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Thread: Tree Type and Soil Content for Building Cabins/Buildings

  1. #1
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    Default Tree Type and Soil Content for Building Cabins/Buildings

    I have been reading and searching the forums, but still looking for some advice on a possible property purchase.

    I am looking at a piece of land in the Talkeetna area that is close to one of the parks hwy streams. A small portion of the property is in the FEMA floodplain for the stream, approximately 300-400' from the stream itself. I realize this brings along some obvious risks with potential flooding and would plan on a raised foundation for peace of mind (a little any way), but I am really looking for some advice on weather the land is suitable to build on.

    Last week I walked the property roughly 5 acres, on the far side from the river the trees are primarily small spruce anywhere from 2"-5" in diameter (white spruce?). Walking towards the river it transitions to small birch 3"-5" in diameter, then to what I would call average size birch 6"-12" in diameter, and finally the portion of property closest to the stream/river is a mix of large spruce and large cottonwoods.

    Am I wrong in assuming that the presence of birch, large spruce, and cottonwood trees indicates that the soil is safe to build on?

    Anyone have any good rules of thumb for tree content in Alaska concerning cabin building, aside from black spruce and swamps, like birch=safe, large trees=safe?

    Jake

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    Supporting Member iofthetaiga's Avatar
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    Rule of thumb is that White spruce, and to some extent large birch, are indicators of absence of shallow permafrost. Black spruce is generally a reliable indicator of shallow permafrost. These are just general rules of thumb and there are plenty of exceptions. White spruce and black spruce are not best identified by size. A little online study will learn you how to tell the difference.
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    Member AKDoug's Avatar
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    I've been working on a section of ground only a few miles from there that has small birch on it, but the ground is totally unsuitable for building. In our area, black spruce really don't mean much other than you are in swampy country. I've yet to run into any permafrost around here. I would not purchase a lot without looking at it in the summer.
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    Member AK Ray's Avatar
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    black vs white spruce

    The smaller trees could be black spruce.

    Mostly though the smaller trees tell you that the soil is poorly drained. Not a good spot for building more likely.

    Bigger trees near the stream could be for several reasons: better soil, better drained, warmer during winter, etc.

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    Supporting Member iofthetaiga's Avatar
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    "Smaller trees" could also mean the site was clear-cut 20 years ago, and now has regen coming back on it. Difficult to discern via limited internet conversation...
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    Black Spruce usually have needles that are less than 1/2". White Spruce usually have needles greater than 1/2". The cones on a Black Spruce are round or egg-shaped and are usually less than 1". The cones on White Spruce are cylindrical and are usually 1 1/4" - 2 1/2". Twigs are often hairy on Black Spruce. Twigs are usually hairless, but not always. Old man's beard can be confused for the hairy twigs. Cones are often lost on mature White Spruce. To me the bark on black spruce always seems darker and more rough too. If you cut down a spruce tree look at the growth rings. Even though size can't be used alone, the growth rings will definitely tell you the difference. A 50 year old Black Spruce can be less than 4 inches in diameter, whereas a White Spruce that is 12 inches in diameter can be less than 50 years old.

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    I'd say build in the area that has the bigger unstunted trees. Should be pretty safe there. Always build on the highest ground also and have your road access on high ground also. If you have 12 inch birches, I'd say that's pretty safe.
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    Thanks for all the responses and the data on White Spruce Vs. Black Spruce. So planning on the conservative route and checking the land out in the summer, could someone give me a vector on some DIY soil tests? I have read some limited stuff on digging a hole to check for drainage, but could someone recommend a book or website with specifics?

    Thanks again,

    Jake

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    Supporting Member iofthetaiga's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jake_65_65 View Post
    Thanks for all the responses and the data on White Spruce Vs. Black Spruce. So planning on the conservative route and checking the land out in the summer, could someone give me a vector on some DIY soil tests? I have read some limited stuff on digging a hole to check for drainage, but could someone recommend a book or website with specifics?

    Thanks again,

    Jake
    If you're really interested in the subject, check out a book titled 'Permafrost' by Neil Davis.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jake_65_65 View Post
    Thanks for all the responses and the data on White Spruce Vs. Black Spruce. So planning on the conservative route and checking the land out in the summer, could someone give me a vector on some DIY soil tests? I have read some limited stuff on digging a hole to check for drainage, but could someone recommend a book or website with specifics?

    Thanks again,

    Jake
    Sounds like a nice spot, I'd admire the cottonwoods from a distance....they are beautiful trees, but the root systems can play hell with your foundation or drain field if you build too close!

    http://www.percolationtest.com/

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Percolation_test

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