Monday, 31 January 2011

I can’t believe it’s still January, so much seems to be happening already. Not too many orders, but definite signs of activity from the glorious gardening public, the nurseries and garden centres and best of all from the plants. Despite the rather cold weather it doesn’t take much for the early starters to show signs of new spring growth, the Delphs and Lupins are starting off despite a hammering in the December cold period. On the nursery this winter, we have been trying to keep the pots drier in an effort to naturally reduce the liverwort and moss growth, this has certainly helped, but with the start of the new plant growth we have had to start irrigating in some of the driest areas. Seems a bit odd running the new spray lines when it’s still so cold at night, but it does the trick, I just have to remember to drain them again after so that they don’t split in the next freeze.

Pre-season preparations continue at pace, lots of plumbing, drain laying, shelf building, label printing and plant tidying. Even plant production is whizzing along with the first batches of microprop weaning started and first batches of ‘spring’ seed sowing underway.

We had a top up on our heating oil this week, ouch. Luckily we buy enough to get a competitive price so we are not paying some of the rates mentioned on the news over the last few weeks, but it is still over 50% more than we were paying last year (we get really good competitive rates by buying all our energy via the FARGRO energy team, who do all the donkey work for you, constantly searching the best deals). We are fortunate that we actually use very little heat on the nursery and each year use a little less but it certainly brings home the consequences of energy supply and demand. In the house which is also oil heated we are feeling very smug, having put in a wood burner and insulated walls, loft and under the floor. Oil consumption looks to have more than halved, which should mean a slightly lower bill than last year, but the extra cost if we hadn’t taken these measures would have been huge. The extra exercise sawing and splitting wood keeps me fitter too, in theory, although after a long session with my chopper, I come in and demolish cakes and crisps at a frightening rate, so no BMI improvement yet!

Eco News
After last week’s physical effort spreading 3km of mulch we turned to office savings this week. I have set up a generic email to send to all those senders of useless or little used catalogues that turn up each day in the post. I have given my email address for them to send me anything they want and I can delete those without the paper waste and extra printing and postal cost to them. Naturally as soon as you do something like this they stop arriving! However I have done two so far, both achieving a positive response, although it could take Viking up to 6 weeks to stop!

I have also managed to get several of our customers who receive fax availability lists to go for the more reliable email alternative which is more reliable (at this end) and should save you paper. We are happy to receive fax replies as it is a nice, simple way of getting a physical record of an order for us to then process. For those who like to do everything online, personally I prefer the real thing sometimes, I am working on a fillinable email order form but it isn’t as simple as I had hoped to tie it in with own availability list generating programme.

Nature stuff

Getting great vermin control this winter with several cats patrolling the nursery and the new policy of leaving cat access points open into the locked barns. Our odd mystery of the one legged cat has been solved. It is our newest one Spare. We get used to wet paw-prints about the place in damp weather but we have repeatedly seen just the occasional paw-print spaced out about every 40cm or so. Spare is quite young and has obviously never mastered lapping, so to drink, he dips in one paw and licks it off that, then walks off with the one wet paw.

Have a good week, from all at Kirton Farm Nurseries

Monday, 24 January 2011

Morning all,

We had our first repeat order of the year last week so there must be some action out there, hurrah. I know it’s still early but it’s nice to know that there are some springtime thoughts taking shape out there. We are going to need some early cash flow to cope with the new CC trolley scanners which seem to be going through batteries at an astonishing rate! We are due some rechargables in the next week or two which hopefully will help, but at the moment it’s costing about 50p a trolley in batteries. If they flatten the rechargables at the same rate we will also need to invest in a mobile recharging kit as well as the desktop one. Of course it could just be me and the combination of old fart vs. new technology!

Struggling to stand up straight this morning after several hours spent yesterday splitting logs, followed by a tough game of hockey (won 1-0, and I saved one on the line in last 5 mins). Off this afternoon to collect more logs for splitting, might leave the splitting until I can walk without watching my knees!

