Oct 312012
 

Do you have a woodburner or log burning stove and need to stock up for the winter?

Tip – best to buy by volume but if buying by weight then make sure the wood is seasoned.

It is better to buy wood by volume than by weight because between 35% and 60% of the weight of freshly felled wood comes from water. Under the Weights and Measures Act, coal and smokeless fuel have to be sold in defined weights, which makes it easy for you to compare the cost between suppliers. Unless there is a local statutory instrument in force, there will be no such statutory weight for deliveries of wood. The logs and wood are usually sold in “nets” or by lorry load, so take care to check the amount you can expect to get for your money. Fresh felled wood weighs about one tonne per solid cubic metre but will lose up to half its weight when it becomes fully air dried, so find out for how long the wood has been seasoned before delivery.

Tip – make sure the logs are the right size for your stove

Ideally, logs purchased should be no more than 10cm thick. Any that are will need to be split again to ensure that they burn properly. Generally speaking, close grained smooth woods make better fuel than those in which the grain is open and rough.

 Poplar is one of the wettest woods when freshly fuelled and ash (at 35%) one of driest. Seasoning reduces the moisture content of the wood. Wood felled during one winter should be seasoned until the next and preferably a second winter before it is burned. Trees felled during the Spring/Summer will have a very high moisture content compared to those felled in late Autumn/Winter, therefore whilst a log first cut in January may be ready to burn within say, a year, it is necessary for a log cut in May to be seasoned for at least two years.

 

When buying firewood – what is a chord?

The chord is one of the most common measurements for purchasing fuel wood.

A cord is a stacked unit volume of wood measuring

4 x 4 x 8 feet    = 128 cubic feet This volume includes bark and air space. Due to the irregular shape of wood the air space in the cord can be as high as 40 percent. The net cord volume can therefore be as low as 75 cubic feet. In general net cord volume range 80 – 100 cubic feet.

1ft(foot) = 0.3048m

 October 31, 2012  post archive, tree Tagged with: , ,
Oct 312012
 
010adecember2011 034

Blackthorn Sloe Berry 

Last year at Fifesmallholder we harvested our very own sloes for making into that wonderful winter liqueur Sloe Gin.  Many people do not associate sloes with the blackthorn shrub, but this is the name of the seed that it produces.  Like some root vegetables that improve after a frost (makes them sweeter) advice is that you are best to collect sloes after a frost. The skins become soft and bletted (half rotten) and become more permeable.  Sloe Gin made at this time will be ready just in time for Christmas.  

However if you have no blackthorns on your property you are unlikely to find any left by then.  Many people will pick the sloes early winter when they are plump (not wizened) and then put them in the freezer.

What is a sloe?

Also known as blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), the sloe is the ancestor of all our cultivated plums, yet the wild sloe is the tartest, most acid berry you will ever taste.  This deciduous shrub flowers from March to May and bears fruit in September and October.  The flowering of the blackthorn is often accompanied by a cold spell, and this is known as ‘blackthorn winter’.

For all its eye-watering acidity, the sloe is a very useful fruit: it makes a clear jelly, wine, sloe & apple cheese, and sloe gin.

Not sure how to tell the difference between a Hawthorn and a Blackthorn?  

The blackthorn will produce small white flowers before the leaves in March and April.  Hawthorn will produce flowers after leaves.  Hawthorn berries are small and red, blackthorn berries or sloes are bigger and purple/black in colour.

How to make sloe gin

Pick about 500g (1lb) of the berries. Pierce the skin of each berry  with a fort to help the gin and juices to mingle more easily.  Mix the sloes with half their weight of sugar, then half-fill bottles with this mixture.  Pour gin (alternatively brandy or aquavit) in to the bottles until they are nearly full, and seal tightly.  Store for at least 2 months, and shake occasionally to help dissolve and disperse the sugar.  Strain the liquor through fine muslin or filter paper until quite clear. The result is a brilliant, deep pink liqueur, sour-sweet and refreshing.  Bottle, and store for use.

 

 October 31, 2012  garden, post archive, recipe, tree, winter Tagged with: , , ,
Oct 242012
 

Using wet or fresh wood for a fire

In simple terms, the word ‘seasoned’ means ‘dry’ and the term ‘green’ means ‘freshly cut from living tree’.

Why is it not a good idea to burn green wood on a fire?

Green wood carries about a third of its weight as water, which on the fire evaporates and helps to carry the heat away up the chimney.  You can often hear a log sizzle or hiss in the fire if it is too green or damp.  

How do I know if wood has been seasoned?

It’s essential to know that the wood you are buying is properly seasoned and not still full of moisture. Here are some quick checks to help you tell the difference:

  • Seasoned wood weighs much less than green wood.
  • Seasoned wood looks darker, or grey when compared to freshly cut or “green” wood which is usually more yellow or cream coloured.
  •  Seasoned wood will have drying cracks showing at the flat, cut end.
  • Seasoned wood will have loose bark compared to the bark of green wood which will be tightly attached.
  • When two pieces of seasoned wood are knocked together they make a high, hollow sound whereas green wood makes a more dull sound.
  • Seasoned wood should not hiss when burnt, this is the water in the wood boiling and being forced out as steam. 

What to do if you buy wood that has not been seasoned

If you buy logs which have not been seasoned, you should cut them to length (300mm or 10″ to 18″), split to size and stacked. Tree branches and trunks contain thousands of microscopic tubes which carry water from the roots to the leaves, and these tubes can stay full of water for years after the tree has been felled (or pruned). Cutting the wood to shorter lengths opens these tubes to the atmosphere which increases evaporation.

The stack should be completely covered on the top to prevent rain wetting the wood but air must be allowed to reach the sides of the stack. Leave to season for at least 1 year (more if possible). Some logs may take 3 to 4 years to fully season. Bring the fuel into the house a few days before you want to use it to get it as dry as possible. 

All wood will, when supported by lots of kindling and/or a good ember base, will burn unseasoned. However, you may find some woods are not worth using in this state due to the length of ‘hissing’ time (as the water boils from within the wood) before they can burn.

Moisture content of firewood

  • by volume wet wood has about 85% of the energy of oven-dry wood
  • by weight wet wood has less than half –  42% – of the energy of oven-dry wood
Whilst seasoning it should preferably be stored under cover in an airy place such as an open sided lean-to. The only way of knowing if your firewood is ready to burn is by knowing the moisture content. Wood should be burned when the moisture content is below 25% – ‘air-dry’. You can tell if a log is dry because the bark will come away easily in the hand and the log will have splits across the grain.  
 
You can also purchase a damp or moisture meter from any hardware store that is suitable for use on wood.   If you buy your own moisture meter you will be sure that your logs are dry enough to burn. Owning a moisture meter will also reduce any ‘misunderstandings’ on the suitability of the logs you buy in: pick a random log, split it and use the moisture meter to measure the moisture content of the wood across the grain.
 
It is important the logs are dry and well seasoned. Burning wet or unseasoned wood is less efficient and can cause harmful build up of deposits in the chimney over a very short time. Thick coatings of creosote or resinous material can cause chimney fires, or prevent the chimney functioning properly. This can allow harmful fumes to escape into the dwelling.
 

 Heat values from wood, moisture content of wood, and how long to season firewood

Wood from different trees has different heat values The table below provides a useful comparison. 
               Weight per m3 in kg Gross heat value kW/kg (btu/lb)  
 
Ash        674   4.1   (6,350)   35% moisture green  1 summer season needed
  Beech 690   4.3   (6,700)   45% moisture green   1-2 summers season needed
  Birch   662   4.1   (6,350)   45%  moisture green  1 summer season needed
  Elm      540   3.6   (5,600)   60%  moisture green 2-3 summers season needed
  Oak       770  4.5   (7,000)   50%  moisture green2-3 summers season needed
  Poplar 465   2.6  (4,100)    65%   moisture green 1 summer season needed
Softwoods Pine 410 2.6 (4,100) 60% moisture green 1 summer season needed
 /Fir
 October 24, 2012  post archive, tree Tagged with: , ,
Oct 242012
 

Difference between hard and soft wood

The two categories of woods, softwood and hardwood, do not actually refer to how hard or soft a wood is to the touch but rather how dense the wood is.  Hardwoods are trees that lose their leaves seasonally, and softwoods are trees that keep their foliage all year.

Typical Firewoods

Ash, white – Hardwood – Good firewood

Beech – Hardwood – Good firewood

Birch, yellow – Hardwood – Good firewood

Chestnut – Hardwood – Excessive sparking, can be dangerous

Cottonwood – Hardwood – Good firewood

Elm, white – Hardwood – Difficult to split, burns well

Hickory – Hardwood – Slow steady fire, best firewood

Maple, sugar – Hardwood – Good firewood

Oak, red – Hardwood – Slow steady fire

Oak, white – Hardwood – Slow steady fire

Pine, yellow – Softwood – Quick hot fire, smokier than hardwood

Pine, white – Softwood – Quick hot fire, smokier than hardwood

Walnut, black – Hardwood – Good firewood

 October 24, 2012  post archive, tree Tagged with: , , ,
Oct 232012
 
burning logs in fire

Firewood 

“To have no fire, or a bad fire, to sit by, is a most dismal thing.”

