New survey reports increase in curious incidents in the garden at night-time

A new survey commissioned by Grant’s Blended Whiskey has found that garden centres in the south east of England are reporting a 20 per cent growth in the sales of night-blooming plants. Seventy per cent of the 3000 people questioned said they liked to socialise in the garden after dark. The report also found that one in twenty gardeners work stark naked. There must be about twenty gardens in my street. I’m trying to work out who the one person is who gardens naked. I can let you know that it isn’t me. I don’t even like waring shorts when gardening. Trousers and long sleeves for me! Anyway Grants, who presumably want us all to start drinking its product whilst roaming our gardens naked at night has commissioned Chris Beardshaw to create three blue prints for the perfect ‘After Hours Garden’. As we’ve now got 24 hour drinking I’m not sure if there is an ‘After Hours’ any more but you can see the gardens for yourself at www.grantswhisky.com/gardenafterhours. I wrote a book three years ago called Curious Incidents in the Garden at Night-time, which you can see in the books section above so I’m really pleased there is renewed interest in the garden at night. As far as I know its still the only UK book that shows you how to select plants for the night-time. Let me know if there are any others. It’s also a story book and probably the book I am most proud to have written. www.allanshepherd.com/curious-incidents-in-the-garden-at-night-time/ Much as I hate to do myself out of much needed royalties you can get hold of a second hand copy for one penny plus £2.75 postage on Amazon at the moment. I have to tell myself that much more famous writers than I get sold for a penny too! http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/offer-listing/1902175255/ref=sr_1_olp_1?ie=UTF8&s=gateway&qid=1212164804&sr=8-1. Alternatively if you don’t want to shop with a big corporation, you can get the book from www.cat.org.uk/shopping.

How to split lengths of untreated round wood for making fence posts, coppice crafts and other random rustic objects

There’s always a sense of adventure when ordering untreated, un-processed fresh from the wood timber. I needed some untreated chestnut fencing posts (chestnut doesn’t rot easily so lasts longer in the ground than any other UK wood apart from oak) and after several weeks of trying to track down a local supply (it felt like I was trying to buy something illicit) I found some being sold from a wood about three miles away. Absolutely perfect! Totally local! Practically zero carbon emissions. Just what I wanted. So I ordered 14 fence posts, gave instructions for the delivery team to leave them in my front yard and went away for the weekend…And when I got back I found not 14 fencing posts but what I can only describe as 14 nightmares. They had delivered me 14 felled trees, ranging from 20-30cm in diameter. Anyone who’s ever looked closely, or even not that closely will notice that the girth of a fence post is considerably smaller. “What the bloody hell am I going to do with those” I thought to myself as I imagined a burly Scot tossing these cabers over my house and into my back garden. To get anything up there I have to take it through the house, up the stairs, out the back door and then up the steep garden path. So I phone the man at the woodland. “Oh its fine, they’re dead easy to split”. “Right, and how do you do that?” After he explained I still didn’t understand. Luckily I was about to do the coppice craft course at CAT and I knew I’d find out. In the meantime my friend Emily came round with her chainsaw and we carried them up to the garden in 6ft and 3ft lenghts. I had to stay in bed the next day I was so bloody exhausted! Never mind my promise to carry only light things up to the garden! Anyway I learnt how to split the wood and its a total bonus. I now have far too much chestnut and I’m trying to work out what to do with it. I’ve got enough fence posts to do the whole garden, instead of just the small section I had planned to do. I’ve made a massive table and four giant seats. I’ll be making a giant cold frame, and I’m going to have to work out what to do with the rest. I’ll put the table pics up when I next have a moment but here’s how to split the wood.

You’ll need three or four heavy metal wedges – at least one of which should be smaller than the others. Bob Shaw, our woodland teacher had a whole heavy hessian bag full of the things I could hardly lift. You can sometimes pick wedges up at car boot sales but they can also be bought from specialist suppliers and sometimes in local ironmongers. I doubt whether Focus don’t do it all will have them but you could see. Apart from that you just need a strong wooden mallet, a firm grip and a good eye. You could cheat and use a metal mallet and sledge hammer but in general its not good to hit metal on metal.