Still haven’t made my mind up about attending the Grower of the Year awards dinner, I can’t get round the fact that in our push for sustainability the cost of this night out would pay for over a year’s supply of logs for the wood burner (if I can’t stand upright again). If anyone is planning to attend themselves, please let me know, I will help fund a ticket if you will volunteer to collect our reward should we receive one (unlikely if we don’t attend I know, but at least all bases would be covered). For the price of the car park I can get two tickets to see the brilliant Imelda May in Southampton the night after.

On the nursery we are continuing our big winter sort out. Now we have stopped supplying our last DIY customer we have been able to revamp our despatch area to concentrate solely on the garden centre & nursery customers. This meant moving & rebuilding the coffee shack, which proved to be a bigger job than we thought, and opening up a bigger plant preparation area to help throughput. The lower despatch area which used to be used for the DIY job is now home to the rebuilt shack and the completed order holding bay. It’s surprising how exciting a little more space and a jiggle out can be! Hopefully we can finish the revamp this week ready for the busy times ahead.

With a big effort this week, we managed to spread mulching bark along our 3 Km of tunnel edges as planned, this should help control moss, liverwort and weeds in this awkward gap, which we used to spray.

We have also prepared the new 60 metre strip where we are planting a double row of mixed native hedging. The plants are here ready for planting next week if the weather is ok. This is a strip that is being planted as part of the ecology enhancement scheme drawn up for the planners as part of the conditions laid down for putting up our 3 turbines. We still have to sow a wide wild flower strip next to the hedge and replant part of the hedge removed for the turbine foundation work. All this despite that, in total, we will lose only about 5 or 6 metres of hedge when the turbines are up. To be fair we would have planted this length of hedge anyway so it’s not a huge problem.

Although the basic planning consent for the turbines was given in September we only just managed to fulfil all the conditions laid down before Christmas, and are just awaiting official clearance of those conditions before we can actually start any works. The final cost quotes are just coming in and the financing looks to be coming together, so all being well we could see some serious money being spent very soon. It will still be weeks before any serious action takes place on site, but at least the ball will be rolling.

Nature stuff

So far we don’t seem to have lost too many small birds in the cold snap. Those usually vulnerable small ones, like wrens and long tailed tits, are all still about in good numbers here, and the other garden birds seem to be in good heart. We got through sacks and sacks of different types of bird food on the nursery as well as the garden, and hopefully we will be rewarded with some extra help with pest control later on.

Thanks, have a good week, from all at Kirton Farm Nurseries

Monday, 17 January 2011

Morning all,
Not the best weather yet for kicking off those lively spring sales, but it’s early days yet. We are looking forward to the new season and getting that cash-flow moving again after the lean winter break. For all nurseries it’s always a bit of a juggling game getting through the winter and into the early spring without upsetting the bank manager, especially in these tricky times when the banks are a bit hesitant about lending. With low margins in our sector for a long time, we can be particularly vulnerable to the current practice of passing financial decisions further up the management line at bank. It’s no longer enough to convince your local manager of your security and prospects, it has to go further up the line, I suspect, to one of those lovely chaps who earns those lovely bonuses! Luckily we look to be getting through this winter with slightly less excitement than usual, other than the slight hiccup of wanting to borrow some dosh for 3 wind turbines! I’m sure we will wangle it somehow, just not quite sure how yet. The joys of trying to make progress.

A few exciting things this week, the main one being the introduction of the new CC tags which can be scanned to check their authenticity. Thanks to all those who replied to my request for info on your trolley situation, it should help make the deliveries a little smoother. We now have a scanner to check the trolleys here, but we can’t afford to give all our drivers one each, which would have cost us just under £2,000 just to look after our 75 trolleys. So far we haven’t had a single centre say that they have a scanner, although most are in the CC system, so I’m not quite sure how the system will hold up.

The other news is that we are one of the finalists in the Nursery Stock Grower of the Year Awards. Hopefully it is recognition of our achievements rather than a ploy to get us to buy rather expensive tickets to the awards dinner when the results are announced. I don’t get out much, but I imagine that this price includes a room and you get to take the table, chair and crockery home afterwards too!

