Wednesday, March 12, 2008

“Someone’s been eating my porridge!” said Daddy Bear, which is much as I felt when I went to our woods last week and found some earthworks done at the entrance with a couple of trees uprooted and lying horizontal, blocking the new forest ride (access route) I have cleared over the last few weeks. I was so perturbed that I forgot to take a photo for a blog and so you have to make do with a picture of disappointed, porridge-less bears. It didn’t take me long to work out the most likely story. There are two parcels of building land in front of the wood and one of them had a new gravel entrance laid, bridging the fossé (ditch) and the ditches either side had been cleaned out, so they drained properly, all done by a big digger. The fossé runs down one side of the little lane into the wood, then passes beneath it, to emerge the other side, where it runs into and through the wood, thence into the River Rance. To clear the bit at the entrance of the wood, the digger driver had uprooted the trees and just pushed them out the way. Was it the local commune (i.e., municipal) or a private building company that had done this?

I suppose it was particularly upsetting as I have taken some considerable time getting all the correct permissions to do the cutting I wanted in order to manage the woodland along permaculture lines. I’d only recently been called to the mairie to collect the last permission and was feeling all proud of myself to have done it properly, when French friends and neighbours were wondering why I didn’t just cut the trees down without asking for the requisite authority. The mairie was closed that day, giving me 24 hours to calm down and reflect on the whole thing.

Meanwhile, I got on with the work that I’d planned, which was to donate some tree trunks to Jim, a friend and green woodworking expert and “plant” some mushrooms. It’s impressive to see him slit a 2.5 metre length of trunk into quarters, using just an axe and a lump hammer. In exchange for the wood, he was giving me a helping hand to clear the last bit of the ride and to help with the permaculture mushroom experiment.

I’m cutting down sycamore and wild cherry, which both form a large part of the woodland and are both unsuited to the situation. The harvest of wood provides all our heating needs and we’re replanting with more suitable species. This will take place over several years. Being deciduous species cut during their dormant season (winter) they will coppice (re-grow) necessitating some further work, such as kicking the new growth off, to kill the stump. As it is a relatively new wood—it was pasture divided by hedges just 25 years ago, it has a relatively low biodiversity with few varieties of mushrooms, and even fewer edible. The permaculture mushroom plan is to inoculate the stumps with the mycelia of edible mushrooms, such as Chicken-of-the-Woods and Oyster mushrooms, which will invade and ultimately decompose the stumps. The theory is that I get my chosen fungi in place before the ever-present airborne decomposers get a look in. My supplier is the extremely helpful Adrian Ogden of Gourmet Woodland Mushrooms. Neither sycamore, nor wild cherry is the first choice tree to use but that’s what we have; Adrian suggested COTW on the cherry and oyster on the sycamore. This year’s an experiment and, if it works, we’ll go large when we cut the next plot, next winter.

A succession of 8mm holes are drilled and inoculated wooden dowels hammered in, by far the easiest technique I’ve used. I’ve plenty more to tell you about mushrooms but will keep you in the dark for the moment. (The photos show an oak stump I inoculated with pearl oyster mushrooms.)

I did go to the mairie the following day, where I discovered that the works had been done by the commune, that there were no more disturbances planned and that I could log up the obstructing trees (not originally on our land) and keep the wood, so I’m happy now. One last thing, there were two manhole (inspection) covers where the water crosses the lane underground. One was marked with fluorescent paint and had been avoided by the digger driver; the other wasn’t, had been driven across and cracked but not broken and I found it by falling down it … ouch.