Saturday, March 5, 2016

Something Stirs ...

You might have been thinking that not much has been happening at Fox Wood given the dearth of posts over the last year. Luckily, nothing could be further from the truth! I've been so busy working on it that I forgot to tell people what has been happening. It's hard to tell all that's been going on there so I shall just give you a brief summary and then upload lots of pictures. I'll promise to update more regularly in future.

Firstly, and possibly most importantly, I've cleared out a large area of overgrown and bramble/choked trees and am turning the area into a forest garden. This is my new focus. I've begun a permaculture design course with Patrick Whitefield Associates, and then in May I'll be going on a forest garden design course with Martin Crawford in Devon. I decided that I needed to have a more formal education in this area as it will allow me to boost my confidence and credentials.

Secondly, I have been adding to my orchard. I now have around thirty apple trees, some of which are rare Cornish varieties. In addition to the apples I have about thirty other fruit trees, including pears, quinces, medlars, plums, gages, figs and peaches.

Thirdly, I have been madly planting trees to make a small mixed woodland in the centre of what is now a field. A couple of readers have been kind enough to donate funds for this using the 'Plant a Tree' button, and I have planted, as requested, walnuts and silver birches.

Fourthly, another aim of mine is create a green woodworking area for use by the woodland association we set up (SWOC). We aim to build/construct a sheltered workspace where people can learn green carpentry, basket making, charcoal making etc. in the woodland setting. I now have a few clients for charcoal, and the woodland mushrooms are still doing their thing (i.e. growing slowly).

Anyway, time for some more pictures.

Storm the dog admires the recently-cleared forest garden space. Storm is the latest addition to the family, and is my constant companion when working in the woodland. A springer spaniel from a nearby farm, his parents are working dogs, hence the docked tail. He's only seven-months old at the moment but dreams of one day catching a rabbit.

A pile of seasoned wood I dragged out of hedges that will be used for charcoal production when summer comes. Dry wood is at a premium in this wet and soggy climate.

Looking at the newly-cleared area from a different angle. There are plenty of coppice stools dotted around but I'll keep them on a short rotation so that the whole area isn't crowded out. The slender stems make great bean poles, for which there is a ready market at the local organic gardeners' association.

This is a raised bed I made from some of the chestnut wood. I've called it a hugel raised bed because the bottom level is lined with wood. I have yet to fill it with soil but plans are that it will be used to grow herbs. I'm generally using seaweed collected from local beaches as soil enricher, although the soils are already in pretty good shape.

A section that is overgrown with brambles. The brambles inhibit the growth of the trees and damage them with their thorns when the wind blows (which is often). Brambles are useful for wildlife - as well as great for the blackberries -  so I won't eliminate them all.

When I cut down trees I aim to use as much of the product as I can without wasting anything. Branches and limbs are put on one side for charcoal and smaller sticks are cut up for use at home in the woodburner. Only the really small bits of brash get burned, and even then I'm trying to charcoalise them and turn them into biochar using old oil drums, which will be dug back into the soils. Any remaining wood ash is spread around the fruit trees.

A local supermarket is selling bird boxes for only £3 each. I've bought quite a few, to add to the ones that are already up. There is now a large diversity of birdlife in the woodland, although I'm not a twitcher so I don't know what many of them are :-)

This old pollarded oak is my favourite tree in the woodland. There is so much life in it, including ferns growing out of the deep green moss on the branches. I tried to get mistletoe growing on some of the old oaks by squishing seeds into the bark. Nothing happened, however, and then someone pointed out that mistletoe will not grow in the presence of salt, of which there is a lot here as it is blown in on the winds from the Atlantic, which is only a couple of miles away as the crow flies.

This is a large willow I coppiced. It was getting so big it was blocking out the light to my favourite oak. I have inoculated these logs with oyster mushroom mycelium using a new method I read about. Instead of hammering spore plugs into it using a drill and hammer, I've simply cut deep grooves in the logs using the chainsaw. Into each cut I've slotted a piece of cardboard inoculated with oyster mycelium which I grew myself at home. We'll see if it's successful or not in about a year. If it is then it's a much more efficient way to work.

The woodland is beginning to green up after a very, very wet winter.

Down in the chestnut coppice. Worryingly, a friend who owns a nearby woodland (about two miles away) discovered his trees were infected with the disease phytophthora ramorum. A destruction order was issued on his entire woodland and he has had to bear the whole cost himself. I have to consider that this disease may reach my woodland at some point, which would mean the compulsory felling of at least 500 sweet chestnut trees. This is just one reason why I'm aiming to diversify as much as possible - tree diseases are sweeping Britain at present and it would be unrealistic to think Fox Wood is immune.

