Archives for the month of: February, 2011

The floorboards for our new building have begun their journey, you may remember us felling the timber for them in the coppice here at Swan barn Farm.

The oak standard trees were being thinned as part of our management of the coppice. Once on the floor the trees were snedded (the branches were removed) and then were cut to length.

We then extracted the wood using our timber crane.

The timber was driven down the road to W L West and Sons. We will be producing the floorboards for the verandah on our own mill, but the ones for inside will need kiln drying to make sure they don’t shrink as they dry inside the building.

They were unloaded and stacked to one side awaiting processing.

Last week they were rolled into the sawmill for the first stage of their processing.

The first stage is to cut the logs so that they can have a period of air drying.

As you can see, their mill is a little bit bigger than ours! Oak grown in this part of the world gets some very pretty colours and patterns in the grain, it should make a really smart floor.

As each slice comes off the mill it is stacked in sequence with thin sticks seperating each plank.

Each log was cut in turn and stacked up in the same order it was cut, this makes the wood season without too much warping. The sticked planks have all now been taken back outside where they will be left to air dry for at least a couple of months prior to the next stage in the process. Thanks very much for the guys over at Wests for providing these pictures, they are going to keep us up to date with the whole process. There will be another installment from the floorboards sometime in the late spring…

This time we were planting tree’s.

There is nothing as good for your spirits as planting a tree, especially if its an apple tree. And if its a whole new orchard, well it doesn’t get much better.

Last week we planted the new orchard at the front of the basecamp. 18 tree’s have gone in, more will follow over the next couple of years. For this orchard we have gone for a mix of traditional and modern varieties as well as trying to get varieties that will be ready at different times so we have a long fuiting season.

Two of my favourites have been planted in this orchard, Orleans Rainette and Cornish Gilliflower. One for flavour and one because you can’t forget your roots. I was really pleased when these were two of the trees that attracted a sponsor, I hope they mean something to their sponsors too. We still have tree’s available for sponsorship if  anyone has the means, all of the money raised goes straight to the Speckled Wood project.

This was the gilliflower going in. Thanks very much to Lesley up at the stables on Lynchmere Ridge for donating a trailer full of well rotted horse manure to ensure they get the best possible start in life.

They all have good solid tree cages to protect them from browsing damage, and have biodegradable mulch matts to ensure that the water in the soil goes to the tree rather than to the grass growing around its base. We also put gaurds on them to prevent rabbits from nibbling the bark.

The tree’s look so small and delicate when they go in, not much more than twigs really, you can barely see them in the tree cages above. They are pretty tough little things though, and it wont take long for them to start to grow. I should think we will see the first of the fruit from them in three or four years time.

Willow had a pretty good day too, practising on the sheep.

If you are interested in locally produced food and live not too far away the Landshare group of Transition Town Haslemere have a meeting on 9th March at 7.30pm in The Georgian in the High Street. New members are needed for a community vegetable garden at Roundhurst on the slopes of Black Down, why not come along and find out more. Its a stunning location and a really nice garden, the group is very freindly and there is loads of space for people to grow all sorts of interesting veg. You can find out more at or

Yesterday we spent the day working in one of our orchards. Its just behind Haslemere High Street so is really easy to go and visit.

Its a lovely peaceful place, and in a few weeks time will be full of blossom. Yesterdays task was to prune the apple and pear trees, as well as repairing some of the tree guards.

About five years ago this orchard only have five or six trees left, we put together an application for some funding and got together the money to restore it. Since then we have planted 30 or so apple, pear, plum, cherry, damson and gage trees. They are all old fashined traditional varieites. We planted them on traditional rootstocks which will allow them to gow up to 20-25 feet high, much taller than a modern orchard, but it will mean they will provide a really usefull space for the local wildlife.

The trees are just starting to come into their own now, and last year we got our first decent crop of apples. Of course as they get taller they also take longer to prune! what used to take an hour or two now takes all day. We are also training some of the branches downwards to make the fruit easier to pick, just in case you come by and wonder why the branches are tied down with string. Over time these branches will adapt to the shape we are training them into and the string will be removed.

We also spent some time repairing our tree gaurds and making sure all of the trees are property protected. This pear tree is much bigger than the sort of thing we would usually put a gaurd on, but the sheep were having a bit of a nibble at its bark so we thought we would give it a bit of protection.

Not to sure what the sheep thought about that.

We run apple pressing days in the autumn with our volunteers where we teach them how to make apple juice and cider with the fruits of our orchard, we are hoping for a bumper crop this year.

We restored an old apple press and scratter to use on these days. The press is one which has been in use in Sussex for years, there is a picture on the wall of a local pub of our press being used in the 1800’s. This is it being used last year.

