GARDEN TIPS - 09/11/18
No. You haven’t tuned in to the wrong channel. Do not adjust you set. If you want to go straight to this week’s garden tips and advice, just scroll down to the end of this short piece on wood burning stoves. We’re just going to spend a couple of minutes on this because we do get asked for advice quite often by customers new to wood burners and, frankly, couldn’t think where else to write about it!
Apart from making sure that your stove is clean and maintained regularly, there are a few other things to consider. Hopefully what follows will help you get the best out of your wood burner for many years to come.
LOGS LOGS LOGS
The wood that you burn should always be seasoned. That is, stored somewhere after felling to let it dry out enough to burn efficiently. Fresh-cut timber is typically up to 60% moisture, so burning it straight away would just make a lot of steam and comparatively little heat. We tested our seasoned logs this morning - they were between 14% and 25% moisture.
Kiln-dried logs are ideal for wood burners. They should always be less than 20% moisture in order to call themselves that. That said, a lot of retailers store them outside. If it rains, their water content will rise again and their efficiency advantage over seasoned wood will be lost, so choose your source carefully. This morning ours were at 11%.
Different woods burn in different ways. Hardwoods are well established as the best source of heat for any wood burning stove. They have a dense structure when properly seasoned and burn for much longer than the looser structure of soft woods like Pine and Spruce. Oak and Elm are great hardwoods, but can be difficult to burn because their density can be a little too high. Some of the best include Ash, Beech and Birch. First-time wood burner owners do sometimes try to burn Pine because it’s cheap (or even free, from a neighbour’s garden). However, it should absolutely be avoided - it builds up harmful deposits within the flue pipe which, over time, have been known to catch fire.
Olive wood is another great option. Sustainably sourced, it is a dense hard wood with low moisture content (ours are around 11%). It burns long and low and is seriously efficient. It can be difficult to light from the get-go, so we recommend you start adding Olive once your fire is already burning well using a few pieces of other types of wood.
Log Size and Surface Area
The size of your logs is another thing to consider. Wood is almost always split, to increase its surface area. A full log will usually burn, but not efficiently. The outside structure of the log locks in the wood, making it difficult for the fire to penetrate. Split logs maximise surface area so that it’s large enough to burn for a long time, while still allowing the fire to penetrate sufficiently.
So, what’s the best way to light your wood burner? Try the following approach and you won’t go far wrong.
You will need:
Three larger logs - preferably two of them about the same size with a right angle in one corner.
A couple of firelighters and/or 2-3 sheets of newspaper, loosely twisted lengthways, then folded over into a “V” shape.
Around 8-10 pieces of kindling - split iso they’re about 3-5cm across.
Clean out your ash pan and any leftover burnt wood (trying to re-light this will create excess creosote - we don’t want that in the atmosphere). Ensure that all air vents in the stove are fully open. Place the two similar sized logs in the grate, around 7cm apart, so that there is an air ‘channel’ (gap) between them.
Put your loosely twisted pieces of newspaper into the channel. If you’re using firelighters, place these on top of the paper. Place your kindling across the channel between the logs, making little ‘bridges’ between them. There should be small gaps between each piece of kindling to allow air to flow freely between them.
Place your third log lengthways on top of your kindling, so it sits above the channel.
Before setting light to your fire, there are a couple more things to consider. Modern houses can be incredibly well insulated, so it may be that your stove won’t get enough flow of air into it to let the fire get going. Also, some chimneys take more time to create good draught than others. The result in either case will be that your firebox will fill with smoke, have nowhere to go and may well start pouring out of the inlet valve into your room. Not pleasant. To avoid this, make sure you open a window or door a little - just for the first 2-3 minutes after lighting. We have also heard of people experiencing similar problems if they try to light their stove while the cooker extractor fan is switched on. The extractor is sucking air away from the stove, causing the fire lighting to fail.
Once you’ve done this, light the paper at the back and front of the channel between the logs. Let the flames start to increase for just a few seconds, then close the door.
As the wood gradually catches fire, the amount of smoke gases emitting from the wood will also increase. DeFRA approved wood burners are are sophisticated bits of equipment, designed to be highly efficient and clean burning. This means that the combustion chamber is designed to burn flue gases before they enter the flue pipe, so reducing polluting emissions significantly.