Some wood splits more easily than other wood. Willow for example twists when you split it. Ash and chestnut are good to split. That being said you still have to guide the split to avoid getting split drift which results in one half being thicker than the other.

To split the wood in half you need to find the centre of the rings at the end of the wood. Place your smallest wedge dead centre and whack in with a mallet. It takes a few whacks to get it firmly set in the rings. Like so.

Once you have hit it in far enough you will notice that the wood starts to crack in the centre of the ring and also on the top of the wood. Once the crack is established you can place another wedge in the top crack running along the top of the wood. Like so.

Bash this in and the split will continue beyond the wedge and along the wood. Sometimes you can split the wood with just this one wedge positioning but on a longer piece of wood you will have to carry on placing wedges further along the split, guiding it and making sure you don’t get split drift. Like so.

Wood seems to split easier once its been seasoned for a few months. I got this delivery back in the winter and split some then when the wood was still quite green. The splits were hard won. Now the splits come more easily. Also get a good set of wedges. I borrowed these from my friend Grace and she got them second hand a bit worse for ware. They should be well pointed and have good firm heads. It took about five minutes to split this wood.

After splitting it into half I did the same again, splitting it into quarters. This was much easier.

Yesterday Grace took a few us round the wood from whence my chestnut came, as part of it has been bought by The Centre for Alternative Technology to manage for biodiversity and woodland products and to teach courses. It’s great to see where my wood came from. As you can see it’s a really beautiful spot.

Gardening Course first at Centre for Alternative Technology

CAT will be running a new course next week, the first of its kind in the UK. It’s called Gardening for A Sustainable Future and will combine CAT’s unique blend of horticultural and environmental expertise. The course will look at gardening in relation to the issues of biodiversity and climate change, how they affect us as gardeners and what we can do to make positive changes within our gardens and for the wider world.

It will also cover horticultural techniques such as seed saving, use of green manures and beneficial fungi. We will look at the structure of the garden, choice of materials and how to design the ultimate eco garden. Suitable for those with some experience and for professional gardeners who wish to take a more environmental approach it is lead by CAT Gardener and co-author of The Organic Garden Chloe Ward. Runs 6th-8th June. www2.cat.org.uk/shortcourses/course_calendar.php

Yalding Organic Garden re-opens: but is it as good?

Yalding Organic Gardens has re-opened for business under new ownership after being dumped by Garden Organic following a financial review earlier in the year. The campaign group set up to save the gardens has posted a mixed review of the facilities which you can see at http://yaldingorganicgardens.info/drupal/node/24 but they’re keeping an open mind and were very pleased to see that the gardens have not suffered unduly. If you’re in the area go along and support Yalding. Whatever you think of the closure process its important to give these beautiful organic gardens a future.

Knit your own slug pellets: New slug deterrent made from recycled wool

It almost seems like one of the stereotypical greenie knit your own yoghurt pots moments but you can now get slug pellets made out of wool. Recycled wool no less. Strange but true. Made by Kindtoo there perhaps somewhat miss titled Slug Buggers expands when wet into a wough wooly carpet with small needle-like fibres slugs wont cross. I guess its the same sort of theory that persuades countless gardeners to mount barriers of egg and nut shells, pine needles and other rough surfaces around their plants. I haven’t seen any positive or negative comments about the product as its only just out but if anyone buggers their slugs this year please let us know! Kindtoo managing director Eric Graham says they’re “easy to use and extremely effective at deterring slugs” so lets put him to the test. A 3.5 litre bucket costs £9.95. To order telephone 0845 8623888. www.kindtoo.com.