New Year, New Season, New Price Point?

We managed to get all the catalogues printed and posted so you should all be in possession of the latest version. There is a download available on the nursery website if needed. Don’t forget that the prices have gone up by 7p/pot after the big coir pot price rise and increases in labour costs. Then there is also the VAT increase on the perennials to consider too. This means you may want to review your retail price points before getting stocked up. Many of you have your stock pre-priced, so you will need to let us know ASAP of any changes so that we can get ahead on the plate making and printing. Thanks.

Over the last couple of months we have been having a really refreshing end of an era winter clear out. With the end of plastic pot production and a focus on recycling we have sorted and shipped out loads of recyclable material. We have a new plastic recycling man (Grassroots Recycling, Warminster) who charges an annual subscription fee but will take all the plastic we can pallet up (sorted and clean(ish)) if we deliver it to him. This has been great for the final post-plastic era clear out, of all those collections of pots and trays that ‘might come in handy one day’. Once we clear this lot we should only have the odd tunnel cover to send in and the tubs and lids from the micro-prop lab. We had accumulated a large scrap metal stack over the years where we upgraded tunnels from gantries to trolley paths and the money we got from that (£180/tonne) will help pay for those areas of recycling we get charged for. Pallets of card have gone back to our backing board supplier, used pallets to the farm for their seed packing plant and old timber scrap is chopped up for the wood burner/heater. Even a collection of old gas bottles we no longer use was collected by a Calor Gas supplier for reuse or refurbishment. Hopefully we will find enough time before the season takes off to finish the job, as it does great things for the morale to see old rubbish finding a new life and the business getting back to efficient and organised chaos!

An accumulation of little projects gets you there in the end. One such ‘little job’ started this week, which was filling the gap between the tunnel bed edges and the side of the tunnels with mulch, to reduce herbicide use on the nursery. We don’t use herbicides on the crops but we do use them around the tunnels to reduce the potential for weed infection. That means filling an awkward narrow strip just under 3 kilometres long! Hopefully this will have quite a long term benefit, we will see.

Thanks, have a good week, from all at Kirton Farm Nurseries

Monday, 10 January 2011

What a stunning sunny morning it is, a great day for getting out there and communing with nature in whatever way takes your fancy. Hopefully everyone else will think the same, take a peak in the garden, get down to their hairy pot plant supplier and voluntarily empty their wallets. We are seeing a bit of tentative activity on the nursery with a few sales, decisions being made on price points and reports of trays available for return. This does give us a growing sense of urgency and excitement as the new season approaches, which is a great way to get the juices running again after the Christmas break.

We have several expert label printers beavering away churning out lots of wooden labels in anticipation of the sales to come and I’m thankful that last year we splashed out on a second printer for the task as it does give us a bit more flexibility on this big job. With each label going through several stages, cleaning, printing on two sides (one label at a time), bundling and treating, it’s quite a performance compared to buying off the shelf plastic alternatives, but the results achieved are worth it.

The rest of us are busy repairing broken wooden trays, cutting back plants and finishing upgrading the polytunnels to operate with trolley paths rather than gantries. We still have loads of other winter jobs to complete, like installing the new irrigation pumps, pipe-work and control system, rearranging despatch to improve efficiency, upgrading nursery drainage and tunnel access and getting started on the turbine installation work. Even in the office we have been getting ready by updating the software systems to cope with the new VAT rates, and revamping the stationary designs to reflect the focus the business now has on the hairier side of things. With such a huge change in the business over the last 4 years it is great to see the whole thing coming together in such a coordinated way. We are by no means perfect and we still have lots of ideas about how to do things better, but it does make going into a new season, in difficult times, a very positive and exciting time for everyone.

