Monday, 28 February 2011

Morning all,

A lovely bright morning and the robins are singing away out there sorting out their territories. It’s still pretty cool but much more like gardening weather than the past week or two, hurrah. Hopefully the economic gloom doesn’t hit us all too hard and the recognition of what a positive and healthy lifestyle choice gardening is continues to gather momentum.
We are still very positive about the coming season and the years to follow, despite everything, and I think part of that is down to addressing some of the potential future issues in advance rather than sweeping them under the carpet and hoping they don’t happen. The sharp rise in oil prices this week highlights vulnerabilities in our whole way of life, with our dependence on the current transport systems for personal mobility and delivery of goods, and general energy use. If we are all to keep costs down to maintain sales over the coming years, we are going to have to look even closer at efficiencies as well as looking to source more locally where possible, when prices will increasingly reflect the delivery costs. This is potentially good news for the smaller suppliers as small and local becomes a more viable option to becoming big and national. Every cloud has a silver lining.

I must admit I’m not seeing anything terribly clearly today having suffered a small injury yesterday, although at least this one wasn’t through hockey (scabs nicely healed thanks). Watching a film last night, lying on the sofa resting my head on a combination of cushion and hand after a hard day. I must have closed my eyes for a second during the shooting crescendo of ‘Hot Fuzz’, and was rudely awoken by a loud shot. My arm flinched away from my head, my head dropped and the arm returned planting my thumb firmly in my eye. Luckily no-one there to witness it, I know Caroline’s concerned loving response would have been to burst out laughing. Retired to relative safety of bed.

We got lots done this week, most of the plastic sheeting found its way to the recycling man, just a few odds and ends to go. Recycled a pallet of glass as well which has been hanging around for years after we dismantled an old greenhouse. A load more pallets went down to the farm for reuse and we sorted out the last few rubbish ones for cutting up for the wood burner. Not only are we tidier and greener but we have created so much useful space which we hadn’t notice disappearing during years of gradually accumulating piles of stuff. Still not quite there, but looking good and feeling virtuous.

Our NBIS (Nursery Business Improvement Scheme) group met here last week, for a quick tour and review of figures, oh yes and the best bit, lunch in the pub. It’s an inspirational group with lots of open, frank and sometimes sensitive discussion (which could also be described as insensitive!). At times over the years it is potentially embarrassing with some poor performance figures from all parties, but with a positive approach from everyone we have all recognised that some freely given external input from knowledgeable and experienced peers can help enormously. If nothing else it can be a great therapy session if you need a lift, a sounding board for ideas, and a great source of nursery economic guidelines. Sharing your failings can be a great source of strength and support, rather than a show of weakness, and I know we have benefited greatly from their support.

Eco news
Minor but exciting first step in wind turbine installation earlier in the week when we used a combination of GPS devices and a measuring wheel to mark the actual positions of the foundations. Might be some movement this week on further developments, we’ll see.

Nature ramblings

Still no frogspawn, but I did see two newts swimming about and the pigeons have started egg-laying already. Evidence of eggshell on the path, I suspect from a Magpie raid.

Have a good week, from all at Kirton Farm Nurseries

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Morning all,

I can’t remember which day it was, but I took someone, can’t remember who, up to see the wind turbine site, luckily I did manage to remember where that was. I do recall it was a rare sunny moment in the week and that very noticeably spring was springing with loads of skylarks doing their thing. Sometimes it’s good to lift your nose from the grindstone for a second to take in the simple stuff. Bit grey today and lots of bird song but no skylarks yet.

Sadly we didn’t win the Nursery Stock Grower of the Year Award which was presented on Thursday, we will have to make do with reaching the final three. I couldn’t bring myself to part with the ticket money (£180 each + travel, drinks, parking, sleeping etc) at a time of the year when cash flow tends to be a bit tight and the total cost of night out for two would keep us in logs for the winter. As an alternative night out we took a few friends out to see Imelda May in Southampton on Friday, which was great value (just 17.50 to see a big selling live performance). She and her band were brilliant, lively, slick and professional, the night just flew by. If you get the chance go and see her, and the support band Big Boy Bloater!

Struggling to walk this morning after a late night on Friday and hockey yesterday. Last week’s result got worse with the news that it was 0-10 not the nine I counted. We did better this week 1-1, so pride restored a bit, although scabby weepy knees and elbows resulting from a few close encounters on a sandy pitch are a high price to pay. No Saturday night cuddles for me!

Excitement on the nursery this week with the return of the potting machine which has been off at the menders all winter having its bearings, sprockets and chains replaced. Everything on it had been moving in odd directions and making a lot of strange noises during last year and now it is reported to be a smooth operator. Can anyone do the same for worn out nursery chaps?

