Wood smoking revelations

We have a new Customer.

Stuart from Southport is a new customer. Stuart has specific requirements for his 10 hour smoked brisket and he came to see if we could meet his needs. The answer is of course ‘yes’ but that isn’t what prompts this post.

Talking to Stuart made me realise that I don’t think we have ever had the same request twice… every smoker seems to have their very own ‘ideal’ as to how their wood is presented:

Split logs
Full branch logs
Chunks – bark on
Chunks – bark off
Branch chunks with brash
Branch chunks without brash
Wood Chips
Single species sawdust

Hazel wood chunks in trays for drying
Home grown Hazel wood chunks in trays for drying

Perm any of the above with the ideal length of wood which obviously varies with each smoker and then perm all the above with the degree to which it has been seasoned; Fresh cut, partially seasoned or fully seasoned.

Placing wood chunks on top of charcoal
Placing wood chunks on top of charcoal

That’s the wood sorted then. Next is how it is used… hot smoke, cold smoke, 100% selected species, chunks/chips on charcoal, mixed hardwood chunks with selected species added at half time, one burn, multiple burns, top up burn, soaked or burned dry etc etc etc.

This isn’t a problem but it was a bit of a revelation in that it became obvious that we cannot stock all permutations!

Whilst we will continue to carry stock of our most popular wood smoking chunks and chips, rather than feel guilty about never having their ‘perfect’ woods immediately to hand, what this we can do is to note our customer preferences and advise them on an individual basis when woods arise that match their criteria.

A split crate of Cherry and Oak logs
A split crate of Cherry and Oak logs

Hence, here is a crate of logs for Stuart. Half of the crate is made up of Cherry logs and the other half is Oak logs. Both are only partially seasoned and they have been cut to 10″ long i.e. Exactly what Stuart asked for.

Thank you Stuart. Your order has probably helped me more than you!


6m x 3m ebay Polytunnel

We needed some temporary storage for keeping the elements off some small farm implements and thought a domestic polytunnel would fit the bill and, if it lasts long enough, could be reused for ‘kiln’ drying wood when the storage problems get resolved. I also had wondered if such a thing would be any good for creating a moveable cloche in the fields for sheltering the giant pumpkin plants. Only one way to find out; so onto ebay for a look at what is available.

A 6m x 3m x 2m would hopefully have enough height to allow the implements to be put through the door so searches were restricted to this size. I discounted anything with painted metalwork (as this has been next to useless on previously purchased gazebos and the like) and went for galvanised.

6m x 3m x 2m polytunnel from ebay
6m x 3m x 2m polytunnel from ebay

Our £118.90 purchase arrived very quickly via Yodel in two heavy boxes. In between the seemingly never ending downpours, I have got the polytunnel assembled in probably around 4 to 5 hours total without any assistance.

The steelwork is a league different in quality from that used in a commercial polytunnels but I was surprised how rigid it all became once bolted together. The steel tubes all fit perfectly (some long nose pliers were required to take out a few dints in the ends of a few tubes but nothing major). All the holes aligned and the exact number of nuts and bolts were included in the kit.

Domestic 6m x 3m Polytunnel Frame
Domestic 6m x 3m Polytunnel Frame

I made my own ground anchors from 8mm steel rods – eight in total were used, evenly spaced around the perimeter of the base.

All four of the ‘number 4’ tubes were rusty which was a shame but not really bad enough to warrant the delay in returning them to the seller. They can always be painted in situ.

Ebay 6m x 3m Polytunnel rusty bars
Ebay 6m x 3m Polytunnel rusty bars

Having noted the necessity of hot spot tape on our commercial polytunnels I thought it daft to not pay the extra and get some tape. I used six rolls of 25mm x 9m hot spot tape at £1.95 a roll +p&p bought from ‘dandbtapes’ again via ebay. Five rolls will cover the hoops but the sixth roll is needed to do the face side of the ends of the polytunnel (I don’t know if this is necessary but it is what the professional installers did on our commercial tunnels). The tape was excellent quality and did a really good job.

The sheet was unfolded and lifted on unaided and was surprisingly easy get in place. Having sheeted a real polytunnel this really was a joy to fit! It has zipped doors at both ends (something that wasn’t clear in the ebay description so that will be useful for airflow if it ever gets used for drying wood.

6m x 3m Polytunnel problems
6m x 3m Polytunnel problems

The velcro fasteners worked surprisingly well but problems noted where three of the fasteners were sewn in at the wrong position (very odd given how precise all the others were) and also a small gap where the stitching around a door had been missed and left a gap. It will fix with clear tape so again not a problem big enough to warrant a return in my eyes.

6m x 3m galvanised domestic polytunnel
6m x 3m galvanised domestic polytunnel
6m x 3m Polytunnel Sheeted
6m x 3m x 2m Polytunnel Sheeted Up

Even taking into account the few (avoidable) problems encountered, I think it is a really good buy and am pleased with how it all went together. How long it lasts remains to be seen but it is definitely a cost effective solution for the problem it was bought to fix. Will it work out in the fields – I don’t think so. I don’t think it is maneuverable enough. Once the cover goes on this one I might use the frame as a support for mounting a wind break around a giant pumpkin plant.


Hydroponic Trials Update


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.


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.


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.


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


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

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.


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