Archives for the month of: November, 2011

With the weather turning colder and lots of earth plaster to get dried out our newly installed woodburner has come into its own over the past couple of weeks.

If there is a better way of turning a house into a home than lighting a fire I would like to know what it is. The main reason we are having to keep it lit at the moment is for drying the earth plaster, which is turning out to be a pretty major task, but it also helps keep the chill at bay when you are working in the building.

It was quite exciting seeing the first puff of smoke coming out of the chimney. The firewood used to warm the buildings here at Swan Barn Farm is all produced as a part of the sustainable management carried out in our local coppice woodlands and as such is a very environmentally freindly way of keeping us warm. All of the buildings here are heated using wood, as part of the project a new biomass boiler has been installed to provide both the basecamp and the new building with heating and hot water, this will be fired using logs as well, so we have also had to put a bit of work into getting the firewood shed stocked recently.

The new fire has also been helping us to dry the paint on our windows.

We decided some time ago that allthough we were really pleased with the eco credentials of our triple glazed windows, their appearance left much to be desired. A good few coats of paint was decided on as the appropriate remedy. Colour is a very personal thing, and suffice to say there was some discussion amongst the team about what colour we should go for. A consensus decision fetched up with them being a sort of light grey, I am not completely sure that made anyone particularly happy, but once the colour of the building starts to soften and grey down I am hoping it will look nice.

We decided on a water based environmentally freindly paint, great stuff, but a bit tricky to get to dry well at this time of year, and as for getting the primer to adhere to the windows, well the less said about how tricky that proved to be the better!

Keeping the damp weather off the damp paint was achieved in the end by use of some novel screens made of plastic sheeting and offcuts of batten, Heath Robinson would be proud. Refitting the handles and other furniture after they had all been out for painting was a bit of a jigsaw puzzle, but Dennis figured it all out it the end.

It was a really tough job, and I have to say a huge thankyou to Chris, Peter, Dennis and Mike, they have put loads of time into the windows, I hope they are all pleased with how they have turned out.

Many of you will know that as part of our conservation management work on our heathland sites we run a small herd of Belted Galloway Cattle. The time of year has come for some of our steers to go to the abbatoir, therefore we are now able to offer for sale to the public some of the finest beef you are likely to be able to buy (of course I am biased, and proud of it!).

These rare breed cattle have spent their life grazing outdoors on conservation managed heathlands and wild flower rich grasslands around Haslemere. We like to think they have about the best life it is possible for cattle to lead. They help us to manage the habitats, and through the action of their grazing encourage the conditions in which numerous rare and fascinating species of wildlife flourish. We have started a system whereby we are breed our own replacement animals and later on in the winter our cows will be heading off to holiday with a Belted Galloway bull. Selling beef in this way provides the funds to enable us to purchase breeding animals so that we can keep a dynamic and healthy herd.

The beef will have been traditionally butchered and hung for three weeks to provide the kind of flavour your average supermarket steak will simply never be able to match. It will be ready to collect in early December, just in time for Christmas.

Collection will be in person on 8th or 9th December from Swan Barn Farm in Haslemere, giving you the opportunity to call in and have a look at the Speckled Wood Building while you are here. We are selling 5kg boxes for £50 and 10kg Boxes for £95. Each box will contain a mix of high quality cuts of beef including everything from roasting joints to steaks and mince. To place an order call 01273 857712 or email karen.whittaker@nationaltrust.org.uk

We anticipate demand to be high so I would suggest getting your order in early to avoid dissapointment. I really hope people like it, we are very proud of our little herd and what they accomplish for us, I think this is a really positive way of supporting the management of the countryside around the town and have already put my name down on the list.

Sorry if I have been a little quiet lately. I think everyone at Swan Barn Farm has fealt the hectic year catching up on them a bit over the past couple of weeks and we have all needed to take a little time to get back on track. The building has been coming along well, with lots of work being done on the earth plastering and decorating front. Meanwhile I thought with autumn advancing it would be a good time to go back up to Ridden Corner Copse, the coppice where we cut most of the timber for the building, and see how the regrowth is looking.

As I have explained before, the main species of wood we used for the build is sweet chestnut, it comes from a coppiced wood, meaning that when you fell the tree it doesn’t die, but regrows with many stems from the cut stool. This is a very sustainable, environmentally friendly and aincent way of managing woods, which also provides fantastic conditions for wildlife. Now that the stools where we cut the timber from the house have reached the end of their first growing season I wanted to see how well the regrowth was doing.

As you can see from my cunningly devised dog by tree scaled measuring device much of the regrowth in the wood has reached 5 or 6 feet in its first year. The first year or two is crucial for the regrowth in the coppice, as the trees strive upwards towards the light the main threat comes from browsing deer. If they get chance they will nibble the leading shoots causing a massive ammount of damage to the future viability of the coppice. One of the ways we get aroung this is by creating glades which are large enough so the deer feel threatened in the open space, they will always browse round the edges, but tend not to go out in to the middle. This area of woodland seems to have faired well, there is a little deer damage, but not too much, and by next year the shoots will have grown out of harms way. Given another 15 or 20 years this area will have regrown to a size where it will be ready to be cut again.

This is the time of year when thoughts turn towards keeping warm by the fire, and I was pleased to see our stacks of cordwood drying nicely by the trackside. We are currently having a log fired biomass boiler installed as part of our building project. Next year this is the wood that will be keeping the building warm and providing its hot water.

The other thing that I was really pleased to see was how the ground underneath the trees was starting to fill in with all manner of interesting plants.

The wood sorrel is growing in big clumps all across the woods.

And wherever there had been a bit of light disturbance of the soil foxgloves are proliferating.

Of course only the leaves are showing at the moment, but it is a real sign of things to come, it looks like next year the coupe will be a riot of sorrel and foxglove flowers, I can almost hear the hum of the bee’s already.

Its a fantastic time of the year to get out in the woods for a walk, (I intend to be taking my own advice on that this week, with a few days off and a long walk planned) the colours are absolutely at their peak. But its not only in the woods that the colours are looking stunning. A short walk across the heath is also pretty rewarding right now as I saw on Black Down this afternoon.

And, no matter what the time of year, if you keep your eyes open there is always some fascinating wildlife out there to spot, like this clump of wax cap fungi I found growing amongst the grasses on the lower slopes of the hill.

Wax caps usually only grow in areas that have not had artificial fertilizers or chemicals applied to them, so when you see them you always know you are somewhere a bit special.

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