Sunday, November 2, 2014

Autumn Falls

Halloween at Fox Wood, or nos calan gwaf as it's called in Cornish

Well, it's been a while since I updated this blog so here's what's been going on at Fox Wood since the summer. In July our good woodland neighbours Trev and Becky got married at the local chapel and held the reception in the woods, turning the sleepy woods into an enchanting fairy wonderland of light and music. It was quite a party and the locals will no doubt be talking about it for years to come.

The summer was long and hot. It didn't rain for weeks at a time (although Trev and Becky managed to pick the one day for their wedding when it bucketed down) meaning I had my work cut out watering the 300 or so trees I planted last winter. Luckily they have all survived and are thriving — especially the Italian alders I planted as windbreaks, which seem to be settling in well.

The hot weather was excellent for growing food and we had a bumper crop of tomatoes this year.

We also have a bumper crop of firewood.

So I've spent an awful lot of time and money installing a wood burner at our house. Given the uncertain future of gas supplies, plus the need to use a more sustainable fuel, this should stand us in good stead for the future. The copper kettle is for heating up water for hot water bottles at bed time!

A couple of months back we took home a couple of young hedgehogs from a local rescue centre. Geoffrey and Suki, as they were called, should help keep down the slug population.

Autumn is now here, although it remains very warm, and the trees are finally losing their leaves. We got quite a harvest of chestnuts this year. Some of them were for roasting on the fire, some are for cooking and some are for planting.

This is the Hog Hotel we made for the hedgehogs. The tiles are from the roof of a local church that was undergoing renovation.

The tree nursery. About 200 seedlings have been successfully grown since last year. I aim to do the same this year.

A bath of oaks. One person's trash is another's rabbit-proof tree nursery.

Plenty of birds used the houses this year. There is now a family of wrens hopping around near this one.

This one had a family of finches in it.

Chestnut shoots in a ray of sun light.

Moss growing on the woodland floor

Down in the section of wood I coppiced last winter there has been an outburst of life. Having fenced it off from rabbits and deer the plants and trees have been free to grow unhindered.

The new growth is between six and ten feet high.

The whole area has turned into a thriving patch. In among the new growth there is a riot of plant and animal life going on. I have found newts, bats and evan a weasel here, as well as solitary bees and a couple of frogs.

In this picture you can see the new growth in the foreground and the old growth behind it. I'll probably give the maidens in the background a couple more years to grow bigger before I coppice that section.

The combination of chicken wire fence and brash piles has kept out the deer and rabbits. There are hardly any deer in the area but reports of sightings are getting more common and I don't want to take the chance.

The ride leading up through the woodland.

I discovered something pretty amazing recently. Whilst studying satellite images of the land I noticed something unusual in the adjacent field. I enhanced the colour on the image and saw some circular shapes lying beneath the soil.

Some friendly pagan archaeologists were called in with dowsing rods and they discerned six or more stone hut circles, including one beneath Fox Wood. They also detected powerful energy currents running through the land connecting the site of the local church to a nearby hilltop with a stone circle. The likelihood is that a bronze age settlement was here. It's quite amazing to think that Fox Wood would have been home to families of farmers up to 4,000 years ago.

Anyway, back to the present day, and it's time for tea.

Mushrooms are popping up everywhere. I counted at least 20 different types on a quick walk around the woods and field yesterday, although I haven't identified them yet. Here are some of them.

Speaking of mushrooms, I'm planning on growing them. Lots of them. Fox Wood has the perfect conditions for growing fungus with its damp and sheltered woodland and the abundance of fresh hardwoods. I'm already growing shiitake, oyster and chicken of the woods. There's a lot to learn but I'm on the case.

Apart from growing and selling mushrooms I'm also producing charcoal. I already have an order to produce 100 bags in 2015. I have collected a number of oil drums from local garages to turn into portable charcoal kilns.

Soon it will be time to start the coppicing work again. I have given my chainsaw a service, bought some new chains and a pair of chainsaw trousers, and will start the cutting work in ernest in December. I have a lot of work to do this winter but I'm looking forward to it. There are a lot of overgrown hazels that need coppicing for a start.

