The Drying Barn

The Drying Barn at Century Wood has made a big difference since I put it up in 2018. This post shows how the barn was built and then some pictures from September after another good tidy up of the stuff it “accumulates” – like garden sheds do, almost by themselves.

These two pictures show the Barn as it is now and one of the sketches I drew in January 2018 before I started. It’s next to the Log Cabin in the Glade at the centre of the wood.

I included a barn in the forestry management plan I wrote in 2012, as a place to store larger equipment, and to split, dry and bag up firewood. In practice I don’t leave equipment there, but it’s a great place to park the tractor and trailers when I’m around in wet weather.

I had to extend the Glade to make space for the Barn to avoid blocking the end of the roadway, and the first picture shows me cutting up poplar trunks and clearing space. The building is basically a pole barn, but with steel post anchors rather than setting the posts in concrete. I chose this method because I had a source of cheap post anchors and it will makes it easier to replace the posts in the future as they eventually rot. It also makes it simpler to level off, by levelling the post anchors rather than cutting the tops of the posts off to make them the same height. This stack of pressure-treated timber was used to make the frame and I put the posts up one by one.

I nailed it all together with a framing hammer, and I used the blue tarpaulins to start suppressing the ground cover which I’d not cleared down to the soil before starting. Overall the Barn is 15m by 5m, and 3.6m high at the apex. There was a blog post about my 5 day stay in the Log Cabin while I got the frame up.

Next I put the 6 inch vertical boards up with 2 inch gaps to allow air to circulate. This combination is enough to create a dry microclimate inside the Barn but with enough air circulation to carry moisture away from the firewood as it dries. The roof sheets rest on purlins which are nailed to the rafters. I treated the boards, rails and the ends of the rafters with Creocote which is water repellent but is largely cosmetic on the pressure treated timber. It does at least make the different shades of wood look more uniform.

Finally I brought the steel roofing sheets into the wood. They were 3.1m long and just right to cover each slope in one piece. I made L-shaped jigs out of scrap wood to hold a board in place in line with the bottom of the sheets, to help me align the bottom ends of all the sheets. As you can see for the first few sheets, it does a pretty neat job despite the imperfect roof frame.

The roof finished, with a view along the length of the apex sheets. Special roofing screws are used to stitch the sheets together and the screw them to the purlins. The last two pictures again show the Barn as it is now. You can see a slight ripple in the sheets, due to the frame itself not being entirely level. Roofing sheet advice always says the frame must be perfectly aligned but for an open structure like this, it’s not really necessary.

I used these tools for almost all the building work, plus tape measure and spirit level: wood saw; Vaughan 18 inch framing hammer – with a magnetic slot for putting in nails with one hand while holding on to a ladder; Screwfix own-brand cordless drill with hex driver and metal roofing sheet screws – short for stitching sheets together and long for fastening sheets to purlins.

Now some pictures about how I’m using the Barn. The big bay on the end allows a car or small van to be driven in, and makes it possible to load and unload in the dry or to load a trailer with logs directly from the wood piles. The current state of the wood piles, after taking a lot of logs home already. I’ve got some white builders bags there too, which are a common measure of loose firewood logs in the UK. One of the bays on the side of the Barn aligned with the side door of the Log Cabin and makes it quicker to get from one to the other in the rain. The last picture shows the space where I park the car and trailer for loading and unloading.

As with everything at the wood, sooner or later wildlife makes its presence felt. I’ve posted these 2019 photos before: a wasps nest in the corner between the boards; one of several remains of a grey squirrel on the earth floor of the Barn, probably brought in and eaten by a buzzard; a buzzard stretches its wings in the Glade below canopy height. As with the Log Cabin roof, buzzards use the Barn roof as a perch from which to swoop on their prey in the Glade.

Having the Barn has made a big difference and having dry, shaded space to work in when it rains or gets hot and sunny is really useful.

Finally, I’ve also made this video with a tour of the barn and more about how I built it.

