Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Nov/Dec 08. Two Years in and Planting

Only one visit to the wood in November due to other commitments, including a business trip to India. Both the business trip and the wood visit involved tree planting. The India trip was to audit a couple of lubricant blending plants and at the end of one visit I was honoured by planting a tree on the site. While back in Kent the county council’s free tree scheme had given us 25 trees to plant in the wood. We planted three hazels to extend their range in the gill, a beech in each of the north corners and a couple at the north edge of the glade, and 18 mixed blackthorn and hawthorn along the edge of the track. The beeches are planted to provide some great characterful trees in one or two hundred years time, while the others will have a more immediate impact including the wonderful show of white spring flowers from the thorns and the winter haws and sloes providing an additional food source.

December saw three visits to the wood with the focus on coppicing this seasons area. Progress has been quite satisfying with only one tree getting sufficiently hung up to need winching (that’s good for me!). Having owned the wood for two years now, there is still something new and this month I discovered that one of the coppice stools is of oak, the only one in our wood as far as I know. As well as helping out with a few wood jobs, Tom also spent some time on the tree camp in the glade, adding some extra rails and improvising a drum kit.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Back to Work

With leaves and chestnuts falling around us, we started this winter’s coppicing. The plan is to do half an acre next to last winter’s coppiced area, this will then be open between the glade we are expanding and the ride/track until the new growth fills in again. I still need to pull my finger out regarding what to do with the wood that is felled, including much of last years which is still stacked up waiting to go off for firewood (did have someone collect some, but we never really got it organised properly). To open up the glade a little more a couple of oaks have been cut, one very young one coppiced and the other (30 years old, I counted the rings) pollarded at only about 4’ because it felt unsafe chainsawing above that. A length of this one has been cut, split and roughly hewn into a paddle for the coracle. I thought it would be nice to have something made from this oak, but not sure a paddle was the right choice because it’s bloody heavy. Hopefully it will be light enough once the wood has seasoned and I’ve shaved more off it. The only flowers we saw were ragwort, but there are still some interesting fungi around.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

A Busy September, but not in the woods

Only one visit this month as other things have been keeping us busy. I collected a boot load of firewood, but will need a few more loads to see us through this winter. Decision on the glade's oaks is that the large one at the edge will be ring barked, there was a young one (about 10 years) which I felled this month but it was growing from an older stool which has some fresh growth, the other oak in the glade will be pollarded. There are a lot more funghi now and a few unripe chestnuts on the ground. The rhododendron that was pulled up is still alive as there was lump of soil left on its roots, it has some fresh growth so it will be heading for a bonfire. I built a coracle this month but still need to make a proper seat for it and also carve a paddle, which I'll do once I've collected some suitable timber from the wood. Computer hassle means that all the photos got wiped, I've got backups for most, but September's are lost so nothing to post up here.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

August; Into Autumn

The signs of autumn are more noticeable with chestnuts falling in soft spined cases along with green acorns and hazel nuts. The area that was coppiced last winter has shown good growth over the summer with both the chestnut and brambles doing well (hopefully the brambles will become less vigorous as the chestnuts shade them out over the next few years). There are more fungi now ‘fruiting’, the most common seems to be earthballs which are browny yellow as they mature towards sporing (I originally thought all fungi that shape were puffballs until I bothered to look in a book, I then discovered that these were earthballs which are poisonous unlike puffballs which are edible). On a charred stump (where we had a bonfire last winter) there is a fungus that looks a bit like white popcorn (but I couldn’t find it in my fungi book). There were a few butterflies fluttering about in the glade and also in the area we coppiced, plus a couple of hawker dragonflies too. The summer has also seen plenty of growth of the bracken in the glade, so I gave that another bashing; the difference from last year is noticeable as the diversity of plants is already increasing. The glade is still a bit too shaded now the trees leaves are full and this autumn’s work will include widening it to allow more light in next summer. I am also considering ring barking a mature oak on the edge of the glade; this will have the double benefit of making the glade sunnier (better for flowers and butterflies, etc) but also provide a decent contribution of standing deadwood which is a habitat feature that is rare in this woodland.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

July; Pottering About

We finished cutting back the path on the wayleave so it now varies between about 4’ and 8' wide to let the light reach the ground, so hopefully we should still have some bugle, violets and orchids again next year. There are also quite a few thistles which are up to about 6’ tall and there’s been plenty of butterflies fluttering about; including a white admiral that my dad saw. To provide the main timber joists for the new tree camp Tom and Sam felled an alder with an axe (I offered to chainsaw it but they insisted). Even split in half the 11’ timbers are bloody heavy when you are trying to hold them and fix them into a tree at above head height. The other tree camp, on the edge of the glade, is now looking healthy with a lush growth of new leaves giving shade and also hiding it a bit, and an old rope ladder that had been lurking in the garage for years has now been fixed up.

