Monday, 30 August 2010

At last the sun has come back out, just in time for the holiday weekend, hurrah. So here I am enjoying my weekend, sowing a few seeds, de-limescaling the fog nozzles and sorting out the watering. Things are looking pretty good here, a couple of extra staff this summer has kept us on top of most jobs and the nursery is looking good and is pretty full, ready for the spring onslaught. Actually we still have lots to do but there is a definite feeling of control and progress, rather than the usual organised panic to get everything done in time.
Hairy pots on BBC TV last Sunday! Spotted by one of our eagle eyed, keen and Sunday morning TV watching customers! It was on BBC2, ‘Something for the Weekend’ on the cooking spot! You can see it on the following link (it is 1hr 18mins into the programme, if you can’t watch the whole thing! It’s very exciting, I don’t get out much!)

Needless to say, the office is in chaos again, the computer firewall issues remain and to add to the excitement we have had a new phone system installed, well nearly installed. With assurances that it was a two day job and the lines would only be down for half an hour we thought it was going to be easy, especially as I wasn’t involved with the installation, it was done by professionals! They started on Tuesday and I’m sat now here on Saturday, still sharing my limited desk space with the computer screen and the fax, as the job is still not finished. All the kit is now in position but they can’t get the programming right, so at the moment all the phones and extensions work, but we have no messaging service, our separate internet number doesn’t work and the fax won’t send out through the fax machine (it’s ok sending out via the computer and receiving is ok). The promises of better, cheaper and easy are all a distant memory. So if you call and there is no reply please try again later, the messaging/answer phone stuff will be back but not for a day or two.

I call console myself by admiring my potentially valuable rock I brought back from Cornwall. Unfortunately I have missed the boat on cashing in on it’s value by about 5,000 years, as it is a chunk of Gabbro rock from the Lizzard Peninsular. It was prized in ancient cultures as the best cooking stone. They used to cook their food in pottery vessels (before metal was widely used) which couldn’t stand the heat of the open fire, so they heated stones in the fire then dropped them in the pot. Other rocks would shatter after a very short time potentially breaking the pot or at least making the meal a bit gritty, but gabbro lasted ages. Apparently you can boil a pot of water in about 30 seconds so it’s quicker than the kettle! It is only found in the UK on the Lizzard and in Skye, but it was traded all over the country and sometimes incorporated into clay to improve heating properties of pots. It is still quarried today as a road-stone. We made a special trip to this beach to collect it, how sad are we? It’s funny but we hardly saw another soul on our trips out.

Eco news

A letter in the local paper stood out today saying that Lloyds are predicting oil supplies to fall behind global demand bu 2013. Oops, that’s going to be exciting. Having spoken to a Shell employee a short while ago he was saying how things were starting to get a lot more difficult with oil extraction, the problems were on two fronts, more extreme environments to extract from (eg very deep sea sites) and more extreme political locations for drilling.

We are looking at all sorts of options for the house now, reducing electric consumption, upgrading the insulation and installing a wood burner to reduce the oil consumption will be a start.

Bat survey results are in and have been forwarded to the planning dept. Results were perfect for the turbine planning but not so good for the levels of bats in the area. Only one common little one detected foraging down by the nursery not up on the turbine site. All looking good for the planning application now with everything in place although by the time the ecology report is updated with the bat survey info it isn’t expected to go to the planning committee until October!

This year’s nursery electric consumption is now down by 22.51% (at end of July).

Monday, 23 August 2010

Crab Pasties anyone?

Check out our 'beautiful Lemon Balm' taking centre stage on BBC 2's Something for the Weekend it's 'gorgeous' says Louise! 

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Back to reality after a fantastic break in Cornwall. Ate too much, drunk too much and walked too far, now I need a fortnight off to recover from all the excitement. Weather was perfect for what we wanted, not quite right for the sun worshipers, but we just about fitted in everything required in a Cornish break, pasties, ice creams, cliff top stuff, unusual bird spotting (Icterine Warbler), fireworks and Red Arrow displays, ancient exploring stuff, mining and art, not sure how we fitted it all in around great eating stops and sleeping.

It always seems to take ages to get through all the pre-holiday preparations when leaving the nursery and it can be a bit of a wrench to actually leave, but despite being without their dynamic leadership team, the nursery thrived without us with loads of jobs getting done and orders delivered, with only the odd little hiccup (tail lift on big van burst a pipe, fog system in the prop tunnel stopped at the same time as the shade net over the tunnel split and slid off and the sun came out over last weekend!).

