Wattle fences and retaining walls can easily be built from the leftovers of pruning, or from coppiced wood. This technique is the most basic form of fence construction, having been in use since Neolithic times.

I continually harvest apple, dogwood, willow, and hazelnut wood from designated coppicing trees in my yard, because these local species happen to grow both quickly and straightly. There are a number of “fences in progress” that are built higher every time I go around and maintain trees. Preparing materials is easy: I trim the bases of prunings down to sturdy fence posts of a uniform height and circumference; the rest I trim into flexible pieces for weaving the rest of the fence. The leftovers from all of this are piled up in #hugelkultur mounds. I hammer the posts down 1/3 of their height, and the rest is just simple weaving back and forth, between posts.

I have used this method for #raised beds, #straw bale gardens, and purely for aesthetic purposes with great success, but then again, I am not one to complain when it’s 100% free!



The woods near our house are run as a private nature reserve. The very reasonable owners allow people into the woods to observe wildlife and enjoy the surroundings, as long as visitors are as unobtrusive as possible. Ancient hornbeam trees have been newly coppiced to create open areas and long rides, vastly improving diversity of flora and fauna in the woodland over recent years.

The countryside in England can often feel like it is either hanging on by the skin of it’s teeth against encroaching development or that it is inactive, suspended in time and literally ‘set aside’, to use the agricultural term. The woods in these pictures are alive in every sense. There is a rare, but discrete, feeling of purpose, industry and respect for the land and its inhabitants. 

The wooden structures and shelters dotted around the woods have a playful and light touch and I feel encouraged to become part of the landscape when I visit. 


Life After Hurricanes

The year before last, this Corkscrew Willow (Salix matsudana ‘Tortuosa’) was blown over in hurricane-force winds. Willows have notoriously shallow root systems, and this cultivar of a Chinese species didn’t evolve to withstand the challenges of this biome.

Most of the tree was put through the wood-chipper, and became the first wood chip mulch with which I started my sheet mulching terrain conversion projects.

The remaining trunk was propped up, weighted, and allowed to re-grow. In the past two years, it has come back with a vengeance, so a little pruning was in order to balance out the branching, and make sure the next storm doesn’t topple it again.

In pruning off a limb of this size, it is extremely important to cut through the bark and vascular tissue all the way around (pictured above). That way, when the limb starts breaking under its own weight, it won’t take a strip of bark with it: the pruning wound will be clean and will have an easier time healing.

I maintain all my trees with a secateurs and very old old pruning saw: it takes some time, but there are few tasks I’ve encountered that require more equipment.

None of the pruned wood from my work today will go to waste: I’m using some pliable limbs for wattle and planting stakes…

… and planting some to make “living furniture.” I’m thinking of shaping these cuttings into a chair.

Willow bark contains a natural rooting hormone, so it strikes root from cutting or layering quickly.

Many exotic trees like this need more horticultural care than native species, and need to be kept artificially small in order to withstand the challenges of a different climate than the one in which they evolved. This makes some exotic trees, like this one, ideal candidates for the continuous extraction of timber resources through practices like coppicing and pollarding. A tree like this can be cut back to the ground every year, and will reliably spring forth with new life.

Shutting up shop for winter.

I love this time of year. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness and all that clichéd Keatsian autumnal splendor. I enjoy the donning of appropriate clothing (to borrow and slightly bastardise a phrase from Sir Rannulph Fiennes) with the sense of invulnerability that it gives me. On a clear and crisp autumn day there is nothing quite as satisfying as smoking a roll up post hard graft.

It is also the time to see how successful the seasons cultivation has been, and what a year it has turned out to be. A spectacular, long hot summer after a very cold and snowy spring seems to be conducive to abundant growth. Squashes, pumpkins, potatoes, shallots and onions are all out the ground and stored. Beetroots, chard, leeks, spring cabbages, parsnips, celeriac and Jerusalem artichokes are snug in the ground protected with a chunky layer of straw. All the bare soil has been mucked with two pick-up truck loads of black gold acquired for free from our neighbours endless supply (I use the word neighbour in its loosest term, their house is half a mile away down dirt tracks and through three farm gates. Yet we are very isolated so if you live within two miles of us, in my mind, you are our neighbours). It is amazing what two horses, three cows and some sheep can produce. After two days of wheel-barrowing all the muck onto our raised beds I very gratefully partook in the wondrous post graft autumnal roll up. Almost as good as the post pub meal with a few pints celebratory smoke. 

In the forest garden we started two years ago the wonder plant that is comfrey has been chopped and dropped where it grows which will hopefully add biomass, minerals and nutrition to the soil. Muck and used bedding from our chicken coop is continuously spread around the globe artichokes, cardoons, raspberries, plum, damson and pear trees. While our flock of guinea fowl regularly wander through the site scratching out grubs and goodies which they process and deposit sporadically around the land. It is probably stretching the truth to refer to the guinea fowl as a flock singular. There are thirty eight individuals broken up into three flocks of four, seven and twenty seven. Even though the group of twenty seven are the progeny of the seven (Broken Beak’s crew) and the four (Flighty Jim’s crew) there are sporadic guinea wars and territorial gesticulations between the Broken Beak posse and the twenty seven, yet to be named, flock. There may have to be some selective male culling in the future if things do not settle down. Not a disaster as guinea fowl casserole or roast guinea fowl are fine dishes. This will only be achieved if I can get the go ahead from my wife who incubated most of the keets.

Now is the time of year for the big jobs. Coppicing and hedgelaying is a top priority once all the leaves have dropped. A task made all the more enjoyable now that I have restored a nice old hatchet thanks to the advice and guidance of the You Tube legend that is Wranglerstar. If you have not seen his You Tube channel I strongly recommend it. He is the sort of universal man of many skills who could make any chap feel slightly inadequate about his own practical abilities. I ignore his ‘prepper’ the world will end, huge economic crash bits, and brush over the Christian moralising undertones and hone in on the skills he offers up for the masses to observe with awe. His videos are always well produced and (as many a You Tube comment has stated) he could make hammering a nail seem interesting and turn it into an almost therapeutic video.

  • An out of cycle hazel hedge to be laid.

  • A restored hatchet for hedgelaying.

If you are interested, here is Wranglestar in all his Pacific North West glory…

anonymous asked:

My king, I must admit that I would prefer a nice birthday boon, but if you really desire to trick me, then so be it. I worship the silver tongued god of mischief, after all. What else could I expect?

Well you are frightfully unafraid of my mischief… And loyal. I appreciate that in a member of my army.

Instead of a trick, here is my favorite poem by a Midgardian, called “The Darkling Thrush”. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do

I leant upon a coppice gate
     When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
     The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
     Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
     Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
     The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
     The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
     Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
     Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
     The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
     Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
     In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
     Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
     Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
     Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
     His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
     And I was unaware.

“There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.”

From ‘The Way through the Woods’ (1910), Rudyard Kipling.

Photo: Wayford Woods near Crewkerne Somerset.

Wayford Woods cover 29 acres - boasting a tumbling stream, meadow, ornamental lake dotted with lily pads.The fauna and flora, include impressive tulip trees and swamp cypresses and was set up as a charitable trust in the 1990.