Category Archives: Homesteading

Lard in the Larder

Storing food in fat is virtually unheard of these days but this method of food preservation is actually the origin of the of the word larder. We tend to think of a larder in the same context as a pantry, but historically they are in fact two distinctly different food storage spaces. 

The larder was a cool room or cellar where meat was stored. Often this meat was submerged in lard in large crocks or barrels. The chunks of meat or whole sausages were partially cooked and then placed in the container and covered with warm rendered lard. This would be repeated until the whole container was full of meat surrounded and separated by the lard. It would then be covered and stored in the larder until needed. This space was also often used for storing uncooked meat, cheeses, hanging game, such as rabbit, duck or pheasants and also storing vegetable or fruit which needed higher humidity levels. To achieve higher humidity in the larder they were often in earth floored or earth walled cellars. 

Meat hanging in a larder (ideally a larder would not have a window like this, or would have a cover or screen over it.) Image source – Flickr

The Pātaka was the Māori version of the larder, except it was above ground on stilts to protect the stored foods from rats. These elevated huts use the air flow through gaps in the walls and had large overhanging eaves to keep food cooler and dry. Pātaka often held seeds, dried foods and meat stored in fat in gourds and pōhā (Southern bull kelp bags). This method was often used for Mutton birds (tītī) packing them into the pōhā and covering with their own fat, though these days salt curing is more common. 

 Pātaka , Image source – Te Ara

Which leads us back, through this little history lesson, to meat stored in fat as a food preservation method.  We were fortunate to spend an hour or so chatting with a local kaumātua. He told us of his father repurposing wooden tea chests to make meat storage containers. His mother would partially cook the meat and put it in the boxes (probably on a bed of fat) then rendered fat would be poured over the meat. The fat would seal any small gaps and completely surround the meat, stopping all air and bacteria from contact with the meat. These boxes would then be covered and stored in a cool outhouse until needed. 

This method of meat storage many would find shocking in today’s germophobic and fatphobic culture.  But it is in fact a very ancient practice, many cultures store meat in this manner.   An example being ‘Confit’ a French method of salt cured meat such as duck, goose, pork etc. Which is poached it in its own fat, then stored covered in that same fat. Stored in a cool dry place this meat will be good for at least six months. 

Confit, meat stored in fat. Image source – Flickr

Salting and/or cooking the meat first is necessary to kill any existing bacteria, then immersing it completely in hot fat to seal the meat from any further exposure.  A simple method is to use hot sterilised jars and place the hot meat in surrounding it with hot rendered fat as you go.  Many homesteaders use this method for storing meat patties. A small amount of fat would be poured into the base of the jar, a cooked meat patty is placed on the fat layer and more fat poured to cover it. This would be repeated until the jar was full to within an inch from its rim and topped off with a final layer of fat. A sterilised lid would be put on and the jar left to cool before being moved into cool storage place like a traditional larder or cellar. 

Rillettes is another well-known recipe where pork is seasoned and simmered in its own fat until it is falling apart. The pork is then shredded and packed into sterilised jars with the rendered lard, making sure the meat is fully covered to seal it. These practices were best done in the cooler months, usually autumn processing for winter and spring eating. The fat needs to remain in a solid state to preserve the food, high temperatures can melt the fat which could result in spoilage. However, this method can apply to simply storing your cooking or soap making fat for the year. We render all excess fat and store it in sterilized jars in the pantry, the jars seal and are perfectly fine as we open them to use over the following months. 

Larding is also a traditional method for aging cheddar cheeses, called ‘clothbinding’ the cheeses were wrapped in coarsely woven cheesecloth and then smeared with lard. The lard impedes air’s access to the surface of the cheese, which limits the extent of fungal growth while aging and preserves the cheese for longer periods. Once completely covered the cheese is stored in a cool, humid environment, with occasional flipping and wiping of the outside with a dry cloth to further limit fungal growth.

Kunekune pigs are a lard pig which produce lots of high quality lard.

Rendering Fat. 

As rendered fat is used in all these preservation methods it’s important to know how rendering is done. There are different names for the fat depending on the animal, lard is from pigs, tallow or dripping is from beef and lamb. You can also render the fat of poultry and render butter into ghee. 

