Saturday, 27 September 2014

Conversations at the Woodfair

To the Bentley Woodfair on Friday to meet the experts and have wood-related conversations. Here's a record of some of the things we learned and the people we met.

Managing sallows (Salix caprea)
We  met an understory expert who was weaving willow baskets. He advised that sallows are short-lived and need active management. Pollarding is ideal. The pollarded tree will send out shoots that grown c 3ft each year. These shoots should be harvested in rotation cutting every one or two years. The one year shoots can be used for pea sticks, the two year shoots for creating in situ rough hurdles or for dry hedging. Sallow shoots are not suitable for basket weaving (unlike osiers) as they have too many side shoots, which even if cut off will leave the main shoot weakened. Regular pollarding and harvesting of shoots will raise the light levels and create the diversity of ages of growth that butterflies need for food sources. So, we really need to get on with completing the pollarding of the willow grove, especially if we aim to attract the purple emperor back to its historic breeding ground.

Old Copse pines were planted in 1957
Falling in conversation with a dealer in edged tools from Eridge, he told us that his first job in 1957 was planting and caring for the pine plantation in Old Copse. He witnessed 7ft wide beech trees being cut down and dragged out of the wood to clear for the pine planting. More than 50 years later, he still remembers the sight and thought it was a shame. His job was to weed between the newly planted pines. He worked alone and never saw anyone from one week to the next, apart from the forester who arrived in his landrover to pay him his wages.  Must have been a lonely job.

Growing oyster mushrooms
Had a long chat with Richard Mansfield-Clark of www.rusticmushrooms.co.uk on cultivating mushrooms on logs. Unlike conventional wisdom (ie what I have learned from searching the Internet) he maintained:

  • once mushroom impregnated dowels have been inserted into logs, there is no need to seal the dowel ends with wax. It doesn't provide much protection and is expensive.
  • there is no need to put logs in a plastic bag. The important thing is to keep the logs damp. The best way to do this is to stand the logs on end, with the bottom ends buried c 6" in the ground. He showed me a picture of his mushroom logs standing upright, supported by a simple horizontal bar to stop them falling over
  • once mushrooms have fruited, they will continue for the following two/three years
SWA or SWOG - what's the difference?
There is a lot of crossover in membership. Small Woods Association has been established longer and typically members have slightly larger woods. SWOG is sponsored and supported by woodlands.co.uk and reflects the interests of smaller woodland owners who are often newer wood owners.

Nice things to buy
Finally met a nice brother and sister selling all things fire-related at www.firemad.co.uk. Based in Horsham, we have invited them to the wood to see the log cabin. Might buy a lantern as well!



What goes on when we're not here: Part 2

We're fascinated by the signs and portents that appear in the wood; traces of what goes on when we're not here. Here are the latest sightings:


A final warning message has been left for the deer -a skull impaled on a rowan tree.


 These strange shapes loom out of the birch. Offerings to the gods of bracken?

Monday, 15 September 2014

A Busy Day

Waiting for Wiggo
Where's the breakaway?
A busier Saturday than usual  at Old Copse: First thing, opening the gates for Bob, plus Jeep and trailer,  to load some cordwood, When he collected some last February he got temporarily bogged down in the mud, but with the dry weather and our track repairs he had no trouble this time. He suggested doing regular felling for us in exchange for some  free wood - we're certainly interested in this sort of barter.

Then meeting the  neighbours lined up on the road waiting for the Tour of Britain to whizz by Old Copse .  After a longish wait, the cyclists were  heralded by  motorbikes with headlights blazing, and followed by support cars  - like the Tour de France, only smaller.

Well, we meant to enter this year - we've got all the gear!
Here they come





And they're gone


All the excitement was over in 10 minutes, and it was back to the wood to meet a contractor for the planned new entrance and track into Old Copse. Then coffee with friends camping in the wood over the weekend. They were using a simple small tarp slung between the trees, open at the sides and front. It looked far preferable to being zipped into an enclosed plastic tent but a trifle chilly perhaps at 5am. We soon set them to work thinning the birch on the ride.


Camping under a tarp

The endless task that is ride-side clearance
Making stakes for tree guards
The rhododendron never gives up, still making an appearance after numerous bonfires on it.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

How to dry mushrooms

Stage 1- first pick your mushrooms. This is a collection of various Boletus.



