It really doesn’t seem that long ago that we were pricking out these trees as seedlings and growing them on in pots ready for planting out. It turns out we started planting out in this field in 2010.
It was a bit of a milestone to be starting to do the first cut on selected trees this week. Alder was urgently needed to replenish the wood chunks used by our local smokehouse customers with Ash and Silver Birch used for making things and (as a last resort) fire wood.
The little Makita electric chainsaw was given it’s first outing on coppice duties and performed well, if anything too well as I had hoped the batteries would give out before I did.
The bar is for measuring the log length. The majority will not need splitting but, if they do, that is the maximum length that the splitter can take. The sticks also fit in an IBC crate which facilitates drying and minimises further handling.
As we were only taking out selected trees it opened up the canopy just enough to let some light in. The remaining branches will be ‘chunked’ for wood fuel with the fine brash stacked to provide habitat as it rots down.
It’s that time of year when our wild damsons are just coming ready so time to risk life and limb reaching over the very deep ditch to try and hook the branches and get them harvested. Probably three quarters of the fruit is inaccessible so I don’t feel that guilty about raiding the natural larder.
Most of our share will end up as jam courtesy of mother; some sold to raise money for her charities, some for us and some for the breakfast table at Coed Cae
As some will know we try and do a little trial of the more unusual in the hydroponic tanks each year. This year it was the turn of ginger.
Having read up about it I went down to our local Booths supermarket to find a suitable fresh ginger ‘root’ tuber with lots of nodules on. The reality was somewhat different, with the offerings off the shelf being very dry and even though they were all quite large (and expensive) none had more than one ‘eye’.
The best I could find was purchased and placed in clay balls with a 24hr constant pumped leaf feed circulation as (I read) that they do like moisture.
Despite being in a very small greenhouse and suffering some of the highest temperatures we have ever seen in this country it has done reasonably well although the new shoots that are appearing now that a normal British summer has returned are much stronger and healthier. I look forward to the luxury of having some fresh stem ginger in the very near future!
All in all, it looks like ginger is a decent performer in a hydroponic system but I haven’t yet had a peek beneath the clay balls to see what is happening with the ginger root but I will post an update here when I do.
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.
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.
The first of our 2018 giant pumpkin seedlings has popped up overnight which heralds the start of the new season.
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
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Since all the horrible additives were banned from pressure treated ‘tantalised’ wood we have found that modern fence posts last little more than 3 years before rotting off at the base. Whilst this has dramatically increasing the maintenance bill for stock fencing it is totally impractical to replace corner posts and gate posts so frequently. Old telegraph poles are perfect for recycling into gate posts that will give many years of further service and, for that reason, are becoming fairly hard to source. The first problem is getting hold of them and the second problem is transporting them. So when you see the the contractor parked up right outside the yard with three old full length telegraph poles on the back it not time to ponder, it is time to act. For an appropriate consideration they unloaded the poles exactly where I could store them.
Today provided a rare rain free day when I could cut them to length ready for the fencing to go around the new implement shed that (at last) has started to be erected.
Two of the three poles were cut to length at the yard and points put on ready to be knocked into the ground. From the two poles I managed to get four 9ft long posts and two ‘heavy duty’ 10ft long posts all of which should be enough to provide the corner posts and gate posts needed to fence off the shed. The trusty little 240v mains powered Husqvarna 317 electric chainsaw was all that was needed to save the neighbours from a din on a Sunday afternoon. Job done.