Cutting Silver Birch Display Logs

The dreadful weather this morning put paid to any outside jobs which was bad news for the pumpkins but good news for one of our local florists. She has been patiently waiting for a selection of premium Silver Birch ‘display’ logs to use in wedding features and flower arrangements.

Silver Birch Logs For Wedding Feature
Silver Birch Logs For a Wedding Feature

I’ve cut many more than she will probably need to allow her a good choice. Any rejected will probably end up as blanks for the kids to paint up as log Santa’s or table numbers for restaurants or weddings.



Event Props: Achtung Minen Sign

A request for a wooden Achtung Minen sign for use as a prop at an event is not an every day request but I have learnt it never to be wise to be asking too many questions.

Wooden 'Achtung Minen' sign
Wooden ‘Achtung Minen’ sign

Whilst waiting for it to be collected it has been pressed into active service sending a not so guarded message to our errant local dog walkers. We’ll see if it makes any difference.


6m x 3m ebay Polytunnel

We needed some temporary storage for keeping the elements off some small farm implements and thought a domestic polytunnel would fit the bill and, if it lasts long enough, could be reused for ‘kiln’ drying wood when the storage problems get resolved. I also had wondered if such a thing would be any good for creating a moveable cloche in the fields for sheltering the giant pumpkin plants. Only one way to find out; so onto ebay for a look at what is available.

A 6m x 3m x 2m would hopefully have enough height to allow the implements to be put through the door so searches were restricted to this size. I discounted anything with painted metalwork (as this has been next to useless on previously purchased gazebos and the like) and went for galvanised.

6m x 3m x 2m polytunnel from ebay
6m x 3m x 2m polytunnel from ebay

Our £118.90 purchase arrived very quickly via Yodel in two heavy boxes. In between the seemingly never ending downpours, I have got the polytunnel assembled in probably around 4 to 5 hours total without any assistance.

The steelwork is a league different in quality from that used in a commercial polytunnels but I was surprised how rigid it all became once bolted together. The steel tubes all fit perfectly (some long nose pliers were required to take out a few dints in the ends of a few tubes but nothing major). All the holes aligned and the exact number of nuts and bolts were included in the kit.

Domestic 6m x 3m Polytunnel Frame
Domestic 6m x 3m Polytunnel Frame

I made my own ground anchors from 8mm steel rods – eight in total were used, evenly spaced around the perimeter of the base.

All four of the ‘number 4’ tubes were rusty which was a shame but not really bad enough to warrant the delay in returning them to the seller. They can always be painted in situ.

Ebay 6m x 3m Polytunnel rusty bars
Ebay 6m x 3m Polytunnel rusty bars

Having noted the necessity of hot spot tape on our commercial polytunnels I thought it daft to not pay the extra and get some tape. I used six rolls of 25mm x 9m hot spot tape at £1.95 a roll +p&p bought from ‘dandbtapes’ again via ebay. Five rolls will cover the hoops but the sixth roll is needed to do the face side of the ends of the polytunnel (I don’t know if this is necessary but it is what the professional installers did on our commercial tunnels). The tape was excellent quality and did a really good job.

The sheet was unfolded and lifted on unaided and was surprisingly easy get in place. Having sheeted a real polytunnel this really was a joy to fit! It has zipped doors at both ends (something that wasn’t clear in the ebay description so that will be useful for airflow if it ever gets used for drying wood.

6m x 3m Polytunnel problems
6m x 3m Polytunnel problems

The velcro fasteners worked surprisingly well but problems noted where three of the fasteners were sewn in at the wrong position (very odd given how precise all the others were) and also a small gap where the stitching around a door had been missed and left a gap. It will fix with clear tape so again not a problem big enough to warrant a return in my eyes.

6m x 3m galvanised domestic polytunnel
6m x 3m galvanised domestic polytunnel
6m x 3m Polytunnel Sheeted
6m x 3m x 2m Polytunnel Sheeted Up

Even taking into account the few (avoidable) problems encountered, I think it is a really good buy and am pleased with how it all went together. How long it lasts remains to be seen but it is definitely a cost effective solution for the problem it was bought to fix. Will it work out in the fields – I don’t think so. I don’t think it is maneuverable enough. Once the cover goes on this one I might use the frame as a support for mounting a wind break around a giant pumpkin plant.


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


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

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