Archives for the month of: April, 2011

The bluebells are looking absolutely stunning.

The weather has been incredible here for the last couple of weeks, and there is nothing like working outdoors in the sunshine to raise your spirits. These photo’s were taken this week in one of the coppices where our many volunteer groups have been busy making the wooden shingles for the roof. I had to call in to drop off some tools, and was once again really impressed with how the shingle making is going, we are very lucky to have so many people who are interested enough in the project to volunteer their time to come and make shingles for us, the roof will be a real testament to all of their hard work.

Here you can see some of the timber stacked at trackside waiting to be turned into shingles. If you are coming here on one of this years working holidays this is one of the valleys where you will be working. Hopefully some of you will get chance to see it before the bluebells go to seed.

Tucked away in the bottom of the valley, Justin the woodsman has been busy starting to make lath’s with the chestnut that was cut over the winter. Those of you who were here helping during the cold month’s might struggle to recognise this picture, it was pretty frosty here in December and January.

It is the alternating conditions of light and shade within the coppice woodland that encourages the profusion of wildflowers.

I also took a trip up to Ridden Corner Copse that day to fetch some extra timbers we needed on the site, and was delighted to see that the coppice stools where we cut the materials for the new building are already starting to send up fresh new shoots.

Before we finish the Speckled Wood building I would imagine the regrowth on the stumps where we harvested the wood will already be almost six feet high, being part of this cycle of growth in the woods has always been one of the best things about working here. Given another 15-20 years or so it will be ready to be cut again.

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Over the past couple of weeks a lot of hard work has been going into preparing the foundations our building will sit on. Unlike most buildings these days our aim is if at all possible to avoid using any concrete (other than what we are recycling from the old shed).

The first job was to level out the site. Then the foundation pits were marked out on the ground for excavation.

The field next door to the build is called Clay Pit Field, and you could see why whilst the foundations were being excavated. We hope to be able to reuse some of the clay that was dug out to help make the earth plaster which will be used on the internal walls of the building. The rest of the material will be reused elsewhere on the farm for filling in wheel ruts and levelling gateways.

Apparently Ben usually uses metre square pits of local stone for the foundations of his buildings, but here some of these pits were going to end up so close together we ended up with 4 trenches as well as a number of pits. These holes were then gradually filled with the recycled crushed concrete and topped up using sandstone from a local quarry.

As each layer of stone went into the pit it was compacted to ensure a solid foundation was created.

I’m not sure whether or not the guys here would approve or not, but I’m a bit of a sucker for a gesture to mark such an occasion as the digging of a foundation, and just couldn’t resist putting a coin in the bottom of one of them for good luck.

Once the pits had all been built back up to ground level the site was marked out again and levels were checked. The padstones for the building were then placed on top of a thin layer of sand on top of the stone foundations.

The frame of the building will rest on these padstones. Its been really interesting to see how it is possible to build foundations without a massive carbon footprint, evan if you could tell its not really anyones favourite part of the build! Once the last few padstones have been put in place the focus will begin to shift over to getting the main A frames ready for the frame raise, which we hope will be happening in mid May.

I am really pleased to say that yesterday the basecamp beehive was stocked with its own small colony of Honey Bee’s. You might have to stick with me a bit here, I am a bit bee obsessed.

The hive was constructed last year by a group of volunteers, and has been waiting for its new occupants for a few month’s now. The other night I went to fetch a nucleus (small) colony from a local bee breeder.

The colony comes in a small travelling box and consists of a Queen, several thousand workers and the brood nest, which is on 5 frames. The  first job when you get them back is to put them on the stand their hive will live on. I also like to put their roof on top, it helps them to orientate when they are moved into the proper hive, even if it does look a bit odd perched on the travelling box.

Then the small blue plug is pulled out of the entrance so the bee’s can fly and get used to their new home. They know they have moved, and as they come out of the box they perform intricate figure of eight flight patterns whilst imprinitng a new internal map.

Once they have had a day or two to settle in the colony is transfered to their own proper hive.

The hive is put on the stand and the frames are moved one by one into it. The brood nest in the hive has room for eleven frames, so they have plenty of room to expand over the summer. We are using a WBC hive, which some might say is a bit old fashioned these days, but I rather like it, it’s well made and somehow the shape of a WBC will be forever imprinted as the shape of a “proper” hive. The idea of keeping bee’s at Swan Barn Farm is firstly to hopefully give an insight into what I think is a really important countryside skill to our volunteers, but also to provide efficient polintation for our orchards and wildflowers. I hope passers by will enjoy seeing the hive as well, maybe not to close though!

As Spike and I were transfering the frames we were also checking the colony over, making sure they were healthy and in good condition. I was really pleased to see how good natured the colony was, they are very freindly bee’s.

I also wanted to see our Queen bee, there is only one in each colony, and spotting her amongst the thousands of others is a skill that takes a while to learn. There are a couple of tricks you can use to make finding her easier though, such as putting a dab of coloured paint on her back. See if you can spot her.

