Growing my own willow
The traditional willow growing area of the Somerset levels is not far from Devon,
but I have chosen to plant a large collection of willow varieties that are not grown there.
This affords a different selection of coloured barks and other qualities: stout, branchy
and so on. I don’t strip the bark for white or boil and strip them for buff as in Somerset,
but like to use them with bark on. Harvesting the crop takes a good proportion of my year.
Between January and April the plants (stools) are cut to the ground.
Each rod is one year’s growth but varieties vary in height and diameter.
After bundling they stand out in rain and wind in order to let them begin to loose
their sap and during this time I grade them by height and re-bundle them.
Before they dry completely I store them in a well-ventilated barn and they continue to dry out.
To prepare the selected rods for use and make them pliable for weaving
they need to be soaked in a tank of water, a very general guide is to soak them for
a day per foot in length. Tougher varieties may up to three times as long and in icy
winter water they hardly move at all. They must then be ‘mellowed’ by wrapping
them in a damp cloth at least overnight and kept damp while working.
Simple tools – a knife, bodkin, secateurs and rapping iron are sufficient for a start,
a good working height and posture is important to save your back.