Bewl Bridge Reservoir is only about a mile away but we hadn’t walked there until this month. So on a hot day we set off in that general direction to see how long it would take. It was a pleasant walk; along the dead-end lane past thatched cottage, oasthouses and with 3 Alsatian guard dogs ferociously barking through the security fence around the manor house (until Che decided he would bark back at them and then they gave up). Past a field of broad beans (which tasted lovely and nutty raw) and then we looked down into the flooded valley. A short walk down an oak shaded hollow-way footpath and then Che was playing in the water. So, only a mile, and then it was another mile around to the café for lunch. I think we’ll be doing that walk again, but we’ll probably take a picnic next time as the café is rip-off expensive. I’m also planning on bringing my coracle here once I’ve built it.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

June; Fair Weather Campers

After previously being put off by weather forecasts in previous weeks, we decided to ignore what the beeb said and just go and camp anyway. Luckily we got away with just light drizzle as we set up on the Friday evening, and Saturday was a lovely day. We didn’t do a lot - which is a great way to spend a day and not something we are used to in ‘modern life’. After finally getting the fire started we cooked burgers, sausages and beans for a basic supper that always tastes better for the charring (that’s my excuse anyway). We (OK, I) put some sandstone rocks around the fire and that was fine until the fire died down, then as they cooled they cracked and sent little bits of hot stone flying. Plan B is to buy some proper fire bricks and use those to make 4 short pillars to support a metal grid on which we can then cook. Previously we’d used logs which are generally OK for a few fires but are impermanent for obvious reasons so it would be good to have something more lasting.

The bracken growth in the clearing has slowed now, although I did give it somemore bashing; hopefully another couple of years and we may not have to do it again. It is already making a difference (we started bracken bashing last year) and there is the odd patch of grass and other plants as yet unidentified growing in what was just a bracken monoculture. There’s also a few brambles starting to grow too but we’ll mange the area as best we can to get a diversity of plants and encourage butterflies etc into the clearing. On the edge of the clearing we have our first foxglove, while elsewhere in the wood the honeysuckle is in full flower. Tom saw a deer on the wayleave, which is only the second time we’ve seen one at the wood, although we do see their tracks in the mud.

This month we also spent time cutting back some of the birch and alder on the wayleave to keep a path clear and allow sunlight to reach the floor. Work has started on a new tree camp, this time it will be a bit larger as it will reach between 2 trees that are growing either side of the stream. Tom is hoping to sleep in it once it’s complete, but at the moment we are still at an early stage of fixing the basic supporting timbers to the trees.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Here Comes Summer

Beltane weekend saw the bluebells in full splendour, a fantastic sight not just for themselves but also for the backdrop they form to the greening of the woodland. The ferns are growing with a lushness that you only get in this early part of summer; and this plus the other young growth makes the woodland almost glow with fresh greenness. There are a lot more violets in flower now too along with bugle adding colour to the wayleave – although they are in danger of getting shaded out by the encroaching birch saplings, so we need to do some more clearing in that area. We haven’t seen any owls yet, but we did find an owl pellet which we teased apart to find a mouse’s skull. Later in the month we saw a couple of Orange Tip moth caterpillars as well as some ‘little green jobs’ that we didn’t identify.

A contact we made at the WoodFair last year came and collected a pick-up load of logs for firewood; but this turned out to be more ‘interesting’ than anticipated. Long story short, we were lucky our neighbourly woodland owners were around with their Landy which was needed to pull the pick-up out of the soft sandy muddy rut it was stuck in.

As building a bender for the loo was so simple (and reasonably elegant too) we have made another one to provide somewhere sheltered to leave our fold-up chairs, table and anything else that we want to keep out of the rain but isn’t so valuable that it needs locking up. As the main work season disappears behind us it is now more relaxed in the wood and a visit later in May saw us building a rope swing, chilling out in hammocks, sitting in the tree camp drumming and daydreaming about what we could do next. Work consisted of pulling/digging up a small patch of Rhododendron, chopping a few logs and bracken bashing in the clearing (we are leaving other patches of bracken standing).

