Grow What You Can - Garden coppicing

 

Garden Coppicing

Planting

When we moved into our current house we needed to clear out a very overgrown garden so we could create a vegetable and fruit garden. To offset the loss of habitat we planted a large number of native trees and shrubs, mostly as hedging down the sides and in a 'wildlife' area at the back of the garden. The plants were chosen not just for their wildlife potential but also for to produce useful products, mostly wood and fruits.

For coppicing field maple and hazel were planted along with crab apple, hawthorn, blackthorn, dog rose and hornbeam.

Although the soil is thin in places and overlies chalk the trees and shrubs have done very well. One year bare rooted whips were planted in the winter of 2000/2001 and by the winter of 2006/2007 many were ready to coppice. The results are as follows.

Yound trees
Group of young trees in the foreground, mature sycamore in the background

Field Maple

Field maple was chosen as it's very suitable to our soil type. The largest specimen had grown to 5.5 meters tall and the trunk 20 cm from the base was about 11 cm in diameter. There was about 2.5 m of usable firewood over two stems, too about 4 cm diameter.

Although a reasonable firewood it is too valuable to me to be burnt as I only have a little of the wood and plan to make various kitchen tools from it: spoons, spatulas, etc. The twiggy bits will be used as pea and bean sticks in the vegetable patch

As the largest tree had grown very well, almost a meter a year, I decided to collect the seeds of this one and plant them in the hope of growing a strain of vigorous field maples, eventually!

Base of field maple
Base of field maple

Hazel

The single stemmed hazel whips have grown into small clumps with three plants producing eleven coppicable stems with a diameter of 3 to 4 cm. The longest pole was 3.7 m long and all the rest were over 3 meters long.

Some of the poles are single stem and very straight others branching. Some will be seasoned and used to make walking sticks and the rest used as poles in the garden for growing hops and beans up

Again the twiggy bits will be used as pea and bean sticks in the vegetable patch. While the plants were growing I have used some green sticks for BBQ skewers and last autumn the plants have managed to produce a small crop of nuts. This year they produced a good number of catkins and female flowers and I have left several plants to grow on to produce nuts.

Base of hazel
Base of hazel showing multiple stems and a new shoot

Cutting

In January 2007 I coppiced the hazel and maple using hand saws, a bow saw where I could easily reach the stems or a pruning saw for harder to reach stems. I ensured the stool was not damaged at all and tried to make slightly sloping cuts away from the center of the stool, this should stop the center of the stool from rotting. To prevent damage I held each stem as I cut it to stop it falling over and splitting the remaining stem.

Note the little shoots that I've left growing, I'm not sure if these should also be removed but I'll see how the plants grow this year.

Hazel stool
Hazel stool after cutting

Products

The pricture to the right shows all the material collected from three hazels and two maples. There's about 15 poles for use with our hop plants and beans, some smaller peas sticks, a decent sised pole that I'll make into a walking stick and plenty of field maple timber for spoon making.

I don't think it's a bad harvest for our first attempt at growing coppice and as all the work has been done in planting them they should provide a good crop of useful poles ever half dozen years or so.

Poles and timber
Poles, sticks and timber harvested from three hazel (left hand piles) and two field maples (right hand piles)

New growth

In just a single year the hazels produced plenty of new growth, some shoots over two meters long. Two years from the first cut they were ready to cut again to provide a several bean poles over 3m long and a few pea sticks. They are growing in deep, rich, soil so I wouldn't expect such growth in all locations. Unfortunately the plants will have to be moved this year, which in itself will be a useful experiment to see if they survive.

New Growth
New growth one year later.

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