Lots of fresh chunky spring growth coming on the plants especially the perennials which is great to see. We have a few casualties after the December freeze but hopefully not too many. The nursery is looking quite tidy after the big winter sort out. Nearly all the plastic stuff has gone off to the recycling man or other nurseries for reuse, with just a few old tunnel sheets to repack into bulk bags when we get a dry spare moment. Much of the stock has had its winter tart up and the last of the irrigation plumbing is nearly done. We sent some of the pallets we have accumulated down to the farm for reuse this week, sorted out the broken ones for the wood burner and kept a few for reuse here, a very satisfactory job and a bit more space too.

Eco news
We had a visit this week from our PLATO Sustain group leader/consultant to see how we were progressing on the sustainability front and where the group might be able to help us progress further. Although not a horticulturist it was a useful couple of hours and helped me focus a bit more on what else we can go for in the short, medium and long term. Lots to think about from water use and recycling, waste management and recycling, to longer term future transport issues and how that could affect us and the industry in general. It is something that will need to be addressed soon. With escalating transport costs, the problem of getting stock to the customer on anything but a local level is going to become a major factor in plant prices. For example one trolley distributor is charging £59/ trolley plus £10 collection from our site and a fuel surcharge, to deliver from us to East Anglia, North Midlands & Devon/Cornwall. This gets us to £75+ per trolley with no multiple drop discount until you reach 4 or 5 trolleys per delivery. Luckily we rarely deliver this far, we mostly use our own lorries and I’m sure there are slightly cheaper alternatives, but energy prices are only going to increase over the years and it is something that will need some thought over the next few years.

As soon as we start potting again we will be incorporating the new bio-insecticide Met52 in all our potting composts. This is a fungal inoculation that gives long term protection against the dreaded vine weevil. Since introducing the herb and soft fruit ranges we have shied away from using chemical control in favour of introducing the safe nematode controls, but they are expensive, not always effective and take a lot of time to apply. Although not all our stock is attractive to this pest, by using the fungus in all compost mixes, it should give us an opportunity to get right back on top of its control.

Have a good week, from all at Kirton Farm Nurseries

Monday, 14 February 2011

Morning all,

I can always tell when it’s been a hectic week when I open up Word to record my weekly thoughts and last week’s version was the last file opened. The first thing to do is welcome a few newcomers to my weekly availability list posting, brace yourselves, this is as much to do with my unloading of stuff running around in an aging brain as it is providing the latest list of yummy looking hairy pots for you to release into the wild. I look on it as a bit of a free therapy session to delay the inevitable visit of men in white coats. The extra readership comes courtesy of the local GAN tradeshow which took place last week. It was a little quieter for us than last year, but still rewarding, and it was quite a shock to hear the next day that it was to be the last one. Attendance by stall holders and visitors did seem reduced and maybe the show had run its course, but it will leave a gap in our spring build up. The official reason for the closure was that the space was needed for plant production which is a positive move for a nursery!

Signs of hard times are hitting home here with the local pub closing this week, it has been struggling and has passed through several tenants in the past few years. Then I heard yesterday that the pub we use, to rehydrate after a tough game of hockey, has closed too, which was quite a surprise as it seemed really busy. That meant there was nowhere to drown our sorrows after getting stuffed 9-0 yesterday!

This week could be a big one on the awards front, with the dinner to announce the Nursery Stock Grower of the Year. We are one of three or four finalists, but we have decided not to lash out on the shockingly expensive tickets. It would have been £500+ for two of us to attend on the off-chance we might win, and I can think of better value things that the dosh could go on. Luckily I located someone who is attending, who has ‘volunteered’ to collect any surprise packages that come our way.

As an alternative night out we are getting a few friends together to go and see the very exciting Imelda May, must polish up my dancing shoes!

Talking of dancing shoes, we went to see Ben Waters again this week (Boogie Woogie pianist). A great night out enhanced rather bizarrely by a tall lady in a red shirt and black tights, who danced from start to finish in what can only be described as a ‘classical style’. Pointy toes, pirouettes, leg kicks, no-holds barred, it’s great when you reach a certain age when what other people think doesn’t matter, as long as you are having a good time! After an initial embarrassment period, on the part of the audience, she certainly made a lot of people smile!