William Cobbett

Lighting a fire

They say that making up a fire is an art in itself and everyone finds what works for them eventually – I was always told that a fire should light with one match and generally I have found that to be so.  Having got the fire to light sometimes it just doesn’t do and I am at a loss as to why.  For an explanation and tips on how to light a fire check out this article.  

Below is a poem by an unknown author that may help us all to know the best firewood to burn and keep us warm.

What to burn

“Oak logs will warm you well, if they’re old and dry.

Larch logs of pine will smell, but the sparks will fly.

Beech logs for Christmas time; yewl logs heat well.

‘Scotch’ logs it is a crime for anyone to sell.

Birch logs will burn too fast; chestnut scarce at all.

Hawthorn logs are good to last, if you cut them in the fall.

Holly logs will burn like wax; you should burn them green.

Elm logs like smouldering flax, no flame to be seen.

Pear logs and apple logs, they will scent your room.

Cherry logs across the dogs smell like flowers in bloom.

But ash logs, all smooth and grey, burn them green or old.

Buy up all that come your way, they’re worth their weight in gold.”

The quality of firewood is based upon various characteristics such as its speed of burn, heat given off, tendency to spark (spit), ease of splitting, time required to season, etc.

 Grade: 1 = Poor, Grade: 2 = Okay, Grade: 3 = Good, Grade: 4 = Excellent.

Firewood Rating Table
Common Name:  Botanical Name:  Comments:
 Alder Alnus  Low quality firewood.Grade: 1 
 Apple Malus  Needs to be well seasoned. Burns well with a pleasant smell and no sparking/spitting. Grade: 3
 Ash Fraxinus  One of the best firewoods. It has a low water content and is easily split with an axe. Burns best when seasoned but can be burned green. Grade: 4 
 Beech Fagus  Beech has a high water content and will therefore only burn when seasoned. Grade: 3 
 Birch Betula  An excellent firewood that will burn when green. However, it burns quickly so should be mixed with a slower burning wood such as Oak. Grade: 3/4
 Cedar  Cedrus  A good firewood which burns with a pleasant smell. Gives a good lasting heat and does not spit much. Small pieces may be burned green.Grade: 2/3 
 Cherry Prunus  Must be well seasoned. Burns with a pleasant smell without spitting.Grade: 2/3 
 Elm Ulmus  A good firewood but due to its high water content of approximately 140% (more water than wood!) it must be seasoned very well. It may need assistance from another faster burning wood such as Birch to keep it burning well. However it gives off a good, lasting heat and burns very slowly. Larger pieces of wood will prove difficult to split. Grade: 2/3
 Eucalyptus Eucalyptus  Allow to season well since the wood is very sappy when fresh. Can be difficult to split due to stringy wood fibre. Best method is to slice into rings and allow to season during the summer, the rings will start to split themselves. Burns fast with a pleasant smell and without spitting. Grade: 2/3
 Hawthorn Crataegus  A good firewood. Grade: 3/4 
 Hazel Corylus  An excellent wood when seasoned. Burns fast without spitting. Grade: 4 
 Holly Ilex  A good firewood that can be burned green. Grade: 3 
 Hornbeam Carpinus  Burns well. Grade: 3 
 Horse Chestnut Aesculus hippocastanum  A fairly poor firewood.Grade: 2 
 Larch Larix  A very poor firewood which spits excessively while burning and leaves an oily soot in the chimney. Provides a good heat. Grade: 1
 Lime Tilia  Poor quality firewood.Grade: 2 
 Oak Quercus  One of the best firewoods. When seasoned well, it gives off a good, lasting heat. Burns reasonably slowly.Grade: 4 
 Pear Pyrus  If well seasoned it burns nicely with a pleasant smell. Grade: 3 
 Pine Pinus  Burns hot but needs to be well seasoned. Leaves an oily soot in the chimney and spits excessively.Grade: 1 
 Plane Platanus  A reasonable quality firewood. Grade: 3 
 Poplar Populus Very poor firewood. Burns with a poor heat and only usable when well seasoned. Grade: 1
 Rowan Sorbus aucuparia Burns well. Grade: 3
 Spruce Picea Low quality. Grade: 2
 Sweet Chestnut Castanea sativa Burns when seasoned but spits continuously and excessively.Not for use on an open fire and make sure wood-burning stoves have a good door catch!Grade: 1/2
 Maple (including Sycamore) Acer Burns well. Grade: 3
 Walnut Juglans  Poor quality firewood.Grade: 2 
 Wellingtonia Sequoiadendron  Very bad quality. Grade: 1 
 Willow Salix  A high water content means it needs to be well seasoned. Grade: 2/3 
 Yew Taxus  Usable. Grade: 2/3 

Burning green or unseasoned wood

In simple terms, the word ‘seasoned’ means ‘dry’ and the term ‘green’ means ‘freshly cut from living tree’.

Green wood carries about a third of its weight as water, which on the fire evaporates and helps to carry the heat away up the chimney.  You can often hear a log sizzle or hiss in the fire if it is too green or damp.  Read More

Difference between wood and coal for burning

Wood fuel has typically less than half the calorific value of coal and smokeless fuel which burns for longer, so you must be prepared to use a greater volume of wood to heat your home or room, unless you use both wood and mineral solid fuel. Coal ash should be disposed of in your rubbish, whilst wood ash has many uses and should not be discarded.

Best wood for an open fire

Generally hardwoods are best for open fires because they tend not to spit excessively, however there are exceptions  (horse chestnut spit badly making them a hazard in an open fire). Conifer wood (like spruce) tends to spit excessively when fresh, so is best used for sealed wood burning stoves, again there are exceptions. Many conifers also cause an oily, sticky ‘soot’ to form inside the chimney which can increase the risks of chimney fires. Once properly seasoned conifer wood can be successfully used on the open fire without excessive spitting. Ideally, conifer wood is best mixed with hardwood.

 Where to find firewood

The most common form of wood fuel at the moment is logs. These will usually come from local sources and can be brought from a variety of outlets – e.g. coal merchants, farmers, tree surgeons. There are now companies who only supply firewood.  If you cannot afford to purchase firewood, then why not contact your local Forestry Commission office and enquire about a Scavenging Permit to lift leftover wood after an area has been harvested.  The only other option is to grow your own – however this is a long term investment (unless you buy a mature woodland) some trees grow faster than others such as the fast growing willow Viminalis but the downside is that you have to store them for longer before they are dry enough to burn. 

Buying logs – what you need to know and ask

It is better to buy wood by volume than by weight because between 35% and 60% of the weight of freshly felled wood comes from water. Read More 

Which trees are hardwood or softwood and what is the difference for firewood?

The two categories of woods, softwood and hardwood, do not actually refer to how hard or soft a wood is to the touch but rather how dense the wood is.  Read More. 

Useful links to information about buying and drying firewood

 October 23, 2012  green, post archive, tree Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Oct 182012
 
burning logs in fire

How to make a log fire

In these days of central heating where you push a button or the heating comes on automatically by timer – heating your house with a log burning  or dual fuel stove can be a challenge, and for many is a skill that they have never learned.  As children many of us were warned away from fire, and discouraged from playing with matches.  Our houses were warmed by gas, electricity, or oil.

So you have opened up a fireplace or installed a stove, and are struggling to light that fire or get a good blaze going.  Ray Mears can produce a fire from a spark in the wilderness but you have gone through several matches and firelighters and still there is a pitiful flicker that produces no heat.

What are the tips to lighting a fire?

The things you need to consider are:

  • Air flow or draw of the fire

    Your chimney is the lungs of the house and you need air flow to feed the flames and build up heat.  When we had an open fire this included opening the door in the room, or putting up a sheet of newspaper against the chimney opening to create a rush of air.  In a stove this is easier by opening the vents and door slightly.  Sometimes there are issues about not having enough of a draw – if this is the case seek professional help – a cowl (see link) might be required and on occasion I have heard of a electric fan assisted cowl to artificially generate a flow of air.  If you have an open fire then beware of back-draft when it is windy – sometimes it is just not worth  setting a fire (you can get a cowl to help this see link above).  Or you may have to much of a draw that creates a draft when the pass door is open -(we experienced this which is why personally we prefer stoves).  We have not had a problem with back-draft since we installed the stoves and when the fires are not lit – we don’t have the cold air coming down the chimney.  One last point on an open fire – they are less efficient than stoves because you lose a lot of heat up the chimney.  Stoves retain heat simply from their structure and they enable you to control the rate of burn thereby maximising efficiency.

  • Type of wood you are using to light the fire

  See my other blog on what types of wood burn best.  Most types of wood when unseasoned or green, are too full of sap and water to burn effectively (Ash is the exception).  Also some wood just does not burn very well.  The heavier and therefore denser the wood, the higher its calorific value and therefore the longer it will burn. Hardwoods tend to be denser than softwoods such as pine and spruce and some of the densest are oak and beech. However, some of the very dense hardwoods like oak and elm can be very difficult to burn, so it is usually best to burn them with another type of wood as well. Softwoods tend to be easy to light and to burn quickly (making them very good kindling). Some of the best woods to burn are ash, beech, hornbeam, hawthorn, crab apple and wild cherry.

