them... it'll probably be a while before I'm that bored though...

    3. My parents get a discount due to the farm program and their trees are nearly free so they take full advantage of it. They even have a single row tree planter that you can pull behind a tractor to make planting easier. If I had a few more acres, I would be the modern Johnny Appleseed of planting trees on it because I like them. But with slightly less than two acres, I have to be a little more judicious on what and where I plant.

      For $0.16 each, you can't go wrong. It is cheap deer and rabbit food if for nothing else!

    4. I last bought some trees from the Forestry Department about four years ago, and back then the pricing was about what Ron is paying. I think I bought about 200 hardwood tree seedlings (pecan, sawtooth oak, walnut) for about $60.

      Back then, there were all kinds of stern warnings about the seedlings being only available for agricultural use as either shelterbelts, wood or nut production, or wildlife habitat. Any other use (whatever that would be) was punishable with a fine and banishment to the outskirts of the empire.

      Now they are selling the trees for more, but they've done away with all the warnings and threats of fines and banishment.

      I've seen those tree transplanters on some webpages about silvopasture and restorative agriculture (Mark Shepard is one if anyone's interested), and if I had one of those tree planters and nearly free trees I'd have a heckuva shelterbelt planted by now.

      People like Mark Shepard ( advocate planting a tremendous amount of trees, neglecting them, and just letting nature sort out the strong and weak trees. Benign neglect sounds like something I could easily manage

  6. I did a little bit of research and it is just called Pine Wilt and can be caused by numerous things but mostly involves stress due to drought followed by pests that can't kill a healthy tree but can kill stressed trees. I would guess living in Oklahoma, you may get stress situations (i.e. droughts) a bit more often that we do.

    Red cedars but be pretty stress free trees even in stressful environments. I've seen some when hiking in the mountains of NW Arkansas growing in cracks and under lips of overhanging rocks that look like Methuselah. I am always amazed at how little they can thrive on. For them, the Oklahoma ground you live on is probably akin to paradise!