Sunday 24 August 2014

Planting a Mulberry Tree in the orchard

A few months ago we ordered a King James Mulberry tree for the Turnditch Orchard Project. It arrived a couple of days ago, so we planted it today. It was pot grown so it is currently in leaf and can be planted any time of the year. It is also known as a Chelsea Mulberry. The tree comes from a single survivor of a plantation originally created in the UK by King James I around 1608.  It will be a few years before the tree fruits. The delicious juicy berries are very fragile and do not travel well. I predict a few of the locals will have purple stained fingers and clothes in August in future years.

A mulberry in the orchard.
Mulberry in Turnditch Orchard
The fruit looks like this:

Saturday 16 August 2014

Progress on the Drum Smoker

We're waiting for the last few parts to arrive before we fully assemble the drum smoker. We have most of the parts already including the metal shelves. We'd looked at buying a BBQ/Smoker, but for that size (57cm diameter) the prices are ridiculous at £400 for a Weber, a price which allows for a discount of 20% off list price. 

After some thought we asked a local fabricating company (Twiggs) to cut some discs of the correct diameter from flattened expanded mild steel. The cost was not excessive and the work was done promptly by Twiggs. In the picture below you can see one of the discs standing beside the smoker.

The thick hide gloves are essential for handling the grill shelves as they have razor sharp edges from the manufacturing process. The grids are mounted within the drum to form three shelves, the lowest being the charcoal level. They are each supported on three 10 cm bolts inserted through the drum walls. This arrangement seems to be sufficiently robust to support a substantial cooking load.

Each of the upper two shelves will provide approximately one square metre of cooking area.

We've also started the process of installing the air vents at the lower end of the drum. These are fabricated from brass 22mm plumbing fittings mounted through the drum wall. The design will allow the air flow into the drum to be adjusted during the cooking/smoking process. Thus providing temperature control by restricting the amount of air available to the charcoal. In operation the lid will be placed on the top of the drum. It will be fitted with an adjustable smoke vent.

Edit 18th Aug 2014: We've built the smoker, with the exception of the thermometers. Those were ordered over the internet, have been despatched and are expected any day now. We've undergone a first test firing with a small load of charcoal and all seems well.

Wednesday 13 August 2014

Building an Ugly Drum Smoker.

We're building an Ugly Drum Smoker/Barbecue (UDS) on the orchard site from an used 50 gallon steel drum. We'll use this to cook pork and beef "low and slow over charcoal" in the American style for guests at the orchard. If you've not tasted this type of food before let me assure you it is delicious and the meat is tender and soft.

The UDS will be used elsewhere in support of charity fund raising events and also for our family events. Cooking times of 5 - 10 hours are not unusual, but it is well worth the wait. It is possible to buy these smokers ready made, but they tend to be very expensive except for the small ones. 

The drum was delivered a couple of days ago. It had been previously used to transport sour cherry juice. It was in good condition, washed clean and no rust. However the first step of the process in building a smoker/barbecue is to strip the original paint from the drum and replace it with heat resisting paint. The original paint would not withstand the barbecue heat and would taint the food being cooked in the unit. The most easy way to achieve this is to light a hot fire in the drum and burn off the paint.

In the picture above you can see the drum was originally painted green on the outside and a clear protective lacquer inside the drum. We piled in some cardboard, scrap timber and applied a lighted match to set the fire in motion. We then left the site for a few hours to allow time for the fire to burn out. On our return most of the paint had burned off the surface of the drum, but we took also a paraffin flame gun to burn off any remaining paint.

Once the steel drum had cooled down we set to work with Aluminium Oxide sandpaper. It took an hour's hard manual work to clean off the paint residue on the outside of the drum. We hand sanded right down to the shiny bare steel. When the surface had been prepared we sprayed three coats of black heat resisting stove paint over the outside of the drum. The inside needs no further preparation or cleaning at this stage of the construction.

Reading the instructions on the spray can revealed we had to heat the paint to cure it to the final finish. This required we heat the drum to an operational temperature and maintain it for at least an hour. We fixed this by placing a bag of quick lighting charcoal on the ground, lighting it and leaving it until the charcoal was burning well. We tipped the drum over the fire (mouth down) so the heat from the charcoal would heat the drum to an operational temperature. and thus cure the paint. A couple of supporting bricks helped ensure an air gap to feed the fire.

Once we'd made sure the fire was going well and the drum achieving a working temperature, we left and will visit the site tomorrow morning. The quality of paint finish on the drum was very good.

