Eking out the greatest potential from your homestead may seem like quite a challenge. Acreage is at a premium, so how can it best be utilized to produce what is needed to make a homestead more self-sufficient or even produce additional income to reinvest in the land? These are common questions, with no definite right or wrong answers. There are many good ideas to try and implement — one of which is adding a stand of willows on your land.
Have you considered growing willows? The trees and shrubs that make up the Salix family are varied, including the ornamental varieties popular in modern landscaping and the supple basket willows used in ages past for creating baskets of all kinds, furniture and fences. Willows, when properly maintained, can be a wonderful addition, such as to the edge of streams and low-lying areas that retain a lot of moisture on the homestead. They can provide fuel and medicine, act as a living fence, be harvested for wickerwork or even be harvested and sold as a cash crop for biofuel energy plants.
Willows are easy to start from cuttings, which means they are often free for the taking. Plant cuttings after the danger of frost 10 to 12 inches deep, allowing one or two sets of buds to remain above ground and ensure it remains well watered. Keeping new stands weed-free and lightly mulched will ensure cuttings become established. Willow root systems are large, so it is necessary to avoid planting them close to building foundations, septic systems and other underground structures. Coppicing, or cutting the trees off at ground level once each year, will help to control the size of the root system.
There are several ecological reasons for including a stand of willows on your homestead. Willows are effective carbon filters, absorbing large amounts of carbon dioxide and filtering out other air pollutants. For urban homesteaders, a barrier of willows can effectively reduce pollution and also diminish the noise pollution from nearby roadways. The root systems of these trees are also valuable, as they will clean multiple types of toxins from the surrounding soil in addition to adding valuable nutrients. They will filter pollutants out of nearby water sources, such as streams, rivers and ponds. This same root system also will reduce erosion along these waterways and stabilize steep hillsides.
Willows are great additions to hedgerows or living fences. When included as part of a living fence around an orchard, willows that are not coppiced will attract bees, and they bloom earlier than most fruiting trees. Beekeepers will benefit from including some willows in the hedges around the homestead.
Willows can be weaved into a strong barrier along waterways to control flooding. These woven barriers can be used to enclose gardens as well, providing an extra layer of protection from marauders.
If you are interested in including medicinal plants on your homestead, do not forget to include willow. Willow bark tea is nature’s aspirin for headaches and pain, with no adverse side effects. The inner bark of the willow tree, best harvested when the sap is running, can be used to make tinctures and teas that are used to treat inflammation, in addition to being valuable as a mild pain reliever and for reducing fevers.
Of course, willows can be harvested to make many household items. Known as wickerwork, willows can be woven to create baskets, furniture and even fences. It may take a bit of practice, but those with patience to develop their weaving skills may be able to make a decent profit from their creations, or at the very least save some money building their own instead of buying new.
Willows also are worth taking a look at with the current push toward renewable resources to burn for fuel. In fact, many homesteaders are raising willows as a cash crop. Using willows for energy production is ecologically sound, as they are renewable and burn clean, releasing far less pollutants into the atmosphere than other types of fuel. A typical stand of willows can be harvested as a biofuel seven or eight times before needing to be replanted.
Have you ever grown or used willows? What advice would you add? Share your tips in the section below: