Last few weeks of summer

We’re nearing the end of August and savouring the last few weeks of summer. We’ve had several days of rain in the last couple of weeks, sandwiched between lovely summer sunshine. It feels as though the lower vegetable patch has doubled in size during this time, the gravel paths have been engulfed with luscious vegetable crops making access tricky. Every time I pass the pumpkin patch I discover new ones nestled under their canopy of leaves, it looks like we’ll be having a good Halloween display. We’re cropping a good daily handful of courgettes and the butternut squash is defying all boundaries and crossing not only its borders, but weaving itself through the bean and pumpkin beds as well. The squash are tricky to spot as they’re light green camouflage is yet to turn an autumnal yellow.Vegetable beds in full swing


The bottom vegetable beds in full swing

Back in March the husband and I coppiced one of our cobnut trees, counting the rings on the branches we cut back it had been a good twenty years since it’s last cut. Our plan is to coppice a tree every year on a 5 year rotation, the resulting stakes are kitchen garden treasures; they make beautiful structures for beans to ramble up or to keep the dahlias upright on a windy day. Rustic arches give height, interest and something for the sweet peas to climb up. I banned boring, ugly, utilitarian bamboo canes from the kitchen garden years ago replacing them with charming, irregular, characterful chestnut and hazel stakes. To me the aesthetics of the kitchen garden are as important as its produce. After toil, bad language, and a terrible cobnut branch tangle, our first tree was coppiced and cleared; it seemed such a brutal operation that the chance of its survival was slim. I’m relieved and delighted to say it’s thriving, putting up a great selection of shoots that will no doubt become beautiful, straight, long stakes in 5 years time.

coppiced cobnut treeCoppiced cobnut in March 2015

New growth on the hazelCoppiced cobnut in August 2015

A Sunday Job

We have five Kentish cobnut trees which have been coppiced over the years, some much longer ago than others. My plan is to coppice one a year, after 5 years I should be ready to coppice again from the first one. I use hazel or chestnut stakes as bean poles, plant labels/markers, staking and supporting dahlias and the frame for netting in the cutting garden, supporting the stems. I far prefer the rustic look of coppiced hazel to bamboo canes, I banish them from my veg plot several years ago. So I was thrilled to have my own supply of hazel poles in the garden.

Coppicing needs to be carried out in February/March, before any new growth/leaves emerge. Each branch needs to be cut 5cm from the ground. I persuaded the husband that this would be a nice easy Sunday job to help me with. I choose the largest tree with the thickest branches.

Cobnut treeThe chosen Cobnut tree for coppicing

My initial enthusiasm for this job started to quash whilst sawing the branches. I counted 20 rings (20 years of growth) on one branch which was getting on for 10-15m high. All the branches seemed to be tangled at the top so once I’d sawn through, it was impossible to pull away from the tree, held firm by a web of branches up above. Many of the branches overhung the pond, I was in real danger of a soaking, not palatable for a Sunday morning in March! After 20 minutes I retreated to the house, looking for the husband who had agreed to help. As you can see he took over, mumbling under his breath that this was a job for a chain saw (our cheap chain saw has given up working and sits in a puddle of oil in the garage!). coppicing

Coppicing underway!

The husband successfully finished the not as easy as I first thought task, he managed to stay dry as well, bonus! Some of the stumps are a little taller than the suggested 5 cm, but it will just have to do. I look forward to seeing the first years growth emerge this year.

The coppiced cobnut

Coppicing complete

A productive mornings work resulted in poles and peas sticks for the kitchen garden, a good load of logs ready to be seasoned for next year and label stakes. I saw this clever labelling idea on Pinterest, it’s perfect as my small plastic labels would be redistributed around the garden by my darling children, I would never remember what I’ve sown and where. The new labelled stakes look great and fit in with the rest of the kitchen garden.

hazel stakesThe produce!

Stake labels The stake labels

For those of you who have been thinking about the lovely cobnut harvest we must get, sadly last year we failed and I fear that will always be the case, the squirrels get there first. I do love the idea of nuts from the garden on the table at Christmas.