  1. Chop the fresh or frozen fat into small pieces or mince batches of frozen fat in a food processor or mincer. You can trim any meat off the fat, but don’t worry too much. 
  1.  Heat at a very low temperature, about 100 °C, you don’t want to burn the fat, but you do want any water to evaporate. A slow cooker, roasting dish in the oven or a heavy bottomed pot on the stove will work. 
Rendering fat in a heavy bottomed pot
  1.  Cook until you have liquid fat with small browned solid fat lumps. This can take a few hours. 
  1.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little before filtering through a cloth lined metal funnel directly into hot steralised jars. (Do not use plastic as the heat from the fat can melt it) if you don’t have a metal funnel you can strain through a cloth lined sieve into a pyrex jug and then pour into the jars. Metal lids can be put on hot or plastic lids once the jar cools. The fat with be golden coloured while hot but will turn creamy white as it cools. (If you wish to store the fat in plastic it is best let it cool somewhat before pouring it into the container) 
  1. We store our jarred fat at room temperature or in a cool cupboard as it is shelf stable if rendered properly. Once opened the jar is usually put in the fridge, you can also store in the freezer if you want. 
Fat cooling in jars.

For more food storage ideas check out our other articles… 

The Meat Safe and Alternative Refrigeration

Sorting the Pantry or ‘Dry Larder

Long term storage of ‘fresh’ fruit and vegetables

Healthy Soil and Ramial mulch

Nature won’t allow bare soil; it will attempt to cover it with growth as fast as possible. The only places in nature with bare earth are recently exposed ground or deserts and rocky areas. Yet we as gardeners think we know better, faithfully pulling the weeds and clearing the soil to allow our plants to grow big and strong. Long rows of single species plants with bare soil between is the classic image of a well-tended garden. But what about when we look beyond the visual garden and instead look to understand the soil in which this garden grows. 

Soil is about so much more than a medium for growing your plants, when soil is healthy it is a thriving underground community of microorganisms, full of bacteria (not a bad word but an essential part of life…) fungi, nematodes, micro-arthropods and more.  These underground livestock create a food cycling system, utilising the organic matter and minerals in their environment, which produces a more bio-available food source for your plants. The theory is, by some natural soil scientists, that once you have built up your underground livestock to a thriving ecosystem you will no longer have to apply nutrients to your soil to achieve good plant growth. 

So, what encourages this underground ecosystem to grow? The most important step is ‘first do no harm’. This means look at everything you apply to your plants and soil from a ‘does this benefit the soil’ approach. Fungicides, pesticides, herbicides can cause great harm, even natural based ones, these are killers for you soil life. The use of synthetic fertilisers and even the natural ones used in large doses break the natural nutrition cycle, again causing harm to the tiny critters in the soil. It is better to tweak your garden with low amounts of nutrient if needed. Usually as foliar applications, light layers of aged compost or light spreading of vermicast.  

Mycelium in the garden

By minimising soil disturbance and leaving the roots of harvested plants in the ground where possible, you have less disruption to the underground eco-systems. While an initial double digging of garden beds is often needed when establishing gardens in compacted areas (to allow for aeration and improved water absorption) the less digging and soil movement the better it is for the soil. Once formed the garden beds should not be walked on to retain their soft earth feel and prevent re-compaction.  

Diversity is another important tool in maintaining not only the health of the soil but also for the plants above. Companion plants which support the growth of other plants, deter or distract pest insects from your crops and also plants which bring the beneficial insects into the garden. Perennial crops and herbs act as anchor plants, a safe haven for your underground livestock for when you do have to lightly cultivate areas, such as planting or harvesting carrots and other roots crops.  

Diversity in the garden

Which brings us back to the opening statement ‘Nature won’t allow bare soil’ Maintaining a cover on your soil, whether it is plant cover or natural mulches reduces moisture loss, soil loss through erosion and most importantly creates a carbon food source for your underground livestock. Increasing the carbon in your soil improves nutrient cycles, water holding capacity and less need for inputs.  Forests are the perfect example of carbon cycling. In deciduous forests the leaves drop, branches break and trees fall, the undergrowth grows up and dies down, all of this cycles the nutrients in a continuous rhythm. If we mimic this cycling on a smaller scale in our gardens, returning all organic matter to the land in various forms, mulch, compost, vermicast, manure, chop and drop, we create a carbon/nutrient cycle with the aid of our underground livestock crew. 

