The Winter Season is when we do most of the conservation work on the Lynchmere Commons. The volunteer gang has worked hard this season and despite the near continual rain and snow we’ve been very busy. Now the nesting season is suddenly in full swing (as it’s not snowing this week) we can stand back and admire all of the cutting, felling, burning, thinning, scraping, digging,filming, laying, fencing and mending we’ve been doing but before we do there is just time to fit in a little mowing.
We planted a community orchard a couple of years ago in a sheltered corner of one of the Ridgecap fields that adjoin the commons. These fields are traditional hay meadows and pastures, once the mainstay of every small farm but now very rare and endangered. This is mainly because without being ploughed up and reseeded with modern varieties of grass, and with no fertilisers and pesticides being applied the yield (in terms of grass) is far too low to pay for the monster machinery that now populates our farms and countryside. Likewise we’ve planted up the orchard with traditional apple varieties from Sussex and surrounding counties, all on large and traditional half-standard sized rootstocks rather than the higher yielding and smaller bush varieties.
The orchard is not grazed so we need to cut the grass by hand. Having been a rough corner of the meadow it’s a serious challenge and the first aim is to reduce the tussocks and remove the old thatch of dead plants ready for the new season.
With a little sunshine a tiny bit of coaching in technique with a scythe and a lot of enthusiasm it didn’t take long to get through the orchard – keeping the rakers busy. Andy is using one of my oversized hay rakes – it has a 32inch head,nearly 3 foot, and a 6ft handle which makes it harder to use but once you get used to it you cover a lot of ground. Both Andy and the rake seem to have survived the experience.
With a good turnout (a promise of free food and drink is always a good thing) we had upto 9 scythes out mowing, enough for a team, with several Austrian Scythes a couple of English Scythes and Nick joined us with his original ‘Turk Scythe’. These were first imported from Europe around the 1970′s when manufacture of English scythes stopped. Very light in comparison to the English Scythe. This one has a classic Austrian style blade that we often use today but the handle or snathe is very interesting with it’s straight shaft and fixed handgrips. Very light but only suited to one size of user.
I’m not sure that the scything and raking was the main attraction here, I rather think it was mainly just to work up an appetite for lunch! It was the last task of our winter work programme and so a bit of an end of term party as well as the nature of the work now changes through the summer season.
A good job done. A little bit of exercise, good company and a lunch in the orchard, a nice way to get some fresh air. Of course the job could have been done with a strimmer – but it’s really not so much fun to stand and watch a strimmer, you can’t rake the grass off afterwards and with 9 mowers on the task it was a really quick (if not completely proficient) job.
I find it thought provoking to reflect upon which is really the most efficient way of working, one mower with a petrol strimmer for a dayor two, and Allen Scythe for a few hours or several mowers with scythes and a few rakers and forkers for a couple of hours? This blog isn’t really the best place for discussing this so I’m in the process of opening up a new site ‘The Scythe Grinders Arms‘ to host a wider discussion of environmental issues and my pet rants.
If you live in the Haslemere area and like the idea of working on the Lynchmere Commons and the meadows now and then why not join in with the Volunteer working tasks – you can get more information via the Lynchmerecommons blogsite.
Posted in Environment, Lynchmere, Lynchmere Common, Scything, Sustainability | Tagged Environment, Lynchmere, mowing, orchard, scythe, sustainability | 1 Comment »
I’ve been thinking about firewood quite a lot recently – and not just as an excuse to post my favourite view of the commons with my favourite landrover, well one of my favourite landrovers, in the photo. We’re still waiting and hoping for Winter to be overwhelmed by Spring, but despite the longer evenings and the sun higher in the sky it snowed again last week. It’s been the coldest March for at least 50years around here.
With it being so cold we’re still burning a lot of wood and dry firewood is at a premium right now. I’ve ended up burning some of the wood I’d put aside to make my my first charcoal of the season - it’s never easy to predict just how much firewood you will need each year.
To eke out my supplies I’ll take advantage of any dry seasoned wood I come across. The load of well seasoned Sweet Chestnut in the back of the Landrover had to be removed while I was mending the stock fencing and it seemed a shame to waste it.
As I’m burning the last of my stored and seasoned dry firewood it’s a very good time to be starting to prepare next years and I’m also trying to get ahead with preparing some wood for my charcoal making through the summer.
