Work starts in our new Coppice

It really doesn’t seem that long ago that we were pricking out these trees as seedlings and growing them on in pots ready for planting out. It turns out we started planting out in this field in 2010.

Planting our own Short Rotation Coppice in 2010
Planting our own Short Rotation Coppice in 2010

It was a bit of a milestone to be starting to do the first cut on selected trees this week. Alder was urgently needed to replenish the wood chunks used by our local smokehouse customers with Ash and Silver Birch used for making things and (as a last resort) fire wood.

The little Makita electric chainsaw was given it’s first outing on coppice duties and performed well, if anything too well as I had hoped the batteries would give out before I did.

Our first battery chainsaw cutting coppice
Our first battery chainsaw cutting coppice

The bar is for measuring the log length. The majority will not need splitting but, if they do, that is the maximum length that the splitter can take. The sticks also fit in an IBC crate which facilitates drying and minimises further handling.

Making a start with our own coppice
Making a start with our own coppice

As we were only taking out selected trees it opened up the canopy just enough to let some light in. The remaining branches will be ‘chunked’ for wood fuel with the fine brash stacked to provide habitat as it rots down.

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Wild Damson Harvest

It’s that time of year when our wild damsons are just coming ready so time to risk life and limb reaching over the very deep ditch to try and hook the branches and get them harvested. Probably three quarters of the fruit is inaccessible so I don’t feel that guilty about raiding the natural larder.

Harvesting our wild damsons

Most of our share will end up as jam courtesy of mother; some sold to raise money for her charities, some for us and some for the breakfast table at Coed Cae

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Hydroponic Ginger Trial

As some will know we try and do a little trial of the more unusual in the hydroponic tanks each year. This year it was the turn of ginger.

Having read up about it I went down to our local Booths supermarket to find a suitable fresh ginger ‘root’ tuber with lots of nodules on. The reality was somewhat different, with the offerings off the shelf being very dry and even though they were all quite large (and expensive) none had more than one ‘eye’.

The best I could find was purchased and placed in clay balls with a 24hr constant pumped leaf feed circulation as (I read) that they do like moisture.

Despite being in a very small greenhouse and suffering some of the highest temperatures we have ever seen in this country it has done reasonably well although the new shoots that are appearing now that a normal British summer has returned are much stronger and healthier. I look forward to the luxury of having some fresh stem ginger in the very near future!

Hydroponic ginger
Hydroponic ginger

All in all, it looks like ginger is a decent performer in a hydroponic system but I haven’t yet had a peek beneath the clay balls to see what is happening with the ginger root but I will post an update here when I do.

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Scrapes for wildlife

Whilst clearing out are farm ponds last Autumn, whilst the digger was on site we also took the opportunity of putting in a series of wildlife ‘scrapes’.

Our scrapes quickly filled up with rainwater during one of the wettest winters on record.

The freshly dug 'scrapes' filled up quickly
The freshly dug ‘scrapes’ filled up quickly

The scrapes are just shallow depressions in the land with gently sloping edges, which (importantly) only seasonally hold water.

They create wet areas in the field that are very attractive to wildlife and support a wide variety of invertebrates that provide important feeding areas for breeding wading birds and their chicks as well as a watering hole for passing mammals.

The most important parts of scrapes for wildlife are the margins. Shallow water and muddy edges provide ideal conditions for wetland invertebrates and plants, and allow access for waders and their chicks to find food. Scrapes should hold
water from March ideally through to the end of June.

An invertebrate survey was done whilst the main ponds were being sampled. All three scrapes were teeming with life only a few months after being dug which begs the question where do they all pop up from?

Footprints of the visitors to the scrapes
Footprints of the visitors to the scrapes

Our cluster of three scrapes provides a variety of shapes and depths, designed so that each is at a different stage of it’s cycle at any one point in time during the breeding season. The middle one was the first to dry up in mid June after a prolonged dry spell but the other two still held water.

One of our wildlife 'Scrapes' drying out
One of our wildlife ‘Scrapes’ drying out
Update September 2018

Heavy overnight rain has meant standing water has once again returned to all of the scrapes. It’s only a bit but it is the start of the next cycle. I am just pleased they are doing exactly what they should do.

Standing water returns to the wildlife scrapes
Standing water returns to the wildlife scrapes

For the record (and our more sceptical readers) there were no grants received or stewardship schemes entered into etc. Just us doing our bit.

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Processing Oak into wood chunks

Processing Oak logs into wood chunks for use in offset smokers

It might be Bank Holiday Monday and it might have been a lovely sunny day but all I could think was to get some Oak wood chunks split, sawn and seasoning to replace all those being burnt in BBQs and Smokers.

Splitting Oak for wood chunks
Splitting Oak for wood chunks

It is a tedious job sawing down all the oak splits but it needs to be done well in advance of demand as it takes so long to season properly and all I could think of was how much would be being burnt on a day like today.

Not a lot but at least there are eight more trays seasoning than there were this morning.

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Farm ponds invertebrate audit

An out of the blue call from Helen Greaves changed the plans for the day as it became the day to do an audit of invertebrates in both the restored farm ponds and the newly created scrapes.