Luckily for our soil’s microbial life mulching and covering the earth is becoming common practice in natural garden systems.  What was initially viewed as labour saving by reducing weeds and the need to water as much, is now seen as life enhancing for our soil and the plants which grow in it. The best source of mulch is from your own property and if you have trees and woody shrubs all pruning can be made into Ramial wood mulch. 

Ramial wood mulch and straw mulch.

Ramial Wood Mulch 

Ramial mulch is made from the fresh cut branches, up to 7cm in diameter and mulched while the cambium layer is still green. Having your own mulcher at hand means these branches can be dealt with promptly and provides a regular supply of fresh ramial mulch. Often leaf matter or tree buds are included in the mulch which adds even more nutrient for the soil. It is considered to have the optimal balance of carbon to nitrogen when used fresh, becoming higher in carbon as it ages. An issue with using aged wood chip is it can result in a ‘nitrogen deficit’ where the woodchip and soil meets. This is because the microorganisms (underground livestock) that use the low-nitrogen wood mulch as food and therefore breaking it down, must source the nitrogen they need from the soil instead.  The soil nitrogen is tied up as their population grows, but as they break down the wood mulch and the microorganisms die the nitrogen releases back to the soil. If too much nitrogen is removed from the soil it can lead to pale leaves and stunted growth, symptoms of nitrogen deficiency.  This can be negated by adding nitrogen to the soil in the form of blood and bone or aged manure at the time of applying the mulch or just by using ramial mulch.  

For more information, please check out: 

Integrity soils

Soil Food Web

And Korean Natural Farming at https://naturalfarminghawaii.net/ 

Making Ramial wood mulch.

Lessons from the garden

From the moment we are born, we begin to learn and to the day we die we are surrounded by opportunities to continue learning and growing. Often these learning experiences come from our immediate surroundings, if we chose to see them.

As I walk around our garden I observe and consider… so what has it taught me lately?

Firstly, to act on my thoughts. So, when I see the white cabbage butterflies flitting beautifully amongst the plants the thought ‘I should net the brassica seedlings’ enters my brain. DO IT. Don’t procrastinate because The Other Half just tidied the shed and packed all the nets away (that I had left in handy disarray) somewhere behind the quad bike. Don’t get distracted by some other job, because there are always other jobs. Go and get that fine netting, no not the green one the holes are too big, the white one that’s it. Drape it over the greenhouse door way and secure it well. Because if you don’t those beautiful fluttering bastardflies will lay their noxious little eggs, EVERYWHERE. And even if you brush off those minuscule balls of future caterpillars you will still get caterpillars…

The damage begins…

Then even if you search those poor little chewed brassicas and squish the green fleshy demon spawn there will be more next time you look! Growing fatter and hairier as those poor denuded future food crops languish under their voracious foraging. So, remember listen to your pop-up thoughts and act on them – unless it’s just snowflake rubbish, then ignore it.

Lesson number two. Don’t plant your Kamo Kamo anywhere near your cucumbers. Or for that matter anywhere near anything at all. In fact, I would say give them about 10 square metres all to themselves far away from any other garden. Then at least you will have other garden.

Also, when harvesting from said triffids wear long pants, long sleeves and gloves. Or even better send someone else to find them! We were harvesting tasty little cucs from the plants scrambling up the re-enforcing mesh frame, but then the Kamo Kamo came. Its trailing vine crept stealth like across the mulch, flowers popped their sunshine heads out from its leaves. But no fruit came forth. We had pumpkins growing round and fat, but no Kamo Kamo. So annoyed we turned our back on it, foolish mistake.

The kamokamo escapes…

Its trailing tendrils crept over the corn, which was fine, you know ‘Three sisters’ and all that, minus the beans that is. It was in said corn that we finally started harvesting its fruits and found the first mammoth beast weighing down the vine. Then it crept past the cucumbers frame and out towards the lawn. We tossed it back off the herb garden and started harvesting the cuc’s from the back of the rusty support.