Honey bee’s have been having a really tough time over the last few years, many colonies have been dying out, pretty much all of the wild colonies I used to know of have dissapeered. They are vitally important polinators, and without them the countryside we know, and the food we eat would be under great threat. I think it is very important that we do our best to look after them . I am really pleased the basecamp beehive is properly stocked now, for me its a big step in the work we are doing here at Swan Barn Farm.

One of the jobs the framing team have been getting on with while the foundations are being prepared is making the windbraces and staddles for the building.

They are made of coppiced sweet chestnut, and came from Ridden Corner on Black Down.

Here you can see me up in the coppice cutting a staddle out of one of the poles. The staddles sit on the foundation stones and support the underfloor beams of the building. This allows the floor to be raised allowing for good air circulation and keeping the building nice and dry.

The staddles are joined to the building using mortise and tenon joints, above you can see the tenon being chiseled into the end of the staddle.

Staddles were traditionally used to keep graneries off the ground, you would probably recognise them as the stone mushroom which helped to keep out rodents. Above you can see a couple of finished ones with two windbraces stacked on top.

The windbraces form diagonal elements within the frame and are used to stop the building racking (or twisting) and going out of shape over time.

They are prepared using an adapted mortice box, this ensures the angles and lengths of the timber and the joints on the end of it are consistent throughout the frame.

Once the main cuts have been put on the timber it is strapped on the the framing bed to be held secure while the finer chisel work is done to create the tenons on either end.

They provide an important structural element, without them it could all go a bit wonky, but they also really add to the look of the frame, adding a lot of its character. Below you can see one of the finished ones.

Last friday evening I was working late on Black Down, it turned out to be well worth it as I was treated to seeing something pretty unusual, a Black (or melanistic) Adder. I know some people don’t like them, but I think adders are fantastic creatures and always really enjoy seeing them.

Their usual colouring is grey and black for the males and copper and black for females. I always think the copper colouring is particularly pretty, but sometimes an excess of pigment leads to the snake taking on a much darker overall colouration. It’s not something you see very often, so I was really pleased to spot this one and thought I would share it with you.

Its been a busy week on the build site, foundation trenches have been started and we have been busily cutting out rafters and joists on the sawmill. The first of the A frames of the building is now sat on the framing bed being worked on.

Above you can see the timbers for it being lifted onto the bed. Some of you might start to recognise them by now, and maybe even where around Haslemere they came from. I certainly wont forget, especially that oak beam!

And, lastly for this week, in a sure sign that easter is nearly here, the sheep that graze the Speckled Wood orchard have started to lamb. Here’s a picture of the first one to arrive.

Ben Law’s team have now arrived on site in order to start on the main phase of construction of our new building. One of the first jobs that needs to be done is to build a framing bed.

Rudy, Adam and Nick have been building it today in what is ordinarily the back garden of the basecamp. The framing bed is where the timbers that will make up the main A frames of the structure are fitted together and assembled prior to the frame being raised. The timbers it’s made of provide fixed points that can be measured from to ensure that when the frame is eventually raised all of the timbers will align correctly.

The uprights are made out of offcuts of sweet chestnut from the coppice, and the cross members are made out of the douglas fir we felled earlier in the year. When the bed is dismantled the douglas fir will be reused as roof rafters.

We have been busy milling as many rafters as possible, both for the framing bed and to start to build up a stock of them for the roof. In the picture above you can see how we have milled a square out of the middle of a log, 14 x 2 inch boards are being cut off this, which will then be cut in half to make 7 x 2 inch rafters. Its quite exciting to think ahead to the time when they will be going on to the roof.

You might remember earlier in the year us pruning the orchard just behind Haslemere High Street. I though it might be nice to show you what it is looking like now spring has sprung.

Pretty spectacular I think!

The blossom on the cherries, plums and pears is pretty much at its peak right now, well worth going to see. The apples will follow on next with their blossom, over the next couple of weeks. The orchard is less than a minutes walk from Haslemere High Street. Head through the gaps either behind Collingwood Batchelor or the CAB and you will go through the town walk and right past the orchard.

Its particularly nice to see the trees we planted six years ago starting to do well. I remember very well the day we planted the new trees, there were only five old trees left at the time, and now there is an entire vibrant new orchard springing up on the towns doorstep. I reckon looking at the way the trees are developing that this year could be the first of our decent sized crops. Look out later on this year, we are planning on holding an apple pressing event where we will invite people to come down to the farm bringing whatever apples they can lend their hands on. We will then run them through our historic scratter (a sort of apple crusher) and press and send you home with the juice plus a set of instructions for how to turn it into your own delicious cider.

This was the blossom on one of the old pear tree’s, last year it provided me with a batch of surprisingly nice perry. Old orchard tree’s are a fantastic wildlife resource, we plan to look after these keep them as long as possible, yesterday they were alive with the buzz of the local bee’s making the most of the nectar and pollen.

The old shed which is being removed to make way for the new Speckled Wood building has been demolished this week.

