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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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?
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.
Update September 2018
Heavy overnight rain has meant standing water has once again returned to all of the scrapes. It’s only a bit but it is the start of the next cycle. I am just pleased they are doing exactly what they should do.
For the record (and our more sceptical readers) there were no grants received or stewardship schemes entered into etc. Just us doing our bit.
Large 3/4 Bedroom Detached Bungalow
(Status: Presently Let)
A spacious detached bungalow in semi rural location, gardens front and rear with off road parking.
£195 a week / £850 pcm
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. PRESENTLY LET
For more details and viewings, contact Mark on 07834 324080 (office hours only please)
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
Under eaves storage
Landing Office Space
Bedroom 4: Double Approx 4.4m x 2.4m with Velux Windows
Walled lawn and borders to front.
Gravelled driveway leading to off road parking.
Paved Patio area.
Fenced lawn area to rear.
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.
Last year it was 5000 trees on 11 acres at Banks and this year the plan is for some 2500 trees to be planted on a field off Becconsall Lane in Hesketh Bank. The saplings were delivered this morning so now it is race against time to get the bare rooted plants into the ground before they dry out.
As the ground is still very very wet, the trees, stakes and guards have all been moved onto site with the low ground pressure trailer and a compact tractor.
Ready to go – tree planting 2017
As we passed the recently restored ‘bomb hole’ pond, two Snipe got up from the rushes on the pond edge . I have not seen snipe in these fields for the twenty two years we have been here so that was noteworthy.
Distributing the stakes and tree guards around the plot without doing damage is very difficult when it is so wet. Our small compact tractor with grass tyres was again used but this time with some pallet forks fitted rather than a trailer. To minimise the impact the front weights were removed which meant additional trips but really did minimise the ruts left. After the next (seemingly inevitable) downpour there was little evidence left of a tractor being on the field.
It will be 10-15 years before this new coppice plantation will become productive so it is not a short term project. It will eventually provide a source of timber for traditional woodland crafts, wood chunks for flavoured smoke for food smokers and BBQ’s (WoodChunks.co.uk), fuel for wood fired pizza ovens and firewood (CarbonNeutralFuel.co.uk) but, in the mean time, the growing trees will store carbon, will provide a home for wildlife, absorb air pollution, help reduce water flow/flood risk into the Douglas and Ribble and help river water quality by absorbing any nitrogen run off from the sheep grazing on the higher land.