Then somewhere, somehow it breeched the cuc frame. I don’t even know when or how, it was just suddenly there, smothering all asunder. The cuc’s suffered, sunlight obscured and flattened by the overbearing weight of bullying creeping fingers of prickly green.

That was lesson number two plant the damn Kamo Kamo far, far away.

Lesson number three. Jerusalem artichokes. “I think we got them all, no those ones will be fine over there” foolish naive person…

Fartichokes are the gift that just keeps on giving. Don’t get me wrong here, I think they are great. You can eat the tubers (we don’t, low carb household here) They have pretty little sunflower like flowers for the bees and are in fact related to the sunflower. You can feed the plants to your stock, or just let them clamber up the fences like feral goats and let the blighters help themselves to the once towering stems. Or feed the tubers to your pigs so we can all experience why they have the nickname fartichokes. Plus, they are a great carbon crop for your composts.

However, if you at any time should choose to repurpose that particular area of garden, they will repel your every effort to remove them. Kind of like oxalis but two metres tall. Then they will even magically appear in other parts of the garden, spreading their wonderful bounty across the land.

So, lesson number three don’t plant near, in or around any area where there has been fartichokes, unless you will remember to constantly remove little sprouty gifts.

Lesson number four. COVER THE SOIL. (and learn how to make real good compost, but that’s a whole other story) Now this is very important, hence the caps… if you want to grow food which enhances your life you need to enhance the life of the soil it grows in. Covering the soil is the first step, it stops the sun from baking it, just like a hat stops the sun baking your bald spot. It helps to keep the moisture in, like putting a lid on the pot to stop evaporation. Ya get that? Whether you cover it with woodchip mulch, straw, leaf litter or living plants, it provides protection and food for your underground livestock.

The mulched garden

You might need a microscope to see most of these little critters, but they are the lifeblood of your soil. Get these microorganisms in a prolific healthy state (this is where the REALLY GOOD living compost comes in) and your soil becomes a living, thriving farm under your feet. Hey you can even start calling yourself an underground farmer cause you know a healthy soil has apparently 100 billion microorganisms per handful of soil. Phew, that’s a high stocking rate. Bring the Soil Food Web (Google it!) back to life, be the spiderman hero for you garden, spinning the web of fungi.

Thats lesson number four and obviously the most important one here. Spread the organic love mulch throughout your garden, learn about and bring back the microorganisms, the fungal life and watch the magical invisible underground livestock do their thing!

Fungi sprouting in the mulch

Lucy and the ‘Half pint’ bull

Lucy has only ever had a ‘sheep herd’, ever since we picked her up as a tiny 6 day old lowline Angus/jersey cross dairy calf. The teeny bundle of cuteness turned out to be a menace in disguise as we struggled to get her to survive her first couple of weeks. Between the scours and the refusal to take bottle, to tubing the poor little beast it was a battle of poop and frustration. But we made it! Just…. 

At 18 months we brought the vet out to AI (Artificially Inseminate) our wee girl. She was ready, the timing was right but at 50/50 odds our chances weren’t great. Sure enough we were out of luck. Her next cycle she was mooing down the neighbourhood and making amorous moves on poor Sooty the pet sheep. We were out of luck, left with a vet bill and no calf. 

Time rolls on, we are busy, then moving property. No time to think of AI again or finding a little bull. But luck was on our side, the farmer down the road at our new property has some Highland cattle and a wee bull… a deal was reached and the small herd moved down the road to a paddock opposite our house. 

Lucy the low-line Angus/Jersey cross

Lucy was fascinated! Half Pint was a gorgeous strapping short legged lad of Highland /Hereford ancestry. And in true Scottish form he let his presence be known in the mountainous regions. But it wasn’t the bagpipes that echoed over the steep wooded slopes. It was a tremendous bellows of a different sort that could have emerged from a bull twice his size. He stomped the fence line and outside our gate let rip with his courting of our dainty wee lass. Day and night. 

