Juniper timber

My mother is convinced that nuclear testing in the 50's is responsible for a whole host of physical ailments amongst her generation. I often wonder if the 70's analogue would be the salad greens I ate as a kid that had been grown in creosote soaked railroad tie raised beds. Today we've got "pressure treated" lumber that's been treated with Chromated copper arsenic (CCA). Yuck.

Since untreated wood doesn't last long in direct contact with soil and treated wood poses likely health risks (especially in edible landscapes), I've stuck with using stone whenever there's a chance of decay. I was recently given the task of finding a replacement material to use in rebuilding old railroad tie steps in a neighborhood common area and was forced to reevaluate my assumptions about using wood in the landscape. Replacing a hundred or more steps with stone or a concrete product just wasn't financially feasible so I reluctantly began to look again at the lumber option.

At the lumber yard I glared at the mismatched, half rotten railroad ties and the green day glow pressure treated timber determined to find a better product. Back home on the computer I stumbled across a website praising the merits of juniper timber- an article that describes juniper fence posts still standing from the 20's. A little more research confirmed that juniper has remarkable anti-decay characteristics which makes the use of chemical preservatives unnecessary. I also learned that junipers are considered a "deleterious invasive native that threatens other ecosystems", and that the means of controlling juniper has historically been to use fire as there have been no commercial applications for the wood.

This has changed in recent years as mills are beginning to process the once unwanted trees into usable, dimensionable lumber. My Frank Capra moment came when I found REACH, a non-profit organization that runs a juniper mill in Klamath Falls. Their mission is to provide people with disabilities employment by manufacturing environmentally safe products for landscaping and agriculture. I'm nominating their juniper timbers as the feel-good product of the year.

I ripped out over a hundred railroad ties in various states of decay in the common area footpath and went on to rebuild several flights of stairs with the juniper timber. I'm pleased with the results and thinking about all the potential hardscape applications. As an added benefit, after cutting juniper all day I get to come home smelling half decent for a change.