Sometimes the trees look a bit like they are having a party ... or is it just me?

Since introducing hedgehogs I've been building up big piles of fallen sticks to create habitat. These will also provide a plenty of food for birds and other life in the form of grubs and insects. They will eventually rot down into the forest floor and provide further fertility

This is a section of a large sycamore a tree-surgeon friend felled for me a few weeks ago. The tree was blocking out light to our neighbour's orchard, and also threatening some telephone wires leading to the nearby farm house. I've inoculated it with mushrooms, and left the rest to rot. It will grow back soon enough. Many people hate sycamore and call it a weed tree. I'm not one of them. Sycamore grows very fast, the rabbits won't touch it, and it makes great firewood. If left to get out of hand it can overwhelm a native woodland, so the trick is not to let it get out of hand.

During general clearing work I uncovered these old granite gateposts that were covered in ivy. It's a reminder that the woodland used to be open fields in the past.

Speaking of ivy, some of the veteran trees were being choked to death by it. I've severed a lot of the ivy around the trunks, and the trees are bouncing back. Ivy has its place in the woodland and the berries provide food for birds in the winter, but like sycamore, it can overwhelm if given half a chance.

I have also been removing much of the barbed wire which was strangling the woodland. I've found the easiest way to do this is to cut it into short lengths with bolt cutters - otherwise it is hard to manage. I really don't like barbed wire and will not be reusing it. Instead I'll take it to the dump and throw it in the metal container for recycling.

This is a section of woodland I have just coppiced. At about 1/4 acre it now requires processing. But we have various building to construct on the land so much of the straight trunks will be used for that. I'm nervous about the disease possibilities mentioned above, so will be replanting some extra trees in a more diverse way.

The coppiced section viewed from above. The field opposite, which must be about five acres in size, has two horses in it that are used for leisure. On a piece of land this size, using permaculture methods, you could feed at least five families in a very biodiverse habitat. It's amazing how much productive land and biodiversity is sacrificed for people's hobbies!

Foxgloves coming up. Two years ago I collected hundreds of seeds and walked around the woodland throwing them in handfuls. You can see exactly where each handful landed.

A small oak I pollarded two years ago. I like pollarding (i.e. cutting the tree a bit higher up) as it stops rabbits and deer damaging them. I have seen one deer in the woodland in the past year, although there are reports of herds of them spreading from the east.

I'm not sure what has happened here. This large fern has been flattened by something. Perhaps it was a deer sleeping on it, or something ...

My mushroom experimentation zone. So far none have grown, but the mycelium has spread throughout the wood so I'm hopeful we'll see some mushrooms when the temperatures increase.

An old border oak. This is a huge tree. Behind it is a sunken lane that would have been used by sheep and cattle for centuries. The more I get to know this piece of land, the more secrets it throws up from the past.

Every year the grey squirrels get the nuts before I do. Here is a stash of hazels I uncovered. Frustrating, but on the other hand hazelnut-fed grey squirrel cooked in red wine casserole isn't bad.

A fence I put up using freshly cut oak for stakes. Even though I only put this up 18 months ago the oak has been CONSUMED by turkey tail fungus. No good at all. I'm glad I discovered this susceptibility before I built anything a bit larger with oak.

Branches of an elder growing through a badger skull. There must be up to 100 elder trees and bushes growing around Fox Wood. I don't mess with it. Elder has many ancient and mystical associations and cutting it down is a pretty unwise thing to do if you don't want to end up like this badger.

[Update: I've been googling skulls and it actually looks more like a fox than a badger. Badgers have much smaller eye orbits.]

The newest additions in the orchard include a number of rare varieties. Last autumn we made 180 gallons of cider using apples foraged from the local area. We have a cider barn now, complete with oak barrels and presses. These trees are exposed at the moment but the windbreak I planted using Italian alder grows at least twice as fast so they should be nice and sheltered soon. I started off planting my orchard in a higgledy piggledy fashion, but now I'm planting in the more traditional diamond pattern in order to maximise the efficient usage of the available space.

What do you do if you find a fishing box washed up on the beach and then pick up a couple of pocketfuls of holm oak acorns from the street? I'll probably use these as evergreen hedging around my forest garden.

The pond. If this were a holiday brochure it would be called an 'infinity pond'. It's been attracting a lot of wildlife since I filled it. It will shortly have lots of frog and toad spawn in it when I go and collect some from a nearby pond. There are already newts. In the summer there were swallows swooping over it during the day and bats fluttering around by night. It even had some passing ducks on it once.