Cautious we were, allowing Lucy some time to get used to the beastie from the space of two fences and a quiet gravel road. She stood at the gate with her long lush Lucille Ball lashes (her namesake you see) bating them over her large soft brown eyes. What bull could resist such a stunning sleek black barrel of a cow. 

So as evening drew on the third day we opened the gate to let lucy out. A sheep herd stampede to the wide-open spaces hastened us up, their excitement of fresh grass crushed by the click shut of the gate. But Lucy set free had trotted off down the road. With grass on her mind, she grazed the long acre, nibbling her way along the verge of the road. We opened the gate to her destiny and ushered her through. Her mind still on grazing she ambled straight in, short knee deep in the lotus and clovers that grew. 

But Half Pint saw us shut the gate and move away, his senses alert and eyes on Lucy he was off at a trot. Lucys ears pricked up, her nostrils flared and promptly turned on her heels and shot off the opposite way! “hell no!” she said as he lumbered on up and zipped round the paddock, Half Pint hot on her heels. 

We left them to it, to sort themselves out. At least he was finally quiet the noisy little prick. 

Half-Pint the Hereford/Highland cross

That night poor Lucy stood opposite our gate, her whiny moo floating across the road and down the quiet drive. Out to see her I went and found her wide eyed and flustered while Half pint nuzzled her bull goobered side. I want to come home to my sheepie herd her low mooing told me, or so I heard. But no, it’s a calf you want and this is the way, poor Lucy my girl, it’s here, I’m afraid where you have to stay. Lucy turned from the fence and tried to get away but he dogged her and moped with his big shaggy head a giant lovesick puppy mooching behind. 

The next morning we woke to his bellows again, a grumpy Half pint was having his say! Oh bloody hell is it worth it we thought and went out to see what the racket was about. Lucy it seems was nowhere to be seen and Half Pint was shitty and not in the mood. So off up the track and round the big hill, he grumbled and moaned to find where his other girls and offspring had got too. Meanwhile in the growing quiet we called out for Lucy, who slowing emerged from under the old woolshed in which’s darkness she stood. Her short little legs had allowed her to hide in a spot where the bullock couldn’t quite get, small as he was old boofhead wouldn’t fit. Smart thinking my girl but I’m sorry to say, if you want a calf this really is not the way. 

This harassment and hiding continued for two days, Half Pint bellowing, complaining and stomping off to sulk. But funny enough on the next day we came home from town to find both in the paddock, grazing and quiet. It seems that the roles had reversed with Lucy docile and meek following along behind the hairy great beast. Phew we all said what a relief now we just have to wait a few more weeks. Hopefully she will take and a calf we will have, this drawn-out rowdy saga will mean milk, butter and cheese!

Coppiced Woodlands

Managed coppice woodlands were once the source of a vast number of materials needed for everyday life. The wood produced from them was used for tools, kitchenware, furniture, fencing, building, charcoal and fuelwood. They were an integral part of rural life right up until the second world war. After this the woodland harvesting became more industrial with the need to rebuild so many damaged cities. Monoculture plantings of coniferous trees became common place and the old woodlots were either left to wild or were over taken by these single species forests.  

But in the past 30 years or so there has been a resurgence in restoring these ancient woodlands and a renewed interest in woodland crafts, green woodworking (using fresh cut wood) and roundwood building. This has spread to other countries with many people embracing the concept of perpetual and sustainable timber woodlots. By coppicing or pollarding specific trees at staggered times, materials are gathered for many uses while the tree itself remains living and the soil and ecosystem only temporarily disrupted.

The planting of a woodlot is best done in winter with bare rooted trees, these trees are often more affordable and it allows for root development before dry weather sets in. Spacings should be approximately two metres square and can be done in rows or random placement, nitrogen fixers should be planted in the midst of this spacing to give maximum benefit. Some protection may be necessary from rabbit damage and mulch will help give the trees a head start against the grass and weeds. 

Coppicing is the cutting of broadleaf woodland trees to low stumps, during their dormancy in winter. The cuts should be on angle to allow for water run off and preferably south facing. In spring the stump re-sprouts and these shoots are allowed to grow on till they reach the desired size. This can range from one year to twenty plus years, depending on the tree species and timber requirements. The tree is then cut back to a stump during the winter and the process starts again. Interestingly the regrowth times are usually considerably shorter here in New Zealand than in the UK, how this may affect the strength of the timber I do not know. Regrowth times for the trees below are for UK.

