More wind and rain and the promise of snow, which never came. I am still chopping up trees in between ferrying my employer around who is recovering from a hernia operation, finally taking her to the airport in midweek, as she was off to stay with her son and his family in New York.
High Winds in the week bought down a huge Golden Willow. This time the tree fell on dry land, it had been dead for around six months, killed by honey fungus, and shattering into a million pieces as it hit the ground. Two other huge Golden Willows have succumbed to the dreaded Honey Fungus in the last ten years, along with a few ornamental trees in the garden. Some trees seem to be particularly susceptible to it while others are completed unaffected by it. Within yards of the Golden Willows that have fallen to Honey Fungus are several mature Horse Chestnuts, an ancient Mulberry, several willows, one of which I’m told is an Aspen, all sorts of fruit trees and a very colourful Amber. None of which show any signs of catching the fearsome fungus. The sickest of the lot being the ornamental Cherries although many cherry trees in our area have had a hard time of it of late and are not in what one would call “tip top” condition.
As each giant Golden Willow succumbed to the fungus the die-back in the crown of the tree became a larder for all sorts of bugs and beetles, these in turn attracted all sorts of birds. Squawking green woodpeckers appeared from nowhere to bang away at the branches, along with red and black lesser-spotted woodpecker. For several days we were convinced that we could hear someone banging away with a hammer, the intermittent banging lasted several days and led us to believe that some huge project in wood was under construction in the village that would be held together by ten tons of nails. It was in fact a confused Nuthatch, who had convinced himself that a bird box attached to one of these Golden Willows was fall of bugs, he had climbed inside and was banging away at the inside, the noise amplified for him doing it inside the box.
We have also taken delivery this week of thirty willow sets that are to be used for producing cricket bats. The ground in the river valley is perfect for willow tree growth. A representative of the company came to see us in the summer and pointed out the best spots to site the trees and instruct us on how best to care for them. The sets themselves are fifteen-foot long stakes. A hole is created in the ground with an iron bar, a plastic deer guard fitted around the set; the set is then pushed into the ground. The whole cycle from set to bat can take between ten and twenty years, depending upon the rate of growth. Each year the trunk must be kept clear of side shoots, if left to develop these will cause knots in the finished wood, which will impair the performance of the finished bat. The sets are planted with around twenty feet of clear ground around each one. This ensures that the trunk will grow as straight as possible. On harvesting in ten to twenty years time we will receive a fee depending upon the quality of the willow. The Willow is graded for quality, the straighter the grain and the fewer knots the better. The trunks are cut into 28-inch lengths, each length or cleft is then cut into rough bat shaped pieces and initial grading of quality is made, the ends are waxed and left to “air dry”. A grade 1 blade will have at least four grains visible, with the playing face free of knots and blemishes.
It is a fairly long period to get a return on your initial investment, and I think my playing days will be well over before they are finally turned into bats, but it highlights the forward planning that has to be made for the production of something as simple as a cricket bat. English Willow is the finest material for the production of cricket bats and it is exported to bat manufacturers around the world, Kookaburra, Malik, MRF, Gray Niccols, Woodworm, all use the finest English Willow. Willow from other areas such as Kashmir being entirely different due to the different growing conditions.We finished the week off with a final shot at the ducks, three adults and three boys shot three ducks. We didn’t see many, there being so much water lying on the water meadows, that the ducks are spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting a place to stay the night. Those that we did see were flying in pairs, and not in large groups as they do earlier in the season. A sure sign that there minds are turning to breeding. Which is the main reason for the close season and a sure sign that it is time to put the guns away.