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

A More Convenient Convenience

Unfortunately only managed to visit once this month, but it was constructive as we took down the failed rope and tarpaulin contrivance that housed the loo last year and built a more elegant ‘bender’ structure in a fresh location. Digging the hole was easy in our sandy soil and even Che leant a helping paw. Initially the plan was to use chestnut for the main supports as this would be the most rot resistant; however chestnut’s often useful splitability meant it didn’t have enough bendability. So the plan changed slightly and the bender frame was made completely from hazel. Then it was simply a matter of securing a couple of tarps over the frame and hey presto we’ve got a loo. It hasn’t got a door and next visit we’ll decide how much of a door/flap to put on to balance providing privacy with having a loo with a view.

A walk around the wood saw violets in flower and we spotted a single solitary primrose on the bank of the seasonal stream, surrounded by bluebells and ferns. Whilst in the wood I did the last(?) chainsawing of the season tidying up the stools where we’ve been coppicing (yep, we should have done them as we went along, but felling is more satisfying). Bill the woodsman paid us a visit giving some advice on felling awkward trees and he also gave my saw a ‘proper’ sharpening, which demonstrated why I need to give as much focus to the guides as I give to the teeth.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Woody the Forester

Well we’ve just about got all the felled trees logged up now and burnt all the branches etc that were too thin for firewood, so the coppiced area is now clear and we can see what we’ve achieved. All that’s left to do now is tidy up all the stools and stumps (many are still a bit tall having had the felling cuts but not yet been taken down lower) and arrange for someone to collect all the logs. Every visit over the past months has felt like it has been work work work, so now we are looking forward to visiting the wood just to relax and chill out, although I know I won’t be able to rest for long before I get to work again. But the next jobs will be more constructive; the loo needs rebuilding (the old tarpaulin construction wasn’t strong enough to survive the weather), and there’s rails to be put around the tree camp. We spotted our 1st bluebells last weekend; there are a few starting to flower at the southern edge of the wood. March also saw us say goodbye to our old car (Toyota Celica GT), which has been replaced with a more practical Subaru Forester which I call ‘Woody’ although the boss reckons it should be called Scooby. Although I miss the fun of the Celica, the Forester is no slouch and combines practicality with performance (4x4, but with a 2 litre turbo charged engine).

Monday, 25 February 2008

Spring is Sprung

February 2008

This month we finished felling all the trees we wanted to coppice this season and most have been processed into logs and will later be cut and split for firewood. But there are still enough felled trees to keep us busy logging for at least a couple more days. Some of the birch has been stacked to intentionally start decaying, so that the fungi ‘spalt’ the wood and it can then be turned (see photo from previous month). While we have been working, Tom has been lending a hand and also taking time out to make bows and arrows, ride his bike around the wood and been plinking with the air rifle. Despite the frosty mornings, it feels that spring is here with the woods starting to green; the bluebells are spiking into the light and honeysuckle is in fresh leaf. We have heard and seen woodpeckers and by chance there was a standing dead tree in the area being coppiced so we have left this standing.

Friday, 1 February 2008

A New Year, A New Lesson

January has seen a lot of trees coppiced / felled and the half an acre target has been achieved. My focus has been on felling, while the rest of the family has been doing some felling and a lot of clearing up processing the felled trees. About 60% of the trees felled are birch, with the rest being chestnut (all the oak standards have been left standing). The birch are generally single trees, with close twiggy branches and straight vertical trunks; so they are relatively easy to fell in a convenient direction. The chestnut, being from coppice stools, are generally leaning in all directions and more liable to get hung up; so it’s often a case of felling the birch around them to create a clearer space to fell into. Now the felling is (almost) complete, the next few visits will focus on clearing up and logging those felled trees that have not yet been processed and there will no doubt be a few more bonfires too. The heavy rains and wind have resulted in a couple more leaning trees, reminding us of the benefits of returning the wood to coppice rotation. The heavy rains also resulted in a temporary stream springing from an old rabbit hole; giving Che some new water to play in. We noticed that some birch wood has spalted and this makes great material for my dad’s woodturning, as can be seen in the bowl pictured above.
The lesson learnt this month is: wheelbarrows do not like having trees felled on top of them!