Actually I’ve hardly seen a slug this year. Its very dry so they’re all hiding away from the veg patch which I’ve kept totally weed free. Slugs love to hide when its hot and dry and will make the most of any clumps of weeds you’ve neglected to pull out. First rule of slug control is to keep your beds free of weeds and keep hoeing regularly to disturb any eggs and break up the slug trails they use to go back to their targets. However if we get any rains at all they’ll make the most of it and will be out looking for something young and tender. Traditionally many barriers fail when they get wet. Some will wash away. Some are easier to cross when wet. So if the expanding slug buggers work when wet it could make a lot of sense to use them just when you think they’re might be a damp patch coming up. You’ll have to go out in the evening or at night with a torch to see how effective they are. Slugs love coming out in moist conditions at the end of the day. 

 

First seedlings coming up in the kitchen garden

After spending much of the winter tidying, digging, building, fencing and preparing its great to finally have my first seedlings coming up. This snap will also give you a good idea of what sort of soil I’m working with. I put compost on every year but no amount of compost will change the basic soil type, which is slaty. It almost seems a miracle anything comes through at all!

April Visits Best Yet

Compost Lover had nearly 1500 visitors last month (the most in one month so far) so thanks to all who made the call. You seem to be liking the how to make a dry stone wall blog, the low carbon garden – wattle blog and the bean pole archway blog the most so I’ll keep putting up practical stuff and mixing it with the news stories as I go. I’m making a garden table out of some chestnut and oak at the moment. It’s going to be big. Like a giants table looking over my Welsh valley, with big rustic stools to sit on. I’m not great at carpentry but I’ll put a blog up about how to make a basic table using untreated durable timber and let you find your own way to someone more skilled if you feel inspired. Tomorrow I’m at the Royal Agricultural Showgrounds in Builth Wells at the Smallholding Show. It’s a great show with loads of opportunity to buy local and get coppiced products and information and advice too. There’s usually a fantastic tool stall there too so I’ll be there looking for something old and unusual – and I don’t mean the people behind the counter.

So thanks for visiting and keep coming back.

Best wishes
Allan

How to make a basic hurdle gate

gate

I made this with the help of Grace Crabb and Bob Shaw at the Centre for Alternative Technology’s coppice crafts course. During the five days we learnt how to split and turn wood, make charcoal and weave a wattle – all of which more later.

This is how I made the gate.

I started of by measuring the size of gate I would need and drew a rough plan on a piece of paper, with measurements. There are lots of different gate designs and as I drew my own its probably not as effective as some of the more traditional time honoured designs. If you get into it I’d recommend one of the green woodworking pattern books, which are just fantastic and will give you endless hours of creative opportunities.

I’m using freshly cut so called ‘green wood’, which means that I’m working it before it dries out. This makes it easier to turn on a lathe, and cut. This gate design requires no turning, but it does require a few basic green tools – a draw knife, a Froe (a tool for splitting the wood), a tapometer (a large piece of wood or mallet used for tapping the froe into the wood to start the split) and a cleaving break (which helps you split it). You’ll also need an axe and drill for making the tenon joint, a tape measure and a pencil.

I used ash to make this gate but you could use chestnut for a longer lasting gate. I tried splitting willow too but willow twists when you split it which makes it difficult to use for mortice and tenon joints. Chestnut and ash split very well in a straight line down the middle.

Step one – Start with some round pieces of wood, measure and cut the pieces you need to the size required. To make this gate you’ll need the two end pieces, the three cross pieces and the four smaller uprights across the bottom of the gate. 

gate

Once you have cut the round wood into the sizes you need to split it with a froe. This is easier to do on a cleaving break.

the cleaving break

The cleaving break as you can see here is the frame into which Bob Shaw our teacher has placed the round wood. It is made quite simply with three old fence posts bashed into the ground with two pieces of wood laid between the posts at slightly different heights. If you look closely at the picture you’ll see what I mean. This is great frame for sawing wood too. Bob is holding a froe with his left hand and what he calls the tapometer in his right. This is like a Captain Caveman club, a big piece of wood for knocking the froe into the round wood to start the split (or cleave) off.

cleaving

Always put the blade of the froe in the centre of the wood, right in the heart, which you can usually see in the middle of the rings. Once fixed into the wood you can discard the tapometer and start to cleave the wood. This is easy to do in the cleaving break. Because the wood is held between two other pieces of wood the pressure keeps the split in the middle of the wood so you just have to exert a slight downward pressure on the froe and the wood will start to split.

cleaving wood

As the wood splits you can move the froe further down the wood and keep on exerting the pressure as you go. To make the gate you have to split one piece of wood to make the two side pieces, four pieces of round wood to make the three cross pieces and the four small uprights.