Just about any wood will burn once it’s dried out or seasoned though some woods will burn more easily due to their density and smell more attractive as they burn. This is a collection of Beech, Rowan, Birch and Sweet Chestnut being split ready for the sun to season it – provided of course that we do get any sun this year. These are all good firewoods but they are not dry enough to burn efficiently yet and need the summer and strong sunlight to reduce the moisture content.
Just to hammer this home – if you try to burn 10Kg of only partially seasoned wood at 30% moisture – then you will have to boil off 3Kg of water. Boiling off the water reduces the temperature and efficiency of your fire as well as condensing with other volatile chemicals in your chimney to form creosote.
Much better to let the summer sun dry your firewood to 20% moisture content or below if possible – but it’s hard to go much drier because of the ambient moisture content in the air. Even if you do dry the wood completely, unless it’s stored in an atmosphere with zero humidity it will start to soak up moisture again quickly.
When the wood is dry enough it will burn much more efficiently and deliver more heat – the volatile chemicals are also more likely to be burnt increasing the efficiency of the burn and reducing the deposits in the chimney.
Once your wood is drying nicely it needs to be stacked to protect it from the rain – but still allow the sunlight to continue drying it and the wind to blow through it.
In our climate some kind of roof on the stack is necessary as well as a base to lift the stack off the ground and prevent moisture from wicking up into the wood from the ground. This stack is self supporting in the Bavarian style with a double wall of split logs curved around at the corners. The pallets on top allow an air space for the wood to continue drying and stay dry until it’s needed.
With so many other jobs to attend to it’s hard to give the firewood the attention it deserves. But we’ve struggled to heat our cottage this winter and that’s a good reminder that I need to give my firewood every chance to dry if I want to stay as warm as possible through next winter.
Posted in Environment, Lynchmere Common, Sustainability | Tagged firewood, lynchmere commons | 3 Comments »
…And not just any snow but the wrong type of snow. Freezing rain overnight covered with slushy snow this morning made the roads and paths treacherous This time last year the temperature was a mere 20 degrees C higher! You can see why the term ‘global warming’ has been dropped for ‘climate change’.
With the temperature plummeting in a biting easterly wind it meant some sub-zero polelathe turning for as long as I can manage before retreating to thaw out in front of the woodburner.
Sadly the shed is an old open fronted cart shed – so no possibility of warming it up and extreme polelathe turning it is. As long as I can manage turns out to be about 30 minutes with the thermometer at -1 degrees C in the early afternoon – maybe a tad longer if I do some drawknife work to warm up. Still, I can comfort myself that we don’t really know what cold is in Southern England – imagine what it must be like in Canada. Then I heard recently from my old friend Maarten (Max) Meerman in Vancouver that it’s been 12C over there, positively balmy, it turns out that sometimes life just isn’t fair!
Sadly a large Rowan (Sorbus Acuparia) fell over on the commons recently. You can see the disease that brought the tree down – the brown rot in the centre of the wood. But luckily for me, as Rowan is a super wood for turning, one of, if not my favourite turning wood and with some usuable lengths I should be able to get some nice items from it.
With short stints on the lathe and very cold fingers I am limited to fairly simple shapes and items, but that’s no bad thing as it helps me to get some stock prepared before the season starts. You can just about make out the ‘two-tone’ of the light and brown colours of the spurtle on the right of the row. I’ve managed to split a billet from the right section of the cleft where the dark staining stops – the grain is a little wonky but nice and fresh and the colours make it worth persevering.
Posted in Greenwood work, Polelathe, Turning Treen, What's in the shed today? | Tagged Polelathe, rowan, snow | 3 Comments »
Bitterly cold again outside. Which makes me think of warmer times and so I’ve spent some time updating the Courses & Events page on the website this morning whilst I huddle next to the woodburner and try to mentally prepare myself for going out and getting cold again.
On the rare occasion that the sun does pierce the snowladen grey clouds I have been treated to some very season displays of colour - as here when I was preparing pea sticks from the cut stems on Lynchmere Common when the low angle of the sun lit the bronzed bracken against the Silver Birch stems and the grey skies behind.