Eco news

I can now tell you that we will be incorporating the new bio-insecticide Met52 in our potting composts. This was launched at the GAN show and is a fungus that gives long term protection against the dreaded vine weevil. Since introducing the herb and soft fruit ranges we have shied away from using chemical control in favour of introducing the safe nematode controls, but they are expensive, not always effective and take a lot of time to apply. Although not all our stock is attractive to this pest, by using the fungus in all compost mixes, it should give us an opportunity to get right back on top of its control.

Wind turbines continue to get closer to starting but still not quite there. Turbine prices due to increase at the end of the month so the pressure is on!

January electric use down on last year (warmer weather and less heating), so a good start to further carbon reduction for 2011. Gave away a load of trays and pots to other growers this week, and more loads went off to the plastic recycling man, so we are very nearly clear of our old plastic pot orientated production clobber. The wood burner continues to use up the scrap wood and a few old coir pots so we are land filling less and less rubbish. For a business employing 25+ people we send a remarkably small amount of stuff to land fill, just one wheelie bin (small 4 wheeled) a week, and we hope to get this down to a domestic sized one later in the year when the recycling gets really fine tuned.

Nature notes

Spring is springing, loads of bird song well into the evening at the moment shows that as Valentines Day approaches (don’t forget chaps) thoughts are turning to love. There was definite plopping in the big pond the other night when I walked past, although no sign of any spawn yet. Sunny yesterday but cool today (9.2 C in the office at the moment)

Have a good week, from all at Kirton Farm Nurseries

Monday, 7 February 2011

Great weekend for anyone with a wind turbine! Luckily not too much damage here, a few bits blown about but nothing too exciting. At least we don’t get cyclone winds of 180 mph like they had in Australia this week, now that would be scary, what a relief that no-one was seriously hurt.

We are gradually ramping up the orders as each passing day gets us closer to the mad spring rush. We managed to get a few more shelves up in the upgraded despatch area, laid some more drains, plumbed in some more irrigation, printed more labels, recycled some more plastic and tidied a load more plants, so we’ve not been slacking.

The week was peppered with meetings and visits which we try and get out of the way before it all goes bonkers and I have to say they were all really productive. I’m not a great fan of meetings, as I would rather get on and do something rather than sit around and talk about it, but I came out of each one thinking how rewarding they had been. Possibly the oddest one was one evening, being invited as an ‘expert witness’ to a City Council committee meeting, which was looking into how they could encourage a lower carbon economy in the locality through the planning process. I suspect I qualify as an ‘expert’ by default, being one of the very few to have actually got planning permission for a renewable energy project! I got off to a bad start by sitting through a planners presentation on current policy which was full of acronyms that I had never heard of. There were too many people and acronyms for me to stop them and ask what they meant, so I just nodded my head along with everyone else! Anyway I then did my bit to try and demonstrate how there are many business trying to do their bit on sustainability as a whole, how we approached our planning application, where the planning process held us up and then answered a few questions. Then I listened to a series of sharp intakes of breath as they listened to an expert on the current view on global energy use over the next 25+ years. The keys seemed to be the likely continued reliance on fossil fuels over that period, the increasing demand from a developing world and the increasing population size. The estimate for demand for oil exceeding available supply was 2015 18 months ago, that has now dropped to 2013. That doesn’t mean we will run out but that the price is likely to increase significantly. The recent Egyptian political unrest increased the oil price to over $100/barrel, at which point the OPEC countries usually increase supply to stabilise the market (a high price increases political unrest) but they haven’t, prompting fears that the taps are already fully open! Reserves are still being found but at a rate of only 1 barrel for every 2 barrels sold. Those new supplies are also more difficult to get to market, the tar sands in Canada for example use the equivalent of one barrel of oil in energy to extract two barrels of oil, not cheap and not brilliant on the carbon emission front. The age of cheap oil has gone unless there is a complete collapse of the world economy!

Luckily to balance out this slightly depressing news, I can report that I scored twice yesterday in a 3-3 draw at our local rivals Alton. A game marred by a load of grumpy old men trying desperately to get into the English whingeing squad. That’s the price you pay sometimes playing in a veterans hockey team, but it was all ok because, in spite of my modesty, I was brilliant!

Eco news

We have now heard that we have successfully fulfilled our planning conditions for the wind turbines and should receive written notification soon, this means we can actually start on the actual physical work. That will involve the imminent removal of the short sections of hedge where the turbine foundations will go in. This needs to be done before the hedges shoot and the nesting season gets started, which won’t be long away. This week should see the coming together of the costs and finances so we can start some real action, unfortunately that involves parting with a load of dosh. It looks like it will take us about two years in total from deciding to do the project to completing it, assuming no more hold ups. In that time the cost of the electric cabling alone has increased over 400%.

Have a good week, from all at Kirton Farm Nurseries