Monday, 22 February 2010

Wow, what a stunning morning. Bit nippy, but bright sunshine and mega white frost on everything. I’m sure Spring is just around the corner and plant sales will go mad after such a long winter. We had a couple of days when the sun struggled through this week and everything lifted, temperature, shoot appearance, everyone’s mood (from happy contented paupers to elated and excited peasants (picture, if you can, the street dancing scenes in Larkford after the discovery of the lost turnip)).

We saw the welcome return of some of our Polish agency workers this week which always marks the approach of spring madness, in more ways than one. They are slightly earlier in, than last year, as we are determined to be even more organised and prepared than usual, getting ahead on potting and pricking-out, label printing, plant prep etc. We have been lucky enough to get back the same star performers as we have had in 3 previous seasons, some coming back from Poland specially to help out. There were even a few hugs, although none for me (I prefer the mysterious, aloof, slightly scary air of a respected leader, or it could be I scared them off with a big hug when they all left last year!).

It’s been a very productive week, lots of orders and pricking out (microprop plants from our lab), a bit of potting, wooden label printing and a new job, label counting. Now we are sending nearly all our plants out in boxes of 12 we have identified a time saving tactic of bundling all labels in 12’s, description labels and price labels. This makes the skilled job of collecting together and distribution onto the individual trays, of the right labels, for each order, really quick. This has always been a potential bottleneck in the despatch process, especially when we get busy, and reduces the possibility of mistakes by some of the less experienced staff. Mind you it doesn’t eliminate the idiot driving the computer (me) where the occasional hiccup of info input may cause the odd problem. Rest assured we are trying hard to get it perfect.

Mr Oki hasn’t yet replied to my stiff note I sent last week, I expect, like me, he is busy getting his hands dirty and can’t find the time to do everything. However his printer is now working very nicely which is the main thing.

Tyranny rules ok

After several years of getting the nursery production into a more organised place, Richard, our production & despatch manager, has decided to spend more time with his new family and reduce his time and role on the nursery, so this puts yours truly back in charge! Ok, perhaps Caroline is really, but she does a great job making me think I have something to do with it.

Since Richard started we have radically changed the nursery production, we have now reached a period when things are much simpler than when he started. By the summer we will have finished with our two big ‘shed’ customers (one went 3 years ago) and the plant range will have consolidated to all 1 litre hairies. Although we will miss Richards daily input, with a small adjustment in roles we are determined to make this a positive change and despite a few jitters on the work-load front, we are sure that this arrangement will work well for everyone. You may well still see Richard about, but the main focus for order enquiries after this coming week, will be Caroline or myself (Derek).

Eco Update

Saw a great water recycling/storage project at Lowaters nursery last week, I want one. Actually we may look into this quite closely, as their payback period was 3 years (with grant aid) and using mains water is very inefficient on the eco front as well as becoming increasingly expensive. Unfortunately it’s another of those ‘jam tomorrow’ investments, but maybe the jam is looking sweeter now (they are bound to see us coming and remove the grant aid just before we do it!)

Very close to putting in planning application for the turbines, ooh tense nervous excitement.

Have a good week

Monday, 15 February 2010

Just had some very reassuring news. Two of our girls who were working today both confirmed that they too were wearing the double trouser look, and they are both youngsters. Perhaps all my old fart worries are groundless and in fact I’m cool & trendy, or maybe not.

It’s astonishing what you can fit in during just one week. We set up our stand at GAN on Tuesday for the show on Wednesday, which went very well, although we felt there was a shortage of punters overall. Still, the great thing is that it’s not the numbers, it’s the quality that counts, and we did see lots of high class interested parties, oh yes, and some existing customers too!
I have just added several more names we picked up from the show, to the weekly availability list, so a big welcome to those newcomers to the ramblings of the wandering mind of a hairy nurseryman. That reminds me, I did manage a haircut and shave before the show, mind you the haircut was risky, carried out late at night by a rather merry better half. There’s nothing like living life on the edge.