Your wood needs to be seasoned (dried over a period of time or in a kiln). If buying from a log merchant, check that your load will be well seasoned and ready to throw on the fire.  If you are still unsure, or storing it yourself, use a moisture meter to detect when the timber’s content is below 25%.  Until then, store in a pile with plenty of air circulating around it.

  • Moisture content of wood for the fire

 This can affect how well wood will burn.  Wet wood is also less efficient because the rising steam takes away heat from the room. It will also coat your chimney with resin and soot which is a major cause of chimney fires. More information on this issue can be found here.

  • Size of wood in the fire

 You need to light a small piece of wood and newspaper or firelighter that then lights a bigger piece (called kindling) that then lights a log.  Heat needs to build up and you need a bed of embers burning before logs will burn freely. Check out this You Tube link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O6aIeIZfTkg&feature=related

  • Log fires need a lot of attention

They burn quickly and can go out if not attended or fed with other logs.  Coal is a less green option but gives a greater long lasting heat.  However it produces a lot more ash or spoil that is considered toxic and cannot be used in your hen shed or compost.  We put our wood ash under the roosting perches to balance out the acidity of the hen poop. The chicken manure and wood ash react, driving off the nitrogen and drying out the manure. The result is an easily handled, easy-to-store, organic fertilizer that is rich in potassium and phosphorus.  We also add wood ash to the hens dust bath.  Wood ash is a good source of potash check out this link for more info.  For the reasons given we do not mix wood (apart from initial lighting with kindling) with coal, we have one type of fire or the other.

  • Health and safety

Open fires can be more dangerous than wood burning stoves because of the sparks they produce – amongst other dangers.  Never leave an open fire unattended, however stoves can become dangerously hot and touching them or proximity of materials close to stoves can melt, or smoulder.  Fire guards, proximity, and health & safety are things that must always be taken into consideration.

  • Flammable materials

do not burn things in your fire that can cause fumes or are dangerous.

  • Maintenance of chimney

make sure your chimney is cleaned or swept regularly – it is recommended that this is done at least once a year.  Otherwise that roaring fire might turn into something far more dangerous…….  When coal soot deposits or wood tar deposits build up to a sufficient level there is the risk of chimney fire. The heat from the fire warms the deposits releasing the combustible volatiles until they ignite. The fire then migrates up the chimney as the burning deposits heat the chimney above. Chimney fires can damage structures, destroy homes and injure or kill people. Here are some useful links http://www.chimney-cleaners.co.uk/chimney-fires.phphttp://www.stovesonline.co.uk/chimney-fires.htmlhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3drlKFx8P7Y.

We fitted chinese hats to the tops of our chimneys to stop rain getting in, birds getting in, and reduces downdraft.  Check out this link for examples of caps or hats for your chimney.

Making a fire

When your wood is ready, make a wigwam of dry kindling (gathered twigs, chopped up logs, or pallets cut into batons) over scrunched up sheets of newspaper.  Once the paper is lit in several places, this is the foundation of your fire.  Other items that give it extra spark include fir cones, loose or dry bark, or cardboard such as empty toilet rolls. When the kindling is roaring (if using a stove, open up the vent fully or for an open hearth, use bellows to fan the flames), start by adding one log and then more once the fire is established (in a stove leave the vent partially open to keep it steady).  Continue to stir/poke the fire to stimulate combustion and feed with fuel when necessary.

 A log stove can go out quickly if left without fuel, if you wish to stoke up a fire then you need to reduce the air flow and make sure there is plenty of fuel so that it can be left overnight, for example, to burn slowly or smoulder and produce a low heat over a long time.  Hardwoods such as oak are best suited to this as they are dense and slow-burning.

With coal it is possible to pack it down, reduce the air flow, (some people even pour a little moisture over the top to create a crust), and restart the fire again in the morning.  This is less likely to happen with wood as it will burn quicker.

 Wood ash

Unlike coal ash that should be disposed as rubbish, wood ash has many beneficial uses and should be treasured.  Wood ash contains 10-25% calcium, 1-4% magnesium, 5-15% potassium and 1-3% phosphorus. And amongst other things is good for your compost, garden, and chicken dust bath. Read more

 October 18, 2012  green, post archive, smallholder, tree Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Oct 112012
 
15sep12 015

Why Grow your own firewood?

Wood is the natural sustainable choice of fuel for many domestic fires – in use since the first fire thousands of years ago. When we warm our homes with wood, we participate in a natural cycle that we share with ancient ancestors.

The ability to burn wood for heat in our homes gives us more control and options for fuel. We are no longer dependent on large energy utilities and multinational corporations whose charges only ever increase. Even if we have to buy in our logs at least we are supporting our local economy.

Unlike the burning of fossil fuels like coal, gas or oil, burning firewood releases no more greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide) than would be produced were the wood to simply rot on the forest floor. If we are responsible in the ways we grow, cut, and burn our firewood, wood burning can actually be a good choice for the environment.

When sourcing wood you have three choices, buy in, buy a mature woodland, or grow your own.  This article will focus on the latter, check out this other article about sourcing wood away from the smallholding.

What trees are the best to grow for firewood?

Note that all woods burn better when seasoned and some burn better when split rather than as whole logs.  In general the better woods for burning that you are most likely to come by are:

  • Apple and pear – burn slowly and steadily with little flame but good heat.  The scent is also pleasing.
  • Ash – the best burning wood providing plenty of heat (will also burn green)
  • Beech and hornbeam – good when well seasoned
  • Birch – good heat and bright flame, burns quickly
  • Blackthorn and hawthorn – very good, burns slowly but with good heat
  • Cherry – also burns slowly with good heat and a pleasant scent
  • Cypress – burns well but fast when seasoned, and may spit
  • Hazel – good
  • Holly – good when well seasoned
  • Horse Chestnut – good flame and heating power but spits a lot
  • Larch – fairly good for heat but crackles and spits
  • Maple – good
  • Oak – very old dry seasoned oak is excellent, burning slowly with a good heat
  • Pine – burns well with a bright flame but crackles and spits
  • Poplar – burns very slowly with little heat
  • Willow – good if seasoned well

If the tree you are looking for is not here then try this link.

Timescale for harvesting wood as fuel

If starting from scratch then the quickest tree to plant and harvest is willow.  It can be grown on damp unusable ground, and if properly undertaken, will produce wood of a size that is manageable by a smallholder without specialist equipment.

Willow as firewood

Pros

Super fast growing varieties can produce logs up to 3 inches or more thick in only 5 years.  It is best to cut or coppice in the dormant season from late autumn to late winter.  This ensures there is the least quantity of water within the coppice poles, which reduces the time taken to season the firewood to a minimum.

To get reasonably sized logs you will have to coppice your willow every 4-5 years.  The advantage of short rotation coppicing has always been the small diameter of the trees which enabled them to be worked with hand tools.  The production of firewood is best carried out using the coppice system  because a felling licence is not required to cut coppice poles with a diameter at breast height (1.3m from the ground) of 15cm or less.

Cons

Willow wood is mostly water and takes a long time to dry out.  Some other woods will dry all on their own, simply as a function of time, but the willow dries best with good access to a breeze. Otherwise it can rot or start to grow again before it drys out.  If it sits outside and get’s rained on, it will soak up water like a sponge even if it was previously “dry”. Willow has to be kept dry- in other words, kept under cover. It should dry for a minimum of six months, but letting it dry for two to three years improves its performance slightly.

Willow is very soft wood and it burns very quickly so mix it in with your other firewood because it won’t last long.

Click here for more information on the benefits of willow, planting willow, and willow types for sale.

Coppicing trees 

Many species of tree can be coppiced (e.g. hazel). This involves regularly cutting the tree down to a stump called a stool. Multiple new shoots (known as poles) regrow from the stool. The cutting is done on cycle so to keep a consistent supply you need to plan ahead and have sets of trees which you cut each year. The interval between cutting depends on the species of tree. The trees are cut during the winter before the sap has risen, and the branches are all cut low to the ground. By repeatedly cutting the trees their lifespan can be greatly increased. One of the advantages of coppicing is that you do not need to replant the trees every time you cut.

The new growth is fairly straight and manageable, and can grow very fast. Because the wood from coppicing is relatively small it also takes less time than large logs to season and you should easily be able to season it over one summer. Coppiced firewood can be burnt in a wood stove and is ideal for use in gasification / batch boilers – these boilers have very larger fireboxes which can take long length logs. You fill up the firebox and the boiler burns the fuel transferring the heat to a heat storage or accumulator tank for use when needed.

Many types of deciduous tree can be coppiced: Alder, Ash, Beech, Birch (3-4 year cycle), Hazel (7 year cycle), Hornbeam, Oak (50 year cycle), Sycamore Sweet Chestnut (15-20 year cycle), Willow, Sweet Chestnut, Hazel (7 year cycle), and Hornbeam. 