The scratter was kindly donated by John Simpson, who does a lot of work for us on Black Down. Prior to coming to us it had a plant growing out of the top of it.

They were both restored using oak from our coppice woodland.

We are saving the best (hopefully!) of last years cider for a party on the day we raise the main frame of the new building. If you are here helping out be carefull, its strong stuff!

Matt, Spike and Catherine hosted a hedgelaying event for two groups of volunteers last weekend, they were working on the hedge on Collards Lane on the way in to Swan Barn Farm.

Thanks very much to everyone who came along and volunteered, even though the weather on sunday was pretty rotten. The hedge looks great, it really makes the entrance to the property look cared for, and it is always nice to see a traditional skill like this being utilised and passed on.

First of all the excess growth is trimmed out of the hedge so that what is left will fold over neatly into a well woven screen.

Then the upright stakes are knocked in. These ones came from the same hazel coppice that is providing a lot of the materials for the Speckled Wood building.

The upright stems of the hedge have a series of cuts put in the back of them, these cuts are placed so that the leading edge of the tree stays attached to the stump, this means that the folded over stem will stay alive and continue to grow in its new position.

The skill lies in cutting at the right angle so that the stem folds over neatly, but enough of the living wood remains attached so the layed stem will stay alive. New shoots will now grow up from the base thickening up the hedge and providing stems for next time its layed.

The layed stems are then woven between the stakes to provide an attractive hedge. Lastly a series of binders, long thin hazel rods, are wound together around the tops of the stakes to hold the whole thing in place. If it’s done well, and the hedge is thick enough it can be used as a stockproof boundary. Layed hedges used to be a common feature in the landscape, but unfortunately it is quite rare to see them these days. They provide fantastic wildlife habitat, look beautiful and ensure the longevity of the tree’s they are made off. A hedge flailed by a tractor and its associated machinery is a poor substitute.

Hedgerows make important habitat coridors for a number of species by linking together woodlands. One of the species of wildlife which uses this hedge is the Dormouse. Here you can see Matt holding one we found in this hedge in a specially made nestbox which we use for monitoring their population.

They are fascinating little creatures, and they rely on exactly the sort of habitat work we do in the hedgrows and woods here at Swan Barn Farm.

Willow and I went for a walk around Swan Barn Farm this afternoon to take a look at the woods, all the rapidly opening Hazel Catkins in the coppice got me to thinking about my bees.

Hazel pollen is a vital food source for them just as they are recovering from the cold of the winter. The bee’s have been having a really tough time lately and winter is always a worry, I never believe they are really through it until the Willow trees start to flower as well, but I went along to my apiary to see how they are coping and check if they needed any extra feed to get them through until there are some more flowers about.

If you open the hives at this time of year you have to be quick as you don’t want to chill them. I am glad to say that apart from one very small colony who I didn’t think were going to make it throught the winter all of my hives were doing really well.

This colony was looking particularly healthy, I was really pleased with how they are doing, they were my best honey producers last year too and if all goes to plan I will breed some new queens from this hive later in the year. Hopefully they will pass on their good genes.

This year we will be setting up a new hive at Swan Barn Farm, I hope some of our volunteers will get chance to learn some beekeeping skills.  The hive will be going in our new orchard and should mean we get really good pollination of all our fruit tree’s.

This is the new hive, kindly bought for us by the Black Down and Hindhead Supporters Group.

We built it last year with a group of volunteers who came to help out with the Speckled Wood project.

As soon as spring is here for real it will be back into beekeeping season again and I will get a colony installed in the new hive.

They are such fascinating creatures, and are a really good way of keeping in touch with both the local landscape and the changing seasons. I am glad mine have come through the winter so well, they have had a rough time the last couple of years, I am looking forward to seeing them more in the coming months.

Despite the best efforts of the wind rain and mud (and it is very muddy here at the moment) nothing could dampen our enthusiasm today as our new sawmill has arrived.

There was something about this moment that suddenly made everything seem very real, we have known for a while that we will be starting the build in March, but with the mill arriving and starting to convert the timber it is all coming into focus.

Allthough much of the frame will be made of roundwood there is also a lot of sawn timber in the building as well. This is the machine we will be using to process all of our locally grown sustainably produced timber to turn it into the planks, joists, rafters, studwork and floorboards that will go into the new building.

In the past we have always hired in sawmills, but the scale of this project has made buying this one economically viable, after we have finished the building I hope it will become a resource the trust will be able to use more widely in this area, so that we can get even better at making sure as much as possible of the wood we used comes from well managed sustainable woodlands (which hopefully are packed full of wildlife too).

Its quite a clever mill this one, I suspect getting used to the computer on it will take a while! We need to get some practice before we try anything too tricky with it, but I can see already how useful it is going to be.

