Time has a habit of slipping away through your fingers- before you know it, quite a few weeks have vanished and you have no idea where they went! This weekly blog has suffered somewhat from the same vanishing trick – it’s the end of November but we did this work at the beginning of the month.
This week we finished off the hedge laying at Cobbs Wood Farm – only fifty metres of hedge were left to lay but all the binding had to be done as this will stop it from being blown over (it is on a very exposed site). While Jim and I laid the last bit of the hedge Sarah Black (who has just joined the forestry team for the winter) was shown how to bind South of England style. She did exceedingly well on her first day.
Back to the hedge the next day and what a morning – the whole of the Rhee valley as far as you could see was thinly veiled in mist with beautiful clear blue skies above it all. There are days when it’s absolutely miserable: cold, wet, muddy and just plain, darn ‘not the place to be’… but then, there are those days when nobody is about and the whole landscape in front of you is yours to savour and enjoy. Beats being stuck in a traffic jam going into Cambridge at 8am in the morning. So that’s the reason we can put up with the worst of the weather, just to be in the right place when it is perfect.
Oddly autumn has been a long, drawn out affair this year and it’ll last well into December at this rate. The grass is still growing and the leaves on most of the trees have only just started to turn. The fungi are only now being to show signs of an explosion of colour and variety but, alas, there do not appear to be many edible ones around…
By the end of Tuesday we had finished laying the hedge and, pretty much, had bound over 300m. No frosts to speak of as yet and I am beginning to wonder if we’ll get a winter at all this year. The Farm have been busy too, they have sown some winter wheat and this time they have tried ‘spelt’- an ancient wheat grown by the Romans. It is not a bread wheat to speak of as it has less gluten and so can be grown after barley (unlike the bread wheats which need to be grown directly after a clover ley as then there will be plenty of nitrates in the soil). After bread wheat you can sow barley (as this does not need as many nitrates) and, after barley, it’s usual to sow oats (as these need fewer still) .
This week we employed Ben Bardell who helps with the aboricultural work aka tree surgery. His first two days were spent reducing two huge horse chestnut trees, as they have been under a programme of slow reduction, so that we can keep the main body of the tree. We usually reduce the canopy by about 30% then, 5-10 years later, reduce it again. At some point it may need a further reduction still. The reason we do this is to retain the veteran trees ( they can, by the way, have and support quite a few rare species) whilst keeping people safe (as the older a tree gets the more susceptible it can get to shedding limbs).
What a mess! … loads of wood and lop and top strewn across the ground- this’ll keep the gardeners busy; they will have a lot of clearing up to do! The tree in the photo on the left had a huge, water filled cavity many years ago and there used to be some quite rare fly larvae living in the pool. However, on inspecting the cavity this time, I found that it had dried out so that the rare fly larvae had long gone. Over time many of these micro habitats change and are rather ephemeral in natural but, as one loses a water filled rot hole suitable for fly larvae, so it is replaced by a habitat more suitable to beetle larvae especially the rusty red click beetle. The only problem with a rot hole drying out is that fungi can really begin to rot the tree. We’ll have to watch this tree as I suspect, from past experience, that the dryad’s saddle fungus will move in and cause extensive white rot which will mean we will have to reduce the tree further until it’s a pollard.
The gardens have just started to produce wild fungi and this year seems to be the year for the parasol fungi group. On the front lawn there was a profusion of them (not wholly sure which species but I have never seen them here before and there were literally hundreds of them). One has to be very careful of the parasol fungi family as quite a few are poisonous- mostly the dapplings (very beautiful little mushrooms); recently there has also been an invader from North America- here is a bit about this invader from Wiki:
“Chlorophyllum molybdites, which has the common names of false parasol or green-spored parasol is a widespread mushroom. Highly poisonous and producing severe gastrointestinal symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea, it is commonly confused with the shaggy parasol, and is the most commonly consumed poisonous mushroom in North America. Its large imposing appearance and similarity to the edible Parasol mushroom, as well as its habit of growing in areas near human habitation, are reasons cited for this. The nature of the poisoning is predominantly gastrointestinal.
Chlorophyllum molybdites grows in lawns and parks across eastern North America and California, and subtropical regions around the world. Fruiting bodies generally appear after summer and autumn rains. It has spread to other countries, with reports in Scotland and Australia. It is an imposing mushroom with a pileus (cap) up to 40 cm in diameter, hemispherical and with a flattened top. The cap is whitish in colour with coarse brownish scales. The gills are free and white, often with a greenish tinge. The tall stipe may be up to 25 cm tall and bears a ring. This mushroom lacks the snakeskin pattern that is generally present on the parasol mushroom. Chlorophyllum molybdites is the poisonous mushroom most frequently eaten in North America. The symptoms are predominantly gastrointestinal in nature, with vomiting, diarrhea and colic, often severe, occurring 1–3 hours after consumption. Although these poisonings can be severe, none has yet resulted in death.”