Once you’ve split the wood, you need to take the bark off. This is very easy too but requires skill in handling a draw knife well. Taking the bark off helps the wood last longer and gives it a nice finish. You can also use the bark peelings for lighting fires. The process of removing the bark is made easier if you have a post vice but you could do it any vice.

taking the bark off

The tool Bob is using is a draw knife. He is keeping the wood in place by pressing his foot down on a hinge on the post vice. To remove the bark keep the blade face down and gently pull towards you. It looks slightly dangerous but actually its very safe so long as you do it gently and don’t try to force the wood off. It’s also very satisfying.

Once you’ve got the bark off you can start to make the mortice and tenon joints. To do this you have to take the cross pieces and point them to fit into the holes you will make on the two end pieces. Traditionally you would use a template to make each of the ends and the holes but you can do it by eye, although it is less easy.

cutting the end

You can see from these two pictures how Bob holds the wood to point the ends. Use an axe to make the points. Actually the word points is slightly misleading as you don’t want points you want tapered ends that end with a flat butt rather than a point. You just work on one side of the wood and taper that side so it runs parallel to the other.

the ends

This is so the wood will fit snugly inside the holes when you match them up. Once you’ve tapered your cross pieces you need to mark where the holes need to go on the end pieces. Measure up from the base where each piece should go and mark a hole the size of the tapered end of the cross piece you are going to use in this position.

marking the holes

Then do the same with each cross piece marking the correct size hole to match the end of the cross piece. You should label the hole on the end piece to match the end of the cross piece you want to place in it. So match a one with a one, a two with a two and so on. That way when you come to assemble the piece you know where everything will fit.

laying posts out

Once you have marked the size of the holes you can use a drill to make the holes. Drill twice using drill bits to match one half of the size of the hole and then chisel off any rough edges in the hole.

You can then fix the cross pieces into the sides. Once these are in position you can fix the uprights using nails. 

The first time you make a gate like this there are bound to be problems unless you’re already used to carpentry. I feel my next gate will be much more correct but as a first attempt I don’t think its bad, and I really enjoyed the process of making it, the feel of the wood, being outside, listening to the bird song – a complete pleasure.

And here it is in situ at home. The ties are made from chestnut bark I peeled off some fence posts I split. I’ll show you how to split wood another time.

If I haven’t made anything clear enough ask a question?

Compostlover article for Garden News – Timber Treatment and sustainable charcoal

I’ve been fencing off the garden plot with various styles to experiment with different techniques and get a feel for what it takes to fence off a plot of land properly. Thankfully I don’t have to worry about rabbits, foxes, deer or badgers so I’m just concentrating on keeping the sheep out. The next few blogs are all about making gates and fences – starting with this article I wrote for Garden News about my experiences trying to get totally green timber, which turned out to be slightly tortuous.

fence and gate

Garden News article – Timber Treatment
Un, dau, tri, pedwar, pump: sometimes knowing one to five in Welsh just doesn’t cut the mustard. Especially when you’re standing in a rain soaked wood negotiating a price for chestnut fencing posts and railings with a father and son sales team that fall back on their native tongue when negotiations reach a critical point. I’m lost in a flurry of constanants. It’s like a bad day on Countdown.

Buying the greenest possible fence – locally grown unseasoned chestnut cut from coppice (which lasts longer untreated in the ground than any other British wood) – has got me – if you can excuse the pun – stumped.

