I got a hand crafted Barn Owl nest box from my brother for Christmas and it has sat there waiting for the right opportunity to be fitted. Today was the day.
In order to fit the electric lights in the roof of the new shed we needed to hire an access platform as it really wasn’t safe to do it from ladders. So, whilst the platform was waiting to be collected and after doing an appropriate risk assessment it was decided that we could go around the edge of a pond and lift it up into place in a fork of a willow tree that overlooks both the pond and open farmland.
A Bank Holiday Monday provided the time for Helen, her mum Pam and Millie the dog to visit with all the kit to survey our ponds.
With five ponds to survey it isn’t a quick job but as the weather was kind to us, it made for an enjoyable and interesting afternoon. The real time consuming work is back in Helen’s Lab Shed where the samples are analysed.
The samples are full of activity and one included a newt.
The bee hives have been moved so it was out with the loppers and secateurs this morning, clearing overhanging brambles and branches to create new paths through the trees.
It’s a small field, fully fenced and stocked with a crop of short rotation coppice (mainly alder and sycamore) with some clearings all of which is perfect for someone to be able to takes there dog to be exercised or trained.
Rain stopped play but a few more hours work and it should be ready for a pass with the mower before being ready to rent.
We originally chose a six year trial for hybrid willow to test the claims made by retailers of the willow for firewood production. Not a particularly scientific approach but, hopefully, it might be useful to share the findings:
Hybrid Willow These were established willow stools which had been previously cut annually to provide more plants. Bred for biomass production these should normally be mechanically harvested every three years and converted to woodchip but retailers often claim they will also make decent logs at the six year point.
Our observations were that it did exactly what it said on the tin, growing some fantastic rods at the three year point which were an optimum size for both a forage harvester but, more importantly for this trial, a perfect size for feeding into a branch logger. After year three we saw a few stools split in storms but overall little more significant growth. At year six there would be no more than two or three 10″ logs on each rod non of which was of a size that would warrant being split. For us, this is more of an inconvenience than a gain; far better to pop the whole lot through a branch logger at year three. For the record, once dried, the hybrid willow is extremely good kindling product for wood burners and perfect for wood boilers.
Alder Having been asked to grow Alder to supply local smokehouse we had already been taken with how fast it grew. For comparison we planted some one year old transplants to compare with the willow growth. They have produced approximately a quarter of the volume of the willow in this period but it would be interesting to compare the regrowth of an established but coppiced Alder; I suspect the gap would be much less.
Sycamore With the onslaught of Ash dieback, sycamore was being promoted as an near comparable product to the ‘very best’ firewood. Whilst it was never expected to grow with the same vigour as the other species in our trial it was a useful reference.
Eucalyptus An afterthought to the trial our Eucalyptus was introduced a year after the trial had begun. It was bought as seed which in reality put it two seasons behind all the other species. Growth was nothing short of phenomenal providing decent firewood logs at year four/five.
For us there is no debate; for growing firewood logs Eucalyptus is the clear winner. Each of the three Euc varieties trialled (Gunni, Omeo and Mountain Gum) out performed everything else. An added benefit is that even our small plantation provided enough shelter for a Barn Owl to take up residence.
In conclusion and for our own circumstances, Eucalyptus wins for ‘grow your own’ firewood logs for wood burners, hybrid willow wins for branch logging / biomass for wood boilers.
As a rule of thumb, we only like to start cutting Holly 1st December but the way the calendar falls this year means we need to start a few days early so that customers can have wreaths made up for the first weekend in December.
We have our own holly plantation which is cut in a 3 year rotation so, with two thirds of the plantation left untouched in any one year, disruption to habitat is minimised.
Due to the drought, variagated holly was an outright disaster with most leaves being tinged brown. In contrast the plain green holly is some of the best ever.
Our 2018 hedge plants have arrived so it is crucial to get them planted as fast as possible to give the transplants the very best chance of survival.
The plants arrived at 2pm and were all ‘heeled in’ by 5pm in an ‘on site’ trench where they will remain until removed for planting out in their final position. These were bough as 40-60cm plants but are nearer 40″ – 60″. The Brexit effect perhaps? Either way they look very healthy and should establish themselves quickly.
The planting will create some new hedgerows along boundaries created by the separation of the traditional farm from the land and also restore a good length of historical hedging that was removed around 70 years ago.
Now that all our pumpkins have gone (see www.BigPumpkins.co.uk) it’s the quiet time before the wreath making season begins so time to clear out the debris from the poly tunnels, then wash and disinfect everything ready for spring.
There are a few productive tomato plants left but all the rest are on the compost heap. Today we picked the remaining peppers of the Thunder Mountain and Jalapeno chilli plants.
Even the shed has had a tidy up. Everything seems to expand to cover any available floorspace so a determined effort is needed to put everything back where it should be in order to make some room for the Danish trolleys needed for our www.Christmas-Wreath.co.uk wreath collections.
In quieter moments it is also time to do the field plans for next year (what crop goes where) and order seeds. The first of the bought in specialist culinary pumpkin seeds arrived this week and we started drying our own pumpkin seeds as well. All of a sudden 2019 doesn’t seem that long off.