Works on the railway embankment completed this afternoon. Five weeks of lorries, equipment and people crossing the damp field has made a quite a mark. Arriving every day at 7 and working through until 5, the workers endured snow, hail and freezing rain – usually ending work completely covered in mud. Now that they’re gone a calm quiet has descended on Snakesbury. The sun made a spectacular late afternoon appearance and a very early skylark sang its heart out up in the cold blue sky.
Weather forecasts seem to be – at best – guesswork. Somebody’s computer somewhere has forecast that Siberian winds will sweep in next week bringing 7cm of snow. It does seem quietly colder. The calm before the ice storm. Winter afternoon sun low in the sky makes for great photos – here’s some of them.
February days change so quickly; today we had the full range. Weather watching is an enjoyable Sunday sport. Here’s some of what I saw:
Hazel trees with dangling catkins looking striking against the cold blue sky.
Silver birch mothership trees are combed by the wind.
Dark clouds highlight the whiteness of Himalayan birch, backdropped by the classic Kentish scene of ancient church and oasthouses.
The sun emerging after a dramatic 10 minute hailstorm.
Three blokes in a field, about to get soaked by a passing shower.
The February freeze, a stark reminder that winter is not yet over. Snow, sleet and bitter cold make it uncomfortable to be outside, even in the weak sunshine. The ground is frozen and hard, growth of early bulbs suspended. A time for being indoors, under glass or in front of a fire lit at sunset. The alpines wear the cold well, looking completely at home in snow and ice.
Very pleased to receive confirmation of arrangements for our new hedgerow earlier today. This will be subsidised by the Woodland Trust as part of their ‘MOREHedges‘ scheme. A total length of 253m, the hedgerow will be planted along the side and then right across the top of the field. The plan is (once established) to keep it trimmed to around 8ft, with bigger trees growing through around every 25m. The plants are a mixture of blackthorn, hawthorn, dog rose, dogwood, hazel, crab apple, field maple, oak and rowan – aka a ‘traditional native mix hedgerow’. There’s about 1300 plants to go in, each with a rabbit guard and a stake. The area will need to be prepared by strimming, removing large weeds, filling in various holes and moving the skeleton of an ancient poly tunnel. The pics below show the wire fence as it is now; the new hedgerow will be planted along the entire length of this fence.
The primary aim of planting this hedgerow is to encourage wildlife into and through the area. It will also provide a buffer against wind and create an additional barrier for when we eventually get a dog (dogs)..
Snakesbury is roughly divided in 2 – there’s a 3 acre field and 2 acres of garden with the house and various outbuildings. For many years now the field has been used growing hay . A local farmer harvests it once a year and gives us firewood in return. Last year we had a very poor harvest – probably only 60% of a normal yield. We put this down to the dryness of the winter/spring, but also to the bunnies. There’s a lot of bunnies, they’re breeding like bunnies.
So unfortunately the local farmer decided that it’s not really worthwhile harvesting a low yield of hay. Which was a catalyst for action on the field. Since we came to live here we have discussed various ideas for the field – everything from soft fruit to hops. More recently we have settled on creating a woodland on part of it. The woodland would be used for firewood but mainly for wildlife and for legacy. It seems like every day more of the countryside is lost to development and our thinking was that by creating a woodland we would be able to hold back this ever-encroaching tide, even if only in a small way.
I approached the Woodland Trust, who are currently funding schemes to help develop more woodland and hedgerows. They’re a brilliant organisation. Our local tree officer arranged a survey and we spent a very interesting morning discussing options. He was really helpful and a few days later reported back that the Woodland Trust were prepared to fund 60% of the cost. So far so exciting! Unfortunately doing the sums I established that I couldn’t really afford to do the full project this year. It is disappointing, but we should be in a position to do the woodland next year. In the meanwhile we are going ahead with the hedgerow, which will be planted along the top and side of the field. A native mix, it will consist of blackthorn, hawthorn, field maple, dogwood, dog rose, rowan and hazel. All with rabbit guards. Hopefully we should take delivery in the next few weeks – stay tuned.
Today I started planting trees – these are trees that I have grown in pots and ones that have been kindly donated by friends. My idea is that the ones planted now will be pioneers for next year’s big woodland planting session, creating shelter belts from the vicious wind that pumps across the field. I planted about 60 today – mainly birch and oak. This has hardly made a dent in the field – not surprising when you consider that the big woodland plant of 2019 will be 1600 trees! Still, the start of a fantastic project and I’m really excited to get it going.
Some of the silver birches – planted in groups of 3, 5 or 7 roughly 2-2.5m apart.
An icy start this morning. Some plants have shrivelled and wilted and will stay that way until the sun warms them up again. The temperature in the poly tunnel went down as low as -3. It looks like the tomato seedlings found it too cold, but others seem fine. Frosted leaves are a wonderful, transient thing – melting away as soon as the sun moves into a high enough position.
Clear blue sky, sharp cold air and sunshine – the best days that winter has to offer. A perfect day for planting trees.