Turning trees into firewood

Once you have harvested your wood you must split any logs that are more than 6 inches in diameter.  This increases the surface area of the wood exposed to the elements and therefore enhances drying.  You can get mechanical splitters, and attachments for a tractor, when you have large quantities to split, but they are not cheap.

For the average user or smallholder a maul is the tool needed.  It is a type of axe with a heavy wide head especially for splitting logs.  A maul does not need to be particularly sharp – unlike a narrow felling axe which slices at wood and needs to be sharpened regularly.  You can use a felling axe for splitting logs but it is much harder work than a maul.  The trick with a maul is to let the weight of the head do the work – swing the maul over your shoulder and let the head fall on to the log without forcing it down.  The wide head will force the log apart.  It’s also important to have the log you are splitting at a good height – on a tree stump or larger log about 18 inches to 2 feet off the ground is ideal – this makes the job easier and avoids back damage.

Kindling

Trees and shrubs suitable for kindling include:

  • The older wood or prunings of Buddleia
  • Gorse -as a fuel it has a high concentration of oil in its leaves and branches, and so catches fire easily and burns well, giving off a heat almost equal to that of charcoal.
  • Lilac: Thinner branches make good kindling, whilst the thicker burn well with a clear flame and a very pleasant smell.
  • Rhododendron: Old thick and tough stems burn well.


More articles on firewood can be found here


Oct 072012
 
01may12 036

What to plant to attract pollinators, insects, bees, moths and butterflies to your garden

Bees and other pollinators are active in the fifesmallholder garden and woodland, from very early in Spring until the Autumn frosts.  Sometimes, if you are lucky you might see a bumble bee flying in a warm winter day but rarely a honey bee. Moths and butterflies are also seasonal, some overwinter and others migrate here in good weather. In order to make sure that there is always pollen and nectar available, it’s important to have suitable plants in flower, at the appropriate time. 

“We used to have 27 species of Bumble Bee in Britain, two have become extinct in the last 70 years and several more are on the critical list.”

As well as providing bee friendly habitats and nesting sites why not join the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust  and/or your local Beekeepers association

“Bees and butterflies hibernate in winter, so don’t forage when it’s truly cold. But it’s good to have a few winter-flowering plants that bees can use on warmer days and a regular food source from March to November.”

Plant flowers in groups

Flowers clustered into groups of the same species will attract more bees than individual plants scattered through the border. Where space allows, make the clumps four feet or more in diameter.

“if you plant them they will come”

What is pollen and nectar?

Nectar – nectar is loaded with sugars and is a bee’s main source of energy.

Pollen – pollen provides a balanced diet of proteins and fats.  

Bees forage for both nectar and pollen from plants and flowers.  Read more. 

 What Is A Pollinator?

Here in Britain ‘pollinators’ means small flying insects such as hoverflies, bees, beetles, butterflies and moths.

 What do I need to plant for nectar and pollen?

 

“Most bedding plants are absolutely useless for bees and so are most with double flowers.”

Research suggests native plants are four times more attractive to native bees and pollinators. They are also usually well adapted to your growing conditions and can thrive with minimum attention.  Below is a list of plants and flowers suitable for pollinators and include pictures of ones that grow in our garden and woodland.

“Single flowered cultivars (some are marked as ‘Single Flowers’) are more useful to bees than double flowered cultivars.”

Annuals

An annual is a plant that grows, flowers and sets seed all in one year.

 Balsam 

Birds foot trefoil  

Borage

Calendula

California poppy

 Candytuft

China aster

Clarkia

Convolvulus

Corncockle

Cornflower

 Cosmos

 

Digitalis

Echium  

Forget me not

French marigold

Gypsophilia

Impatiens

Lavatera

Limnathes

Mallow 

Mignonette

Nasturtium

Nicotiana

Nigella

Phacelia

Poppy

Saponaria

Scabious

 Sunflower

Teasel

Zinnia

 

 Perennials

Perennials are plants that flower and die down in the winter but return every spring/summer.

 

 Achillea 

Aconitum 

 

Angelica

Antirrhinum

Alyssum

Aubretia 

Aster

 Campanula

 Canterbury Bells

 Catmint

 Clematis 

 Cowslip

Fuchsia

 Geranium

 Geum

Goldenrod

Gypsophilia

 Harebell

 Heather

Hellebores  

Helianthus

Hollyhock

Honeysuckle

Horehound

Hyssop

Iris  

 

Ivy 

Jacob’s ladder

Japanese anemone

 

Kniphophia

 Lavatera

Lavender

Lupin 

 Mallow 

 Meadowsweet  

Michaelmas daisy

 Mint 

Ox-eye daisy

 Peony

 Poppy

 

Ragged robin

Red campion

Rudbeckia

Scabious,

 Savory 

Sea holly

 Sedum

Thrift

Thyme 

Verbena Bonariensis

Veronica longifolia

Wallflower

 

 Bulbs & Corms

 Aconite

Agapanthus 

Allium 

Camassia

 Chionodoxa 

Colchicum 

Crocus

Fritillaria

Galanthus nivalis

Hyacinth

Ixia

 Leucojum

Muscari

Narcissus

Scilla

Snowdrop

Trillium

Tulip

 

Herbs

Basil

Calindrinia Bianca

Chicory

Chives  

Coriander

Foeniculum

Lemon Balm

Marjoram

Mint

Rosemary

 Sage

Thyme 

 

Trees

 

Alder 

Apple

 Apricot

Ash

Birch

Blackthorn

Cherry

Chestnut  

Elder

Hawthorn 

This honey can be sought after because of its rarity. The Hawthorn only yields nectar for a short period of time so the bees have to be quick.   Read more about the Hawthorn tree.

Hazel

Laurel

Lime

Maple

Oak

Pear

Plum

 Peach 

Privet

Sycamore

Sweet and horse chestnut

 Blacl locust

Willow

 

Shrubs

 

 Berberis

Broom

Buddleia

Buckthorn

Choisia

Ceanothus 

 

Cotoneaster

Echium

Elderberry

 Escallonia

 Flowering currants

Fuchsia

 Gorse 

Heather

 

Hebe

Holly

 

Mahonia

 

 Pyrocanthus 

 Privet

Quince

Snowberry

 

Weeds

A weed is a flower in the wrong place.

 

Blackberry

Chick weed

 

Clover

Coltsfoot 

Dandelion

Dead nettles

 

Field Scabious

Hairy Willowherb

Hedera helix known as common Ivy

Hogweed

Knapweed

Rosebay willow herb 

Thistle

 Yarrow

 

 Vegetables (when left to flower)

Asparagus

 
Beans of all varieties 

Brassicas 

Broad bean 

Cabbage

Carrots

Cauliflower

 Chicory

 Chives

Courgettes 

Endive

Field Bean

Fruiting currants

Kale (and other brassicas)

Leeks

 Marrows 

Oil seed rape

Onions

Parsnips 

Pumpkins 

Radish 

Swede 

Turnips 

 Fruit

Blueberry bush

Gooseberry bushes    

Raspberry

Strawberry

 

Flowers

 

 Asters

Borage

 Christmas rose

Nasturtiums 

Pansies

Poached egg plant

Phacelia

Violets  

Tansy 

 

For more information and photographs please register for my ebook on this subject.

 

Websites used in the making of this article:

 

Sep 212012
 
green hazel nut

The hazel – a good smallholder tree that also produces the hazelnut

Hazel trees are part of the genus Corylus which includes nearly 20 different specimens, and most types also yield delicious nuts that can be eaten raw or cooked (more of that later).  The tree’s smooth, reddish-brown wood is also prized for its durability and elasticity.

Hazelnut Tree

Hazel is fast growing and easy to shape and therefore has a long history of use in hedging. The leaves stay with the tree much longer than most other trees, sometimes well into December.  The tree/shrub also provides habitat to numerous animals and birds, as well as serving as a source of food for animals, butterflies and insects.

 Why are hazels a good smallholder tree?

It is a good smallholder tree because it offers so many uses, as well as fitting comfortably on a smallholding. Those not familiar with forest gardening or agroforestry might not know that hazels like willows can also be used as animal fodder.
“In pastures, cows nibble on the leaves which increases the butterfat content in the milk. Sheep will readily eat the leaves, and pigs get excited if given hazel branches because they search for the crunchy nuts to eat.”
Growing hazels is also an opportunity to grow and harvest nuts at home without having to plant trees that will grow huge, and take years before they produce. Hazels grow in fertile, well drained soil. Once established, they can produce heavily and consistently.

Things to make with hazel

  • hurdles – read more here on how to make them.
  • bean poles
  • pea sticks
  • hedge stakes
  • walking sticks
  • fishing rods
  • baskets
  • tool handles
  • shepherds’ crooks
  • charcoal

 Growing or propogating hazels

Hazels can be acquired in three ways:

  • You can start new plants from hazel nuts. They tend to take some time to germinate (use a file to rub a small notch through the shell of the nut before planting), and do best when planted in pots. When germinated, let them grow to at least 6 – 12 inches before you transplant them in their final position.
  •  An easier way to propagate is by digging runners from established bushes.  Hazels spread by underground runners that develop roots. These runners can be cut away from the main plant, ( in autumn time after leaves have dropped and and the bushes have gone dormant).
  •  If all else fails there are garden centres or nurseries that sell both native, and hybrid cross hazelnut plants.

