Compostlover article for Garden News – Timber Treatment and sustainable charcoal

I’ve been fencing off the garden plot with various styles to experiment with different techniques and get a feel for what it takes to fence off a plot of land properly. Thankfully I don’t have to worry about rabbits, foxes, deer or badgers so I’m just concentrating on keeping the sheep out. The next few blogs are all about making gates and fences – starting with this article I wrote for Garden News about my experiences trying to get totally green timber, which turned out to be slightly tortuous.

fence and gate

Garden News article – Timber Treatment
Un, dau, tri, pedwar, pump: sometimes knowing one to five in Welsh just doesn’t cut the mustard. Especially when you’re standing in a rain soaked wood negotiating a price for chestnut fencing posts and railings with a father and son sales team that fall back on their native tongue when negotiations reach a critical point. I’m lost in a flurry of constanants. It’s like a bad day on Countdown.

Buying the greenest possible fence – locally grown unseasoned chestnut cut from coppice (which lasts longer untreated in the ground than any other British wood) – has got me – if you can excuse the pun – stumped.

It should be possible to pop down to the nearest retail park and pick up local woodland products just as you can go to the supermarket to buy organic fruit and veg. The stick to go with the carrot: so to speak. But Focus obviously don’t Do it All and until they and other shops like them do there’s always going to be a sense of adventure about buying truly green wood.

So why do it? Well the answer for me, apart from supporting my local economy, is timber treatment. Its nigh on impossible to get untreated wood for fencing at a conventional shop and wood preservative used to stop rot contains fungicides, herbicides and pesticides, which seem to me the least organic addition to a garden I could imagine.

It’s also much harder to dispose of treated wood at the end of its life because the treatments are often quite toxic. Pre 2004 the most common garden wood treatment was Chromated Copper Arsenate (CCA), a compound of Arsenic and Copper. Arsenic is one of the most dangerous substances known to man and has been banned for many years as a pesticide but is still used in timber treatment. In 2004 a European directive prohibited its use in gardens, presumably because it is highly toxic when burnt on a bonfire. In preference it should be disposed of in a lined landfill site to stop the poisons seeping into the ground. If you have old treated wood lying around take it to a designated recycling unit and place it in the timber section of the yard.

Never burn it. The rain can soak through the ash and take some of the poisons into your garden soil. Even the use of treated timber in raised beds has been questioned by some people because scientific studies have shown that higher than normal levels of arsenic can be detected in the soil a few inches from the boards.

The benefit of treatment is that it allows us to use cheap fast growing but quick to rot softwoods instead of longer lasting slower growing and more expensive hardwoods such as oak and chestnut. Modern economics sometimes makes poisons cheap and natural risk free materials more expensive. Go figure!

Thankfully the newer preservatives, if not perfect, are considered to be far less dangerous. They are still made using energy intensive industrial processes though and have to be dealt with at the end of their useful life. Untreated wood on the other hand carries no risk at all, no waste, nor any extra hidden environmental problems. When its useful life is over it can be left to rot in the corner of your garden providing a home for beneficial organisms and allowing the fertility to go back into the soil. It is quite simply compost waiting to happen. And to that I say Diolch yn fawr iawn. Or as they say over the border thank you very much.

temporary shade

I used more beanpoles to provide the frame for this temporary shade provider. I pack it up at the end of each day and take it back inside. The deckchair I found at the local junk yard. The previous owner said it was dangerous to sit in but a year on I’m still waiting to fall flat on my…

Eco-tip
There is one UK grown coppiced product you will find in many garden centres and DIY stores – barbecue charcoal. It’s much better for the environment than all other charcoal because it is made from wood grown in our own coppiced woodlands and not – as many others are – from rainforest, other old growth forests or plantations. You have to look closely at the label to get the good home produced stuff. Check out regional variations such as the Dorset Charcoal Company and the nationally available Bio-Regional Development Group charcoal. If you’re looking for a local supplier of untreated wood for garden projects try your yellow pages for timber mills, woodlands, the Forestry Commission or even stately homes with large gardens and estates. For coppiced products check out www.coppice-products.co.uk/Directory www.ecolots.co.uk, www.woodlots.co.uk and the Association of Pole Lathe Turners (www.bodgers.org.uk); or regional bodies such as the Welsh Timber Forum. For more info on treated wood try www.ecologycenter.org/factsheets/pressure-treated_wood.html.

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2 Comments

Filed under Garden News articles

2 responses to “Compostlover article for Garden News – Timber Treatment and sustainable charcoal

  1. Very interesting, glad some one else is spreading the word about traditional fencing materials.
    I specialise in chestnut fencing in Herefordshire if you ever need some and are in the area look me up or I can send you a price list.

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