We have sorted out those problems this week with some prompt repairs and it’s now all up and running again. Unfortunately not all the news was great with confirmation that our last delivery of pots for this summer was lost in the fire at the coir pot production unit in Sri Lanka. Some of their pressing equipment was damaged too although I believe it will be relatively easy for them to repair it. The facilities there are very basic but it is still a huge blow in such a vulnerable community. For us it isn’t the end of the world, as we have most of our stock here already and will just mean a readjustment of the potting schedules and spring planning, but for the small set up out there it is going to be really tough.
They have already arranged to borrow more money to repair the damage and get going again quickly but I suspect we are going to have to find a way of giving them some support in advancing payments/orders and paying a little more for the pots until they are back on their feet and financially sound. As we are their biggest customer (I believe by quite a long way) we do feel a responsibility to this group who have tried so hard to get their product right for what we want and don’t have very much to fall back on. They were very worried initially that we would move straight on to another supplier, as they feel they have let us down, but we don’t see that as a responsible option unless things take a significant turn for the worse. So far we have agreed to take delivery of and pay for, the last of this year’s loads, despite it being too late to pot most lines by the time they arrive and to put in orders for next year’s stock. What the next step will be I am not sure but I suspect a price rise will be the most obvious way to help. We will see how things develop.

Unfortunately the computers have not cured themselves while we were away and are still not talking to each other unless the firewall is disabled. At the moment I just can’t face the pain of calling the help line at McAfee again to help sort it out having spent one afternoon before we went away trying to cure it after an automatic update sent by them seemed to have started the whole issue. As a couple of the other computers are out of date on their contracts I might ditch the lot and get a different security package it might be easier, or not! Who knows?  Not me that’s for sure!

Eco news

Bat survey results came in this week and have been forwarded to the planning dept. (Decimal point hiccup in my last notes, cost was only £1,650, much more reasonable for one nights recording!) Results were perfect for the turbine planning but not so good for the levels of bats in the area. Only one common little one detected foraging down by the nursery not up on the turbine site. All looking good for the planning application now with everything in place although by the time the ecology report is updated with the bat survey info it isn’t expected to go to the planning committee until October!

Electric company have quoted about £20,000 (yes, decimal point is right on this one) to connect the turbines up to the mains as we need a new post mounted substation and quite a lot of cable to cope with the two way traffic of power.

This year’s electric consumption is now down by 22.51% (at end of July).

Don't forget to do your bit. Have a good week, from all at Kirton Farm Nurseries

Monday, 9 August 2010

Just a quickie as I’m supposed to be packing my bucket and spade ready for our week in Cornwall. Just about to dash out into town to purchase my emergency summer wardrobe. I have only managed one trip out to the shops since mid March and that was just Sainsbury’s and apparently my boxers and socks are not in a fit state for such an exciting adventure. I must admit the number of apertures in most of the current stock is far higher than the initial designs intended, so off we go. There is also the chance of a few extra purchases as the ‘one outfit fits all’ may not be enough for all the destinations on the itinerary. This going on holiday lark is not as easy as you would think, especially when you add in all the extra work and planning needed to sort out everything to be away, and then all the effort to catch up what you missed when you get back. When there are so many exciting things going on here it is proving to be quite a wrench to get away, but I’m sure everyone will be glad to see the back of us for a few days as I’m sure the lack of ‘outside world’ contact does send us slightly potty.

We had some worrying news late last week that there had been a fire at one of the pots stores in Sri Lanka in the village that makes our pots. Fortunately there are no reports of any casualties other than possibly our last shipment of pots. Oops. Details are sketchy at the moment but we may have to adjust our potting plans slightly to cope with a slight shortfall in supply, we’ll find out on our return. We are not too worried for our own planning as we have had 75% of our stock already delivered and we can adjust things our end to cope easily enough, but it could be a big setback for the setup in Sri Lanka. I believe we are one of their main customers and so, we do feel, that does put us under an obligation to try to help out where we can, so we are reassuring them that we are not going to abandon them in favour of another supply source and we will be seeing if there is anything else we can do to help them through what could be a difficult time. Being a very resourceful community I’m sure they will bounce back quickly, but until we hear more detail we are not sure quite the level of problem they have. Although this does add a new level of worry for us, it is a potentially rewarding one to have and quite different from the sort of worries we used to have when dealing in the cut-throat world of supplying the multiples (last lorry left on Wednesday, hurrah). Taking some social responsibility as part of running a business can make up a lot for the sometimes thin pickings on the financial front, especially when everyone pulls together as a result.

