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.
Like many other things I have been meaning to build an offset smoker for so long, have collected many bits and bobs in readiness but never got around to it.
When I saw ASDA selling of the highly reccomended Oklahoma Joe for the price of a cheap tin replica I jumped at the chance. It was delivered two days later and having watched a few Youtube videos of suggested modifications it was put together with all joints sealed with black high temperature silicone sealant (from Screwfix).
Today was the day to ‘cure’ the beast in readiness for cooking. The book suggest two hours but we will give it an eight hour burn just to be sure.
It will be a good way to learn more about the differences between the flavours that our www.WoodChunks.co.uk impart.
The first item out of the smoker is our home grown garlic. Two hours at 225f on mixed hardwood wood chunks left the garlic bulbs perfectly finished and flavoured.
I think Joe and I are going to get along just fine!
Not a chore I particularly like as I am not a big fan of having my fingers so close to a bandsaw blade but it has to be done; preparing heartwood wood chunks.
The oak is first cut into rings on the bandsaw and then chopped into pieces using an axe. The pieces are then air dried to approx 20% moisture which is ideal for using for smoking food by placing the chunks on top of a charcoal bed. (Our branchwood chunks by contrast are generally used without any charcoal). Both heartwood and branchwood wood chunks are sold on our www.WoodChunks.co.uk website.
Today we also sent out a pack of our Rosemary ‘wood’ which is used by a restaurant customer.
The wood stalks are taken from three year old rosemary plants and are used for both the rub and generating flavoured smoke. The leaves are stripped to use fresh or dried but the oil rich stem wood is used as a flavouring on top of charcoal barbecue briquettes in a smoker.
Stuart from Southport is a new customer. Stuart has specific requirements for his 10 hour smoked brisket and he came to see if we could meet his needs. The answer is of course ‘yes’ but that isn’t what prompts this post.
Talking to Stuart made me realise that I don’t think we have ever had the same request twice… every smoker seems to have their very own ‘ideal’ as to how their wood is presented:
Full branch logs
Chunks – bark on
Chunks – bark off
Branch chunks with brash
Branch chunks without brash
Single species sawdust
Perm any of the above with the ideal length of wood which obviously varies with each smoker and then perm all the above with the degree to which it has been seasoned; Fresh cut, partially seasoned or fully seasoned.
That’s the wood sorted then. Next is how it is used… hot smoke, cold smoke, 100% selected species, chunks/chips on charcoal, mixed hardwood chunks with selected species added at half time, one burn, multiple burns, top up burn, soaked or burned dry etc etc etc.
This isn’t a problem but it was a bit of a revelation in that it became obvious that we cannot stock all permutations!
Whilst we will continue to carry stock of our most popular wood smoking chunks and chips, rather than feel guilty about never having their ‘perfect’ woods immediately to hand, what this we can do is to note our customer preferences and advise them on an individual basis when woods arise that match their criteria.
Hence, here is a crate of logs for Stuart. Half of the crate is made up of Cherry logs and the other half is Oak logs. Both are only partially seasoned and they have been cut to 10″ long i.e. Exactly what Stuart asked for.
Thank you Stuart. Your order has probably helped me more than you!
Our annual update on the progress of our firewood growing trials. All have made very good progress but the Eucalyptus seems to be doing the best at the year 3 point. The hybrid willow would normally be harvested now and it is a perfect size for making wood chunks.
I’m beginning to notice quite a few of the ‘year 4’ hybrid willow starting to fail at the stool union with branches starting to ‘lie down’ in just the same way as mature willow trees often do. This was not anticipated (there haven’t been any storms or strong winds) but it does perhaps explain why ‘year 3’ is the target for harvesting commercial hybrid willow plantations for biomass woodchip. The purpose of this trial plot was to extend the cycle to six years to see if firewood logs could be produced.
The fallen branches have been harvested and the stools have been tidied up; all with a very old and dull Silky. It was noted that some of the remaining branches are now getting beyond tackling with a handsaw and will require the chainsaw.
Not a bad haul from just half of one stool but I am beginning to think that the ideal point may well be at the the three year point when everything can be cut with a silky and sent straight through the branch logger for wood chunks. (Once thoroughly dried out, willow wood chunks make exceptional ‘charcoal’ fuel for wood fired pizza ovens).
