Pete and I were lucky enough to visit Ben Law’s Prickly Nut Wood on Saturday. Prickly Nut Wood is mainly sweet chestnut coppice. About 50 acres are currently managed, but there is more that needs to be brought back under management after years of neglect. Some of the trees here have been coppiced for more than 300 years, and are still going strong.
October is a hazardous time to visit – the sweet chestnuts in their very prickly cases are busy falling from the trees. The chestnuts are edible, and most years are harvested and sold to local restaurants and residents. They’re not as large as the French marrons, but some of them are pretty big – the main difference is that there’s usually 3 nuts in the case, rather than just one.
Ben explained many of the products he makes from the woodland, including building poles, fencing and shingles (or shakes) for roofing.
Waste wood is transformed into charcoal in a kiln, and sold locally. These ‘fines’ are too small for BBQs and are used as a soil amendment in Ben’s garden. They help to lock carbon into the soil and act as carbon sinks.
One food crop from the woodland is mushrooms. Many grow wild, but Ben also cultivates shiitake and tree oyster mushrooms in inoculated logs. The woodland is the ideal environment for them – damp and shady – and Ben can crop shiitake mushrooms for much of the year. He shocks his logs into fruiting by throwing them into the pond!
This is Pete standing in the outdoor kitchen, where we were greeted by a kettle boiling on an open fire. That high shelf is where Ben slept for a year or so before he built his house. And that fallen tree through the middle is still alive and growing.
And this is Ben’s self-built wooden house, as featured on Grand Designs. It is truly beautiful. I didn’t take any photos inside because it was quite crowded, even though the tour group split into two, but everything is handmade by Ben and really lovely.
Souvenirs from Prickly Nut Woods
Ben has written three books about his life in Prickly Nut Woods – The Woodland Way (A Permaculture Approach to Sustainable Woodland Management), The Woodland House and the full-colour and very beautiful Woodland Year, all published by Permanent Publications.