1. Tree prior to coppicing 2. Cut to stump 3. Rapid re-growth 4. Re-growth is grown on to appropriate size/age for intended use, ranging from 1 to 20+ years.

Pollarding is a higher cut, often around head height, this can be useful if there are browsing animals within the woodland, keeping the fresh growth out of reach. This process is best with deciduous trees, which are cut at low sap in the winter. This unfortunately means most of our native trees are not able to be successfully coppiced, Mahoe, Cabbage trees, Hoheria and possibly Pohutukawa being among the few that will.  

1. Tree prior to Pollarding 2. Limbs are cut just above the ‘collar’ or curved area where the branch connects to the tree. 3. Rapid re-growth is grown on till it reaches desired use size, then process is repeated.

Trees that reshoot after coppicing or other crown ‘damaging’ events like fire or wind have Epicormic buds. These buds lie are dormant under the bark, suppressed by the hormones of the actives shoots above. When damage occurs to those higher shoots or the light levels to the epicormic buds is increased, by removal of nearby plants, they can be activated into growing. While these shoots occur in many deciduous trees and shrubs they are not usually found in conifers and many other evergreens. 

Maintaining the health of your woodlot. 

By their very nature deciduous trees create a fertile self-perpetuating system. Their deep root systems draw up nutrients from the soil and sub soil, these nutrients are then returned to the ground by leaf and branch litter return. This process can be enhanced by including nitrogen fixing and mineral accumulating trees and shrubs in your woodlot. By utilising species such as the fast-growing tree lucerne (tagasaste – Chamaecytisus palmensis), as nurse species for your slower growing trees you are not only feeding them, but are providing protection and weed suppression, plus stock fodder, bee food and firewood while you wait for the other trees to establish. Once you begin the coppicing and pollarding of your trees the return of ‘slash’ as ramial mulch feeds back into the system to support the new growth. A herb layer can also be used to provide ground cover and nutrient cycling, suitable plants are comfrey, clovers, lotus, plantains etc 

Hazel grove, uncoppiced but with potential for regeneration.

Coppicing is the cutting of broadleaf woodland trees to low stumps, during their dormancy in winter. In spring the stump resprouts and these shoots are allowed to grow on till they reach the desired size. This can range from one year to twenty plus years, depending on the tree species and timber requirements. (Interestingly the regrowth times are usually considerably shorter here in New Zealand than in the UK, how this may affect the strength of the timber I do not know. Regrowth times for the trees below are for UK) The tree is then cut back to a stump during the winter and the process starts again. Pollarding is a higher cut, often around head height, this can be useful if there are browsing animals within the woodland, keeping the fresh growth out of reach. This process is best with deciduous trees, which are cut at low sap in the winter. This unfortunately means most of our native trees are not able to be successfully coppiced, Mahoe, Cabbage trees and possibly Pohutukawa being among the few that will. 

Planting a woodlot is best done in winter with bare rooted trees, spacings should be approximately two to three metres and can be done in rows or random placement, some protection may be necessary from rabbit damage etc.  Many of the trees listed below are easily propagated by seed, cuttings or poles. It may take a little longer to establish, but it means a woodlot can be created at a very low cost.

Alder, Black or Common – Alnus glutinosa 

Alnus glutinosa is a fast-growing deciduous tree reaching approx. 25 m high by 10 m wide.  Able to fix nitrogen and preferring wet sites it is a very useful tree where ground moisture is high e.g. Ponds, swales and boggy areas. It is able to spread easily through waterways and should probably not be planted along streams or where native riparian are planted due to its potential to become a pest species in such areas.  
The black Alder produces both male and female catkins on the same tree which are pollinated by the wind. Its seed is a good winter food source for birds and the leaves can be used for stock fodder/forage.  

Traditionally Black Alder has been used for clog soles, woodturning, carving, broom heads, furniture and underwater foundations, it can also be used a fuel wood. The wood is not very strong but has the ability to dry very fast, it is however durable underwater. The tree coppices well and will produce many straight poles in a damp or marshy woodland environment. It is useful for erosion control and for water purifying in swampy ground. 

