Monday, 25 January 2010

I hope everyone is well and building themselves up to selling and buying a lot of plants this coming Spring. Hopefully the worst of the weather is behind us now and both the plants and I will start to look happier as the spring sap rises. I reckon that we have now got used to a bit of colder weather as we have geared ourselves up to cope. I certainly am having trouble giving up my second pair of trousers I started wearing during the snow, it’s just so cosy and does confirm, that comfort scores much higher than fashion now(oh no I’m doomed).

We’ve had a very hectic week whizzing about doing orders and setting things up for the spring rush. We have 2 more qualified forklift drivers after they finished their training and passed their tests this week and the eco activity went off the scale (see below)!

Can’t really get through another newsletter without mentioning the terrible trouble in Haiti, the scale of such an event is impossible to imagine. I just think back a week or two, to the fuss made over a bit of cold and snow and the difficulties in travel, water supply and the odd power cut. It does make you grateful that most of our problems and worries are relatively minor to those being experienced over there, but also highlights how easily the whole thing can suddenly change.
Make the most of today, the sun is out here!

I was reminded while watching the news of a very lovely lady, Annie, we know in St Ives who runs an amazing shoe shop. The shoes, made by Jan Jansen, are only sold through 4 or 5 outlets around the world and are a bit mad. Sadly after many years the exchange rate, over the last 18 months, has scuppered the business and she has spent this year selling off the accumulated stock of the past seasons. Although very sad about the shops demise, she was still so bubbly and positive I asked her what her secret was. Rather surprisingly it was that every morning when she watched the news she would have a good cry, which set her up for the day because she recognised how luck she actually was. Mind you she is as mad as the shoes.
Do you feel better now? How about buying some plants!

Eco Update

Big, big week this week, as we went public with our plans for erecting 3 ‘small’ wind turbines on the hill above the nursery. We haven’t actually put in a planning application yet, this is a pre-planning notification exercise to get some of the anticipated questions and excitement sorted out and hopefully some support mustered. We notified the 3 local parish councils and delivered (by bike!) over 400 ‘Dear Neighbour’ letters. I got invited to introduce ourselves and the idea to one council meeting on Thursday, which went ok and we have received some feedback directly already.

Perhaps surprisingly the feedback has all been very positive so far, although it is early days, but best of all, those positive responses have been from our closest neighbours, big and small (by big I mean organisationally (local college), not physically!). I do suspect that any protests will be made via the councils, newspapers and planning departments rather than direct to us. We’ll see.
Anyway, you can find out loads more if you click the turbines on either of our two websites or you can even read our ‘Dear Neighbour’ letter and see full details of the planning backup documentation.

At some point this week we will have a specific ‘wind response’ email account running from these web-pages where everyone can let us know what they think, good or bad, and we can then keep them up to date with progress of the project. Obviously we are after any support or input we can get and hope that we can generate a good positive result. Please do bear in mind that those protesting against something, tend to make more noise about it than those supporting it, or are just ‘ok’ about it. Don’t you worry, I will be keeping you all up to date and pressing for your input over the coming months.

I also attended another PLATO Sustain meeting this week inputting loads of data into a mega spreadsheet recording our use of stuff over the last two years (all forms of energy input, transport records, waste and recycling breakdown, company detail (staff, turnover etc) and procurement volumes (for the material items we buy most of)). We are top of the class at the moment on our recycling record with 89% of our waste being recycled (by volume), mainly helped by the fact that we compost all our green waste, of which there can be a lot! We could reduce that further by compacting the waste we do put to landfill but we don’t really have enough to justify it and I suspect it gets quite compacted by the collection vehicle. We are still looking to reduce landfill and are hoping soon to reduce our weekly collection to one domestic sized wheelie bin, not bad for a company employing 22 permanent staff.

Yesterday, I entered our figures into our 10:10 database for our 2009 energy use. It has come up with a calculation of 112 tonnes of C02 produced by the company and given us a target of just over 100 tonnes to achieve by the end of the year. I reckon we are well on the way to achieving that reduction already, despite the cold weather. Check out the campaign website;

Please do join in, we are only weenie and can’t make that much difference, but if we can get everyone to think a bit differently and do their bit we can work together to achieve something very positive.

We finished our hedge planting on Tuesday and now have 300 native whips in and raring to go.

Don't forget to do your bit.
Have a good week

PS I will try and contain my excitement next week as I know life is short!

Monday, 18 January 2010

The snow has suddenly all gone. After a big top up of snow earlier in the week it all disappeared over the last 24 hrs leaving everything rather damp, cloudy, misty, drizzly and gloomy.  What we need is some bright shiny stuff to get us all going.

