Sunday 10 January 2016

Willow harvest at the Orchard

We harvested last year's growth of willow from the grove planted in the Turnditch Orchard. We planted the willow (100 wands) in 2013 shortly after purchasing the land to form the orchard. This year was the first time we've taken a crop.

We were able to take about a wheelbarrow load of willow branches or wands from the plants. We've coppiced them to waist height to encourage the development of a trunk with thicker tough bark and provide future resilience from rabbit or sheep attack.

The field is quite soggy at the moment following all the rain we have had recently, The base of the willow was under water in a large puddle. Fortunately willow is able to resist such wet conditions without damage. Over the past few weeks the river has come close to the flood levels on several occasions, but fortunately the rain lessened and we were not flooded.

We were able to use the willow (Salix Verminalis) to start work on spiling the river bank. We were able to create a trial three metre section. We'll monitor progress during the year. If it regrows well we will repeat the process next winter.

The willow spiling is formed by pushing the thicker sticks into the ground (after using an iron bar to make a hole) in an upright position. The remaining thinner willow sticks (whips) are woven horizontally between the uprights to form a low wall. We also planted the butt end of most of the sticks in the soil. Most of the willow will take root and grow during the spring/summer forming a living green wall. The willow roots will penetrate down into the river bank in search of nutrients and water. The mass of willow roots will reinforce the river bank and protect against further erosion. The wall will collect sediment behind it during flooding and is not damaged by inundation. As the willow becomes established we'll have to periodically trim it back to stop it growing too tall.

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