Alder, Black or Common – Alnus glutinosa 

Ash – Fraxinus excelsior 

This large deciduous tree grows to approx. 30m, the trees bear both male and female flowers but often not in the same year, these flowers are wind pollenated. The seeds known as ‘Ash Keys’ are best sown while still green to achieve faster germination. The Ash is able to grow on many types of soil but is best in limestone where it will seed freely. While recent times have seen Ash suffer with Ash Dieback it was once a highly important resource for smallholders and farmers due to its resilience and rapid growth. Though considered non-durable the timber has the qualities of high flexibility, shock resistance, and resistance to splitting. This makes ash wood an excellent timber for making bows and tool handles. The trees are often coppiced on a longer cycle of 10 to 21 years and therefore are often grown in a mixed woodlot. Ash is also popular used green for chairmaking. 

Beech, English – Fagus sylvatica 

Though this large tree, approx. 30m, is deciduous it will in fact hold its browned leaves until spring when the fresh growth appears. While this particular tree has green leaves, changing to yellow then brown through Autumn, there is a natural mutation the Copper Beech (Fagus sylvatica Purpurea) which has purple new growth which gradually turns deep green and then copper in Autumn. The male and female flowers appear in spring and are wind pollenated. In autumn the hairy Beech husks drop, each husk has two seeds known as beech nuts, these are apparently edible and were often used as pig fodder. The leaves are also edible when young (for humans) and can be used as fodder/forage for stock. The beech grows best in well drained limestone soils. It is not usually coppiced in a woodlot situation due to its slow growth, but is pollarded instead to prevent browsing animals killing off the trees. However, it can be cut back quite hard and used as a hedging plant. Used in green-wood craft for furniture, tool handles, and kitchen utensils like spoons, spatula and bowls, beech is also excellent firewood. 

Birch – Silver Birch – Betula pendula  

A fast growing, deciduous tree reaching approx 30 m, it is very noticeable for its white papery bark. The Silver birch has both male and female catkins on the same tree and can seed throughout an area very easily. It is considered a colonizer, growing on poor soils, but its leaf litter can improve the soil over time allowing other species to grow.  While it can be coppiced while young, older trees tend not to grow back. These are often replaced by seedling trees. An interesting feature of the Birch is its fungal relationship with the Birch Bolete an edible mushroom which grows under the Birches in Autumn. While the wood is not durable, it does have many uses, such as small furniture, cooking utensils, spoons and toys. The bark however is considered to be very durable and is used for canoes, pots, baskets, shoes and roof tiles. It is also an excellent fire starter. The sap is another product, harvested in early spring to make wine and Birch syrup.  it is worth noting that some people do experience hay fever/allergy symptoms from the pollen of Silver Birch. 

The beautiful bark of a felled Silver Birch

Black Locust – Robinia pseudoacacia 

This hardy deciduous tree is very fast growing and reaches approx. 25m in height and is commonly used as windbreak or shelterbelts, though it does not tolerant severe winds well.  It is able to grow in most soils, though prefers well drained situations and can handle drought. Black Locust is also tolerant of low fertility soils which means it can be used as a pioneer species. Its nitrogen fixing and mineral accumulating can support the growth of other plants, plus its light canopy allows sunlight to penetrate. In some areas it is considered a weed species due to its fast growth and ability to spread via seed and sometimes suckering. If used in a woodlot or food forest situation it needs to be managed regularly. 

Its timber is considered highly durable, fence posts of Black locust are said to last 100 years in the ground. It is used as greenwood for furniture, tool handles, building and pasture posts. The tree is able to be coppiced and pollarded, but there can be some variation in growth form. For this reason, selecting seed from straight trees is more likely to give you suitable timber for building or posts. Root cuttings of 5cm length and about thumb thickness can apparently be propagated or stakes/poles can be planted direct into the ground. 

