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.


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

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

Fresh wreath making has started!

The first lorry load of Spruce has arrived from Scotland and production of our orders is underway.

The first 2016 order is now complete; 30 spruce wreaths and 250 grave pots for a customer in Bolton. One down…. many more to go.

Decorated spruce grave pots
Decorated spruce grave pots

We only start Holly wreaths 1st December so at least we have a couple of weeks before having to work in welding gloves!

More information on our fresh wreaths can be found on www.Christmas-Wreath.co.uk


Painting Baby Pumpkins

I don’t suppose many people will actually need a tutorial in how to paint a pumpkin for Halloween but it might be of interest to see the finish achieved using Annie Sloan Chalk paint. The little pumpkins are available from our pumpkin farm shop www.BigPumpkins.co.uk

Select a nice baby pumpkin for painting
Select a nice baby pumpkin for painting

I selected the Annie Sloan ‘Graphite’ chalk paint as I wanted a dark, soft, velvet finish.

A tin of Annie Sloan Graphite Chalk Paint
A tin of Annie Sloan Graphite Chalk Paint

The difference between wet and dry is significant so don’t be disheartened by the gloss of the paint when wet.

Painting baby pumpkins for Halloween
Painting baby pumpkins with Chalk Paint

The dried paint was exactly the texture I had imagined but perhaps a bit lighter than I had hoped for.

A baby pumpkin with one coat of Chalk Paint
A baby pumpkin with one coat of Chalk Paint

One coat was probably not enough but the effect was close to what I had been seeking. Perhaps I will try another with some blackboard paint…




Growing our own firewood

Many years ago we abandoned the idea of being able to own our own woodland as there is so little of it in West Lancashire in the first place and, of that, it is very rare that it comes up for sale.

But, rather than admit defeat, we bought some arable land and field by field planted our own energy crop; species that thrived on rotational coppicing. In the first instance this was predominantly ash which we grew on from seeds collected from some fine local specimens. As the dreaded ‘ash dieback’ or Chalara dieback of ash (Hymenoscyphus fraxineus) to give it it’s proper title, gained a foothold in the UK we thought it pretty pointless in planting any more ash and started growing a wider mix of species such as willow, alder and sycamore. We also trialled a few eucalyptus varieties (from seed) to see how they compared to the vigorous growth of the hybrid willows.

Many claims about the fast growth of hybrid willow exist on the internet and we really wanted to test them out for ourselves. Having grown some willow stools as breeding stock for new cuttings we  knocked them back and vowed to document the progress each year up until they made useable logs.

I will keep this post updated annually with progress.

Hybrid Willow Trials

Eucalyptus Trials







Outdoor Wood Fired Pizza Oven

Having made it all the way from Portugal to Hesketh Bank without damage, it was quite exciting to unpack our new brick built outdoor pizza oven. As it weighs about 600kg, the forktruck was definitely needed to carefully lift it out of its packing crate and onto a pallet.

I have been reading up on how to ‘cure’ the oven before any serious firing of the oven. It basically involves lighting a series of small fires on consecutive days to slowly drive out any moisture that remains in the oven after manufacture. Patience is a virtue, but not one of mine. No matter; better to do it properly than have the thing crack in half!

Let’s hope some better weather eventually appears.

Unloading our new outdoor Pizza Oven
Unloading our new wood fired Pizza Oven

Valentines 2016

Just as we have nearly finished restocking after the Christmas rush on wreath supplies it is all systems go getting all the orders for wire heart frames and heart shaped padded wreath bases on their way.

Copper coated metal wire heart frames
Heart shaped wire frames

The Berisford ‘Hearts and Kisses’ and the cross stitch ‘Love’ design will no doubt again prove to be a very popular choice for adorning Valentine gifts or for hanging hand made crafts.

Berisford 'Natural Charms' Valentines Ribbon
Berisford ‘Natural Charms’ Ribbon

Please see www.WreathSupplies.co.uk and www.Christmas-Wreath.co.uk for more details.


Frying Pan Flue Fix

The storms at the end of 2015 left our little ‘woodcutters hut’ wood burning stove chimney cowl blown off. Made from an old twin walled gas flue, the lightweight aluminium had ripped in the wind and was beyond repair.

Wood stove chimney cowl blown off in storms.
Wood stove chimney cowl blown off in storms.

The stove would probably work very well without any chimney cowl being fitted but I really didn’t like the thought of the incessant rain we are experiencing driving down the chimney.


To hand was an old frying pan which provided a very easy to make but robust fix:

Making wood stove chimney cowl from a frying pan
Making wood stove chimney cowl from a frying pan
Adding metal support brackets to frying pan
Adding metal support brackets to frying pan
Wood stove chimney with new frying pan cowl
Wood stove chimney fitted with new frying pan cowl
The woodcutters wood stove back in operation with the 'frying pan fix'
The woodcutters wood stove back in operation with the ‘frying pan fix’



Harvesting Basket Making Willow

Having packed away the fresh wreath making ‘production line’ for another year our next job is to get our home grown willow rods cut and into storage for processing as willow whip tips for floristry, straight sticks for crafts and little log bundles for picks to decorate next year’s wreaths. These items are sold all year round on our Wreath Supplies website.

Harvesting basket making willow
Freshly cut rods of willow for basket making, crafts and sculptures

After Christmas we start harvesting the willow to fulfill any orders for full length willow rods received.  Don’t worry if you haven’t ordered as there usually is a surplus and the rods are available to buy for willow weaving, basketry and sculptures at just 20p each.

In response to those people who want to create their own products from scratch we do allow people to select and cut their own willow rods directly from the field. This is priced at £30 an hour (or part thereof) for the first cutter and £10 an hour for each additional cutter in the same party. All the willow you cut is yours to take away at no additional cost.

Fresh willow is available January to March by appointment. Ring Mark on 07834 324080 for more details.