Some trees show their diameter growth by the patterns in the bark. Red Oak is the easiest species for me to read. You can see the inner bark between the ridges of outer bark as the tree swells quickly in diameter. "Old Growth" bark is distinctive too, but not a good thing. Walnut, Ash, Elm, Basswood, and Red Maple are pretty easy to read by bark characteristics, but birch, white oak and hickory are more difficult. You can learn this by comparing the bark to the story in the stump every time you cut a tree.
When the bark doesn't speak to you, look at the shape of the tree. If the perfectly proportioned funnel shape is showing, I know the tree is growing. The shape of a tree can be observed in one second.
Diameter growth can also be monitored by measuring the circumference of a tree with a tape measure every year. Mark the tree trunk so you measure the same place each year. Divide the circumference by 3.14 to get the diameter. Measuring diameter growth is very informative and encouraging - once your trees have space to grow.
Secret To Success - Encourage Diversity!
Every species has about the same high value in Full Vigor Forestry. All of our dense hardwoods (birch, cherry, oak, ash, elm, hickory, walnut, red maple) go into our mixed species flooring, earning us an income of $10,000 per thousand board feet (mbf) - woods run. Aspen and Pine can have even higher value if sold as rough sawn flooring. If the soft white woods (including basswood) are made into moldings - painted trim, they earn us about $5,000 per mbf. Specialty woods like Eastern Red Cedar, Black Locust, and Ironwood offer their own dividends. We manage each tree to make the most of each opportunity, while increasing the natural diversity of the forest.
Restoring our woods at Timbergreen Farm
When this region was settled in the mid 1800s, oak savanna and prairie covered most of the area. When the roads were built and the big prairie fires stopped, forests sprung up everywhere that was not farmed. Our land was grazed and burned and high-graded for 120 years before we bought the farm in 1973. The forest had been managed for grassy pasture so there was little tree regeneration.
Our first forest inventory was done in 1976. We measured about 350,000 bf of low quality standing timber with a commercial value of about $14,000 if sold to a local sawmill.
I logged one ridge top for red oak veneer and sawlogs in 1980, got several bids, and sold the logs to a big sawmill. The payment was hardly worth all the work of logging - and now the good trees were gone - there had to be a better way.
We started salvaging trees that were dying of oak wilt in 1986, hauling the logs to a sawmill and bringing home the lumber. I built some buildings, furniture, kitchen cabinets, and had some wood left over. A few simple ads in the local newspapers brought woodworkers from all over to trade dollars for our boards - this business has grown steadily since.