Eco news

Still no news on bat survey yet.

The quote is in from the electric company for the upgrade necessary for the substation and cable to take in any surplus power we generate. Ouch. Mind you it is still better value than the bat survey (three week wait, one night recording and another 3-4 weeks before results come in = £16,500). Still I’m sure it will be worth it in the end. We are just checking that the sub station and cable are man enough to take a bit extra, in case we want to put in a bit of solar generation at a later date when the price comes down a bit.

This year’s electric consumption is now down by 22.51% (at end of July).

Nature notes

Second batch of swallows have fledged and are getting their first flying lessons this morning. The skies over the nursery and house are now filling up with young house martins and swallows as the youngsters take to the air and move aside for the next lot. They are so busy and quick moving it is impossible to count them, but it is one of those sunny sights of summer that makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.

Don't forget to do your bit. Have a good week, from all at Kirton Farm Nurseries.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Slightly more organised this week and sending this a day early in preparation for a day off to visit my Mum & Dad in sunny Stafford tomorrow. This is a trial run because in 9 days time we are going to have a whole week off, and we need the practice in taking time away from the nursery.
This will be the first full day off since the middle of March so we are really looking forward to it. All the usual pre-break sorting out still has to be done, fitting in all the jobs we usually leave until the weekend but it all looks promising for an early start at the moment.

The potting machine has been pounding away all week as we get stuck into producing some of next spring’s crops and we have been putting together quite a few orders again which is great.

Friday marked a special moment when we completed the final plant despatch processing of our last ‘high street multiple’ plastic pot contract. The last trolleys actually get packed and loaded on Wednesday but it does mark the end of an era. We have supplied several of these customers over the last 20 years and this one for 10, each year it has got tougher and tougher to make it work financially let alone get any sort of personal satisfaction out of the relationship, so it is quite a relief to be able to ‘let them go’!

This winter we will have the entire pot production area on the nursery down to hairy pots, hurrah. This means that we will have changed the nursery production from all plastic pots to all hairy in 4 years, let’s hope the sales continue to grow and soak up the extra capacity, it certainly shows all the signs of doing so at the moment. As the last pot was cleaned and priced there was a slightly bizarre, but touching, spontaneous round of applause. I think a round of cakes and sparkling grape juice may be in order for later in the week!

No resting on laurels here though. We have a whole load of further projects aimed at improving the hairy production system combining quality improvements, labour saving and improving overall sustainability. Several irrigation developments to introduce a wet/dry cycle naturally improving plant quality and reducing liverwort growth on the compost, beds and pots, rainfall harvesting, wind turbine installation (one day!), energy and resource saving, tunnel renovation (replacing gantries with trolley paths) and wildlife enhancement. It’s all go, not really got time for a break, still when you work on a nursery life’s one long holiday really, as we trundle about in our clogs carrying our trugs and secateurs!

Eco news

No news on bat survey yet.

One of our things to look at on our sustainability list this year was whether to put in a beehive to help out on the bee survival front. But I have just had a walk about, updating the availability list, and I suspect that we are probably already providing a useful habitat for the bumble bee populations and competition from honey bees may put them off. We don’t have enormous areas of flowering stock as hopefully most gets sold before it gets that far but there were loads on the mints and African Blue Basil in particular. I don’t know a lot about bees but there were several sorts and a lot of them, probably over 100 on the basil alone. I shall see if Sparsholt college fancy doing a project on it, we could also do with some input on overwintering facilities we can install in the tunnels to keep the lady birds and lacewings on site too. I will add it to my list.

Went to my Plato Sustain meeting last week and took along a wooden box of hairy herbs and one of our internet delivery boxes (clever award winning recycled card thing). This was by request, as they all wanted to see what we were up to. I’m glad to say they were quite impressed and excited, I think that their image of what a hairy nurseryman gets up to all day has improved and they can see what can be achieved with a bit of thought and application.

Don't forget to do your bit. Have a good week, from all at Kirton Farm