Now that the busy season is over we think it’s time to introduce ourselves properly. If you’ve read our about us page then you’ll already know a little bit of our history, and why we’ve decided to dedicate our time to sustainable British charcoal. For those who are really interested then read on for more about our family, what we love and why.
I’m Luke, the (usually) bearded one who likes to do all the manly things like chopping wood, lighting fires and having barbecues. Often found in the barn tinkering with something, or dropping charcoal off to our brilliant local stockists in my beloved (and sometimes hated) Land Rover, if you ever see me out and about then come and say hello and I’ll probably force you to come and have a look at our charcoal retort and explain how we make our charcoal!
Many of you will probably have also met my wife Helen, the non bearded one (usually), who keeps everything running behind the scenes and also looks after the children whilst doing a bit of farm admin on the side.
If you’re anything like my wife then all you’ll really want to know about are the children. We have two beautiful girls. India, aged three and our youngest, Ava, is just six months old. They are already extremely helpful in their own ways. Indy is forever ‘just popping out to see Daddy’ and without getting child services involved, let’s just say she tries to copy everything Daddy does. Picking up those run-away logs and helping sweep the barn are the more helpful tasks she can perform, trying to drive the loader at every opportunity not so helpful. Ava provides the ahhh factor. Who can say no to such a tiny wee baby. Lastly there’s Heston, our overly friendly and energetic hound. He usually comes along to markets and shows so feel free to come over and give him an ear rub.
Although most people thought we were a little mad to quit full-time employment to start a small rural business, and have a baby at the same time, it’s actually worked out pretty well. One of the main reasons that we went down this path is so that we can all spend more time together, and put our efforts into something that we are all a part of. Breakfast with the family is not really something that you can do when working for a large farming company, and being able to spend time with the girls during the summer has been an eye opener into how important a good work-life balance really is.
Since our charcoal retort arrived at the beginning of April we have been busy. If you have read our how do we make charcoal page then you will know that before we can make charcoal we must season, saw and split our source material, raw cordwood. The majority of this timber was purchased from a local company called Cotswold Tree and Access who transported it to us from Kidlington in Oxfordshire. It was a dark, cold and wet February morning when our first load of timber arrived, and the site where we had planned to store it proved…tricky. Here in the North Wessex Downs we find ourselves with limited topsoil overlying chalk which, as the timber wagon found out that morning can be a slippery combination. Luckily the trailer didn’t quite jackknife and the timber could be unloaded whilst a new site was chosen for the further few loads.
The next arrival was our hydraulic wood splitter. Although the sawing and splitting process could have been made a lot easier with the purchase of a processor, which can load, saw and split a length of cordwood in one pass, we decided on a self powered splitter for a number of reasons. Firstly it allows us some freedom in the diameter of timber we use for our charcoal. Processors are often limited to just over a foot in diameter, of straight clean timber, whereas splitters will take just about anything you can throw at them! Secondly a processor requires either a tractor PTO, power pack or 3 phase electric for power, none of which were available to us. Lastly, our splitter is road towable, meaning that if we ever needed to split wood in another location due to access or transport reasons, we can tow it there easily. The Eastonmade 12-22 was our chosen machine. Canadian build quality and reliability combined with serious pushing power means that this splitter should always be ready to go and not a limiting factor on splitting day. More on this another day!
Before the retort arrived we had to do some infrastructure work. The site for the retort is effectively at the bottom of our garden, so a new access gate and hardcore pad had to be laid. Luckily this didn’t require the removal of any trees, other than pollarding a slightly overgrown goat willow. A week on a digger and day on a roller and we were ready for delivery. Our retort is manufactured by a company based in Birmingham, Pressvess Ltd, who fabricate pressure vessels and silos on a grand scale. Designed by Nick Harris from West Sussex and built to order, this is one of the few commercially available retorts in the world, and perfect for what we wanted to do.
One of the biggest challenges, as many small businesses will know, has been getting our name out there in the local area. Many days have been spent driving around the county with children in tow visiting shops and restaurants with samples of charcoal. We’ve been surprised by how many don’t realise that charcoal can be an environmentally damaging product, including those that publicise themselves as sustainable businesses. Markets and shows have been especially enjoyable days, and it’s been great getting to know some of you face to face.
Many thanks to all of our customers, suppliers and stockists for their support over the last six months, we’ve loved working with you. We are continuing to produce charcoal over the winter for those keen barbecuers, but in the mean time stay tuned for more blog posts.