Its amazing quite how much junk a succession of Wardens and Volunteers can manage to fit in one shed if they are given enough time, and it took a while to empty it.

The volunteer tools have been relocated and the rest of the stuff has either been relocated, recycled or chucked. With the weather being so kind it fealt like extreme spring cleaning.

The next thing to go was the roof. It was made of asbestos, so had to be dealt with by a specialist contractor.

The wooden structure was knocked down in no time at all and then it was on to dealing with the concrete. Environmentally speaking concrete is pretty terrible stuff, with massive carbon costs in its production, there is quite a bit of the stuff in the old shed, and our plan is to recycle it.

The first stage was using a minidigger with a pneumatic breaker to reduce it to smaller sized chunks.

This was the first time I had ever seen the basecamp from this angle. A view which will be dissapearing again soon as the new building takes shape.

Once the concrete was all broken up it was loaded into a concrete crusher. This broke it down into a size we will be able make use of. It will be used in the foundation pits that will be going in next week on which the structural timbers of the building will sit.

The new Speckled Wood building is going to need a number of long timbers for its construction. Bringing in the oak for the underfloor beams was tricky enough at 7 metres, these range from 9 metres up to 14 metres. This was going to require a new plan!

There was no way we could fit them down Collards Lane, the main entrance to Swan Barn, so they were going to have to come in cross country from the far end of the farm.

Our collegues Matt and James from Hindhead very kindly agreed to lend us a hand, they brought along their long hay bale trailer on the back of their Massey Fergusson tractor to act as a transporter for the day. We had skidded all of the timbers as far as we could so that they could be loaded up. The first load was the larch poles from Valewood. These are going to be used for the ridge pole and wall plates, as well as for a couple of long beams.

Quite a long load!

They were driven to Almshouse Common and then down a track into the back of Swan Barn Farm, we had to take them over a ditch and bank (only getting stuck once! Thankfully we had our Big Valtra tractor there to pull out the Massey and trailer) and into one of the fields at the far end of the farm.

Unloading was a bit quicker and easier than loading.

Then it was back out up on to Black Down to fetch the Chestnut. These poles are going to be used for the crucks and tie beams which will form the main frame of the building, they are the ones we were cutting in Ridden Corner Copse.

These were a bit shorter, so could be loaded with the timber crane, which was lucky as there were quite a few to load up and it needed to be done quite gently to make sure we didn’t knock off the ones that had already been loaded.

It all went pretty smoothly, and soon enough another load was on its way across Almshouse Common to be unloaded in the fields.

That was only the first part of the journey, they then need to be skidded (dragged behind a tractor) the half mile or so through the farm to the Speckled wood build site.

Its quite a relief to see them all lined up ready to be used in the building, theres still a lot to bring back, but most of the rest is all a lot smaller and easier to handle, I am really looking forward to seeing them starting to be used in the coming weeks as the building starts to take shape.

Its been quite a week at Swan Barn Farm. With the difficult sawmilling we have been doing, as well as bringing back the longer lengths of timber to the site of the build its all been a bit stressfull. Things are going well I think, but its not been easy by any means. We wouldn’t have got anywhere without lots of hard work from Matt, Spike and Catherine, as well as some very welcome and helpful advice from Will on the sawmilling.

I realised today that I’ve had my head so filled with timber I have haven’t had time to properly appreciate whats been going on in the woods. Spring is well and truly here now, and a walk in the woods provided the perfect antidote to a tough week.

What better sight could a cornish boy wish for to help take away the stress than the buds bursting on the Rowan tree’s and the Gorse and Blackthorn in full bloom.

The hedge in the background above is the one where I usually collect the fruit for my sloe gin, here’s hoping this year’s will be a bumper crop. The hedgerows were full of all sorts of treats today, the Primroses and Violets were definitely the highlights.

Meanwhile in the woodland the Wood Anenomies are at their absolute peak.

There are masses of bluebell leaves up stretching in the sun, most of them wont be flowering for a while yet, but I went on a little hunt hoping to find the first bluebell of the year.

I found it by the side of the stream in Witley Copse, a first patch of blue in the woodland treat that is on its way.

The hazel buds are all starting to burst in the coppice, the patch below was cut 5 years ago, it provided wood for all sorts of uses around the estate, and is now happily regrowing. In another 9 years or so the cycle will have worked its way around the wood and these stools will be ready to be cut again, all part of the pattern of sustainable woodland management.

As I was walking through this patch of woodland I was followed by the mewing call of our local buzzard flying above.

Willow (my collie) was named after the flowering willow trees that I saw on the day I went to fetch her from the rescue charity. I guess it must be another anniversery of her arrival as the willows at Swan Barn were looking great as well.

If you stand up close to them on a sunny day you will hear the air come alive with the buzz of bumble and honey bee’s taking advantage of the pollen and nectar.

Another very busy week coming up, the old shed is being demolished, and its back to the sawmilling and timber moving, but after a proper walk in the woods today I am feeling a bit more ready for it.

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