Red squirrels at Allan Bank video

A few years ago I wrote a post about visiting the National Trust’s Allan Bank in the Lake District and photographing its red squirrels. In August I went back and made a video showing more of the squirrels and the interior of the house. Making this video gave me a chance to try out my new iSteady Mobile+ gimbal in a demanding location with a lot of rough ground and steps, and I intend to use it for more videos at Century Wood itself.

Spring at the log cabin video

I spent two nights of the Easter weekend at our off grid log cabin at Century Wood. I’ve made this video about staying there, and I also talk through the basic 12V electric system, the kitchen sink and drain, and how I use the wood stove.

“The hidden life of trees” by Peter Wohlleben

Wohlleben’s book was originally published in German in 2015 and then translated and published in English in 2016. The book attracted a lot of mainstream interest due to Wohlleben’s “wood wide web” description of trees communicating with each other and sharing nutrients. I was aware of this at the time and I must admit the way he presented it all put me off. But I’ve now read the book and that’s only a small part of the wide range of topics he covers.

Peter Wohlleben began his career as a forester for the state of Rhineland-Palatinate in Germany but became disillusioned with the “big forestry” style of management and began managing a beechwood for the local council of Hummel. He published several successful books about forests, nature, and threats to the environment, before “The hidden life of trees”.

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Trail cameras

I’ve been using trail cameras at Century Wood for the last couple of years. To start with I got a camera for security: to see if people were coming in to the wood following occasional thefts from my neighbours over the years. It quickly became clear that wildlife was a much more interesting use of the camera, and I’ve accumulated a good sample of images of the wood’s wildlife.

The first camera I bought was a Bushnell Trophy Cam HD Max with 8 megapixels. I bought it a year or so before starting to use it properly, and it lasted just over a year before it was stolen. I placed it on the edge of the main clearing in the wood, and I never saw evidence of people on the images. So it may have been taken the first time someone came across it. Then I bought a cheap Apeman camera from Amazon, at 12 megapixels, which is still there – in a harder to spot location – 18 months later.

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After the Flood

Earlier this week I visited Century Wood for the first time after the flooding at the end of October. There has been a lot of rain since, but the water level on the ground was down significantly. I didn’t see any standing water inside the wood and the level in the ditch was well down. The first photo shows the current situation, compared to the usual low level and at the height of the flood last week.

I spent most of the time cutting up dead trees and branches that either threatened to fall on the rides or already had. I normally encourage deadwood, but when it threatens to fall across a ride I sort it out. Some of this standing deadwood was still usable as firewood, and I piled logs from a dead hazel loosely in the Barn for now and I intend to restack it properly in a frame with the ends all exposed. I didn’t set aside any wood for drying last winter, and so this was the first wood to start drying in the Drying Barn.

One trunk I didn’t save had fingers of fungal growth right into the wood, and I also photographed fungi on standing dead poplars which I have left alone for now.


Beavers in the city of Lyon

Last year I went to Lyon in central France and although I didn’t see the beavers that now live there I did see the trees felled and their distinctive tooth marks. The signs of beaver activity were in a park by the River Rhone about 3km from the very centre of Lyon. Beavers were hunted for their fur throughout Europe and became extinct in most of France. However in the lower reaches of the Rhone south of the Lyon they survived and have been recolonising the river northwards.

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Thoreau on Staten Island

I’ve done a lot of travelling this year and last month this included New York. Henry David Thoreau lived there for most of 1843, a year and a bit before he went to live in the cabin in the woods by Walden Pond that I wrote about in April. Naturally, I made time to retrace some of his steps and photograph one of the woods he probably knew.

Before we get on to my visit in August, I should explain the context. Thoreau’s mentor was Ralph Waldo Emerson, who had established himself in Thoreau’s native Concord in Massacheusetts, writing and giving popular public lectures in a world before television and film. The town of Concord had a good road to the city and port of Boston via Cambridge, the location of Harvard College. So Emerson and Thoreau were able to get around and enjoy a cosmopolitan environment, whilst living within sight of fields and woods.

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