But I'll be leaving this old pollard oak well alone. I regard these old trees as guardians of the forest.

I have plenty of projects not yet finished. First and foremost in the poly-tunnel. I have dug out by hand and moved about 100 trailers of soil from my basement and deposited it here. It will form the base for the poly-tunnel, although I need the local friendly farmer to dump a few loads of manure on it from his cows so it will have time to rot down over winter. The two trees you can see in the centre are avocados.

Yes, we've even got oranges growing outside here. Not the nicest oranges you will have ever seen, but oranges nevertheless.

And then there's the pond. I've almost finished digging it and have now saved up for and bought a liner. It just needs a couple days further prep work before it is ready for filling. I discovered a frog sitting in the empty pond last week ... waiting.

Last year I planted several hundred trees at Fox Wood. This year I'll be doing the same again as I turn the field from a degraded piece of exhausted farm land into a biodiverse forest garden and orchard.

Did I mention the cider making? We — being our merry band of woodlanders — made our first batch in October, filling two oak barrels with the fermenting juice from apples gleaned from unloved apple trees across west Cornwall. A first tasting will occur at Winter Solstice and then it should be ready for drinking in April.

That's it for now from Fox Wood. I hope everyone had a good Halloween and is enjoying Autumn (or Spring if you live Down Under). Oh, and watch this space for my forthcoming book about a journey I undertook through a Swedish forest this summer entitled The Path to Odin's Lake.


  1. Thank you for taking the time to post your progress. Well done!

  2. Your work is inspirational to me. If I thought it possible I'd likely move my family to your ancient and magical lands. What kind of chestnut trees do you have? I want to put some chestnuts in the ground here. It would be awesome to plant a few of yours.

    1. I'm sure you'd love it over here. There are no bamboo drones ... yet.

      The trees are just regular sweet chestnuts. They were brought to these shores by the Romans back in the day and are very useful for construction as the wood is so strong, easy to split and contains natural tannins. I could send you a few seeds, assuming they won't be confiscated as a biohazard. It's be a thrill to know that they are growing in foreign lands.

    2. Send me some seeds. I'll plant them here. I just wonder how they would do in this climate. What about the American Chestnut blight? I suppose it wouldn't be a concern because your trees are not American Chestnuts. I know that Chinese chestnuts aren't affected by the blight. I also think that there are American chestnuts now with just 1% Chinese that are resistant to the blight.

  3. I don't have a link to this blog. I get here by way of your 22 Billion blog and so, to get here takes two steps, first through an antechamber of horrors, then out into a garden of delights. How different the feeling of the two, depressing in one case and delightful and heartening in the other. Curiously, I have become addicted to gloom and horror. If it were not so, I would link directly to this blog and slowly wean myself off your other blog and all the other blogs like it in the sphere where Orlov and Kunstler and John Michael Greer trot out gloom on a weekly basis.
    I am curious whether you ever get tempted to just garden and coppice and dig ponds and put out your positive message and abandon the world of gloom to others.

    1. Hi Wolfgang. I stay abreast of doom issues, but try not to let them dominate my thoughts. These days I spend 95% of the time thinking about and working on my woodland project, and about 5% of the time obsessing about doom. A couple of years back this would have been roughly the other way around. Usually, if I have something to say I'll go over and write something on 22 Billion Energy Slaves, although I fully recognise that it's just more preaching to the choir.

      I think it's quite easy to become addicted to doom and horror. Modern life to the informed is like watching a slow motion car crash and there's nothing (much) you can do to prevent it. Nevertheless, I was obsessing about doom for quite a while, and that's where I got the idea for the book I am writing (which is actually nearly finished). My simple question is 'how does one live at peace with the world when so much is going wrong?' I spent 10 days walking alone around a forest in Sweden looking for answers.

      As for the other bloggers, their blogs are vehicles for them to sell books. Hopefully mine will be too some day, so expect more doom in the pipeline (plenty of time to dwell on it when I'm digging ponds and hauling wood!)

