Monday, 14 November 2016

On 'getting wood'

We’ve just had ten days of seemingly incessant rain on the Basque Coast.  My scientific ‘how much water is there in the bucket?’ methodology suggested we had 50% more than the median rainfallfor all of November (the wettest month of all in this wet location) in the first five days of that period.  After that the buckets were full and I stopped counting.  Three days before the rains began I had my beach mat, sunscreen and sandals packed for the beach.   Yesterday, tidying up the flat I decided to put them into storage for the winter.  

After five days I ran out of wood.  I had been sporadically collecting bits of driftwood and abandoned wooden furniture over the summer, my cleaner’s son turned up with a 10 Euro load a few days before the rains hit in, but it was all soon burnt.  That which was left needed sawing into stove size logs and the rain never let up.  I kept a close eye on the skies. Whenever it stopped raining I would head down to a couple of points on the bay where the driftwood gathers and there are nearby parking places, or cruise the industrial estate looking for abandoned palettes.  

I could, and should, have ordered a cubic metre of logs weeks ago.  But it wasn’t so simple.   The going rate around here is 50 Euro for a cubic metre.  But when I let slip that I live on the third floor without a lift the price suddenly doubles.   No one, myself included, wants to haul a cubic metre of wood up three flights of stairs.  So my wood acquisition habits are going to have to be slow and stealthy and ensure a steady supply rather than buying in my winter’s supply in one fell swoop. 

Over the past ten days I have got very good at learning how to mix quite humid driftwood, with well-seasoned older wood (about 2 parts to 1 does the trick).  Last night I even learned the trick of keeping the fire in all night. I was thrilled when I lifted the log, blew under it sparked back into flame.   But today it was unnecessary. The sun has come back and my balcony doors are open again with a fire smouldering at the minimum level to keep it in for the evening .

'Getting wood' is one thing, getting rid of it is quite another 

Systems have inputs and outputs.  Acquiring the inputs to keep my fire going has been difficult but I didn’t give enough thought as to what to do with the outputs.   I merrily thought I could just feed the planters on my balcony with the ashes.  After all that is how agriculture worked for millennia until land pressure got too much  and people had to move beyond slash and burn.  I might have rather overdone it.  Some planters got rather too much too ash, which when it rained again, turned into a impermeable clay like layer on the top of the soil.  I did some internet searching about optimum application rates. The University of Illinois’sextension service had some rather useful advice.  

When water comes in contact with wood ashes, it forms potassium hydroxide. This compound is highly alkaline and can rapidly raise soil ph. For this reason, wood ash should be viewed as a liming material and used carefully. Wood ashes should not be applied to high pH soils (> 6.5).  


Never use more than 20 pounds per 1000 square feet because toxicity problems could result from excessive usage.

I think I might have exceeded the recommended dosage: done the Gardener’s World equivalent of a ‘Keith Richards’.  Today I went around all the planters I had fertilised and removed as much of the ashes I could and put them in a bin to go to the local communal garden’s compost.  I don’t know if my ferns,  retrieved from landfill in Cornwall, still very weak after being transplanted from Brussels are going to survive the experience.  They are acid loving after all.

Still my garden hasn’t given up on summer yet! 

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