Also fitted in lots of plant orders, printing a large wooden label order, a day at the races, hosting a student visit from the local college and visits from a local conservative city councillor (planning head) and prospective con MP. The printer that died last week is up & running again after replacing the fuser unit, what a con. I got one of those messages that you get just as you relax thinking you’ve mastered the technology, ‘FATAL ERROR CALL SERVICE ENGINEER’. So I did the usual, turned it off & on again several times, but to no avail. Did a quick search on the internet and found a diagnosis, media wrapped around fuser init. Sure enough, there it was. Unwrapped it, but no go. Then I found out that the only way to reset the error fault was to install a new unit (£75), the cheeky monkeys I thought. So when I’ve finished this rant I’m going to send a message to Mr Oki and let him know what I think. I’m sure he will go straight out and change his strategy after a good ticking off. Luckily I don’t have a life so I can just about fit it in.

Having lost sight of my waist several years ago and hearing last week of a close friend (2 months older than me) having to have a stent fitted after a heart problem, I am determined to find it again. I have been trying for a while to get that energy/calorie balance right between input and output and it seems to be working. One tip I will pass on this week is the one about when given a choice, take the physical option, stairs not escalator, walk don’t ride and generally take every opportunity to move more muscles than you actually have to. This can include my own version of ‘Power Walking’ that I have developed over the last few months. Rather than just shuffling along while walking home (usually in the dark) I am now lifting legs higher, using more steps and swinging arms about (more effective when carrying something, as the journey tends to be longer when you have to pick everything up again!). Also warms you up in cold weather. I have now taken this practice off the nursery into our early morning Saturday shop at the supermarket while I push the trolley round, there aren’t many folk about and you can often find yourself alone in an aisle. Oh the joys of being old enough to think that this might be a socially acceptable pastime!

Eco Update

After a positive Lib Dem wind turbine visit last week, we had the Conservatives around this week. Still all very positive, the news has been out for 3-4 weeks now and no-one has approached either group, or ourselves, with any serious objections (one lady in one village who just doesn’t like turbines much). We are the first in the area to put in such an application, yet one of the councillors who is on the planning committee didn’t think it would even go to committee, as the objection level was so low, and the proposal so sensible. Still no reaction from Parish councils directly so I will have to chase them up and see what they would like us to do (presentation/nursery visit) to help.
Don't forget to do your bit

Monday, 8 February 2010

Still a bit wintery so, although we sent out quite a few orders this week and one or two top ups, we have not hit big time busy yet.  It’s a shame for the cash-flow but not the end of the world on the nursery.  We have been finishing off some off our contract potting, which was a bit later than planned, due to a late pot delivery (caused by the idiot who ordered everything else forgetting this one order, you just can’t get the management).
We had a bit of a team session and sorted out a more efficient despatch set up, with some new benches and an adjusted process, which will simplify things for when the seasonal staff start. We have just about finished our winter whittling, a new job this year, repairing any damaged wooden boxes and inserts. A good week outside.

More frustrating, was the fiasco in the office where our computer turmoil continues. A mega spanner fell into the works on Wednesday. Suddenly we lost all internet access on all computers. Turned it all on and off again to no avail. Naturally assumed it was something I had done, so spent ages messing about with settings and cables trying to sort it. I eventually phoned our broadband supplier spending a couple of hours trying to get it to go. They gave up saying they would call me back later, with a level 2 engineer. No call. While we were waiting Caroline suggested we test the dedicated broadband phone line, which I must admit I thought was daft, as the router it plugs into, showed it was connected. Anyway, as I always do as I’m told, we borrowed a neighbours BT phone (ours don’t work on direct plug ins) and plugged it in. We then phoned the line number which rang on our phoning out phone but not on the actual plugged in phone. We then did the opposite, and phoned into our system, everything rang ok, but a different appeared number on the phone display.  BT had accidentally changed our number at the exchange!  It then took them two attempts and 24 hrs to put it right, by which time it had completely confused the broadband connection back at the main server.  Once the line was corrected it took another half hour on the phone to Orange before it all came back on at 5.15 on Friday.  During the down time we also lost all the internal network, for several hours, when the confusion of extra test cables and various plug in combinations confused the whole system and particularly me.  Had to turn off everything in the end and refit cables before it all sprang back into life.  Such a silly mistake, not even by me, caused so much chaos it’s quite scary.

