We often strive for an orderly and well maintained garden, one which looks tidy with regular pruning, mowing of lawns and the weeding of garden beds. Aesthetically pleasing and satisfying this may be, the garden, however, becomes devoid of any mess and untidiness, and this in due course can have an adverse affect on the wildlife and beneficial insects.
The beneficial insects being those which create a natural ecological balance within the garden, attracting a range of prey and predators. These insects and mammals work in harmony and will reduce the unwanted pests which can attack the vegetable garden and shrubs alike. They will also lessen the need for any chemical applications. To entice these insects into the garden, a suitable, natural habitat is required, and the most appropriate is a dead wood habitat, essentially, a pile of logs or a wood stack.
Winter is an ideal time to procure the dead wood, either from gathering any fallen branches within the garden or by pruning the dead limbs and branches, particularly from deciduous trees and shrubs. Avoid collecting the wood from natural woodlands and hedgerows as this will be disrupting an existing habitat and the natural environment.
Alternatively, ask neighbours if they have any excess dead wood they are wanting rid of, I am sure it would be greatly appreciated.
The location of the wood pile within the garden is critical for a successful dead wood habitat, it should be away from direct sunlight and sited in a full shade area, or with dapple light. This environment will augment the wood decay and encourage fungi, mosses, lichens and insects.
To construct a log pile it is advisable to find logs with the bark still attached, the bottom layer of say four to five logs to be partially buried into the ground, the decaying wood beneath the soil’s surface attracts certain types of beetle. Ensure there are nooks and crannies for insects and mammals to enter and then add leaf litter into the gaps to encourage hedgehogs seeking hibernation. Another couple of log rows can be placed on top, the dark and damp conditions will lure centipedes, millipedes and woodlice which in turn attract the predators such as birds, toads and hedgehogs.
A wood stack is constructed with smaller branches and twigs and is just as beneficial as a log pile for wildlife. Firstly, it is recommended that branches/stakes are driven vertically into the ground, forming a rectangular shape and with approximately half metre remaining above ground.
Then start with laying the larger branches at the bottom and begin to fill the formed rectangular shape with the remaining branches and twigs until the desired height is reached.
A mixture of wood is good for both log pile and wood stack, however, poplar and willow cuttings can have a tendency to re-sprout if in prolonged contact with the ground. The wood will slowly decay over a duration of time and more can always be added, thus, a permanent home has now been created to encourage the beneficial insects and assist
towards a balanced ecological garden. If unsure how to dispose of the logs and wood cuttings, then why not transmute them into a dead wood habitat, as dead wood breeds life.
Having made the obligatory bookends back in the mid 70’s, my path to wood-working was set.
Wood is one of those materials that you do not need a huge number of tools to be able to create and craft something from, a simple pocketknife is where most people can start. whittling....... a pointy stick, a bow some arrows, a spoon, a candlestick for granny.... and here the seed is planted for life; great oaks from little acorns grow. I am not saying we will all become great furniture makers or timber building experts, but you can make a living out of it. Over the course of my varied career I have often relied on my wood working skills in between jobs! To physically build something with your own hands I believe is possibly one of the most satisfying things that you can do. Start small and work your way up.
Hard or soft, interior or exterior that is the question. Wood has been used over the centuries utilising its natural strength, durability, lightweight, and adaptability to build virtually anything! Different woods have different properties. I will confine my thoughts to the UK rather than the global list of timber. At the hard and durable end of the scale is the mighty Oak, usable both in its natural or ‘Green’ state for traditional timer framed houses or dried for furniture indoors or outdoors. Then there are the likes of Cedar and Larch both known for their natural durability especially outside, as in roof shingle/tiles and building cladding respectively. Then we move towards the softer woods, mainly used in modern house constriction, these can be slower grown such as the Scots Pine, or faster growing and softer Douglas Fir. All woods have their own unique properties such as Willow for cricket bats or Yew for longbows; they can be used in their natural form such as Hazel hurdles or kiln dried for fine quality furniture.
"To physically build something with your own hands I believe is possibly one of the most satisfying things that you can do. Start small and work your way up."
Whatever you decide to make there is always a tool for it, if correctly sharpened and used it can make your life much easier; but it is amazing what you can do with just a hand saw, a hammer and some nails! One of the most important things to remember is that wood working tools are sharp so that they can cut or slice through the tough fibres of the timber, what you do not want is the same cutting edge doing damage to flesh and bone. I have never met a woodworker who has not had too close an encounter with one of his tools and displays the scars with pride; but I do not
Now for the juicier bit… how and what to do with that wasted area in the garden that is on too steep a slope to be of any use, except as an Eddie the Eagle practice ski slope. Perhaps you need to extend your internal entertaining house space by taking the inside out! Building a Deck area either alongside your house or to create a special area within the garden does not have to be too daunting a task. In a nutshell, or perhaps I should say an Acorn? There are a few factors to take into consideration. For the sake of this blog I will assume that you have decided on a decking area rather than a stone patio. I will also take a more practical look at the process. Things to consider.
What material you want to use, there are several choices; dependent on budget, aesthetics, maintenance, and environmental impact… the choice is yours? Woods like Larch or Cedar that are more water resistant than say pressure treated sort woods. Hardwoods such as Teak or Oak are at the pricier end of the range but require less maintenance. Wood-polymer composite decking, made from recycled plastic and wood fibres, has come a long way in the last few years and in my opinion is a much better alternative to plastic (hollow) decking and has some qualities that start to compete with the softer wood options; both on longevity and upkeep. For a more contemporary feel there is Aluminium, generally made from recycled products. I have recently come across and worked with charred timber planks for decking. A technique originally used by the Japanese in the 18 th century referred to as “Shou Sugi Ban”. The surface of the timber is burnt to enhance its durability and aesthetics.
Whether it is a slopey side of a hill or an uneven bit of useless ground beside your home, setting your datum or starting point is essential. I like to call it “The Motherboard”, all boards are created equal, but some are more equal than others! If
you get this one right everything generally goes to plan, if not chaos will reign! This could simply be your desired finishing height or the height of an existing step or patio.
"I have recently come across and worked with charred timber planks for decking. A technique originally used by the Japanese in the 18 th century referred to as “Shou Sugi Ban”. The surface of the timber is burnt to enhance its durability and aesthetics."
You need to keep the decking planks up and away from potentially wet ground, therefore a solid and stable sub-structure is needed. You can either use concrete slabs or blocks or 100mm x 100mm posts concreted into the ground, this is my
preferred option as it ensures that what you build stays there! I would then normally recommend 50mm x 150mm pressure treated softwood or 6” x 2” for those of my age bracket (we don't discriminate); smaller timbers can be used if space and height is an issue but you will need to reduce your span distances accordingly. Then to nogging or not to nogging is the question? A nogging or a dwang if you are in Scotland or NZ, is a bracing piece of wood fitted between floor joists to prevent them from twisting under pressure; only really needed with larger structures and greater spans. I find the combination of upright posts and the decking boards themselves do for solid structure, another reason why I like to use posts. Then its just a case of laying out and fixing your boards; two screws in each board on every joist, with a 5mm gap between boards; a good little impact-driver savers a lot of time and your drill. Until next time.