Mild winter has hit wood fuel sales but holly crop is on fire
The unusually mild start to winter is not doing our wood fuel business much good. Christmas is fast approaching and, by this month, we expected to be flat out making deliveries. The contrast between now and the same time last year, when heavy snowfalls left people fearful of being marooned without fuel, is remarkable.
The lack of frost is affecting all home heating businesses, but I cannot complain as the extra time available is welcome in order to get some further thinning work done.
With the ash woods now in their 17th year, an added bonus this time is the sale of better sized hurley butts. A surprising number of the trees I have marked for removal have achieved a diameter at breast height of 20-25cm. This is substantially better than the second time I thinned and sold butts, which then averaged only 16cm.
While many would say that I should be removing a greater number of trees less often, I justify this more intensive regime by doing most of the work myself. I also believe that, by removing a little and often, I am maximising the growth potential of the woods and harvesting a greater tonnage of fuel overall.
Where two of the remaining potential final crop specimens are growing close to each other, it is now necessary to remove one. Having spent so many years thinning out the crooked and poorly performing trees, I now find it hard to consign top quality individuals to the wood pile, but it has to be done for the long-term good of the trees. Following marking, Enniscorthy-based hurley maker John Jordan has selected a number of these that are suitable for his own use, and the income from selling these butts will help towards the overall thinning costs.
Another crop that is bringing in some cash is holly. Many people were sceptical when I originally planted hundreds of holly saplings around the edges of the woods. However, not only have they grown rapidly and provide an extra wildlife habitat, but they are also producing a good supply of stems for making into wreaths and other Christmas decorations.
The berries on the holly this winter are astonishing -- many bushes are simply laden with them. Everything seemed to grow in abundance this year, even the apple crop was outstanding. I have never before seen so much berried holly and even the more exotic varieties such as Golden King and JC Van Toll are all covered in clusters of red berries and are ideal for sale.
The extended mild spell must also be helping keep the birds away for now, but I know that the frosty nights forecast will have the blackbirds, fieldfares and thrushes flocking in and feasting on them before long.