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

For the record (and the sceptical) 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.

£850 pcm / £195 a week
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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Long Chilli Competition plants

The ‘long chilli’ and heavy chilli are relatively new additions to the giant vegetable competition schedules so growing techniques and plant genetics are still very much up for debate. I had a go last year with some donated chilli seed and had great success with the long chilli but less so with the heaviest.

Some start their seeds early February but I have not found any advantage in this so go for an early March sowing and another early April.

This year is now underway with a few plants grown from seeds selected from the best performing chilli’s of last year.

Germinating 'Long Chilli' plants
Germinating ‘Long Chilli’ plants

The chilli’s are a good ‘competition’ choice for amateur growers as they take up very little space and can be grown in a conservatory or small green house… unlike our giant pumpkins which take up an inordinate amount of room and require a lot of attention.

Let the challenge begin!

More info on ‘competitive growing :

www.BigPumpkins.co.uk
www.GiantVegetableSeed.co.uk
www.CliveBevan.com

 

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Growing Firewood – 2018 Update

The latest annual update in our trial of a number of species planted specifically for firewood. All species are on the same soil type so whilst not particularly scientific the findings are sufficient to judge which performs best for us.

Storming ahead in both rate of growth and quality of logs is the Eucalyptus Omeo. A very hardy variety which has incredible growth leaving everything else well behind. It is incredible to think this was a tiny seed in a packet four years ago.

Growing firewood 2018 update - Eucalyptus Omeo
Growing firewood 2018 update – Eucalyptus Omeo year 4

The Eucalyptus Gunnii is not far behind. Gunnii is a popular UK garden tree, not as hardy as the Omeo but easily and cheaply sourced.

Growing firewood 2018 update - Eucalyptus Gunnii year 4
Growing firewood 2018 update – Eucalyptus Gunnii year 4

The hybrid willow would be next in rate of growth. This would be commercially harvested every 3 years as chip for biomass boilers but we wanted to see, if left, would it make decent logs. What we have found is that as the regrowth gets bigger, the stool struggles to support the weight and splits. For more detail please see the August update on the 2017 post

Growing firewood 2018 update - Hybrid willow year 4
Growing firewood 2018 update – Hybrid willow year 4

The same hybrid willow in its third year is perfect for making wood chunks and so it is likely that this will be the optimum time to harvest. Willow wood chunks really do make a for good biomass when dry. Fantastic for use in log boilers, good for the first load in a wood burner and the perfect fuel for pizza ovens where the gases flare off quickly and leave a wall of very hot charcoal that can be moved around easily.

Growing firewood 2018 update - Hybrid willow year 3
Growing firewood 2018 update – Hybrid willow year 3

We have some older Alder plants that we grew from seed but to keep up with demand for our Alder wood chunks (used primarily by local Polish and Latvian migrants for smoking meats and cheeses) we planted an acre of Alder in spring 2014 as 40cm bare rooted saplings.

Alder four years on from planting
Alder four years on from planting

Lastly and for reference the sycamore which was planted out from pots in the same year that the Eucalyptus seed arrived is doing will but just shows how far behind it is in terms of growth rate.

Growing firewood 2018 update - Sycamore year 4
Growing firewood 2018 update – Sycamore year 4

Links to the previous updates are:
2017 update
2016 update

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Cold Day At The Office

I was out and about before the inevitable traffic chaos that goes hand in hand with a dusting of snow and glad I did so judging by the traffic later on.

First stop was feeding the hens, the goose, his pheasant lady friends and two robins who stopped fighting for a few minutes so they could feed on a bit of barley.

Our gander doesn't look that impressed with the snow
Our gander doesn’t look that impressed with the snow

The ‘Office’ looked nice but it was a bit chilly for processing firewood. We had a bit of a rush on yesterday when the snow was forecast but managed to keep everyone happy.

The wood yard
The wood yard this morning

We don’t do firewood deliveries and today would really not be the day to start but we have the kit and could do it the hard way at a price!

Delivering logs in the snow
Delivering logs in the snow

 

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