Where to plant a hazel tree?

  • Hazels need full sunlight in order to thrive.
  • Hazel trees prefer soil that is slightly acidic.

Hazel pests and diseases

Occasionally, pests, such as leaf hoppers and caterpillars will attack the hazel tree and damage its leaves and twigs.  One other insect that you may not welcome is the Hazelnut Weevil (pictured below) read here for more information.

hazelnut eating insect

Hazel trees are durable and typically don’t fall victim to epidemics.  However, there are a few diseases that the tree is particularly susceptible to, including:

  • Crown Gall – causes the formation of round wart-like galls to form on the tree’s lower branches.
  • Twig Blight – attacks the tree’s twigs; though, if left untreated, the blight will cause damage to the Hazel’s leaves and lead to premature leaf drop.
  • Powdery Mildew – appears as a white coating on the top of the leaves. In severe cases the leaves will turn yellow and drop before autumn.

What is a hazelnut?

Hazelnuts are produced by hazel trees and generally ripen in late August. The shell of a ripened hazelnut is brown, glossy, and roughly ovoid. Once shelled, the hazelnut has a bitter dark brown skin, which should be removed before cooking the nuts. The flesh of hazelnuts is white, and slightly sweet when the bitter skin is not present. The nuts can be used as a topping for soups and salads. Many cooks toast hazelnuts before using them to enhance their mild flavour. They are a good source of Vitamin E and B. Oils from the nuts are extracted and used in a number of beauty products.

How are hazelnuts created?

The catkins actually bloom in the winter, which makes the hazelnut unusual for a fruit tree. The wind carries the pollen to the female red blossoms, and then, it goes dormant until spring, when fertilization actually occurs. Shortly afterward, the nut starts to develop.

Why eat hazelnuts?

Hazelnuts are eaten raw, roasted or ground into flour. They are not only tasty, but they offer many health benefits as well, making them a delicious and nutritious snack.
 
Here are four reasons to increase your intake of these super-healthy nuts.
1. They Contain Good fats – high in omega-9 fatty acids. These healthy oils play an important role in balancing cholesterol in the body, as well as helping to lower blood pressure and offer protection against coronary heart disease and diabetes.
2. They are rich in vitamins and minerals – an excellent source of the antioxidant Vitamin E.  Hazelnuts have the highest concentration of folate among all the tree nuts and also contain calcium, magnesium and potassium.
 3. They are rich in Phytochemicals – including proanthocyanidins, quercetin, and kaempherol.
 4. They are high in protein and fibre – a good alternate protein source for those who don’t eat meat.
 

Nut allergy info

More of the light oils are present when the nuts are green or raw (unroasted) and are much more dangerous for anyone with a nut allergy.

 Hazelnut FAQs

  • Will hazelnuts keep if I pick them when them when they are still green? You can harvest and store green hazel nuts as long as you allow them to dry properly (airing cupboard, window sill etc) and will keep till Christmas. Alternatively roast them, allow to cool and store roasted nuts in zipper bags. Use within a month or freeze them.
  •  Can I forage for hazelnuts in the wild?  Yes fresh green hazelnuts are prolific in most ancient hedgerows, and are ready to eat straight from the tree, (squirrels permitting).  In this green state they are quite different from the hard, brown-shelled, Christmas nut they will eventually become.  Their flesh has the crisp crunch of overgrown peas, and a sweet vegetable taste.  However they are probably smaller than the commercially grown ones.  Most wild hazels are best eaten green as they tend to be on the smaller size, and thus shrink to next to nothing if you let them ripen.
  •  What is a Cobnut?  A cobnut is the most widely cultivated form of  hazelnut (the word filbert is also sometimes used).   Cobnuts were traditionally grown in Kent and can still be found there, as well as in Sussex, Devon and Worcestershire. Grown commercially they are bigger than wild hazels and, provided they are fresh (the leafy frill on the nut casing should not be too brown and dried out), they are very worthwhile. You may be able to buy fresh hazels from the local farm shop or grocer.
  • How do I dry green hazelnuts?  Collect the nuts and keep the good ones (those not damaged or with scabs on) leave them in a dark but ventilated place they will rippen nicely.  Only use larger ones if you are aiming to keep them until Christmas.  Here’s a link to info on how to store the unripe ones which you often have to pick early to beat the squirrels/mice/birds to.
  • Where do dried hazelnuts come from? Despite the fact that hazelnuts are grow in many different regions worldwide, the vast majority of the dried ones sold in this country come from Turkey.
  •  How to remove the skins from hazelnuts? Try roasting them in the oven at 275 degrees for 15 minutes. Then put them in a towel and rub them until the brown skin falls off. Or place the nut on a hard flat surface and place a heavy board on top,  roll the board over them and most of the husks will split. Then pull off the husk where it splits.
  • When will hazels fruit? Hazels will begin to produce nuts three to four after planting, but it may take 2-3 more years before they really take off and produce heavily.  A healthy tree can remain fruitful until well into its fortieth year of life.
  • Do I need a male and female hazel tree? Hazels have both male and female blooms on the same plant which form during the prior year and remain dormant through most of the winter. They bloom very early in the year (spring). Male (pollen producing) blooms are called catkins. Female (fruiting) blooms produce the nuts and are very small and easily overlooked. They look similar to leaf buds on branches, but they are rounder shaped with very small red threads coming out of them.

 Hazelnut recipes

Home-Made Nutella
Roast your hazelnuts.   Using a food processor, grind the hazelnuts until fine and powdery. If your food processor is strong enough, the hazelnuts will eventually turn creamy and smooth. Then add the spread sauce made from 150g Icing sugar & 50g green & blacks cocoa powder. Video link to making nutella. Recipe link for vegans.
Pesto
Whizz up some hazel nuts and garlic in a blender with some olive oil , lightly simmer for a few minutes to take the edge off the nuts and garlic, then take off the heat and add chopped basil and serve on top of pasta.

Pickling 
Select the best hazelnuts, (plump without any sign of shriveling).  If the shells of the hazelnuts are still on, look for smooth, glossy shells with no signs of cracks or holes, and shake them. The nuts should not rattle in the shell, as this indicates that they have lost moisture.  Lay the nuts out on newspaper to dry for a few days before roasting them. Add your pickling ingredients and store in an airtight container.
 
Link to recipes
 

 Hazel Folklore

Celts and Druids believed that hazelnuts were a source of wisdom and the tree itself was sacred.  In Greek mythology hazel branches were woven into headpieces and worn to protect warriors from evil.  Irish folklore states that drinking hazelnut beverages helped develop prophetic powers.
 
In Roman Britain, Hazel trees were once cultivated and became so abundant that Scotland was named Caledonia (a term derived from Cal-Dun, meaning “Hill of Hazel”) after them.
 
The nuts of the Hazel were commonly used to bring luck by stringing them together and hanging them in the house.  Such a string of nuts were often given to a new bridesmaid as a gift to wish her wisdom, wealth and good health.  When eaten the hazelnuts are said to increase fertility, and of old were eaten before divination to increase inspiration.
 
Down through the ages the Hazel has always been considered magical, and was used primarily for its powers of divination.  Hazel divining rods or dowsing rod are used to detect water and mineral veins.  Typically a divining rod has two forks off its main stem shaped like the letter “Y”.  The two forks of the rod are gripped with the fore fingers along the forks, so that the tail end of the rod points down toward the ground to begin searching.  Another method was to peel the bark of the rod and simply lay it on the palm of the hand.

websites used in the making of this article:

Sep 062012
 
mon 203

Here are a few suggestions on what you can make with willow:

willow woven dragon sculpture

 

I would love to say these are our own creations but sadly they are not, wonderful none the less.

 

hand woven willow heron sculpture

 

willow statue

 

Now some more practical creations that I’m sure we could all make.

hand woven willow support

 A willow log basket is ideal to let your wood continue to dry out before you put them on the fire.

firewood container

Why not try a bower for you garden seat providing a good wind break and some privacy.

romantic willow bower for garden seat

Or why not plant a tunnel for the children?

childrens play willow tunnel

A fedge is a cross between a fence and a hedge – flexible, green and looks good too!

willow hedge

 Here is something I did make.

 coloured willow wreath

 If you would like to buy some willow to make any of these structures then why not contact us, we sell a range of willow that is suitable for making living willow structures, or coloured willow for baskets and other smaller more artistic items. Link to our shop.

Looking for more?  I regularly update my willow board on pinterest with ideas and suggestions click here to check it out.  

Why not make your own Christmas wreath - here is a link with some good ideas.

Here is some more links to other things you can make with willow:

How do I prepare my willow for weaving?