It's a bit uninspiring at present but this will be the new copse area. In it are silver birch, beech, oak, dogwood, dog rose, sea buckthorn, pine, yew, broad-leaved lime, walnut and alder.

A buzzard soars over Fox Wood.

Down in the forest garden I've planted this Chinese dogwood. Some of these plants are quite pricey, so I've put a wire mesh fence around it (not in the picture) to protect it. Nearby I've also planted gingko, Sichuan peppers, passion fruit, kiwis and grapes. There's plenty more planting to do.

So, as you can see, things are progressing at Fox Wood. The wood, and all the skills I have learned and am still learning, is now the main plank of my livelihood and this year I aim to grow a much larger proportion of food there and earn more funds from the production of charcoal and other products. By the summer I hope to be able to offer the forest garden as a venue for woodland craft courses, and there are also a few other projects scribbled on the back of envelopes. I'll keep you posted!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Magic Lakes and Mushrooms

Mushrooms ...

It's been a while since I updated the latest tales from Fox Wood - but never fear - it's not as if nothing has been going on there. In fact, one of the reasons for the lack of updates is that I've been too busy to attend to blogs (which are sadly quite low down on the priority list). So here is a preliminary update of what I have been up to. Alas, there are not too many pictures this time.

Firstly, as you may notice by looking to the right, I have been busy writing and publishing a book. Yes, The Path to Odin's Lake is about a journey I took last summer from Copenhagen to a forest in Sweden. It's not your average travel book - and in fact it wasn't intended to be a book at all until certain things happened to me on that journey that I felt I must record. I travelled for the most part on foot, had almost no money with me, and cut myself off completely from electronic media and gadgets. I ended up at a sacred lake in that Swedish forest and ... well, if you want to find out more you can buy the book :)

Secondly, partly as a result of that journey, I have been focusing my attention on growing mushrooms. Why? Well, Fox Wood is ideally suited to mushroom cultivation. It's damp, it's shady and I have an abundant supply of timber. So far I have begun experimenting with different types of wood (chestnut, oak, sycamore and willow) to ascertain what works best. I'm being quite scientific about it, making careful notes and observations and recording them. I hope to be able to grow a decent crop of edible mushrooms every year (that would be shiitake, oysters, lions mane and chicken of the woods) and sell them locally.

The second reason I am growing mushrooms is because they are awesome. The more I learn about them the more awesome they become. Not only are they a great source of nutrients but more and more research is pointing to the fact that they can be used as a means of bioremediation i.e. healing the Earth. Several species have been found to digest oil spills and chemicals, and there is even a suggestion out there that they could help 'clean up' radiation. They can heal sick bees, restore degraded soils and halt depression. What's not to like? Research in all of these areas is ongoing, but at the forefront of this fungus revolution is the US mycologist Paul Stamets. Check out his short film below.

But anyway, apart from the mushrooms I have been busy selectively coppicing certain areas in the woodland this winter. Alas, I didn't do as much as I had planned due to my chainsaw breaking down, nevertheless I have plenty of hazel, hawthorn and holly cut and drying ready for next winter.

Oh, and I also cut down a huge multi-stemmed sycamore with my friend and tree surgeon Nigel. It was blocking out the light to my neighbour's orchard and the wood will be used for fuel and mushroom cultivation.

The pond is finally finished, save for a few aesthetic details, and a number of newts have taken up residency there. It's looking particularly good for something dug by hand over a period of 18 months - I'm proud of it. I will take some pictures of it on my next visit.

Apart from that, I have planted up another 100 or so trees in what will be a mixed woodland area. These include seven walnut trees, plus a mixture of lime, oak, willow (including a large willow-only coppice area), beech, dogwood, silver birch and hazel.

The orchard has expanded significantly, with 12 new apple trees of different varieties, a couple of pears, a couple of plums and a medlar. The mixed edible forest/orchard is progressing nicely.

Three more rescue hedgehogs were released last week to add to the other two that were released just before winter. As hedgehogs are something of an endangered species it's great to be able to provide them with a safe haven.

Well, that's all the update for now. I will take my camera on the next visit and upload some more photos.


BTW if you are interested in reading my book you can get a free 10% sample sent by email by clicking here.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Autumn Falls

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

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

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

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

We also have a bumper crop of firewood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This one had a family of finches in it.

Chestnut shoots in a ray of sun light.

Moss growing on the woodland floor

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

The new growth is between six and ten feet high.

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

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

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

The ride leading up through the woodland.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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