The rest of the week was spent in the east of the Park where we will be planting this year’s new trees; quite a few of the parkland horse chestnut trees have been suffering here too and needed attention. Small, yellow leaves and die-back in the canopy indicate that the tree is under excessive stress and some canopy reduction would be in order to save the tree from death. As usual we have tended to reduce the canopies by approximately 30% and reduce the extended limbs likewise as these will eventually shed from the main trunk (usually in storms). If we reduce the extended limbs, not only do we reduce the likelihood of danger to passers by but, then the rot holes will only develop at the point of the cut ie not into the trunk which would happen if the limb had shed naturally ( that would eventually compromise the tree especially horse chestnut trees as their wood is soft and easily rotted by fungi associated with trees). We also left the tree cuts jagged (otherwise known as coronet cutting), as this looks far more natural in the parkland setting.
As we worked in the Park reducing the trees the others were finishing off the hedge binding. Wow! We had quite a few glorious days during the week, autumn is always a spectacular time of the year.
Ended up undertaking more work than we thought in the ‘My Lady’s’ section of the deer park.
Looks bad with all the wood lying around but it does mean that the trees will (hopefully) last another 50-100 years (much longer for the oaks and limes but the horse chestnut, once they start to deteriorate, don’t seem to last as long). Also, the trees will have a renewed vigour in most cases just like when you prune your shrubs and roses. Another reason for leaving the lop and top is that the deadwood specialists (insects and fungi) will have a feast; not only that but the larger limbs, when lying flat on the ground, will be a new home for the great crested newts that live in this area of parkland.
Another two trees having their tops taken out… and what a view of the Hall we got from our high vantage point!
Some of these trees are fairly large and the horse chestnut to the left was definitely showing signs of decay and senescence; some of the main trunk was dead allowing the velvet shank fungus to move in. The section below has some information on velvet shank from First Nature:
“On standing dead trees the clusters are usually tiered and, as a result, the caps are fairly regular, but on fallen wood sometimes tufts of Velvet Shank are so dense that the caps push against one another and become distorted and occasionally almost square.
Flammulina velutipes is particularly common on dead elm trees (of which there was no shortage during the 1970s and 1980s as Dutch Elm Disease ravaged the elm woods of Britain and Europe), but currently it is more often seen on Ash, Beech and oaks as well as occasionally on wood from other kinds of broadleaf trees.
Caps from these fungi are edible and are grown commercially in Japan, where they are variously known as Enoki, Enokitake or Enoko-take. In the wild Flammulina velutipes grows in an unconstrained environment and in whatever daylight there is in winter. As a result the caps are colourful and quite large in comparison with the stem length and diameter, and the stems are generally quite tough so that many people cook only the caps. In cultivation the mushrooms are grown in dark, cold places so that they develop slowly and are very pale – often almost pure white. The stems are forced to stretch by placing a tightly fitting collar around clusters of mushroom ; as a consequence the stems are long, delicate and tender. The caps of cultivated Enokitake mushrooms are much smaller than those of wild Velvet Shank fungi. Unlike the wild form, the caps of cultivated varieties of this species are convex when the fruit bodies are fully mature and ready for harvesting.”
These two photos are ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots showing you that we actually reduced this tree by 50% as it was in such poor condition.
For my part I had to do another huge horse chestnut tree. This one was in fairly good health but had a spiral crack that was weeping producing a sap run. Eventually the main trunk would have failed so we reduced this tree too by about 30%. Interestingly the sap run is a micro habitat for another set of rare insects – usually I find the Brachyopa species and Wimpole has three out of the four as B. pilosa breeds under the bark of dead aspen trees or logs lying on the ground. There are many other insects using sap runs… more than I care to mention though!
Last job of the week was to re-pollard the willows in ‘My Lady’s Pond’ (don’t ask why it’s called that as I have no idea whatsoever, it just is!). Handy having a timber crane as we could use it to grab the limbs that had to be felled into the pond. We produced about five tons of willow wood; once dry it does burn well but rather quickly. This is one of the ponds that the great crested newts breed in and we had to pollard the willows before they fell apart.
Friday was rather wet and dull so, as we were pollarding in the Park, John elected to stay in the dry and try to get the Lister engine working. By the time we turned up he had a great big grin on his face and promptly wound the engine over which in turn… burst into life with a rhythmic sort of drumming as it was a single piston long stroke engine. Hmmm -wonder if you could make a bit of music from all the different sounds made from engines?