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.
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.
An out of the blue call from Helen Greaves changed the plans for the day as it became the day to do an audit of invertebrates in both the restored farm ponds and the newly created scrapes.
A lovely hot sunny day isn’t the best sort of day to don waders but, if you want to count pond invertebrates, they are essential attire. Sherpa, helper and stopwatch operator were just some of the roles fulfilled by Helen’s mum with Millie the dog just enjoying the walk and the sunshine.
A three minute sampling technique was interesting to watch and tubs of findings have been taken away for analysis. I really do hope we can share the data here in due course.
It’s been a few wet months since we cleaned out and restored the main pond and despite the rain the retained water level held in the pond has been disappointing.
As we had a digger on site today to prep a shed floor, it had a few minutes diversion to carry across a few buckets of clay to raise the level of the outfall ditch. Not a big job (with a digger) but hopefully it will have a big impact.
The vegetation around the pond has started to reappear after the shock of all the cleaning out activity.
The only wildlife I spotted today was a moorhen hiding in the scrub, four male mallards on the pond and a frog in the ditch.
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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.