Saturday, 21 February 2009

Charcoal Burning

Today, Jill and I have been helping our neighbours in Tottington Woods make charcoal. We normally make charcoal in a huge kiln (2.5m in diameter and 1.5m high), but today we were demonstrating the process to the local sea scouts group - 10 and 12 year olds.

The old oil drum is first packed to the top with chunks of seasoned wood from last years hazel coppice, and then kindling is placed on top. The whole drum is then turned over and placed on bricks to allow the air in to get the wood burning. The drum, when turned over, has four holes in the top to allow the smoke and gases to escape. The term 'charcoal burning' is a bit of a minsnomer as it's actually the wood that is burnt to make the charcoal. The charcoal isn't burnt until you put it on the barbie to cook your food.

Once the smoke turns clear (after about an hour and a half) the four holes are covered over with four metals sheets, and soil is piled on top to create an air seal. The vents at the bottom are also sealed with soil to exclude all the air. The drum is then left to smoulder. When it has completely cooled (about 12 hours) the drum is lifted off, and hopefully the wood that was stacked inside has turned to charcoal.

This is the finished product from our oil drum.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

First jobs

One of the first jobs Jill and I want to do is to make a hard standing for our truck. We have enlisted our old mate Dave to lend a hand.

At the entrance to the wood there is a shallow ditch with a single bar gate just beyond it. This opens out into a space suitable for parking. The ditch presents a bit of an obstacle, and we decided the best way to tackle it was to dig it out and put in a drainage pipe to carry the water. We will then cover this over with plastic 'egg boxes' to spread the weight of the truck, and then cover it all over with gravel, allowing the grass and other plants to grow up and the water to drain away.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

In the beginning

At the beginning of December 2008, Jill and I decided to buy a piece of woodland. We had been searching for a number of years, but the woods we saw were either too big, too small, or too far away. The woodland we wanted had to be within walking or cycling distance of home and accessible by vehicle to allow us to transport our produce. The woodland we found fitted all the criteria. It is 3.6 ha (9 acres) of oak and ash standards with a few silver birches. The understorey is hazel coppice.

Rainbow Wood is ancient woodland; the oaks are mature and the hazel has been coppiced (last coppiced five years ago). We intend to carry on managing the woodland in the traditional, sustainable way, coppicing the hazel to make bean poles, plant labels, stakes, hurdles, charcoal and other woodland produce. This method of management opens up areas of the woodland in rotation allowing native flowers, such as orchids and bluebells, to thrive. It also allows shrubs and brambles to develop as food and habitat for butterflies and insects.

Rainbow Wood is part of a larger woodland (32 hectares) in West Sussex. To the south lie the South Downs, to the north is open pasture. The northern boudary is marked with an ancient woodbank and a seasonal stream. Woodbanks were used to mark boundaries in previous centuries. The earth is dug from a ditch and piled above to make the bank. On top of the bank dead branches and twigs are layered. They make a good boundary as the sides are steep and are generally cattle proof. In Rainbow Wood the old branches and twigs are long gone.

Buying the woodland was quite straightforward. It's a bit like buying a house with searches and land registry, but somewhat simpler as there was no chain. We saw the advert on the 'Woodlands' website -

Once we had declared our intention to buy, we instructed our solicitor to do the conveyancing, and within a few weeks, we had signed the contract.