Willow in different states have different names; green, brown, white and buff.  Green willow is fresh and not dried (items made with green willow will shrink when it dries out in a few weeks).  Brown willow has been dried and will need soaking to make it flexible again (average soaking time is 1 day per foot of willow length).  White willow has been dried soaked and skin removed (this rehydrates a lot quicker in a couple of hours).  Buff willow has been boiled and bark removed.  To find out more check out this link.

 September 6, 2012  employment, garden, green, income, post archive, tree Tagged with: , , , ,
Mar 212012
 

How to make your own tree guards

 

Tree guards can increase the survival rate of trees by protecting the trunks from damage caused by weather, animals and equipment.  However remember to inspect your tree guards often and replace them if they become damaged or when the tree begins to outgrow the tree guards. Remove the guards before the tree grows large enough to make contact with the tree guards.

How are trees damaged without tree guards?

 Trees have a thin layer of cells called the cambium that lies just beneath the bark. The cambium transports water and nutrients to and from the roots and leaves. It also produces new wood and bark tissue as plants grow.  Anything that damages the bark or the underlying cambium (such as deer, squirrel, voles, or hare) can weaken trees and make them more vulnerable to disease and insects.

Damage to trees from deer

If you don’t protect young trees from deer, they will keep them nibbled down to where they cannot grow and will kill them.  Bucks will also rub the velvet off their antlers on young tree trunks.

Sheep and horses

Smallholders should be aware that sheep and horses will browse your trees and kill them.  Be aware of the browse line along a fence and remember that a sheep will climb up a fence or a horse will lean over to nibble leaves and bark.  Sheep are particularly fond of apple trees and willow.
protecting young saplings

Types of home-made tree guards

As well as buying tree guards you can also make your own using:
  • black corrugated pipe
  • small fence made with chicken wire – split a treated 2X4 lengthwise (or use a pallet), then cut that in half on a diagonal to make a point.  Drive in three of these around the tree about 2 feet from the tree and put 5 foot long wire around that.
  • Open ended drums around our the tree along with two posts either side of the tree. Once the tree is big enough cut the drum open and use it on another tree and remove posts
  •  milk containers around the bark (slit to allow access)
  • Bud caps for coniferous trees can be made from wax paper. A cheap solution is to cut wax paper into 2-inch by 8-inch strips and fold the wax paper around the terminal bud (top leader) and then staple or tape the wax paper. Deer that usually browse the top of conifers apparently don’t like biting into wax paper, so they move on.
  • Deer or Animal Repellent: Some landowners have found that a cheap deer and animal repellent is to mix one dozen eggs with four gallons of water and liberally apply to trees and shrubs that are experiencing animal browse. Apparently, the smell repels many animals. This solution, however, is often easily washed off after rain, thus requiring additional applications.
Websites used in the making of this article
 March 21, 2012  post archive, tree Tagged with:
Jan 282012
 
hand woven willow heron sculpture

Willow cuttings available for sale from Fifesmallholder

  • Salix Viminalis – very fast growing and ideal for firewood etc.

  • Continental yellow

  • Zwarte Driebast

  • Flanders Red

  • Noire De villaine

  • Continental Purple

  • Brittany Green

Our willows can be used for different purposes 

 
 “there is a willow grows aslant the brook
that shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream”
 
William Shakespeare, Hamlet
 

Benefits of willow

  • Properties of Willow 

    Willows will grow in a range of habitats and survives in most localities.  In soil of pH 6.0 – 8.0  Most soil types. Most topography.

     

    There are species of Willow, which are adapted to different conditions:

     

    S. alba – low lying conditions

    S. fragilis – river bank

    S. herbacea – mountains Scotland

    S. repens – colonises sand dunes

 
Willows are the fastest growing & highest yielding tree or shrub in Britain. When grown as Short Rotation Coppice they can produce as much as 10 to 15 tonnes of dry wood per hectare per year and often more on the better sites.
 
Farmers are now growing willow to supply power stations with a natural, renewable and carbon neutral source of energy. It is usually harvested on a 3 year rotation then chipped, dried and loaded into giant hoppers to be fed automatically into the boilers to produce electricity and/or heat.
 
For a smallholder or householder though, logs are more useful than woodchips. Known as the 5 year Coppice Rotation, a site is divided into 5 beds and 1 bed is harvested each year, providing a regular supply of firewood year on year.
 
Using this system, 500 plants on 750 sq m (less than a fifth of an Acre) can produce 1 Tonne of dry firewood every year.
 
To read more about firewood click here.

Planting willow

These plants are delivered as setts – unrooted cuttings.  Willows should be planted during the time when they are dormant, i.e. after the leaves have dropped and before the sap starts to rise again.
 
As they need to develop a good root system, before they can afford to develop leaves, willow cuttings should be planted between December and the beginning of April and willow rods should be in the ground by the beginning
of March.
 
They establish rapidly in any soft earth, free of weeds.  Soak them in water overnight, then plant them to about half their depth, coloured end pointing upwards. Cut back half the new growth in the winter after planting to make them bush out.
 
Planting willows link 
 
  • Healing

Country folk have been familiar with the healing properties of willow for a long time. They made an infusion from the bitter bark as a remedy for colds and fevers, and to treat inflammatory conditions such as rheumatism. Young willow twigs were also chewed to relieve pain. In the early nineteenth century modern science isolated the active ingredient responsible, salicylic acid, which was also found in the meadowsweet plant. From this the world’s first synthetic drug, acetylasylic acid, was developed and marketed as Aspirin, named after the old botanical name for meadowsweet, Spirea ulmaria.

  • Bee Fodder

Willow benefits pollinating insects in early spring. Willow plants when flowering produce both nectar and pollen. Females give only nectar, but male plants give both nectar and pollen. Planting a variety of willow types, will give an extended flowering season. The Salix Viminals often flowers in April, at the end of the period that is crucial to honey bee brood building time.
 
click here for more information 
 
  • Willow is a good supplementary feed for sheep and lambs, it also helps them cope/expel/resist worms.

 

Willow links with Scottish place names 

The Gaelic words for willow are shellach, or suil, and feature in Scottish place names such as Achnashellach in Ross-shire, Glensuileag in Inverness-shire and Corrieshalloch on Speyside. These names would have referred to both the presence of willow and the attendant industries utilising the willow’s gifts.

 

Willow folklore

 click here for some folklore 

Links

Jan 152012
 
timber damage after storm at fife smallholder

The relationship between Beech, Bats, Woodpeckers, Owls, and Pigs on our smallholding

‘Piglet has his own house, a “very grand house in the middle of a beech tree,” which he gave to Owl when his house was blown down on a very blustery day’ .
Winnie the poo
large beech trees in winter
We have some large Beech sentinels in our wood that are estimated to be 190 years old, and one of them suffered damage in the recent high winds that hit Central Scotland.  The limbs on these trees are very large and although unfortunate it does offer opportunities from the adversity.
fallen tree trunk from beech tree

Firewood

Beech wood is an excellent firewood, easily split and burns for many hours with bright but calm flames.

Woodlander

Beech wood burns well and can be used to smoke herrings and cheese. Chips of beech wood are also used in the brewing and making of some beers. 

Wildlife

Although a fallen limb or tree is good for firewood, it is also a part of the natural process within a wood and many species depend on this happening to maintain the balance and ecosystem that exists within a woodland.  The larger the concentration of old trees in an area and the longer they have been present on site the richer the variety of species you will find among them.
Many species live here all year round. Some are visitors and some live here permanently. Some come for the spring (Great spotted woodpecker), summer (Insects: Hoverflies, Birds: Green woodpecker), autumn (Fungi), and others for the winter months (such as Brambling birds ). Because of the variety of habitats available. A range of birds use the broad leaved woodland, evergreen conifer, open rough grassland and low bog areas.
nest in beech tree

Beech mast and Beech leaves

Beech mast is also a favourite food of many woodland animals such as badgers, deer, mice and squirrels and birds. The leaves are eaten by caterpillars.

The laughing woodpecker

The Green Woodpecker is the largest of the woodpeckers and has been known to visit our woods and its collection of fallen and rotten timber. It has a heavy-looking body, short tail and a strong, long bill. It is greeny-grey on its upperparts with a bright green rump and red on the top of its head. They have an undulating flight, and will climb up tree trunks and branches and will move around to be on the side away from anyone watching. It has a very distinctive call in that it sounds like it is laughing.
rotten wood and timber

Relationship between bats and woodpeckers

Tree are vitally important for our bats. The majority of British bat species have been recorded roosting in trees and some, such as the Noctule, rely almost exclusively on them. Noctules are often found in Woodpecker holes appearing to prefer them over natural cavities. Some researchers have suggested that Noctules may be dependant on woodpeckers to provide suitable roosting opportunities. Read more about bats.
potential bat roost in old woodpecker hole in tree
The picture shows an old woodpecker hole which could be used by Noctules for roosting. The hole is formed in a soft section of the stem of a tree. The stem has been infected by a decay fungi which has caused the wood to become soft enough to allow the woodpecker to create the hole. This potential roost has been created by a complex ecological relationship between Beech tree (Fagus sylvatica), Tinder fungus (Fomes fomentarius) and woodpecker, possibly the Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis).  It isn’t just roosting opportunities that make beech trees useful for bats. The trees attract insects and therefore provide valuable foraging habitats.