Eco news

This week I was able to update our ‘PLATO Sustain’ spreadsheet for the final month in 2010. This logs our basic sustainable stuff, waste levels, energy and water use, transport, recycling levels etc and it makes very encouraging reading. Although some of the calculations are not fool proof (the carbon footprint is a lot more complicated than many might hope) it does give a good indication of progress and provide a platform for further improvements.
Carbon footprint down by 14% in 2 years at the same time as turnover has increased by 31%.
Waste levels over the same time have dropped 23% (in volume) and we recycle 86% of that waste.
Water consumption down 14%.
As rising prices of energy, waste and water make a bigger impact on overall costs to everyone, we are hoping that being on top of our game early will benefit us hugely in the long-term and make us feel good about it too!

Where do we go from here? Wind turbines could potentially halve our total carbon footprint, updating irrigation will save more water, harvesting water would reduce carbon hungry mains use, update lighting and heating systems to carbon neutral fuels, more insulation. It’s one step at a time, we can’t get it all sorted straight away, but we all need to start somewhere.

Have a good week from all at Kirton Farm.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Happy New Year to you! Let’s make it’s a good one. The overall outlook for the global economy and environment still looks challenging but I’m sure I have detected a certain degree of common sense beginning to creep in to things as a whole. I’m sure we will muddle through somehow and even if we are not richer financially at the end of the year we can still be better off in other ways. Perhaps the start of a new year gives us a helpful nudge to look at many things with a fresh eye.

We had a great Christmas, all the usual simple stuff, relatives and friends, eating a bit too much and a nice change of focus away from the usual goings on. For a change this year we hosted the big Christmas day lunch and in honour of the festive season and the advancing years of the visitors we did turn on the central heating to get the conservatory/dining area warm enough to eat in. Things got off to a shaky start after finishing work on the Friday, I turned on the heating for the first time this winter hoping to build up the heat in the tile floor in plenty of time, at the same time I attempted to complete the replacement of a PIR light sensor on the front step. Things didn’t go quite according to plan. As I fiddled about with the sensor trying to get it to go I could see the house lights dimming and automatically assumed I had messed something up. Naturally everyone else assumed the same so the pressure was on. I quickly realised that it was unlikely to be me as my circuit was disconnected and I noticed that the central heating pump had stopped so that was my next worry. I turned off all the circuits in turn but then every time something was switched on the lights dimmed dramatically. Anyway to cut a long story short we contacted our electrician who came out to us at 9.30 in the evening and identified it as an external supply problem despite the neighbours being ok. He reported it to the supply company who arrived at just past midnight to take a look. We were disconnected at this point for safety and the line repair team came early the next morning to find and fix the damaged cable (worn through neutral wire). It’s only in odd situations like this that you notice and appreciate the backup services that are in place to keep our lives moving along and how dependant we are on things like a consistent energy supply. Lights, central heating, hot water, fridge and cooker and our phone system were all out of action and over Christmas that could have been a bit tricky. Once the floor heating was back on it heated up nicely although we did overcook everyone on the day as when I turned on the radiators on Christmas morning the only two we needed on were in the conservatory and the only two we had to have off were in the sitting room where the log burner is. Naturally the conservatory ones were stuck off and the others stuck on. I managed to get the conservatory ones to go but the other two wouldn’t go off, consequently we spent the whole day in the conservatory and even after several hours of the heating being off we still struggled to get in the sitting room, it is so well insulated! Naturally I was far to mean to open the windows, what a waste that would be.

We lashed out on the 28th with a second light lunch for 34 after our annual hockey thrash around and the heating came on again but this time worked perfectly!

Hope yours was fun too.

Back to earth with a bump this week, stormy weather blew off three of our tunnel sheets and there were a few old trees taken out. However we do have some new lovely POS boards here which can fit in our wooden display box effectively making a simple picture frame. More on these next week. I will take some pictures so those on email can see the great look.