Oil delivery came on Tuesday (ordered on 5th Jan), but house boiler refused to start until man came to hit it on Thursday. A week with no heat certainly makes you appreciate the central heating system when it returns!

Other stuff generally going well, although this time of year always carries an air of PST (pre season tension) with its mixture of excitement of sales to come and fear of how we will get through the work load. Having been doing it for as long as I have, I now know that we can do it and do it well, but every year is different and throws up its own challenges (as above). I suppose in the end it depends on your approach to the challenges, you can dread them or relish them, and that is actually your choice.

Don’t forget the GAN trade show on Wednesday, we’ll be there.
Eco Update

Had a visit from prospective MP and a city councillor this week, very positive on wind turbine plans.  A couple of other positive letters from neighbours and still no negatives, so quietly pleased.  Still no reaction from Parish councils directly so I will have to chase them up and see what they would like us to do (presentation/nursery visit) to help.

You can access the outline proposal in our ‘Dear Neighbour’ letter and the full details of the planning backup documentation at; and

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

Monday, 1 February 2010

Sitting here in my cosy office (now the only warm place I can find), on a bright frosty morning, I can imagine you all out there beavering about in all that glorious fresh air and sunshine.

Caroline and I are having a challenging week, for a change. All the usual stuff, vans breaking down, water purifier died, heating oil delivery didn’t arrive (again) (ordered on 4th Jan), ran out of oil on nursery on Monday and in the house yesterday. We have only one heated tunnel, for our microprop weaning, and it only runs at 10C at this time of year but still worrying as we have a lot of high value young plants in there. We put emergency electric heating in there for 24 hrs, before managing to get some oil transferred from my brother-in-laws tank to get the boilers restarted. Didn’t have enough to top up the house tank, so we now have the electric heaters in there, no Aga for cooking (microwave or eating out) or heating, no central heating, a weenie bit of hot water and a rapidly cooling house. It is amazing how cold a house can get when your main heat sources are lost. It reminds me a lot of many places I lived in as a youngster, caravans, chalets, rented flats etc where it never got warm and going to bed fully clothed was a regular winter occurrence. This has happened once before when someone, who shall remain nameless, forgot to order the oil at all. I’m telling you, that was a frosty few days in more ways than one! I am now very much looking forward to the simple pleasure of having a shower in a warm bathroom with a warm towel.

The two trouser regime is running even stronger now, due to the position we are in, and despite her best efforts Caroline was unable to wrestle them off me for a wash this morning (normally a tussle I would enjoy, but there was too much at stake!). I very nearly wore them out on the street yesterday, but luckily caught sight of myself in the mirror as I was leaving the house.

Eco Update

After last week’s excitement when we went public with our plans for erecting 3 ‘small’ wind turbines on the hill above the nursery, it has gone suspiciously quiet. So far the feedback to us has all been very positive, we’ll see. The project has been picked up in a couple of the local papers and reported quite positively. The local LibDem man is coming to see us to help promote the sustainable direction we are taking our business. Just need to get the other political groups behind us and it could be quite exciting.

You can see the outline proposal in our ‘Dear Neighbour’ letter and the full details of the planning backup documentation at; and

Nature notes

Big garden bird watch this weekend. We have no Ospreys to report, lots of finches, tits (no long-tailed recently), a couple of blackcaps, robins, lots of blackbirds, too many pigeons and a big seed bill.

It’s great to be able to see into the ponds again after all the ice, no frogspawn yet, but a surprising amount of things swimming about. It doesn’t seem possible that such little things could survive in such a long cold period then be active again so quickly, I suppose they have their own version of the ‘two trouser regime’.
Don't forget to do your bit.
Have a good week.