    2. 'how does one live at peace with the world when so much is going wrong?'
      I would like to propose that you are already doing the right thing, that is, working your wood lot. By doing so, you are not making the world a worse place and setting an example for others to follow.
      Over here in California, we have planted our winter crop of turnip greens. The parsley is also doing nicely now that the sun has gotten less intense. And the tomato plants got a second wind as well. In December we plan on doing our now annual trip to the Mojave Desert, a place that naturally encourages contemplation with its silence and emptiness and lack of a cellphone signal.

    3. Both of you are doing important work. As I struggled with divorce and life change in 2011, I got some good advice: do good small things one after another. I'm much better off. So are you. Thanks for the inspiration.

      Wolfgang, I stay away from doom. Nobody knows the future, and we individual specks can't save the world. The best we can do is be our best selves.

      Derek in Seattle

  4. Hi Jason. Mate, this is awesome! Well done, the place looks great. So many great projects on the go at once.
    You'll find that next summer, those trees in their second year won't require as much watering. In fact it might not be a bad idea to let them get a little bit water stressed, so they send roots deeper into the soil. You have to watch them closely though as you don't want to kill them either. Long term, you don't really want to have to water them as water is a precious resource and the trees can become dependent and shallow rooted.
    You have so much organic matter on the ground - all those autumn leaves are really great feed for the trees and soil life. If you wanted to speed the system up a bit you could experiment with a small area by mowing the area - which will chip and mulch all of that organic matter. It increases the surface area of the material which gives more edges for fungi, bacteria, nematodes etc. to eat.
    Great to see the chestnuts growing strongly and I love the oak tree. There are 160 year old English Oaks in this part of the world and they are something to see.
    Hope the cider turns out well. I cheat a bit and add a small amount of sugar and champagne yeast so that the mix turns out a bit stronger and sweeter than the more traditional apple cider vinegar taste. Who knows what sort of naturally occurring yeasts would be in the orchards up your way. Still, it only takes 3 weeks of effort to change your palate! I used to hate natural yoghurt, but after a bit of effort it tastes fine to me.
    Glad to hear that you support so much wildlife too. It is a good sign and sometimes they may work against you, but often they'll be teaching you things that you never thought possible. Respect for your work. Cheers. Chris

    1. Hi Chris - thanks for your comments! Water stress is not usually an issue here as usually we have too much of the stuff. However, over the past few years, we are seeing weather patterns get 'stuck' for long periods of time. These days, if it starts raining it might rain for three months without stopping, followed by three months of dry. That's why I'm trying to get as much diversity in - something will always thrive whatever the conditions.

      I'm actually off down to the forest today to do a day's work cutting up some more firewood. I also have about 30 more oak seedlings to put in ... but I couldn't find any English oaks this year so am planting a load of Mediterranean holm oaks instead (in addition to beech and chestnuts). These are evergreens and I figure I'll be able to sell them in a couple of years time, or use them as hedging.

      As for the cider ... we're having a preliminary tasting in a month (at winter solstice). I've never made it before but I'm told it will be slightly bitter. The sweetness will have developed by about April next year. As for changing your palate ... I gave up sugar last week and am just starting to notice a change. Mind you, I can't stand coffee without some kind of sweetener so I've put a teaspoon of agave syrup in it.

      Cheers, Jason

  5. The sessile oak (Quercus petraea) has one of its strongholds in Cornwall, a different subspecies from the English oak.

    The phrase "Nos Kalan Gwav" comes from the traditional Celtic division of the year into the light half and the dark half of the year, the light half returning at Beltane in the beginning of May.

  6. I enjoyed reading of your work this past summer and fall. I'll be writing about my own work before too long and am already mulling over what projects I want to undertake next year.

    My husband Mike and I are also starting to burn wood for heat. Our new wood stove was installed about 3 weeks ago. We'll be burning our third small fire in it in a couple of days (we were told to burn small fires the first three times). Over the last couple of days Mike dug the post holes for a wood shed. We will likely burn a mix of scavenged, purchased, and homegrown wood for the first few years, using the stove for supplemental heat. As fracked natural gas becomes less available we will transition to using the wood stove more.