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.
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.
Damon and Matt have been out in all weathers since November but 5000 trees later, the 11 acre field is now planted.
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.
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.
At the end of the last season, a friend kindly posted to us a few seeds from a giant pepper with a view of us having a go at growing a big one. He advised us to get them planted early January which seems incredibly early but he is the expert so today half of them got planted along with a selection of our usual chilli and sweet pepper varieties. I will plant the rest towards end March as per normal and compare the results.
The consensus on germination temperatures for peppers seems to be 80-85 degrees F so the propagator has been set to 28 degrees C.
This week has seen some lovely crisp frosty mornings which is always a beautiful sight and is a real pleasure to walk around the farm.
Our willow trials continue with a mix of biomass hybrids and traditional basket making varieties planted. The photo above is of some one year old willow whips which are ideal for living willow sculptures or making new plants.
Selected pieces will be harvested from the Hazel coppice over the winter months, mainly for sticks to make walking stick and beating stick shanks but also to make wood chunks for food smoking which gives the wood smoke a slightly nutty flavour.
We also grow some Eucalyptus, mainly to harvest for the floristry trade and making essential oils but we are also trailing some hardy snow gum varieties for firewood production. To date the results have been very impressive.
Our hedges of Holly have been pruned hard in recent weeks for wreath making but the frost makes them quite a picture.
As the seasonal wreath making draws to a close a lovely morning allowed a chance to make a start on the Hazel coppice.
Our stand of hazel was planted specifically to provide a harvest of walking stick blanks for the surprisingly large number of local stick making enthusiasts. We now use the remaining wood for crafts including wood turning and gypsy flowers, wood chunks for smoking foods and, as a last resort, firewood.
We choose not to ‘clear fell’ the hazel but prefer to selectively cut out the sticks we want and leave the remainder to mature. This practice not only maintains the fantastic wildlife habitat that has been established but it seems to ‘draw’ some good straight sticks as they fight for the light at the top of the canopy.
The annual arrival of our red mushrooms with white spots heralds the onset of Autumn. I did buy a book to identify safe mushrooms to eat but, having read it, decided against it as being ‘almost certain’ just isn’t good enough.
However, in this instance being ‘nearly sure’ IS good enough; I am almost certain that these are Amanita Muscaria which are classified as deadly.
I think of these as the classic fairy toadstool and a welcomed arrival to the woodland floor. The source of the image of fairies dancing around them might not be that far fetched as, apparently, they have psychedelic properties “if prepared properly”.
“Preparing properly” hmmm. A quick search uncovers a range of drying techniques for varying times whilst held at various angles. Perhaps the best one was the ancient shaman preparation of letting reindeer eat them and then drink their pee.
On fields eerily shrouded in mist, the 2016 Giant Pumpkin harvest has begun. All the giant pumpkins that have not been sold in advance will be listed for sale on www.bigpumpkins.co.uk/pumpkins-for-sale/