Monday 11 August 2014

Important Hedge in Turnditch Orchard.

It turns out the hedge we had re-laid is an "Important Hedgerow" under the terms of the  Hedgerows Regulations 1997 which were made under Section 97 of the Environment Act 1995 and came into operation in England and Wales on 1 June 1997. The hedge forms the boundary between our orchard and the farmer's fields to the south. As such it is protected from removal and destruction. 

The reason why it is classified as Important is it marks the boundary between two parishes prior to 1850, it being on the parish boundary between Turnditch parish and the Shotlle and Postern parish.

The hedge at the river end of the field is also under the same category because the public footpath runs closely parallel. Under the regulations having a footpath or bridleway close to the hedge makes it classified as Important and thus protected.

The trees in the woodland on the embankment adjoining the orchard are regulated under the Forestry Act 1967 which imposes limits on which trees can be felled. They control the amount of timber which can be felled (up to 5 Cu M per calendar quarter) and allow some exemptions for pruning, thinning, pollarding and coppicing. The plans we have for tidying and maintaining the woodland will fall within the exemptions. We are planning gradual coppicing spread over three years. It does does however mean we'd have to apply for a felling licence if we were to need to fell the large old Ash tree on the south hedge.

Tuesday 5 August 2014

Burning blackthorn brash wood

I had a busy day yesterday burning piles of blackthorn cut during the hedging process in February/March. We tried to burn the stuff then, but it was too difficult to ignite, even when we used copious amounts of kerosene [paraffin] oil.  The wood burns a lot better now having had the chance to dry during the summer months. We've found the trick to starting the fire is to use a pile of cardboard boxes to start the fire. The methods we learned years ago as scouts about starting camp fires are just too slow and painstaking. The main problem is that nettles, thistles and grass have grown up through the piles of blackthorn branches making them difficult to move to the fire.  It is hot sweaty work hauling branches two at a time to the place of the fire. You definitely need tough hide gauntlets to protect your hands from the vicious thorns on these branches.

It was easy to create roaring two metre flames with little smoke in the fire. It was too hot to approach within three metres at times, but it needed constant work to feed the fire. We're now left with just three large piles of branches on our side of the fence. They were too difficult to move due to the interwoven branches, thistles, grass and stinging nettles. I think I will carefully burn those in place, making sure the fire does not get too big and damage the nearby fruit trees.   I'll use the flame gun to create some fire breaks.

This leaves several piles of thorn branches in the neighbouring field which will require disposal before the stock fence is installed to protect the hedge.

During the work I was also reminded what a pain horseflies can be at this time of the year. I'd last come across horse flies in the Black Forest in Germany when I was a child on holiday. On one of the days I had neglected to use insect repellent and was bitten on the back of my hand by a horsefly. Fortunately I spotted it fairly quickly and received only a minor bite. It was itchy rather than painful, The insect was promptly squashed. It is the female of the species which needs a feed of blood before it can lay its eggs. 

Horse Fly
I have found that Avon's Skin So Soft Dry Oil which is sold as a cosmetic is actually quite an effective insect repellent. It contains citronella in its formulation. I was a bit dubious at first, but bought a bottle as a trial. I have found the flies do not bother me on the orchard when I've applied this stuff. I'm not too keen on the DEET  based insect repellents as I've seen what those can do to plastics.

Sunday 3 August 2014

The new winch arrives

We've taken delivery of a new Ace wire rope hoist/winch, wire rope, some associated lifting strops and snatch blocks. It is the same style as a Tirfor winch. The equipment has a lifting capacity of two tonnes. This purchase was in preparation for the work necessary to tidy up the river bank and the woodland at the Turnditch orchard.

In the river we'll use the equipment to lift a fallen tree from the river bed, The winch will also be used to haul out the elm tree trunks we'll be cutting down as described before. Our first action will be to cut a couple of stout 4 metre Ash spars from the woodland. These will be used to form a sheerleg lifting frame. The sheerlegs will be combined with the winch to form a crane to lift the heavy items.

Fallen tree on Ecclesbourne at Turnditch
Fallen tree creates partial blockage on Ecclesbourne river bed
Later in the autumn we'll be using the wire rope and winch to prevent trees from falling in the wrong direction when we fell them as part of the coppicing work.

End of day update: I tried out the winch combined with ropes,slings and the snatch block. It worked extremely well. I was able to fell an elm tree and drop it through a two metre gap, thus avoiding damage to the newly laid hedge.