Hydroponic Trials Update

Celeriac

Celeriac being a moisture loving plant that needs fertile, moisture retentive soil I thought it might perform well hydroponically. Our celeriac was grown from seed (rather than the recommended plugs) in 8cm pots. When roots were showing, the pots were then placed in a small NFT system. These have overwintered in a small greenhouse without heat and are doing well. Progress is very slow though.

Watercress

The Watercress trial has been interesting. In the wild, watercress grows partially submerged in running water in moderately cool climates. We trialled it in both an aquaponic system and an ebb & flood tank situated near each other outdoors.

The above photos speak for themselves (both of which were taken on the same day). Whilst the aquaponic system best mimics a running stream I suspect the nutrient levels are too high and the watercress is struggling. By contrast, the ebb and flood (sometimes called an ebb and flow or flood and drain system) tank filled with nothing more than inert clay balls and rainwater provided a great crop.

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Log rings for table displays

Just a few log rings now cut and drying out in advance of the wedding season so that we have a few in stock and ready.

Large log rings for table displays
Large log rings for floral table displays

Sizes range from 6″ to 14″ in a variety of species. Stock is very limited so please do not leave it until the last minute if you have specific requirements for your event.

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Hazel wood chunks for smoking food

Any Hazel wood we remove from our coppice that cannot be used for walking stick shanks or other woodland crafts gets cut up into ‘Wood Chunks‘ which get used in smokers and BBQ’s for flavouring meats, fish and cheeses.

All our hazel is coppiced with a hand saw so has not been contaminated with chainsaw oil. It is processed through a ‘chunker’ where two blades come together and crimp the wood into short lengths.  The bins of wood chunks are then tipped out and spread in large plastic trays. The trays allow for really good air circulation even when stacked high.

Drying Hazel wood chunks in trays
Drying Hazel wood chunks in trays

Along with most nut woods (The fruit of the Hazel (Corylus) is the hazelnut, also known as cobnut or filbert nut), Hazel is a favourite wood used for smoking food as it produces a strong, fragrant smoke.

It is often used in the UK as an alternative when a recipe calls for Hickory. We sell our Hazel wood chunks direct from the farm gate or mail order via www.WoodChunks.co.uk

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Clearing the brash from the pond

In between dodging the heavy showers, we have had a few hours armed with a billhook and some loppers to begin clearing the felled overhanging branches and brash from the pond.

Clearing the brash from the pond
Clearing the brash from the pond

It is slow work and hard graft plodding through the mud to get at the fallen willow branches and even harder work dragging them out onto firmer ground but it has to be done. I can see why many of these restoration projects advertise for volunteers; I am sure that the old adage of many hands making light work was never so true.

Piling up the brash
Piling up the brash to dry
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Planting Hawthorn in the hedge gaps

I try and plant up at least a few gaps in the hedges each year but this season has been so dominated by tree planting nothing has happened yet and there is only a couple of weeks before the supply of bare rooted plants ends.

Having seen todays forecast for inclement weather moving in from midday I thought it would be an ideal day to do at least one hedge gap so this morning I called in at JA Jones’ whilst in Banks and picked up 50 60-80cm bare rooted hawthorn plants.

Planting bare rooted Hawthorn in hedge gaps
Planting bare rooted Hawthorn in hedge gaps

They all just got planted in time before the rain started. And it did rain. Outside jobs were definitely off the agenda so the chainsaws got a good service and all the chains got a proper sharpening.

Not the wasted day I thought it might be after all.

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Restoring our farm ponds

On our fields at Hesketh Bank we seem to have a comprehensive selection of different farm pond types:

A derelict natural pond that has never been cleaned out for ages and is full of rubbish, general detritus and the odd bit of scrap metal.

A ‘ghost’ pond where a natural pond used to be but has been filled in to square up a field for agricultural use.

An overgrown man made pond that could possibly be a marl pit but, in my view, is more likely to be a bomb hole left over from the WWII attack on the boat yard.

A series of linear ponds created when the natural river bank was excavated to provide material for the new bank when the marsh land was reclaimed. The ponds have subsequently been drained to create additional grazing land.

These ponds all need bringing back to life for habitat and wildlife but it is a big and potentially expensive job. But, if we don’t try then nothing will change so this week we have made a start.

Job one was to begin the process with WLBC to ensure we don’t fall foul of any regulations or permissions as rework after the event would be unaffordable.

Job two was to call in the experts and we have had site visits from both Gavin Thomas, a Conservation Adviser for the RSPB and Helen Greaves, a PhD student from UCL who is involved in the science of farm pond restoration. Both were enthusiastic about the potential project and hopefully will be able to offer ongoing advice and support.

Job three was to drop all the overhanging willow branches of the derelict natural pond (Pond 1) as the DEFRA guidance is to do no farm tree work between 1 March and 31 August so as not to impact on the bird breeding season. The easy bit has been completed this morning but the clearing up may take a bit more time.

Pond 1 - Removing overhanging branches
Pond 1 – Removing overhanging branches
Pond 1 - Overgrown and full of rubbish
Pond 1 – Overgrown and full of rubbish
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Growing Firewood – 2017 Update

Our annual update on the progress of our firewood growing trials. All have made very good progress but the Eucalyptus seems to be doing the best at the year 3 point. The hybrid willow would normally be harvested now and it is a perfect size for making wood chunks.

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Tree Planting at Banks, West Lancashire

Damon and Matt have been out in all weathers since November but 5000 trees later, the 11 acre field is now planted.

Tree planting at Banks, West Lancashire
Tree planting at Banks, West Lancashire

The trees planted are mixed species of varieties that can be coppiced and will eventually be cropped for timber for crafts or wood fuel . The first cuttings will probably be in 10 – 15 years and every 5 – 7 years thereafter.

Apart from providing fantastic habitat over what was previously monocrop arable farmland, the trees dramatically reduce surface water run-off which in turn reduces the volume and rate that rainwater reaches the struggling pumping stations that this area is so dependent on to alleviate flooding.

Coppicing Hazel
Coppicing Hazel

Also, trees sequester carbon, helping to remove carbon dioxide from the air and as the coppicing program we employ is selective rather than ‘clear fell’ this provides an ongoing benefit with the fuel produced being as close to carbon neutral as we can possibly get.

Lastly, the coppice provides the materials for many ancient woodland crafts. It will be some time before this plantation is ready but expect a few bodging, turning, carving and hurdle making courses to be on the cards in a few years.

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