Willow processes & information

27 October 2021

Your willow will have been handled 20 times or more before it reaches you. It is a very labour intensive crop, but we enjoy what we do! It takes a great deal of time, effort and skill to produce willow of the highest quality. Some of these willow facts might surprise you.

Willow facts – Preparing for planting

Early spring is the optimum time for planting willow. First, the ground needs to be prepared, (on a large scale it’s not practical to put down matting) so we plough our ground to eliminate grass and weeds and to loosen the topsoil. Willow rods are cut in preparation for planting.

Willow information
Preparing one of our fields for planting

Planting used to be done by hand here. Recently, we have invested (and adapted) specialist machinery to make the process quicker, easier and far less backbreaking!

A few weeks later

The newly planted cuttings begin to shoot. During the weeks after planting, the ground should be weeded and watered to allow the setts to establish. A new willow bed can take up to 3 years to fully establish and produce a quality crop of rods. During the growing months the willow is regularly checked and weeded.

Willow cutting growing
Willow starting to grow

Willow information – Cutting

Willow is cut during its dormant season. This is from November onwards. Gone are the days of cutting willow by hand. Now, specialist machinery makes the task much quicker. After cutting, the bundles are hauled home by tractor for processing. They are stacked to dry naturally outside before being stored in large warehouses.

willow drying
Willow drying

Sorting & grading willow

The age-old tradition of grading the rods by their length into foot sizes is still undertaken today. Bundles of willow taken straight from the fields are placed into a barrel and pulled out by hand to separate them into the different sizes. Willow is measured in feet. A bundle of 6ft rods may contain a variety of lengths between 5ft and 6ft long.

Hand-sorting willow
Sorting and grading willow on our farm

Willow facts – Boiling willow

To produce buff, sorted wads of willow are placed in the boiler. The willow needs to be boiled for around 8 hours. Steamed willow requires only a few hours. Brown willow does not go through this process at all.

Loading a boiler
Mike and Jack Musgrove loading our boiler with willow

Stripping willow

To produce the characteristic smooth, pine coloured rod that is known as buff willow, the bark has to be removed after the boiling process. To achieve this, the boiled willow rods are placed into a machine. This is another task that used to be done by hand with the aid of a metal brake.

With steamed willow the bark is kept on and it is dried outside. White willow is stripped of its bark when in full leaf to produce the stark white rod. It has to be stripped, dried and stored within just a few hours. These processes are hard physical work.

Willow facts – Drying & tying

This process is vitally important to stop the rods from going mouldy. After the bark has been removed, the rods need to be dried before they can be tied into bundles.

Willow drying
Willow drying

The dried rods are placed into a tying-machine to achieve the uniform size that is a Traditional Somerset Bundle. The dimensions are 1 foot in diameter and 3 foot 1-2 inches in circumference. Each bundle is carefully tied. The bundles are then ready for dispatch.

bundles of willow
Bundles of willow ready for despatch
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