As you might imagine I get asked a lot of questions about hedges so I’ve written a little ariticle to answer some of the most common. Also, we have our Midwinter Celebration coming up, and Nick Read is inviting us to stir and spray the Cowhorn Manure Preparation on his land near Berry Pomeroy Castle.

1. Midwinter Celebration

2. Nick’s Stirring

3. Hedgelaying FAQ’s

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1. Midwinter Celebration

This year it will be held on Saturday, 17th of December. We’ll be lighting lanterns and hanging them in the Walnut Tree. We’ll be serving hot drinks and cakes, and there’ll be a roaring fire to keep us all warm. Please come and join us between 3pm and 5pm, bring a lantern if you can, warm clothes and maybe some nibbles. Please share transport where possible.

2. Nick’s Stirring

If you haven’t had a chance to visit Nick yet in his delightful little field near Berry Pomeroy, now’s your chance. Nick has asked us to come and apply the Cowhorn Manure to his land at Oakleigh Dell so please come along if you can! The date is the 3rd of December, the time will be 2.30pm prompt start so please arrive in plenty of time. Please bring wellies, a bucket, and a dustpan style brush if you can. Contact Nick for directions: 07852 515399.

3. Hedgelaying FAQ’s

As the leaves comes floating down, and we wake to frosty grass in the mornings, it’s time to turn some attention to our hedges. In Devon we are blessed with many many miles of ancient hedgerow which are incredibly valuable for wildlife. They also have the potential, if managed properly, to yield large quantities of firewood and create an effective stock proof barrier without the need for barbed wire. Here at Velwell Orchard we use every last scrap of wood for woodburner, pizza oven, beanpoles, pea sticks and small wood for the storm kettle.

For those of you who don’t know much about hedges, here are some answers to common questions you might have.

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Willow, hazel and holly in a hedge

Q: What is a hedge?

A: A hedge is in essence a narrow strip of woodland used as a boundary. It will contain many of the plants and animals found commonly in woodland environments. Traditionally hedges were harvested for firewood and used as living fences to enclose fields.

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Laying a sycamore hedge on a Devon bank

Q: What is hedge laying?

A: Hedge laying is the process by which hedges are periodically managed to ensure that they remain stockproof. Much of the shrubby growth is coppiced (cut down to ground level) and the rest is laid. Stems are partially severed using an axe, billhook or saw and bent over to form a barrier. In the spring the hedge will then regrow from where it was cut, as well as from the laid stems thus forming a thick living fence.

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A newly laid Midland-style hedge

Q. What are the different kinds of hedge laying?

A. Every region has it’s own style of hedge laying. In Devon the hedge is laid on a bank and forms a low, dense barrier along the top. In other areas stakes are used, sometimes with binders, to give a more upright fence type construction.

Q: Why is hedge laying important?

A. Traditionally the function of a hedge was to provide a fence as well as a harvest but these days hedges are increasingly being valued for the habitat they provide to a huge variety of plants and animals. Many of Devon’s hedges are remnant ancient woodland and have been laid regularly for hundreds of years. When hedges are flailed every year all the flowers and fruit are removed  whereas when hedges are left to grow between being laid they provide masses of food for insects, birds and small mammals.

Q: How often should one lay a hedge?

The answer to this is really “when it needs doing”. It will depend on the growth rate of the hedge which in turn is dependent on many factors. Ideally the hedge is laid every 5 to 15 years.

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A hedge that has been left for around 50 years with large gaps underneath

Q. What can be done with hedges that have been left too long?

Many hedges are now in a state of neglect, either having been flailed for many years, or just left to grow. In both cases the hedge can often be restored. Last year we laid one that hadn’t been done in around 50 years. Click here to read more about it and the massive harvest we got from it. If the hedge has been intensively flailed it is best to leave it to grow for around 5 years before laying.

Q: How much does it cost?

A common misconception is that hedge laying is expensive. However, I have heard that flailing hedges, which is the common practice among farmers, works out costing around £1 per metre per year when one factors in all of the costs of the machinery, the fuel and the labour for the tractor driver. On the other hand hedgelaying costs around £10 per metre. If the hedge is well maintained and laid every 10 years, then the cost is the same per year.

If I haven’t answered your question above feel free to ask it in the comments section below.