On Saturday, I caught up with sorting the willow I've harvested so far while listening to a pirate adventure audio book. It's handy to have a big pile of willow handy when your imagination carries you into a tale that includes sword fights. And the fragrance of fresh willow has completely masked the stink of Asian lady beetles in my studio.
For most willow basketry, you want the straight, slender, branchless growth from one year. I sort the willow into three buckets: Tall stuff goes in one tall five-gallon bucket. The shorter willow (18-24 inches) I save for coiling goes in the shorter bucket. The third bucket is for dead and branchy junk and other stuff that will go on the brush pile out back.
When a sorting bucket is full, I grade the willow by size. To grade, you grab the tips of the tallest willow in the bucket and pull straight up, leaving the shorter willow behind in the bucket. Willows of similar length tend to also be similar in diameter. For the tallest willow, it helps to stand on a stool for grading, or stand on a raised deck with the bucket on the ground.
I bundle the graded willow by tying it with recycled fabric selvedges and strips.
My three newest beds (planted in 2003) are clean, productive, and easy to cut and sort -- as long as the willow is harvested every year. Last year I ran out of time and left two rows uncut. That willow is branchy, and it really shows the stress of our continued drought. For now, I've bundled that willow to use in some trellises. I'll wrap it in an old blanket and throw it on the cold concrete floor in an unheated part of Bill's shop to keep it fresh and pliable until I can get around to using it.
Most of the willow I plan to dry for future use. When it's all been sorted and bundled, I'll stand it upright in boxes and enforce a no-boy-dogs-in-the-studio policy. As the willow dries, it will shrink in diameter and the ties will loosen. Before storing or transporting the willow, I'll need to retie it. I'll have to rebundle any I plan to sell anyway when I weigh it.
In my next post, I'll tell you how I use some of the branchy stuff to prepare elements for figurative trellises and other garden art.