Woodburner ash – don’t waste it – use it to grow cauliflowers that will be the envy of Mr Sainsbury.

This is a bit of a woodburner ‘confidential’ – it’s rather like camper vans in that if you have one it is all consuming, obsessive and yet totally boring for everyone else! Thus it is with woodburners. How I adore ours. It’s a bit like having a blast furnace in the sitting room – it is so very industrial revolution. Open up the air turn wheel and whoosh, I could be smelting iron! Visiting aficionados sigh and say ‘Oh, it’s a Clearview’. We discuss how many Kilowatts – the conversations are totally predictable.

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The ash tray

Anyway, the least glamorous bit about having a woodburner is clearing out the ash tray. Cinders does it, and at first I took it outside the front door where the wind blew it straight into my face. Now I carefully parcel up the ashes in newspaper (when cold – do not do this with hot ash!). The tipping technique is to slide it out inside a newspaper fold so that the ash does not escape and use the rolling technique as seen in the fish and chip shop. First wrap it up in one sheet and then another. Don’t forget to keep buying newpapers –  it doesn’t matter if you read them or not.

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The tipping out technique

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The parcel rolling technique

Now it’s ready for the garden and onto something that’s going to feed me with flowers. Wood ash is rich in potassium (potash), which stimulates flowering and fruiting. But it is a very soluble mineral and gets washed away fast. So I am thinking that my parcels of potash which I place round the base of cauliflowers are slow release. In time the damp newspaper will deliver potash to the cauliflowers, purple sprouting broccoli, the wok broc, the nine star perennial broccoli and so on. And a teeny bit of mulching with newspaper gets  thrown in too.

No mess, no fuss ash disposal, that puts the potash right where you want it.

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Parcels of wood ash around the cauliflowers

Another option is to stick the ash parcels straight in the compost bin, where much of it will get locked up by the living micro-organisms and find its way eventually to feeding your edible flowers via your wonderful compost.

Eat more ash I say.



THE LONGEST AUTUMN – shining on into the darkening winter. Leaves still bright on the sparkling branches.  Kick-along golden carpets for walkers in wellies. Bright berries of rose hip and hawthorns bedecking the hedgerows. I really can’t remember an autumn as long as this one is, sliding into December so beautifully.

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The little green lane at the bottom of our  field

Walking out today I grabbed stuff from the hedgerows to make autumn wreaths. Collect thin branches of dog wood, willow, sliver birch, and old man’s beard vines, rosehips, holly, cotoneaster and fallen leaves.

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Ingredients for a rustic wreath collected from the hedgerows

The birds are starting their raid on the holly berries. Picking my holly now and storing the branches in a shed preserves them with berries for Christmas.

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Pick holly  now for Christmas decorations

Wreaths are made just by twisting branches round into a circle and binding more on to build up a firm ring. The first twists are the hardest, because everything seems too short and springy. But persevere and don’t worry about it being mis-shapen at this stage. As you build the layers twisting more branches round, mould the wreath into an even ring and as you continue binding it will become fixed. Turn the ring over and make your twisting go in the other direction. Join in new pieces just by tucking them into the circle at an angle between other twigs. Bits sticking out add to the overall rustic look, so don’t worry about being neat! Long ivy trails are very easy to use and wrap up well.

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Getting started – the first twists

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Holly – cut the leaves off little sprigs so the berries show before pushing into finished wreath

When the twiggy part is build up to be bulky enough them you can add decorative sprays of berries and leaves. Loosely wrap old man’s beard around the outside of the wreath.

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Autumn celebration wreath

Dress the wreath up more with raffia bows. Making a raffia loop is a good idea for hanging it up.

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In Stroud the crew from the Transition Stroud Open Gardens and Homes team are demonstrating how to make these hedgerow wreaths this Saturday December 7th 10.00 am –2.00 pm at the Winterfest – Stroud Ale House, 9 John Street. See you there!