October 2021

The Art of  Making Cedar Rail Fences

by Alf Buffam 

Rail fences are used on rough, stony ground where it is too difficult to dig post holes. Their design has been around for hundreds of years. 

Making rail fences is a lot of hard work. The first thing you need to do is gather all the materials. The big cedars have all been harvested, so now all that is left is secondary growth. In the old days, those cedars were big and hollow. Each was split several times to make rails. Fencers could get six or seven rails from one tree. It is much more difficult now to build strong rail fences from second-growth cedars; those rails tend to blow over in the wind. With split-edge rails, the panels are more secure.

Generally cedars are harvested in the winter. They are stripped of their bark, cut into 12-foot lengths and stacked in layers to dry. It is better to work with dried rails. The old split rails from bygone years can be reused to build new fences; those cedar rails last forever. It is a matter of dismantling the broken-down panels, saving the good rails and using them to build new ones. 

There is a consistent way to put each panel together. First two pickets are set up at an angle on top of the lead rail. These pickets are six feet six inches long. The lead rail is hung off the two picket legs at each end creating a saddle for the top rail. A fence jack is used at each end to temporarily hold up the lead rail while the other pickets and rails are placed. 

Then the bunk rail is tied onto the two picket legs. The bunk rail stops the picket legs from spreading and helps take the load of the bottom rail. The bottom rail sits on top of the two bunk crosser rails at each end of the panel. Then two more picket legs are stacked at 40 degrees to the first two pickets at each end of the panel. I find that when these pickets are spread out a bit more than 45 degrees, they are more likely to resist the wind. At 30 degrees, the wind blows them over. Now the legs are in place to receive the top rail. The filler rail is then hung off the lead rail above the bottom rail.  In all, there are nine cedar pieces per panel: four pickets at one end and five rails. 

Black fence wire is used to tie all the rails and pickets together. There is a great deal of labour involved in building this style of fence. The good thing is that these cedar rail fences last over 30 years and even longer. 

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Lunar Wood

by Lorraine Schmid

I recently came across a couple of German forestry books by the author Erwin Thoma.  Herr Thoma is well respected for his forestry teachings, and is well known throughout Germany, particularly among private landowners who manage woodlots.

As German is my native language, I was eager to sift through and extract the essence of Thoma’s teachings in his book, Die geheime Sprache der Bäume: Die Wunder des Waldes für uns entschlüsselt (The Secret Language of the Trees: The wonders of the forest deciphered for us), and share them with those who work with this planting calendar.

When it comes to harvesting wood that will be used in construction—for buildings, sheds, houses, furniture and the like—Thoma promotes three basic principles. He claims that there is a faster and more even drying process compared to wood that was cut outside the recommended cutting periods. Also, there is less shifting of installed floor boards when the humidity changes from summer to winter. Another benefit is that cutting trees at the right time promotes pest resistance and fungal growth.

The first of Thoma’s principles relates to the time of year when the wood is cut. We all intuitively know that it’s best to cut trees in the winter. Did you know that trees have a different seasonal cycle compared to what we call winter?  Thoma claims that trees begin their winter season at the end of August when the sap has already started to move downwards.  While tree cutting can start at that time, the best time to cut logs for building purposes is from late November into January. As Thoma explains, in very cold regions, the sap flow in the tree stops at the end of August and begins again in the end of January or early to mid-February.

The second principle applies to the phases of the Moon. Thoma recommends that wood for building purposes should only be cut when the Moon is waning.  Waning occurs when the Moon moves from the Full Moon to the New Moon, and there is a decrease in the light reflected by the Moon. This makes sense because the sap moves down into the root systems during the waning Moon, so cutting at this time helps the wood dry better.
Thoma’s third principle relates to the signs of the Zodiac. He claims it is best to cut wood for building materials when the Moon is passing in front of an Earth constellation.