The pollarded ash is looking good with the regrowth just 1.5 years old. These trees were pollarded rather than coppiced as they are there to provide a canopy over where free range hens roam, giving them some shelter and protection from aerial predators.
Our little Wood Chunks website has been selling our home grown wood for some time now to the point where our regular customers kindly bring samples of their fare which is very much appreciated (hint, hint) .
Food smoking is an art and from my experience, each ‘artist’ likes to understandably select the materials that they have found gives the best results for them.
Some want small wood chips, others want large lumps or even big logs. Then there is the debate about whether the bark should be on or off and the difference branchwood or heartwood makes to the flavour of the food.
To supplement our home produced wood chunks we have today added a range of wood chips which come in 2ltr re-sealable packs.
Graded to a size between 6mm and 12mm chip size, Apple, Alder, Cherry and Oak chips are now in stock.
Along with all our speciality wood chunks they are available to collect (by appointment – we don’t have a shop) from Hesketh Bank (PR4 6) in West Lancashire but these packs are especially suitable for mail order so it will be interesting to see how this develops.
Yesterday we finally got around to making our very first homemade pizza in the wood fire oven.
Liam made 1kg of pizza dough and a delicious (secret recipe) tomato sauce and so our first pizza trials began.
The oven was lit with some dry brash and a few sticks to warm it up before it was given a heaped load of mixed hardwood wood chunks available from www.woodchunks.co.uk
The wood chunks worked very well and got it up to a steady 300 degrees Centigrade in short order. They quickly turned to glowing embers but, unlike big logs, they were much more maneuverable inside the oven and could be banked up around the edges with ease.
The oven temperature was much more stable than I expected and it was not as difficult to assess and adjust than I had expected.
The base on the first pizza was too thick but that was easily rectified and we quickly got some first class results.
We still need to work on a stand and get a proper prep table sorted out as I don’t think an old cupboard door balanced on the forklift will meet all the hygiene standards.
With the small bit of left over dough we made a few mini ‘soup loaves’ in tiny bread tins. Lovely!
For some years now we have been growing a variety of traditional basket making willow for use as wreath bases, twig wreaths and wreath decorations with any leftovers and offcuts being used as fuel for use in wood boilers. Nothing at all goes to waste.
We spotted a number of websites proclaiming hybrid willow and poplar to be a rapid source of wood fuel with some astounding claims on the potential harvest so we decided to conduct our own trial.
We to try a commercial hybrid willow which is planted as Short Rotation Coppice (SRC) for biomass production. It has taken about 6 years to get enough plants propagated to establish a meaningful crop on the different soil types around the place and whilst there will be a another couple of years needed to complete the planting plan, the initial plants are now in production phase. The first patch is now into its third year of growth so if it was to be used for biomass it would be harvested this coming winter.
The stems are long and straight with the average diameter being around 50mm at 1m height. If harvested this winter and left to season, the crop would already be ideal for use as wood boiler and wood fired pizza oven fuel but we intend to leave this until at least 6 years to see if the firewood logs claimed by the sellers of the hybrid plants are attained and produced in any quantity.
The photo below is of a row of established SRC willow which was harvested in February 2015. The 5 months of growth is now at a height of around 2.5 meters (8ft),
Our processed willow is sold through a variety of channels depending on what it is made into:
The trailers have been on TV for a while now pushing Myleene Klass hosting “BBQ Champ”, a brand new five part ITV series for the Summer where a team of ten contenders compete against each other to become the first BBQ Champ. “Each week, our contenders will prove themselves in challenges that will sort the BBQ champs from the BBQ chumps.” says the PR but what has this to do with Rustical.co.uk ?
Well before it has even started we have noticed a surge in orders for Wood Chunks; the small lumps of wood burnt in smokers to flavour meats, fish, cheese and vegetables.
It might well be co-incidence but a little bird has told me today that the format of the show will include smokers as well as BBQs.
Unfortunately there is not that much that can be done about our stock levels as it takes such a long time to season the wood chunks.
We might get a few new customers off the back of the show but, when it is gone, its gone.