Bats and Beech

Bats roost in trees, in obvious cavities, cracks and splits, but also in less obvious places such as under ivy and under loose bark.  The damaged parts of a tree are the most likely places to find roosting bats.  Any tree can be used for roosting as long as shelter is provided,  but old oak, beech, ash and Scots pine are most frequently used. Bat roost sites can be at any height, although the upper trunk and branches are favoured. Entrance holes may be narrow slits on the underside of a branch that can be easily overlooked, as well as more obvious old woodpecker holes in the main trunk.

Owls and Beech

One of the best trees to attract owls is the beech tree. That’s not because owls eat the beech mast, or beechnuts, but because the mice eat them. In this way, the carnivorous owls get nice, fat, juicy mice to eat to keep them in the area.
beech nut casings
“As long as owl’s habitat is left alone by man and in such a state as to produce a great number of rodents, there will be no loss of owls in a region. One of the things that those people managing woodlands can do is not to clear out all of the undercover where mice live. Tawny owls will particularly benefit from this practice. Wood left on the ground and a pile left to rot will draw all kinds of insects which also feeds owls.”
decaying wood attracts insects that are predated by owls

Livestock

Pigs and Beech

Livestock were once released into beech woodlands to feast on the beech’s oil-rich bounty. The nuts were also important as a source of food, particularly for pigs. They are energy rich and could be used to fatten pigs up for market. The period when the nuts ripened and fell was perfectly timed to fatten swine for late autumn butchering. A farmer with access to oak or beech mast could thus convert calories present in nuts into calories in pork with little or no additional effort and at no additional cost in fodder. Indeed, by using mast rights a farmer was able to make use of a resource that would otherwise be unharvested or very inefficiently harvested.

Pheasants, Poultry, Turkeys and Beech

Beech mast has also been used to feed pheasants, poultry, and turkeys.  Beech nuts should never be fed to horses.
fifesmallholder beech trees in autumn

Smallholder

It is commonly accepted that the foods used to feed and to finish meat livestock affect the final flavour of the product. Pigs  fed on oak mast, chestnut mast or beech mast has a reputation for producing exceptional finished meat. As a result, with the new interest in artisanal and high quality foods as well as humane stock handling, there is a resurgence of mast-fed pork.
While beechnuts are nutritious for humans, eating too many can cause headaches or giddiness, as vast amounts of potash are contained within the tree.

Beech Tree facts

  • Beech trees are shallow rooted, and mature trees are at risk of being uprooted in high winds.
  • These trees grow slowly, eventually reaching a height of up to 120 feet, with branches spanning 50 feet.
  • The nuts are encased in a spiny bur and are favored by birds and other wildlife. Beech has a full crop of nuts every 5 years but does not really start producing a good crop until it is at least 50 years old.
  • The timber is practically pure white and is used to make furniture and toys.
  • The tree is best known for its many and low branches that create a deep shade.
  • Beech leaves take a long time to decay, so few nutrients are released to nourish ground plants. Consequently, there is little undergrowth in a beech wood, unless trees have been deliberately thinned out (coppiced).

Folklore

names on a tree trunk

Magically, beech is specifically useful for making wishes. To do this write a or scratch your wish on a piece of beech wood then bury it in an appropriate spot.  As your written wish is claimed by the earth so will it begin to manifest in life.  Beech is also popular with lovers, as witnessed by the many hearts arrows and names carved upon the smooth trunks of beech trees.
beech leaves in fifesmallholder wood

Recipe

Beech leaf Noyau

1 bottle vodka
225g (8oz) caster sugar
1 glass of brandy
Collect young, fresh beech leaves and strip them from the twigs.  Half fill an emptly bottle or jar with the leaves  and then pour on the bottle of vodka.  Seal up the container and keep leaves in it for 3 weeks, before straining them off.  Boil the sugar in half pint of water and add this to the vodka with a good sized glass of brandy.  You should end up with 2 almost  full bottles of noyau for the price of one bottle of vodka.

Links

Nov 022011
 
fungi

The relationship between trees and fungi

Its been a good year for mushrooms or fungi, on our smallholding.

 

woodland mushroom at fife smallholder

 

What is fungi?

Fungi, together with the bacteria, are the ‘decomposers’ of our environment and they are just as important as the ‘producers’ the green plants. Fungi lack the green pigment chlorophyll, the pigment that is essential in converting sunlight into plant energy, because they don’t have this pigment, fungi have to get their energy from other sources, from organic material produced by other plants.

Fungi are not plants but belong in a kingdom of their own. Their cell walls are made of chitin (a white horny substance more easily recognised as the substance that forms the outer skeletons of crabs!) and instead of using photosynthesis to obtain energy they digest organic matter.

Where will I find fungi?

Many fungi grow only in very specific places, or are associated with particular kinds of trees. i.e. ‘Birch’ polypore or Razorstrop, a bracket fungus.  Fruiting bodies may also be produced in a particular season. Although Autumn (August to November)  is the most fruitful season. In spring for example, there are Saint George’s mushroom so named because the fruiting bodies first appear around the 23rd April, which is St. George’s Day. In Summer  –  giant Puffballs and the edible bracket ‘Chicken of the woods’.

woodland fungi

woodland fungi

The fungi in the picture above is likely to be Honey Fungus.  This is a destructive parasite which can be found on tree stumps, roots and buried branches.  It is recognisable  from the black rhizomes encircling its host which resemble a network of leather bootlaces.  Do not eat raw.  Collect the caps when young, when the gills are white.  Blanch before cooking and then fry slowly.  Honey Fungus has  a strong flavour and firm texture.        

Types of fungi

Fungi can be divided into three groups:

  •  Saprophytes 

are probably the most numerous, performing a vital role in breaking down dead organic matter. Feeding on dead tree trunks, decomposed plant remains in the soil, dead insects, man-made foodstuffs and clothes. e.g. Stinkhorns.

  • Parasites 

Parasitism is the dark side of fungal ecology, these fungi obtain all their nutrients from a living host. In many cases resulting in the death of the poor host. A plant parasite commonly seen locally is the Honey Fungus Armillaria mellea.

  • Symbionts 

These fungi live in close association with the roots of other living plants to their mutual benefit, this symbiotic relationship is known as mycorrhizae (fungus roots).  The fungus benefits by receiving sugars from a plant and the plant obtains phosphates and other nutrients from the fungus.

In particular, this is the type of mushroom I am interested in – the mycorrhizal. They have a symbiotic relationship (friendly exchange) with trees or other plants.  Mushroom mycelium receives carbohydrates and other nutrition from trees while delivering minerals and water. The tree often receives a significant amount of it’s water intake by delivery from the extended mycelial network. Both organisms benefit. More than 90% of all plants form beneficial associations with fungus.

Trees in our woodland

Oak  supports many species including maitake,  chanterelles,  chicken of the woods, honey mushrooms, oysters and many others. 

White, yellow, and other birches can harbor polypores on the wood and chanterelles,  and others on the ground. Mature, scarred, or dying trees usually produce more. 

Beech are where you find chanterelles,  and occasionally oysters.

 

mushroom found on smallholding

nibbled mushroom

What fungi is in our wood just now?

Bearded Milk Cap: Lactarius pubescens 

All the Lactarius species produce a milky fluid if the gills or the cap is damaged, giving rise to the common name “milk caps”. Cap 3-10cm across, convex with a depressed disc and in rolled margin, becoming flat then shallowly funnel-shaped with an arched margin; pale tan or cinnamon pink, slightly darker at the disc. Found on soil amongst birch, Broadleaved and mixed woodland, parks. Common. Late August to October to autumn.

Jew’s  Ear –  Auricularia auricula- judae

 
Common, found in the UK  all year round. Soft, floppy, reddish brown ear on branches. Jew’s Ear fungus likes to grow on common elder and false acacia.  It is edible and considered a delicacy in the far east. n.b.  ‘Jews ear’ refer to the legend that Judas hung himself on an Elder  the ‘ear’ being his returned spirit.

 Oyster Mushrooms – Pleurotus ostreatus

In the woods near me there is a semi-rotten beech tree that hosts oyster mushroom mycellium. Every year, after a very cold snap (usually in January) the mycellium runs and its fruiting bodies appear. Behold! Sumptuous oyster mushrooms.

Check out this website for lots more info

http://www.rspbliverpool.org.uk/Fungi.htm 

Check out other posts from Fife Smallholder on this topic including the Scottish Wild Mushroom Code.