If you use all three of his principles as a guide, then the best time to cut wood for construction is during a waning Moon from November through January when the Moon is in Taurus, Virgo or Capricorn. According to the 2021 planting calendar, the optimum dates for cutting wood include December 9 to 11, 2020 and January 4 to 7, November 19 to 21 and December 26 to 29, 2021.

While there are other teachings around working with trees and the Moon, following Thoma’s three basic principles is an excellent first step in being in harmony with nature and the cosmos.

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Fruit Tree Planting and Care 

by Lorraine Schmid

A few years ago, I came across Johanna Paungger’s writings on planting, harvesting, preserving of fruits and vegetables, garden maintenance, and composting, and I was instantly fascinated. As I delved more into her teachings and started applying her methods, I noticed my seeds germinated faster; my fruits and vegetables grew stronger; I had an easier time weeding; and the fence posts we set were more solid. 

One of Paungger’s ideas that really resonated with me was about the planting of fruit trees within a vegetable garden. Since I have incorporated fruit trees in our vegetable garden, I pay particular attention to their maintenance. The following summary is what I have learned from Paungger and from my own experiences.
Planting any fruit tree is best done in a waxing Moon when the Moon is in a Fruit day namely Aries, Leo or Sagittarius.

Transplanting of fruit trees works best in spring or fall in Virgo. My preference is to transplant in the fall, since the tree’s energy can be concentrated on establishing a strong root system (as opposed to producing above-ground growth, and fighting summer heat).

If pruning is required, it is best to do that in winter, from early January to February, in a waning Moon on a Fruit day.

Harvest fruit for storage on a waning Moon on a Fruit day.

Grafting is best done on a waxing Moon on the last Fruit days before the Full Moon from late winter to early summer.

In addition to the scientific benefits of having fruit trees in our market garden, the sheer beauty of trees peppered in and amongst the vegetables adds to the happiness I feel when I walk amongst them. The fact that fruit trees are a perennial food source is a welcome by-product. These fruit trees tend to attract more insects, bees, butterflies and birds to the garden, so the garden literally hums with excitement throughout the summer.

Paungger, Johanna, Thomas Poppe, The Power of Timing: Living in Harmony with Natural and Lunar Cycles. Ebury Publishing (Random House Group), London, UK. 2013

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Canada’s Unofficial National, Provincial, and Territorial Lichens

by Troy McMullin

In March of 2020, the Canadian Museum of Nature hosted a vote for a national lichen. This initiative was led by Dr. Troy McMullin, together with several other lichenologists across the country. An online voting protocol was set up in which they invited the public to select the most appropriate species to represent Canada. Over 18,000 people voted and the winner was the Star-Tipped Reindeer Lichen (see photo above).

This incredibly beautiful organism lives almost everywhere in Canada, but it is especially abundant in the Arctic and Boreal regions that cover most of the country. In southern Canada and throughout the United States, it is more commonly found in the mountainous regions at high elevations. In the winter, it is one of the principal food sources for caribou. 

The group who organized this campaign has also led the selection of provincial and territorial lichens. Fourteen species were selected by regional committees using public votes and consultations. Those selected are: Alberta (Spray Paint Lichen), British Columbia (Edible Horsehair), Labrador (Labrador’s Lichen), Manitoba (Golden-Eye Lichen), New Brunswick (Methuselah’s Beard), Newfoundland (Newfoundland Reindeer Lichen), Northwest Territories (Arctic Orange-Bush Lichen), Nova Scotia (Blue Felt Lichen), Nunavut (Whiteworm Lichen), Ontario (Powdered Sunshine Lichen), Prince Edward Island (Frayed Ramalina), Quebec (Grey Reindeer Lichen), Saskatchewan (Tumbleweed Shield Lichen), and the Yukon (Arctic Tumbleweed). Images of these species are featured on the monthly charts in this calendar. 

It is hoped that someday these selections will become officially recognized. The goal is to bring awareness to lichens and to recognize their importance in ecosystems throughout Canada. 

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