It should be possible to pop down to the nearest retail park and pick up local woodland products just as you can go to the supermarket to buy organic fruit and veg. The stick to go with the carrot: so to speak. But Focus obviously don’t Do it All and until they and other shops like them do there’s always going to be a sense of adventure about buying truly green wood.

So why do it? Well the answer for me, apart from supporting my local economy, is timber treatment. Its nigh on impossible to get untreated wood for fencing at a conventional shop and wood preservative used to stop rot contains fungicides, herbicides and pesticides, which seem to me the least organic addition to a garden I could imagine.

It’s also much harder to dispose of treated wood at the end of its life because the treatments are often quite toxic. Pre 2004 the most common garden wood treatment was Chromated Copper Arsenate (CCA), a compound of Arsenic and Copper. Arsenic is one of the most dangerous substances known to man and has been banned for many years as a pesticide but is still used in timber treatment. In 2004 a European directive prohibited its use in gardens, presumably because it is highly toxic when burnt on a bonfire. In preference it should be disposed of in a lined landfill site to stop the poisons seeping into the ground. If you have old treated wood lying around take it to a designated recycling unit and place it in the timber section of the yard.

Never burn it. The rain can soak through the ash and take some of the poisons into your garden soil. Even the use of treated timber in raised beds has been questioned by some people because scientific studies have shown that higher than normal levels of arsenic can be detected in the soil a few inches from the boards.

The benefit of treatment is that it allows us to use cheap fast growing but quick to rot softwoods instead of longer lasting slower growing and more expensive hardwoods such as oak and chestnut. Modern economics sometimes makes poisons cheap and natural risk free materials more expensive. Go figure!

Thankfully the newer preservatives, if not perfect, are considered to be far less dangerous. They are still made using energy intensive industrial processes though and have to be dealt with at the end of their useful life. Untreated wood on the other hand carries no risk at all, no waste, nor any extra hidden environmental problems. When its useful life is over it can be left to rot in the corner of your garden providing a home for beneficial organisms and allowing the fertility to go back into the soil. It is quite simply compost waiting to happen. And to that I say Diolch yn fawr iawn. Or as they say over the border thank you very much.

temporary shade

I used more beanpoles to provide the frame for this temporary shade provider. I pack it up at the end of each day and take it back inside. The deckchair I found at the local junk yard. The previous owner said it was dangerous to sit in but a year on I’m still waiting to fall flat on my…

Eco-tip
There is one UK grown coppiced product you will find in many garden centres and DIY stores – barbecue charcoal. It’s much better for the environment than all other charcoal because it is made from wood grown in our own coppiced woodlands and not – as many others are – from rainforest, other old growth forests or plantations. You have to look closely at the label to get the good home produced stuff. Check out regional variations such as the Dorset Charcoal Company and the nationally available Bio-Regional Development Group charcoal. If you’re looking for a local supplier of untreated wood for garden projects try your yellow pages for timber mills, woodlands, the Forestry Commission or even stately homes with large gardens and estates. For coppiced products check out www.coppice-products.co.uk/Directory www.ecolots.co.uk, www.woodlots.co.uk and the Association of Pole Lathe Turners (www.bodgers.org.uk); or regional bodies such as the Welsh Timber Forum. For more info on treated wood try www.ecologycenter.org/factsheets/pressure-treated_wood.html.

Visit to Sweet Loving Flowers Organic Growers

Yesterday I decamped from my own garden to spend a day with my friend Sue Harper at her organic flower field. Her and her husband Pete work so hard to get the flowers and the field looking fantastic and beautiful it was great to spend a day there just barrowing mushroom compost around, weeding, watering and doing general sorting. Pete planted a hedgerow a few years back and now its mature and thriving, full of birds and insects. It provides great shelter too, helping to stop wind damage, so being there for a day is a wonderful experience. Pete and Sue aren’t on the Willing Workers on Organic Farm scheme but it reminded me of my days helping people farm their plots of land the odd weekend. If you’re looking for wedding flowers visit www.sweetlovingflowers.co.uk. If you want some great voluntary experiences check out www.wwoof.org.

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