Despite the difficult conditions we have achieved quite a bit this week. We have finished the bulk of our wooden box mending, with all the old 9cm box inserts taken apart and remade into 1 litre inserts and the odd broken tray repaired where possible. A new set of work benches (x6) have been knocked up from old trolleys and recycled timber, together with 20 new wooden clip boards and a couple of steps to help load the higher shelves. We have printed thousand of labels, propagated lots of plants in the microprop lab, and even delivered a few orders.

During all this time I have been busy soaking up the heat from the little heater in the office, it’s ok for some! I have at last sorted out the faxing software on the new computers, which ended up an expensive exercise due to my attraction to bits of computer kit which don’t fit in with ‘normal’ practices. I am now the proud owner of a faxing programme that will support up to 60 workstations! After downloading 6 or 7 other trial programmes to test, I got to the stage that anything that worked would do, whatever the cost. Anyway, it does seem like a better programme than we had before so it’s not all bad news. I am still sorting out the backup software, the accounts and payroll and the banking system. At least when the banking is sorted it will be cheaper than the system we have now and cleverer (direct info input from Sage Accounts), however it is has taken 4 weeks so far plus another 6-7 to complete the setting up. They must have someone as good as me doing their IT!

There was a big Christmas Exhibition in Harrogate last week which reminded me of something. I know Christmas was a long time ago but I have an ace tip for next year. When your other half says they don’t want anything for Christmas, they don’t necessarily mean it!

Eco Update
Despite the significantly higher heating costs over the last few weeks our energy consumption is falling. We have changed our lighting schedules in the microprop lab growth rooms, which made the air-con units run much more efficiently, improved the insulation in our one heated tunnel and repaired a broken time clock. Over the last 6 weeks we have reduced our consumption by about 15% which if we can keep it up over the year will more than achieve our 10:10 campaign targets. Check out the campaign website;

Caroline & I have also downsized the car and moved from 30mpg to 53mpg and reduced the emissions to a lower tax bracket. Now I just need to try and remember how to start the thing as it is keyless(ish).

Nature notes
The sudden disappearance of the snow, resulted in lots of bird song this morning. I suppose the desire for food had been replaced by other desires as temperatures and hormone levels rise! Don’t you love the spring?

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Spring starts on January 4th?

We have had about 4 inches of snow overall and it's been quite cold as well, yesterday was our first day above freezing for ages. However with a bit of luck we are over the worst of it and this week will see a gradual thaw. We have had all the usual problems associated with the cold, freezing pipes, all stop on plant work, too many coffee breaks to thaw out fingers and a lack of bodies. Most of our part timers have taken the cosy option to stay at home but the rest of us are busy making preparations for the approaching Spring sales.

Our wooden label production is whizzing along building up a handy stockpile and we have made a load more benches, clip boards & steps to use in our upgraded dispatch area.

Although it can get a bit scary when I think about the losses in efficiency, the backlog of work building up and the knock oneffect a prolonged cold spell could have on the cash-flow, it is stunningly pretty. Even in the dark the amount of extra light bouncing about is amazing.
Despite the extra 'office time' created by the cold weather (no such thing as 'bad weather' just the wrong kit) we are still working from a double set of computers as we continue to iron out the change over problems with the new setup. What fun. It continual surprises me how poorly prepared the makers of new stuff are. I ordered a networked back up drive complete with super easy software to store all our important data in a different building. It looks lovely but they don't include the instructions or drivers for Windows7 or the right software version. After several emails (48hr response time) I have got the right driver and an up to date version of the software only to find out that the software can't back-up from more than one computer which is a bit of a hiccup on a network back-up system! Another email is awaiting a response….

Eco Update
The cold weather has messed up our energy saving plans! After some encouraging savings early on, the extra heating to keep things unfrozen has more than tripled one of our meter readings. It's not as if we are toasting in the here, I am sat here writing this in hats x2, trousers x2, and multiple top layers, although I have taken my gloves off to press the keys more efficiently.

The second meter that reads the larger proportion of our usage is doing better with savings of 15%+ so far (2 months in) due to more thoughtful planning of lighting and heating/cooling regimes in the microprop lab growth rooms.We still have the new hedging in store ready to plant after the thaw.

Our new recycling 'centre' is working well with a few extra bins for some odds and ends. We are saving all incoming packing materials to reuse on outgoing packages, scrap metal bits and bobs, batteries, waxed cartons, as well as all the usual paper, card, plastic etc. Things like printer cartridges and stamps are also collected for a local charity.

Nature notes

This winters introduction of regular feeding has been very popular in this cold spell, we are getting through about 10kg a week on the nursery and the same in our garden next door. It's surprising those birds can get off the floor!  We have had a few extra visitors in the cold, a Brambling is mixing in with the Chaffinches, a female Blackcap regularly feeds on the nuts. Fieldfares are coming in for apples and seed.

Have a good week