When the chimney heats up, you will see that the draught increases, making the fire burn more vigorously. After just a few minutes you should close down the valve/regulator to to the point where you have your fire ticking over nicely with just a little consistent flame. Add additional logs occasionally to maintain a consistent temperature and look to the fire, the way you like it.
When you do add logs, it’s a good idea to open the door just a little bit for a few seconds, before opening it fully. That way, the draught in the chimney will ensure that the flue gases are removed from the combustion chamber, so smoke won’t flow out of the open door into the room.
NOW BACK TO THE GARDEN
Apples and Pears: Winter Pruning
Apple and pear trees are best pruned every winter to ensure a good cycle of fruiting wood. Trees that don’t get pruned become less productive and congested with old branches. The aim is to create an open shape, that lets plenty of air and light through it, with a framework of four or five main branches. Now’s a good time do this, so here are a few tips on what needs to be done.
1) Always use sharp secateurs, loppers and a pruning saw; blunt tools leads to strains and tatty pruning cuts.
2) Start by removing crossing, rubbing, weak, dead, diseased, damaged and dying branches.
3) Shorten the previous year’s growth on each main branch (called a ‘primary’) by about one third - cut back to a bud facing in the direction you want the new growth to grow in. This will encourage the development of new branches and spurs and is where you get to dictate the shape of the tree, so look carefully at the direction the buds are pointing in.
4) Try to leave new young side-shoots off the main branch (‘laterals’) unpruned so they get to develop fruit buds in their second year. If they’re crossing over other branches or otherwise getting in the way, or if there are a few growing out of the main branch very close together 10-15cm apart) then take them off.
5) Remove new shoots (more than about 15cm (6in) long) growing towards the centre of the tree - if you leave them, they’ll just start to block the all-important air and light we just mentioned.
6) On older trees, remove or thin out any spurs that have got congested. Where thinning is required (because there are just too many growing in close proximity), take out spurs on the underside of the branches first. Any fruit developing under there won’t get enough light, so it won’t be as good as it might be.
(‘Nerd Fact Alert’!) Apple and pear trees fruit in three ways. Most are called ‘spur bearing’. These are trees that yield fruit on three year old wood - on the spurs growing off the main branches. In the second year, as the tip of each shoot extends to produce that season’s vegetative growth, buds towards its base develop into fruit buds. In the third year these buds will produce flowers which will go on to form fruit.
The next category is ‘Tip-bearing’. These are relatively rare. As the name suggests, fruit buds form on the tips of shoots. When these shoots extend to produce the following year’s growth, the buds at the tip of the previous year’s growth develop into fruit buds. The buds at the base of the new season’s growth remain dormant or form leaves. It’s really important when pruning tip bearers not to prune off next season’s crop! The previous year’s young shoots – maiden shoots – should also be left to bear fruit the following year.
Finally there is ‘Partial Tip’. Bramley’s Seedling, Discovery, ‘Lord Lambourne’, ’Blenheim Orange’ and ‘Worcester Pearmain’ all fall into this category. Partial tip-bearers can be pruned in the same way as spur-bearers, but this reduces the total yield. (‘Nerd Fact Alert’ over).
7) If your apple tree is a ‘tip’ or ‘partial tip’ bearer, cut back a proportion of older fruited branches to a strong younger shoot positioned nearer the main trunk or higher up the branch. This will reduce congestion and prevent branches becoming too long
If Your Tree Has Not Been Pruned For a Few Years
8) Open up the middle of the tree by removing larger branches back at the point where they left the trunk of the tree with a sharp pruning saw. If several large branches need to be removed, spread the work over two or three winters because really hard pruning encourages even more vigorous regrowth - a bit like cutting hair!
9) Reduce the height and spread of any branches that have grown too large by cutting them back to a vigorous outward and upward facing lower side branch.
Pruning can be a bit daunting - there are seemingly so many things to remember and know about the type and age of the tree. That said, do bear in mind that the main things a tree needs, in terms of structure at least, are light and air. If you get it wrong, you’ll only get it wrong for a season. It has often been said that “There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments”.
There’s a wealth of information out there on this, so if you can identify your fruit variety, just search for ‘care advice’ for that variety and learn about that one specifically - you don’t need to know all there is to know just to keep your garden fruiting nicely.
If we can help with anything, feel free to get in touch.
Have a great week.
The Lancasters Team.