Oct 302011
 
hawthorn logs gathered on smallholding for winter fuel

Gathering logs on the smallholding for fuel

Today we have been gathering up logs, that have been sawn up for winter fuel.  These logs will not be used this winter, but will be stacked and allowed to dry out ready for use next winter.

fife smallholder gathering logs for winter

 

Information about hawthorn

We have many Hawthorn trees in our wood, and this was one that was past its best.  Hawthorn wood is hard-wearing and often used in the past to make handles for knives and daggers.  No wood burns more readily than hawthorn, even when green, and it is known as the hottest firewood.  Excellent charcoal is made from hawthorn.  Here in Scotland the bark was used to dye wool black and in most country places hawthorn leaves were used to make a refreshing tea.  Hawthorn flowers can be added to syrups and can make a lovely wine.

Hawthorn and blackthorn both have the character for a good hedge: they are easy to germinate, quick to grow and capable of being trained in any direction.  if haws, from the hawthorn, are put in a bag and soaked in water all the winter and then sown in February or March, they will come up the first year.

Hawthorn berries are popular with wild birds. For information on flowers, pollinators and insects that are attracted to the hawthorn click here.

Hawthorn Folklore 

Hawthorn is linked to May Day ceremonies and was believed to protect people and livestock from evil influences and lightning: and witches too, who get tangled up in the prickles.  Never bring May (hawthorn blossom) indoors, though.  Because of its association with Christ’s crown of thorns it is thought to bring death to the household.

Click here for lots more lore on Hawthorn.

hawthorn at fifesmallholder

What type of wood makes the best fuel?

“Hawthorn logs are good to last, if you cut them in the fall.”

Check out this post to find out more.

What is the difference between hawthorn and blackthorn?

Check out this post to find out.

Sep 102011
 

Our smallholder garden has plants that the birds enjoy the seeds from in the autumn.

There is a delicate balance going on – the sparrows are quite heavy and bob about in the wind whilst eating the seeds.  This is a resident flock of sparrows that live on our smallholding.  But we also get migrant and seasonal birds that visit, to eat from the range of berries, nuts, and seeds that are available naturally.

 

Wild birds in smallholder garden.

Feeding wild birds in winter

In winter, small birds should be fat to avoid starvation and lean and agile to escape predators. This means that they face a trade-off between the costs and benefits of carrying fat reserves. Every day they must gain enough fat to survive the coming night. Severe winter weather can therefore be a major hazard for survival. A bird will lose a substantial proportion of its body weight during one cold winters night, and unless it is able to replenish its reserves, a prolonged cold spell could be catastrophic for large numbers of birds. Some species such as tits and crows cache or store food for times of less natural food abundance.
 

Supplementary Feeding

If offering supplementary foods provide a wide variety of foods at different levels – on the ground, in feeders and on a bird table. Scraps of bread (provided it isn’t stale), cooked rice and lentils, dried fruit such as raisins and sultanas, apples, oranges and grapes, coconut halves, mashed potatoes, peanuts, vegetable suet, millet and black sunflower seeds are all suitable foods to offer to birds. It is also possible to purchase ready-made up high-energy bird food mixes.
 
Providing birds with supplementary food will bring them closer for you to enjoy their fascinating behaviour and wonderful colours. However, supplementary feeding can’t provide all the natural proteins and vitamins that adult and young birds need, so it’s important to create and manage your garden to provide a source of natural foods as well, through well-managed lawns,  shrub and flowerbeds.
 

All year round food for wild birds

If you provide both natural and supplementary food, your garden will be visited year-round by a host of different birds.
 

Ways of Attracting Birds into the Garden

There are many simple things that we can do to entice birds into the garden and encourage them to live and breed there. Basically, birds need water for bathing and drinking, a constant supply of food, shelter from the elements and nest sites. Water can be supplied by making a small pond with marshy edges or if that isn’t possible by obtaining a birdbath or drinking dish and regularly changing the water. Nest boxes can be installed for breeding purposes and climbing plants (e.g. ivy, honeysuckle and clematis) and shrubs, especially prickly shrubs, will provide additional natural nest sites as well as berries for the birds to eat. A well-stocked bird table will provide food, but of course providing natural sources of food is even better. With careful planning, it should be possible to provide a natural supply of food for birds for most of the year. Plants and shrubs, which provide fruit, berries and seeds are especially useful to birds and don’t be in too much of a hurry to pull up your weeds as many of these will also provide food for birds.
 
 

How to identify some common garden birds from their song

Planting for Birds

There are many trees, shrubs and plants that are especially attractive to birds, but of course the plants that you choose to grow will depend on the size of your garden/allotment, soil type, aspect and your own personal preferences. However, when selecting which plants to grow for birds do try and choose plants that don’t all produce food at the same time!
 

Trees

If you have a large garden or smallholding you may wish to include some trees. Trees provide shelter, nest sites and perches for birds, but there are many trees that will also provide them with food. Oak supplies acorns and woodpigeons, and woodpeckers will eat these. Rowan’s berries are popular with thrushes, fieldfares, redwings, bramblings, blackbirds and waxwings and the fruits of bird cherry (Prunus padus) and wild cherry (Prunus avium) are much loved by birds. Alder provides food for siskins,  goldfinches and tits, both the cones and the catkins being eaten. Bullfinches eat the seeds of ash and beech mast is popular with bramblings,  great tits, woodpeckers and chaffinches. Goldfinches and bramblings like the seeds of silver birch and various insectivorous birds also feed on the many insects that live on this tree. Conifers such as scots pine, larch, spruce, and yew also supply food for birds and have the advantage that they do not lose their leaves in winter, thus providing all-year cover. Scots pine seeds are eaten by finches, woodpeckers and the Scottish crossbill. Various types of thrushes eat yew’s berries and the seeds of larch and spruce are popular with finches, spruce seeds also being eaten by woodpeckers and European crossbills. Fruit trees such as apple, crab apple and plum are especially popular with birds. So why not plant some fruit trees or fruit bushes just for wildlife?
 

Hedging Plants

Hedges act as windbreaks and like trees provide shelter, somewhere to roost and nest sites for birds. Of particular value in a hedge are shrubs bearing berries such as elder, spindle (Euonymus europaeus), bramble, blackthorn, hawthorn, holly and wild privet (Ligustrum vulgare), which supply food for birds as well as shelter. In addition quite a few of these shrubs are spiny and offer good protection from cats and other predators. Hawthorn is popular with many nesting birds for this reason who often nest in tangles of bramble.
winter seeds for wild birds
 
Waxwings and redwings will eat hawthorn’s berries, whereas those of blackthorn are popular with thrushes. Holly and elder berries are loved by many types of birds, but are especially popular with blackcaps and thrushes. Hazel can also be used to make a hedge and its nuts are a valuable source of food for many mammals as well as for birds such as woodpeckers, jays, pigeons. Why not plant some honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum)? It will soon clamber over the hedge and thrushes, warblers and blackcaps will eat its berries. Dog rose (Rosa canina) and guelder rose (Viburnum opulus) produce hips and also do well in a hedge.
 

Useful Shrubs

The following shrubs should attract birds into your garden/allotment:
 
  •  Berberis (Berberis stenophylla) – Berries are mainly eaten by thrushes and blackcaps.
  •  Cotoneaster (especially C. horizontalis, x watereri and C. frigida) – Waxwings, fieldfares, redwings and blackcaps will eat cotoneaster berries.
  •  Pyracantha – (P. coccinea, Pyracantha ‘Mojave’, Pyracantha ‘Orange Glow’). Berries mainly eaten by blackcaps, waxwings and certain thrushes. Can be used to make a hedge.
  •  Viburnum – Waxwings like these berries. Can also be used to make a hedge.
  •  Ivy – Best grown up a fence, wall or tree. Woodpigeons, thrushes, warblers, blackcaps and robins eat ivy berries, which ripen in the winter.
  •  Mistletoe – Is an important garden plant, supplying berries at a time of year when food is normally in short supply.
  •  Buddleia – This shrub is tremendously popular as a nectar source for butterflies, but it will also provide seeds for bullfinches and other seed-eating birds.

Garden Plants

Many garden plants will supply seeds for seed-eating garden birds such as finches and linnets. These include evening primrose, michaelmas daisy, foxglove, aubretia, forget-me-not, sunflower, cosmos, snapdragon, wallflower, sweet william, lavender, sweet rocket, honesty, goldenrod, bird’s-foot-trefoil and globe thistle. And when I left some purple sprouting broccoli to go to seed I found that the seeds attracted quite a few greenfinches.
 

Weeds

As previously mentioned many plants that are generally classified as weeds are of tremendous food value for birds. Burdock, chickweed, cow parsley, clover, dandelion, groundsel, black medick, greater stitchwort, hogweed, fat hen, knapweed, shepherd’s purse, plantains (e.g. ribwort and hoary plantain), stinging nettles, teasel and many types of thistles such as spear thistle and woolly thistle will all provide seeds for birds to eat. Thistle seeds are especially popular with goldfinches, linnets, siskins and serin whereas goldfinches will eat the seeds of dandelions, groundsel, knapweed and fuller’s teasel. Dock, stinging nettle and meadow cranesbill seeds are popular with bullfinches.
 

Bird Identifier

The RSPB has an improved, interactive bird identifier to work out what bird you saw. Tell them a few details about the bird and they will suggest what it could have been. 
 
 
 


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