Eco News

December turned out to be a record month for us on the wind turbines. It is usually one of the windiest months but it was over 20% up on estimate, which helped make up Novembers shortfall. The sensor issue on one turbine which hopefully is now solved has reduced overall output but we are still only about 5% below estimated kWh generation. Had the fault not occurred the we would have been about 2% up, but stoppages do happen from time to time so it is handy having three turbines rather than one, so something is generating even if not at full capacity. In December 74.3% of the electricity used on site was generated ourselves and we are continuing to export plenty of excess power to the grid.

The initial turbine service and tidy up was done this week so we can now finish off the odds and ends around each site and perhaps get some visitors in to see them in operation.

Fax availability – Why not change to email, get more info and save paper.

Over the winter I have stopped the automatic faxing of the actual availability list to those who still receive this service via their fax machine, to save wasting your paper. If you need a fax list please let us know, pick it up from the website or alternately send an email address or two as an alternative. The newssheet will continue, just to make sure you don’t forget us and to keep you up to date on the latest ramblings on things hairy.

Happy New Year, from all at Kirton Farm Nurseries

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Hello all,
Hope you all had a good Christmas and we wish you all a Happy New Year. It’s been a few weeks since my last update and we’ve been really busy. I can’t possibly fit in all the stuff we got done but despite the cold nip in the air, we managed to make some great positive progress on lots of projects. Hopefully the pre-Christmas weather didn’t spoil things too much out there in retail-land, and all those Christmas trees got shifted.

We had a great Christmas here, plenty of fun preparing, making our decorations for the mess room and a marathon session making all our Christmas cards (I did take some snaps of this year’s efforts which I will try and get on the website). We still had plenty of lying snow on the day and had a big family Christmas lunch down on the farm which was just perfect. Might have overdone the food consumption a bit over the period so a bit more self control needed in the next few weeks to get back to standard wobble levels.

Having been married for an extremely long time, present buying between Caroline and I does get tricky. Luckily I did remember last year’s Christmas message which was that when she says there is no need to get anything, that isn’t always what is really meant! I did better this year, although we did manage to buy each other the same things, great minds think alike. Having had a new wood burner put in the house, we both got tool-holders for the hearth, on top of that we both got chocolates. The last present also nearly got repeated too, but luckily I remembered she finds lacy underwear a bit scratchy!

New Year, New Season

We managed to get all the catalogues printed and posted so you should all be in possession of the latest version. Anyone who got missed or needs an extra copy please let us know. There is a version available as a download on the nursery website if needed.

Don’t forget that the prices have gone up by 7p/pot after the big coir pot price rise and increases in labour costs. Then there is also the VAT increase on the perennials to consider too. This means you may want to review your retail price points before getting stocked up. Many of you have your stock pre-priced with our ace wooden labels so you will need to let us know ASAP of any changes so that we can get ahead on the plate making and printing. Thanks.

Eco news (Don’t forget that if you receive this via fax we can save paper and email instead, just let us know)

OK this is a moment for big-time smugness on my part. It’s not often I get something so right and well timed, but in November I certainly hit the mark in the house. Over a few weeks we installed a wood burner, insulated the roof (to 270mm), filled the cavity walls and lifted the floorboards to install insulation under them. Perfectly timed for the cold weather and the enormous increase in heating oil prices over the last few weeks. In our old leaky house it has made an incredible difference, now the heat stays in for longer and the draughts have reduced hugely. Oil consumption has dropped off a cliff despite the cold and it’s toasty even when the heating is off. The roof and cavity wall work was subsidised so will pay back in just a few months, the burner and floor job will take longer, but the nice thing is that we save heat and dosh from this day on for years to come, a much better return than most saving plans and the feel good factor adds to the glow of self congratulation. I can’t believe we didn’t do this before, but years ago fuel was cheap (heating oil up over 50% in a year) and our focus was on other stuff.

Wind turbine project ticking along but progress is a bit slow as we try and get everything sorted out. The planning conditions are fulfilled and are just awaiting being signed off before we can actually do anything at all on the site.

Electric consumption on nursery down by 23.6% for 2010 up to the end of November. Water consumption down 14%.

Happy New Year, have a good week, from all at Kirton Farm Nurseries