Wednesday, 8 March 2017

the big chop

Today we took down the large field maples that had been allowed to grow up in the hedge behind the greenhouse.  Acer campestre is a lovely plant, turning butter yellow in the autumn, but it is quite vigorous for a hedge, perhaps over-vigorous.  The Systems Administrator had topped out the ones by the greenhouse in the dim and distant past, but not for several years, during which time they had recovered to a good twenty feet.  At that size the prospect of cutting them back was daunting, what with the greenhouse on one side and the telephone line not too far away across the field on the other.  In fact, the prospect of reducing them had been getting steadily more daunting for a couple of years, which is one reason why they had been allowed to go on growing unchecked for so long.

The only good thing about trying to reduce a twenty foot hedge with trees in it to a ten foot hedge is that the tree trunks provide something solid to lean a ladder against.  The Systems Administrator roped each trunk in turn as far up as possible, using a boat hook to drop the rope over a likely looking high branch, then cut the main trunk at the ten foot mark while I kept tension on the rope from the field side.  That left a long list of things that could go wrong, a trunk swinging back into the garden despite the rope and hitting either the SA or the greenhouse, a trunk falling further outwards that we had judged it could and landing on the telephone wire, an accident with the chainsaw, or the SA falling off the ladder, but the SA had spent a long time weighing up the situation, and we were both very considered in our movements.  Even so I was relieved as each trunk crashed into the field where it was supposed to fall with no breakages or accidental amputations.

We were so pleased to have got the field maple down without incident that after lunch we tackled a second one by the fruit cage, slightly smaller but closer to the telephone line, and a large hawthorn behind the polytunnel.  The whole thing left us with an enormous pile of debris in somebody else's field.  Fortunately the farm maintains a wide uncultivated strip around the outside, perhaps as part of some arcane EU grant system for wildlife friendly farming, and at this stage of the year they haven't started cultivating lettuces and the field is still sown with a winter cover of rye grass, so we weren't going to do any harm being there, but still the pile of branches, with the odd vicious rose stem thrown in for good measure, had to be cleared away.  The quickest route was to drag it sixty yards further up the field to where there is a thin patch in the hedge, chop it down into pieces small enough to fit through the hole, and pass it through, so that was what we did.  I was on the receiving end of the bits and by the time it was all through I had built two piles of brushwood each about the size of a transit van.

The next step will be to trim off all the side branches small enough to go through the shredder and shred them, and cart all the larger wood down to the workshop and section it for firewood.  I am hoping the SA will do the lion's share of shredding, though I have promised to help, since I still have about forty-two bags of Strulch to apply.  There are still some smaller tall bits of hedge to come down, which the SA might be able to do from ground level with the pole saw.  And then we have vowed to each other that now we have such a clear line to cut to, the hedge is not going to be allowed to get that out of control again.

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