Woodfuel

It's not new! Wood has been used as a source of fuel since humans first harnessed fire. Currently enjoying something of a resurgence, replacing fossil fuels for heat and electricity, cutting greenhouse gases along the way. Planting trees for future woodfuel is the now thing to do, having a sustainably managed wood is an asset to any property. Choosing what to plant is much discussed! Broadleaves produce more heat energy per kilogram than conifers, although conifers will get to a harvestable age first. I talk about which species in a mo.  The technology in log, chip and pellet boilers has come on immensely in the last 10 years and who knows how much it will have advanced by the time trees planted now are harvested.

Which ones to plant? Most wood will burn but the ones I list here burn better and have more calorific value than the others. Birch is good and will be among the first to be ready. Beech. Wild Cherry. Hawthorn. Hazel. Hornbeam. Both species of Oak. Rowan. Sycamore. Blackthorn.  I have left Ash off the list because nurseries are not allowed to grow and sell it since the Chalara (ash dieback) problem struck the UK.

Drying wood. We have a very strange habit in this country of not drying firewood properly. Europeans must laugh at our miserable piles of damp wood 'drying' against a wall compared to their wonderful wood piles around their houses - plenty of it, and properly dry.  Once cut down(preferably in the winter, when the sap is down) it should be stacked in 2m ish lengths. Stacked off the ground and covered with a waterproof cover on the top (not the sides) to allow the wind to blow through it while keeping the rain off. Our house is mostly wood powered, a Woodwarm stove heats a 350 litre water tank. We use 16" long logs. Firewood processors cut wood to length, split the wide ones and collect them for stacking. We have several people in our village who have processors, contracting themselves out to woodland owners who need wood processing. Many people process wood in the first winter so that they are stacking smaller pieces of wood which have a bigger surface area for the volume, which dries quicker. Stacked logs should be covered to keep the rain off but allow the wind to blow through. I store  cut wood for two years 

On the Beech

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Beech is an important tree to us on Exmoor, although it has not always been so.  John Knight bought a large chunk of Exmoor in 1820, continuing to add to the estate for 20 years. Knight had his full time nurseryman William Fry grow a huge amount of beech seedlings for planting all the newly built hedge banks, created to provide shelter from the wind for humans and farm animals.  A great deal of Exmoor's hedges are still beech, still providing shelter today.  Hedges are laid every 25-30 years, the larger timber taken out for wood fuel and the smaller stems partly cut through and laid horizontally to thicken up the base of the hedge so keeping it stock proof.  Beech wasn't renowned as being a 'high altitude' tree before Knight successfully grew his plants at 1100 feet (335m) above sea level!

Beech likes a cool damp climate, and is tolerant of poor soil and isn't too bothered by sea-winds.  Beech hedges are still very popular, still providing a visual and wind shelter, and often specified by planners. It is one of the few plants that keeps its leaves in the winter, as long as the sides and top are trimmed  each year.  They will hold onto the dead leaves until the spring when the new opening buds push them off.

Copper Beech is a vagary of the usual green beech, with only about 1 in a 100 growing up copper.  Seeds grown from a copper beech will mostly grow as green beech! 

As firewood beech is up there amongst the best. It does need to be properly dry, to 15% moisture or dryer.  Beech is used for making furniture.  I have a great chopping board that I have been using for 30 years and still looks almost new!

While not much will grow under its canopy,  its young leaves are tasty(ish) in a salad (only when they are fresh, light green in colour and soft to touch).  Mature leaves do not taste good.  Beech seeds are a great feast for deer, badgers and all kinds of bird life in the autumn. Holes in Beech trees can play host to owl families  and a very special beech tree was indeed Piglet's home!