There is conflicting information of the fodder value of this tree, some sources claim the whole plant is toxic. While others compare its nutritional value to Alfafa and apparently Black locust is used as a fodder crop in many countries. It is well recognised for its benefit as bee food with Robinia honey common in USA and Europe. The white racemes of flowers in summer are said to be edible, as are the seeds once cooked. It is also considered to have medicinal qualities. 

Worth growing for its fence post potential alone, as we try to move away from using treated wood on the property. The discrepancies on its fodder value can be negated by simply planting the Black locusts away from grazed areas. Most stock will not browse on toxic plants unless there is a shortage of other feed, with low level toxicity some browsing may occur in a medicinal manner. We believe that the animals have an instinctive knowledge of what they can consume and to what level, however, as said above this can be over ridden if feed is short. 

Hazel – Corylus avellana 

Though more of a deciduous shrub than a tree, the Hazel is one of the most useful woodlot plants. Fast growing and multi stemmed it can still reach 12 m or more in height if left to grow. But Hazels are often coppiced and the many straight stems produced have many uses. Both the pendulous male catkins and small female flowers are born on the same tree and are wind pollenated. In nut production a different cultivar of pollinator Hazel is often necessary to achieve high pollination rates. These early spring flowers can provide early feed for bees. While mostly known for its nuts, the Hazel leaves are also a highly palatable forage for livestock. Widely used as a hedgerow plant many English villages would often have an area of Hazel coppice, which was traditionally cut on a seven-year cycle. Hazel is the traditional material of hurdle making (woven fence panels) due to its ability, when twisted, to form a strong ‘rope’ of separated fibres. This means the wood can be twisted back upon its self to form the woven panels of the hurdle. Other uses include thatching spars, walking sticks, garden stakes, garden climbing frames, baskets, traps, crates and many other useful everyday items. 

Sweet Chestnut – Castanea sativa 

An attractive deciduous tree reaching approx. 30 metres in height. Preferring slightly acidic free draining soils and dislikes waterlogged, alkaline soils and exposed sites. Both male and female flowers appear in summer on the same stalk, these are wind and insect pollenated. The edible nuts develop in a prickly case that splits open in autumn when they are ripe. The nuts and leaves etc. can be used as stock fodder and all parts of the tree, except the actual nut, are said to have anthelmintic (anti worming) properties.  

Sweet Chestnut is a durable wood which coppices very well and can be coppiced at various ages for different purposes. At 5 years timber is used for walking sticks, yurt poles, garden stakes, woven panels, balustrades and rustic furniture.  At 7-12 years, rustic furniture, laths, pales, garden arches, gate hurdles, trellis panels and trug handles. 20 years, rustic furniture, laths, pales, charcoal, firewood, barrels, fencing posts. 30 + years, roundwood timber framing, post-and-rail fencing, fencing posts, decking, cladding, arbours, gates, shingles, window frames, charcoal and firewood. 

Willow, Osier or Basket Willow – Salix viminalis 

A deciduous, fast growing multi-stemmed shrub up to approx. 6 metres tall with straight thin branches used for basketry. The Basket willow is best grown in wet non-acid soils and propagation is easy from stem cuttings, this is preferable to seed as it can cross pollenate with other willows. Coppicing is done yearly to provide the long straight flexible rods needed for basketry. It is also used to create living screens and sculptures in gardens by inserting rods into the ground and weaving them into required shapes. Other uses are fodder/forage for livestock, water purification and it has the ability to absorb heavy metals, often planted to ‘clean up’ contaminated waste ground. Other willow species can also be used but Salix viminalis and Salix purpurea (purple stems) are most commonly used for basketry. 

There are other trees which can be included in your woodland, the ones above are chosen here for their ease of coppicing/growing and specific uses, including food or forage uses.  

Wild Cherry – Prunus avium, Elm – Ulmus procera, Linden – Tilia cordata, Oak – Quercus species, Maple – Acer species, Gum – Eucalyptus species, Poplar – Populus species.

The Brandenburg Coppice at Lincoln College New Zealand was planted in about 1985 as a study on coppicing woodlots and suitable tree species for New Zealand. It is a very informative read for anyone with an interest in establishing a coppice woodlot.

Further reading:

https://fodderfarm.co.nz/2021/04/07/the-sustainable-firewood-woodlot/