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.
Preparing for planting
Early spring is the optimum time for planting willows. First, the ground should 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. Setts are cut into length in preparation 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 setts 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 willows are regularly checked and weeded.
Willows are cut during their dormant season, from November onwards. Some of our beds are still cut by hand using a hook but the majority now are machine cut. After cutting, the bundles are hauled home by tractor for processing. They are stacked to dry naturally outside before storing in the sheds.
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.
To produce buff, sorted wads of willow are placed in the boiler. The willow needs approx 8 hours boiling. Steamed willow requires only a few hours. Brown willow does not go through this process at all.
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 or pulled through a brake by hand. Steamed willow misses this process and keeps its bark, it is then 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.
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.
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 inch in circumference. Each bundle is carefully tied. The bundles are then ready for dispatch.
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