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Archive for April, 2013

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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