Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Willow coppicing day.

On February 1st the eagerly anticipated willow coppicing day with Greg and the Wild Penwith Volunteers arrived, as did 14 pairs of helping hands. The idea was to coppice the back row of willow along the south side of our vegetable field, sort the cuttings, and re-plant willow along the east side of the field (to reduce those strong easterly winds) and around our new tree-bogs (to convert waste into biomass).
Carrying coppiced willow on a misty morning.
Greg demonstrated how to cut down the willow without damaging the tree unnecessarily, and we split into pairs to do the work. Then he introduced us to the traditional art of "snedding", that is, cutting and sorting the willow into various thicknesses for different uses - short thick lengths for replanting, long thick lengths for green wood-working, medium-thin lengths for weaving, thinner lengths for weaving, and the rest for scrap or for burning (drying to make faggots).
Sorting the willow into various sizes.

Snedding as a group activity.
As with most traditional crafts, there is more to coppicing than just cutting down trees to get rid of them. Willow not only provides a valuable windbreak to protect crops and livestock, it is a valuable crop in its own right, and can be used to weave baskets and lobster-pots and fence panels, or made into chairs and benches. We hope in the near future to hold a weaving event here on the farm, with workshops and products for sale - watch this space for details.
Planting willow along the field edge as a windbreak.
After planting three parallel rows of willow along the east of the vegetable field, and a circle around the tree-bogs, we had just enough left to plant a single line along the west of the field behind the compost bins, to give extra protection to our crops on this very exposed site. This is just the beginning of our willow management plan, and we will be coppicing this time every year.

Thanks to Claire from Cornwall Wildlife Trust, the Wild Penwith Volunteer group, Bosavern Community Farm volunteers, and to Greg for leading the day.

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