Making Hay While The Sun Shines – With a Little Help

Woodlandantics Blog

Image0044Roundabout is a traditional hay meadow which hasn’t been ploughed for well over 20 years (though it’s the youngster amongst our fields as most haven’t been ploughed up since WWII). Without any chemicals or fertilisers the wildflowers are getting better each year. As the fertility of the field slowly reduces the wildflowers can compete better with the grasses and the right time to make hay is a tricky judgement – too early and you cut the annual flowers before they seed, too late and the grass becomes old and rank. So with an unusually good spell of weather in late July it means we can go ahead and make hay whilst the sun shines.

Well I did start cutting the field by hand. But let’s face it I’m not going to get a 10acre field mown with my scythe before the weather breaks. So after he’d had a quick go…

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Camelsdale 1st Cubs spent two evenings on Lynchmere large common working through their Naturalist badge. Nearly 40 cubs worked alongside their leaders and members of the Lynchmere Society identifying trees from their leaves and flowers, undertaking a survey of a small area and seeing what had changed 6 weeks later. There was also a fair bit of bracken bashing !
The picture shows the pack at the charcoal site with Richard explaining the process by which charcoal is made. A great time was had by all.

Charcoal making

Another job for this time of year – and given the increased demand all the more urgent – is making charcoal – Mark kindly let us help (hinder) him the other afternoon and here is a short rundown of the process:

First plenty of wood of preferably equal size and dryness is needed – then a small fire is started


and – as this is a small scale operation – cover with a oil drum that has neither top nor bottom.


the prepared wood is then added to the drum – speedily yet carefully


it then becomes a seriously smokey affair – the secret of making charcoal is to ‘cook’ the wood not burn it so the supply of oxygen has to be controlled.

As things get going a lot of volatile chemicals are released – the smoke is thick and yellow at first


once the wood has slumped down a bit the metal lid goes on, leaving a small gap to let smoke and steam out – air comes in through some controlled gaps at the bottom.


The smoke turns gradually more white as it becomes more steamy – the moisture being driven out of the wood – and eventual smoke that is blue shows that the charing process is reaching its end


The bins are sealed top and bottom with soil and left to cool overnight.


The finished results:


Lovely, sustainably produced charcoal that uses all the wood that is cleared off the commons during our management operations.

I hope this description does not contain too many errors – if so – sorry Mark please feel free to correct my description.

Commons in Summer

After the late, cold spring the bracken has virtually exploded into growth so bracken control is the main task – Mark has promised a detailed entry on this soon.

In the meantime honeysuckle fills the air with wonderful scent in the evening


Have a look at our Flora and Fauna pages for other little gems as and when they get spotted.

The Cows are still enjoying themselves:





The fields behind the barn have been made more accessible by some mown paths recently. It’s a lovely place to stroll in the evening – although our stroll turned into something of a run – horseflies trying to eat us alive.

We hope that increased grazing of the field will in due course improve the wildflower/grass balance – so keep watching.


The field has yielded a lovely crop of burnet moths this year – there is plenty of larval food (bird’s foot trefoil and clover) to be found.


This strange ‘tent’ is the cocoon – here on sorrel – of the larva that had overwintered from last year.