A lovely hot sunny day isn’t the best sort of day to don waders but, if you want to count pond invertebrates, they are essential attire. Sherpa, helper and stopwatch operator were just some of the roles fulfilled by Helen’s mum with Millie the dog just enjoying the walk and the sunshine.

A three minute sampling technique was interesting to watch and tubs of findings have been taken away for analysis. I really do hope we can share the data here in due course.

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Raising the water levels in a restored farm pond

It’s been a few wet months since we cleaned out and restored the main pond and despite the rain the retained water level held in the pond has been disappointing.

Raising the water level in the farm pond
Raising the water level in the farm pond

As we had a digger on site today to prep a shed floor, it had a few minutes diversion to carry across a few buckets of clay to raise the level of the outfall ditch.  Not a big job (with a digger) but hopefully it will have a big impact.

Raising the pond outfall level with clay
Raising the pond outfall level with clay

The vegetation around the pond has started to reappear after the shock of all the cleaning out activity.

Filling the pond outfall with clay to raise the water level
Filling the pond outfall with clay to raise the water level

The only wildlife I spotted today was a moorhen hiding in the scrub, four male mallards on the pond and a frog in the ditch.

 

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Detached Bungalow For Rent – 165 Moss Lane, Hesketh Bank

Large 3/4 Bedroom Detached Bungalow For Rent

A spacious detached bungalow in semi rural location, gardens front and rear with off road parking.

£195 a week / £850 pcm
Council Tax: WLBC Band D
Double glazed windows throughout
Oil fired central heating (with new boiler)
EPC Rating: D
Strictly no smoking. Pets by negotiation.
VACANT POSSESSION – AVAILABLE NOW!

For more details and viewings, contact Mark on 07834 324080 (office hours only please)

Accommodation:

Master Bedroom: Double / Two Singles Approx 4.4m x 3.8m with En Suite
Bedroom 2: Double / Two Singles Approx 4.4m x 3.8m
Bedroom 3: Double / Two Singles Approx 3.8m x 3.6m
Bathroom: Approx 3.3m x 2.0m
Kitchen: Approx 4.0m x 4.9m
Utility Room: Approx 2.7m x 2.1m Toilet, pedestal wash hand basin. Space for washing machine, drier.
Lounge: Approx 6.2m x 4.5m
Conservatory: Approx 4.2m x 4.4m

First Floor:
Under eaves storage
Landing Office Space
Bedroom 4: Double Approx 4.4m x 2.4m with Velux Windows

Outside:
Walled lawn and borders to front.
Gravelled driveway leading to off road parking.
Paved Patio area.
Fenced lawn area to rear.

Photos: 

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Giant Pumpkin Season Begins

The first of our 2018 giant pumpkin seedlings has popped up overnight which heralds the start of the new season.

The first of our 2018 giant pumpkin seeds emerges
The first of our 2018 giant pumpkin seeds emerges

We do quite a few staggered sowings to ensure we have some giants ready for the PR demand which usually begins early September. There is plenty of time to sow if you want yours ready for Hallow’een, so, if you want a go, the seeds harvested from the very same pumpkin as this one was (as witnessed by BBC Countryfile) are available to buy from GiantVegetableSeed.co.uk

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2018 hybrid Willow SRC harvest

A dry day (at last) allowed a late afternoon walk through a row of hybrid willow short rotation coppice (SRC) to hand cut poles of 7cm dia or more for processing into wood chunks to be used as fuel in BBQ’s, wood fired Pizza Ovens, Wood boilers wood burners.

Hand cutting hybrid SRC willow for wood fuel
Hand cutting hybrid SRC willow for wood fuel

Whilst a mechanical harvest is much faster, it would clear all stems and thus be much more disruptive to the habitat. Hand cutting allows only those poles which have achieved the optimum size to be cut leaving the rest for future years.

The hybrid willow SRC 'stools'
The hybrid willow SRC ‘stools’

It might be some time before we can get on to the ground with a trailer to collect the harvest but at least this row has been cut through.

Lengths of hand cut Willow Short Rotation Coppice (SRC)
Lengths of hand cut Willow Short Rotation Coppice (SRC)

A few sticks were brought back to the yard for processing into wood chunks. Once dried, the willow wood chunks makes a first first class fuel for wood ovens and also as a great alternative to lumpwood charcoal on BBQ’s (just light it 15 minutes earlier than you would with charcoal).

Willow sticks loaded into the back of the car
Willow sticks loaded into the back of the car

The chunker is powered by a tractor and makes short work of all the sticks fed into it. The wood chunks are then air dried in plastic trays for a year.

Our 'Chunker' powered by a 1971 MF 135
Our ‘Chunker’ powered by a 1971 MF 135

The chunker will process seasoned sticks but it is much kinder to feed it freshly cut sticks as it is far easier for it to processes them and it makes less splinters whilst doing so.

The 'Chunker' output: Willow wood chunks
The ‘Chunker’ output: Willow wood chunks

Once in plastic trays, the wood chunks are stacked up on a pallet and air dried for at least one year before they are ready for use.

Wet willow wood chunks stacked ready for seasoning
Wet willow wood chunks stacked ready for seasoning

 

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