Posted in Landscape & photograpy, Lynchmere Common | Tagged Lynchmere common, Silver Birch | Leave a Comment »
If we can’t actually go out with our scythes then at least we can get together and talk scythes! There’s not a lot of opportunity for mowing with scythes during the depths of winter – they tend to be hung up on the wall waiting for warmer days like these blades and snathes in John Lett’s office cum snug on in his barn on the farm near Gt Missenden.
So with mowing withdrawal symptoms in full flood last weekend we (members of the Scythe Association of Britain and Ireland that is) congregated at John’s barn for a weekend of talking mowing, grass, blades, snathes and of course peening.
As John grows around 100acres of ancient grain varieties we had the bonus of discussing traditional wheat varieties as well. It’s a subject I have started to get interested in, the natural consequence of starting home bread making and wondering just what is, or perhaps more important isn’t, in the bread for sale in the local supermarkets. And thanks to Vince a master baker who works with John’s flour who came along to find out what was going on – we got to do some baking with the traditional wheat varieties as well.
This loaf was baked using a kind of sourdough recipe with John’s traditional wheat variety wholemeal flour, left overnight to rise and then it only needed a quick fold (no hard labour kneeding the dough) and left to prove before into the oven
- and quite rapidly into our mouths! Thanks to Vince’s expertise it wasn’t long before we were putting away a selection of various breads.
Like this simple focaccia – made with plenty of olive oil, rosemary and a bit of finger exercise.
and Simon Damant (not known for his gentle approach) attempts to fold a pretzel.
It’s always a pleasure to eat hand crafted artisan bread but we don’t often get an opportunity to look at where the flour comes from. With John’s grainstore just next door it was a fascinating opportunity to link the grain characteristics directly to the flour and the bread being made.
Amongst the ancient wheat varieties that John grows is Spelt, originally a cross between the one of the earliest cultivated wheats Emmer and wild Goat Grass. You can buy Spelt flour in the UK now but it’s harder to get the grain, which can be used like pearl barley or lentils in soups and stews. John very kindly polished some Spelt grain for me – which effectively ‘pearls’ the grains. Cooking with Spelt in this way helps to retain the nutrients and fibres and because it’s not processed (ok it’s arguable that the polishing is a form of processing) it slows down the carbohydrate overload on your digestive system that highly refined white flours can often cause.
Thank you John and Vince for a really ‘riveting’ and fascinating winter wheat weekend (I am sorry for the in-joke but ‘rivet’ is a medieval wheat variety that John grows)
Posted in Scything, Sustainability | Tagged John Letts, Scythe Association, scything, spelt | 1 Comment »
Well it rained for what seemed just about forever. The wettest English year on record – not bad considering that is started with a dry spell which continued until the day that the government declared a drought. But the wind and rain eventually gave way to the cold and cue - The winter wonderland – but with a few less trees than we started the week – aka the extreme chainsaw training course!
Just occasionally I teach basic chainsaw and tree felling for a local land management college. I did wonder why I was asked to run a chainsaw and tree felling course in January at relatively short notice. All became clear once I saw the weather forecast for the week. We started off with the basic quagmire, moved onwards to the big freeze and then finished off with extreme chainsaw training in heavy snowfall. (Thanks to Peter Underwood for the photo)
I started the week with a full complement of six students but by the heavy snow fall on Friday I’d managed to whittle it down to the hardcore of Ian, Peter and Jules who were game enough to come out with me for some final felling practice in the snow.
Working in the woods was fine – it can be quite surreal working during snowfall as you tend to be in your own little universe – the trees block the wind and everything looks and sounds quite peaceful. It’s something of a shock to emerge back into the world and to discover that as usual the traffic in Southern England can’t cope and has ground to a halt. Luckily we’d prepared for that and with a couple of 4×4′a were soon back at the college – only to discover that whilst we’d been out in the woods felling trees those in the warm heated classrooms had been sent home! It’s a strange world out there isn’t it? Good luck with the assessments guys!
Posted in Chainsaw, Uncategorized, woodland | Tagged chainsaw training, winter wonderland | 1 Comment »
Season’s Greetings! It’s been raining here for days rather than snowing this year, but plodding through the mud in my little tractor doesn’t make for quite the same picture somehow. If you are having a break – I hope you have a good one whereever you are.
Posted in Days Off | Tagged tractor | 2 Comments »