Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Life Returns



The picture above shows one of the sweet chestnut stools in Fox Wood coming back to life. If you remember, I cut down these trees in early January - and now the sap is rising again and the trees are starting to produce new shoots as they come back to life.

I have been busy! Looking after a woodland can be a lot of work - especially at this stage when I am trying to get things established. I have planted around 180 trees in the last month, and have been working very hard to get all of the cut wood stored and fences built so that the rabbits do not get to eat the new shoots and destroy all my work. What follows is a selection of pictures from Fox Wood that I took today. There are quite a few of them ...

A little beautification project was needed at the field entrance. The soil I used was dug out from the basement of our house 10 miles away. It has not seen the light of day since 1880 and is full of clay pipes and horse shoes.

Some idiot dumped a load of old tyres in a hedge. I wish I had caught them ... I would have thanked them and asked if they had any more.

This is the site of the future poly tunnel. I'm levelling the ground so that it is not so steep.

A silver birch coming to life again.

The half-finished pond is due for completion this year. At the moment it is acting as a nursery for about 300 oak seedlings, which I will use for hedging and exchange/sale.


A willow in bud.

It doesn't look like much but this is the new edible hedge. I only had enough cash for a 10m section this year, but in it are apples, pears, crab apples, hazel, oak, sycamore and plums. In a few years it will be awesome.

This is the beginning of a large wind break of Italian alders that stretches about 150m. There are 150 trees planted here and they will shield the orchard from the strong southwesterlies that blast the field. These trees get really big really fast, and they fix nitrogen as well.

This apple had been attacked by (very large) rabbits last year and seems to be dead. All of the branches are brittle and there is no sign of life ...

... until I removed the spire guard and noticed this. It's really hard to kill a young tree!

This almond is the first tree to blossom. There are plenty of bees and other pollinators around, so hopefully it will produce some fruit this year (yes, almonds are fruits - closely related to peaches).

This is the section of the field where I killed the grass by covering it with silage plastic for six months. I have removed the plastic now and have sown clover seeds to fix nitrogen and out-compete the grass. I've also sown a load of old veggie seeds randomly to see what does well. There are lettuces, carrots, radishes, coriander and a few other things just tossed in. You can tell I've been reading Masanobu Fukuoka's 'The One Straw Revolution' !

Here's an insect hotel I made. Several bees have moved in already - so they must like it.

This is a small stand of hazel that I planted for coppice. Because the whips are so small at the moment I had to devise a method of keeping them from falling/blowing over, so I tied string around them between two poles. 

Some purple flowers that just popped up in the grass.

The edge of my land and originally a gateway. I've planted common alder here to block this off. They grow quite fast and they are wide and thick. They are forever spraying chemicals on this field and I'm trying to stop them drifting onto my land on the wind.

A sycamore sapling unfolding its leaves.

Sycamore leaf emerging.

The kids' vegetable plots.

Down in the coppice wood.


Patches of bluebells are appearing.

A close-up of the woodland floor.

And another one.

This might not be obvious but a natural pond has started to form here. Ancient maps reveal that this used to be an animal pen a few hundred years ago. It's right at the bottom of my land and the valley - a fast running stream with little beaches is just beyond!

And this, which runs down one side of the woodland, used to be a drovers track in times past. This area has been farmed for at least five thousand years and the land is criss-crossed with tracks if you know what you are looking for. You can see that (wild) animals are still using it and leaving tracks.

A bit of dead wood. Although I have an itchy chainsaw finger, standing deadwood is excellent habitat for insects and grubs and enhances the biodiversity of the woodland immensely. I've heard it said that you should leave at least 10% of the wood dead. Fungus loves it too.

An elder bush coming into leaf. I love elder so I'm encouraging it wherever I see it growing. You can make great wine with the flowers and the berries, and the plant generally has more uses than you can shake a stick at ... not all of them wholesome.

Looking at trees, you get to see the forces that shaped them. This one clearly shows how the wind rushing along the valley has given it a distinctive shape.

This row of alder was planted before the rest of the woodland, about 25 years ago. It would have grown faster than the oak and chestnut maidens, shielding them from strong winds. We felled one of them and the wood is dark orange for a few weeks. I will grow mushrooms in the logs and one section is being given to a green woodworking friend who will make bowls from it.

Ferns unfurling.

Not sure what this is ...

This chestnut tree has grown a lot of side sprouts, for some reason. They will need to be cut off otherwise the  tree will be outgrown by those surrounding it and it will lose the battle for light and die. 

This is what happens when you let low side branches grow. Is it me, or does it look a bit like a rhino?

This is squirrel damage. Grey squirrels are prolific here and I will have to control them if I want the coppice wood to be a success. 

Within the wood is this row of hazels. I'll probably coppice them next year as the new shoots they produce are extremely useful.

Oak being strangled by ivy. 

I've cut many of the ivy stems, so hopefully the old oak trees will be saved. 


I love the way hazel looks like rippling muscles.


Some of the wood I cut, stacked up in different sized piles.

I'm experimenting with growing vegetables in the newly-coppiced forest area. These are potatoes coming up.


The coppiced cant. I moved all the remaining wood today - by hand. One of the joys of coppicing is that you don't need heavy machinery. It is a human-sized job.

I have built hedges with the brash to deter deer and act as a store for firewood. Actually, most of this will get turned into charcoal in a couple of years, but for now the birds seem to love it and robins are busy building nests in it.

Some of these are HEAVY. Still, being on a slope, I just rolled 'em down it.

A lone chestnut standard amidst its fallen comrades.  I wonder, does it feel survivor guilt?

I have more wood than I know what to do with. Luckily, a couple of buyers have already stepped forward for some of it.



Another pile.

During the extreme 'worst in 250 years' storms of the winter, I lost only one tree. This was an old hawthorn that was covered in ivy. I chopped it up and it will be fed into our wood burner next winter.

One of the bird boxes that my daughters made.

Orange blossom. Yes, that's right.

Baby oranges. I also have lemons, olives and avocados - although they'll need to go in the poly tunnel next winter.

The new steps. I've sprinkled wildflower seed on the (probably) sterile soil, so soon this should be a riot of colour.

10 comments:

  1. The unknown plant with variegated arrow-shaped leaves is an arum lily.

    Random-commenter bio: I found this blog through your energy slaves blog, and since I'm exploring coppicing as a possibility on my own land in Australia I have started following this one too.

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    1. Thanks Liz. I'm not the best person at recognising plants as they pop up!

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  2. Exciting progress and such an inspiring project. Thank you for the update.

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  3. Hi Jason, good to see that you've been able to get busy after that horrendous winter. Sycamore (Platanus) are alternately branched, the photo above is opposite, is it perhaps a Maple (Acer)? Perhaps it is the local vernacular. Interestingly, there is a species of Maple called "Sycamore Maple" (Acer pseudoplatanus). Have fun and be careful with those power tools!

    Cheers from Cascadia

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  4. Enjoyed seeing what you are doing! I'm just beginning to plant this year's vegetable beds.

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  5. Lovely! It's really beginning to flourish with a bit of attention. Those purple flowers are violets, by the way.

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  6. Looking good out there Jason , great to see the progress shots.I have been reading Ben Laws "woodsman", living in a wood in the 21st century, you both are very inspirational.

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  7. Excellent! Great to see the progress you've made.

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  8. Greetings from Illinois. I like how you've got your whips shielded and strung between posts. It's just the idea I was looking for, for when we put in our young Osage orange trees next spring (they're just seedlings now and will spend the coming winter in a nursery bed).

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