Stage 2 - slice them and leave to dry on newspaper for a day, either indoors or outside in the garden.


Stage 3 - thread on strings and hang somewhere warm and airy until completely dry. These ones are hanging by the loft window. 


Monday, 8 September 2014

Visiting another wood

Such an enjoyable and interesting  visit to Sylvia and Steve's wood, 4 1/2 miles south west of  Old Copse.  The wood , on flat land,  is  part of a narrow 'shaw' surrounded by fields. It is designated ancient woodland, and the structure of it is perfect,  with  many mature trees, a canopy of mainly ash ( no sign of ash die back disease)  with  beech, oak and birch,  -  a mature  hawthorn and even  a wild service tree.  The understory has much hazel,  some crab apple and  bird cherry. The floor is smothered in dog's mercury,  and sedge which they are controlling in the wet and compacted areas. As for woodland 'thugs', there are a few small patches of bramble, and a bit of bracken around the edges - lucky people.  This structure is exactly what we're aiming for at  Old Copse.


The farmer who sold them the land had previously used the wooded section for an  off road 4 x 4  business which caused extensive  damage to the ground. But it is now slowly healing, and at this time of the year the scars are difficult to see. In time, though many of the worst compacted ruts will remain, they will soften and eventually blend in. It's good that Sylvia and Steve have stepped in to look after this lovely piece of woodland.

There is not much evidence of deer, though they are certainly around. Their deer stalker seems to have done a great job in reducing their numbers .  In addition to the woodland there is an adjoining  2 acre field. 3 years ago they planted up most of it,  leaving an open area in the middle, with a mixture of native broadleaves, and a variety of fruit and nut trees. These have suffered periodic deer attacks, but the majority have survived and many of them  are now just about above deer munching height. They made simple (and relatively cheap) deer protectors of stakes and fencing wire (bought by the roll from Horsham Fencing).The deer have tried, with some success, to push these down, but overall this protection has been adequate.



One of our management plan targets is to clear fell 1/2 hectare in the OC2 birch and replant with native broadleaves.  Old Copse topography is different to Sylvia and Steve's, though the underlying soil is more or less the same. One of the difficulties in doing something similar to them is that Old Copse is on a slope and the top soil is probably a great deal thinner and less fertile than their flat open field. Next time we visit we will check the depth and take a soil sample. Sylvia explained that most of their trees were supplied by Ashridge nurseries, which we will investigate.

Other useful tips  included their lighting system, which consists of LED bulbs connected to a battery. They use a 15W solar panel to recharge the battery. This is not permanently mounted, but moved in and out as required and to catch the sun. They also have an inverter to run laptops. Suppliers include LED Hut (online)and Maplins. They suggested that we try a strimmer for bracken control. This is another good idea, and we may try hiring one for a day to see how effective one is before we take the step of buying one.


Tuesday, 2 September 2014

August at Old Copse

It's been a month of entertaining visitors both in and out of the wood,  so not much opportunity for real work. Japanese friends said that yes indeed, Old Copse bracken would be much in demand in Japan, South Korea and China, both the emerging curly tops,and the roots. So you never know, there might be an Old Copse (TM)  bracken export start-up business in the pipeline.

Old Copse has  a new deer-stalker - David Abbot from Sparrowhatch Forestry -  Stuart lives too far away to devote enough time to the deer problem, and reluctantly decided that he could no longer help. There is  already one deer-seat on the Ride in OC2 , and David has put up a second one  plus a trail cam, in the birch clearing near the road. There is still plenty of evidence of deer so let's hope David can reduce their numbers in the coming season.



Mushrooms have arrived early this year, mostly ceps and bay boletes. Too many to eat fresh, so the annual drying has begun, to provide a year's worth of porcini to eat ourselves and to give as presents. The fungi is sliced, left to dry out for a couple of days, then threaded and hung at a south facing velux window in the loft to dry naturally and thoroughly in the air and sunshine. We've found via trial and error that this method works best.




This August there have been camp-fires, and cooking fires using the  charcoal we made a couple of months ago; children honing their skills in tree climbing, tree felling, axe-ing, and wood whittling;   small-wood owner friends enjoying the cabin in its beautiful surroundings, and exchanging ideas on woodland management. Its been good to share Old Copse with such appreciative visitors .