We thought we would start with something nice and simple, so we put on one of the smaller pieces of Douglas Fir we collected last week and made some 1 inch square sticks.

These sticks are used as spacers in between the planks which we will be cutting later, they are used while the boards are drying to allow the air to circulate well around each individual plank,  it is important to make sure they are equal sizes so that the wood doesn’t warp too much as it is drying.

I am really looking forward to starting the next stage in the process, we have extracted some of the wood we have been cutting and now we are going to start turning it into the materials the building will be made of. Might wait till some of that mud has dried out a little bit first though!

Allright, its only early february, and theres quite a bit of winter left yet, but, the year has definitely turned and things are already starting to move if you know where to look. My chickens have realised and have just started laying again.

Back at Roundhurst on the edge of Black Down the Snowdrops are looking fantastic.

The Hazel flowers are starting to open as well, which is great news for the bee’s as by March hazel pollen will be a really important early food source for them.

The male part is the catkin (the yellow hand like structure), this is where the pollen is produced. The female flower is the tiny red thing just to the left of the catkins. Female flowers on a hazel are so small and delicate most people don’t even notice them. I took this photo in one of the many hedgerows we have planted over the last few years, they are really starting to come into there own now and have a lovely mix of species growing in them.

Up on Black Down the first few birch buds are starting to swell and at the weekend I heard a woodlark singing on the heath, music to anyones ears. We are a way off from them nesting but I did think I would share this picture with you that I took last year, I happened across the nest as I was walking across Black Down and was lucky enough to have a camera in my pocket, I took this and then carefully left so as not to disturb them. In the centre in amongst the heather you should be able to make out a small clutch of woodlark eggs.

This week we are working on the Douglas Fir we need for the building. As I said below it will be used for rafters and joists, but I have no doubt we will find many more uses for it as well. We only need a few trees and these are coming from a small plantation in a pretty valley right on the edge of Haslemere. We need to start getting a number of materials back to Swan Barn Farm over the next few weeks as our new sawmill is arriving pretty soon. Very exciting!

First of all the buttresses are cut away from the base of the tree so that they do not impede the felling cuts.

Then the sink cut goes in, this ensures the tree falls under control in the direction intended.

You can see from the photo’s that the ground flora in this wood is pretty much non existant. Thinning the tree’s will allow more light to reach the woodland floor and will hopefully encourage a few native plants to start growing in amongst the conifers. Without well managed thinning this sort of plantation can become a real desert for wildlife.

Next comes the back cut, and then the fun bit.

The branches are removed and stacked to the side. Then out comes the tape measure and we decide which sections from the tree will be most usefull for the different destinations we have in mind.

The stem is then cross cut and stacked out of the way with the tractor to be collected later. You can see from the picture the different colours in the sapwood and heartwood of the tree, the sapwood is a lovely pale colour, and the heartwood is a sort of peachy pink colour, it will fade to grey over time but always grabs your attention when freshly cut.

Douglas is more durable than many softwoods, and has good strength. It should make nice long lasting roof rafters for us. Most of the wood in the building is coming from local coppices, places I always love to work. Softwood plantations are not always my favourite places, but if they are well looked after can provide really useful local materials. These tree’s would have planted by the National Trust just a few decades ago, I hope the people who planted them would approve.

I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who came along to the Haslemere Hall on friday night, it seemed to go really well and it was great to see so many people there. Dennis reckoned there were about 300 people in the Hall and allthough I don’t have the final figure I think that thanks to everyones kind donations we will have made not far short of £1000 to put towards the project. There seemed to be quite a buzz on the night, I hope everyone enjoyed it. The shingle signing table did particularly well and I think it’s good fun to think of all those names on the roof.

On another note our guest blogger Dave Burges is back from sunnier climes and has sent in an update which is on the wildlife posings page. I was up on Black Down with him yesterday,  just after he left we were lucky enough to see a Raven on the western flank of the hill. Looking through his post the thing that struck home with me was the Red Kites, definitely one to watch out for, and a real success story. Not so many years ago they were confined to Wales, having died out in England and Scotland, but now they have started to spread out from a number of reintroduction sites and you stand a reasonable chance of seeing one around Haslemere. They have become quite common in the Chiltons, and I see them regularly when driving up the M40 to see freinds, but I still remember the first time I saw one around here. Willow and I were walking from Midhurst to Haslemere and as we came over the top of Older Hill I saw one wheeling around in the wind over the Milland Bowl. It looked so gracefull, I sat and watched it performing its magic in the air for what seemed like ages before it headed off towards Black Down.

Anyway, more from the woods soon, one of this weeks main tasks is felling and bringing back to Swan Barn Farm the Douglas Fir we need for our roof rafters and floor joists, its coming from a plantation on a pretty National Trust property just up the road from the co-op.

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