Monday, 27 February 2012

What a lovely weekend, bright, sunny and springy. I have just had a nice walk round the nursery to check up on things and the skylarks are singing, grasshoppers rubbing legs, frogs croaking and rabbits are unfortunately trimming plants back. We still haven’t really got on top of the rabbit population we fenced in a few seasons ago. The cat keeps on top of most of the young ones as they appear but there always seem to be a few that get away and nibble away in odd places. Usually once the hedge undergrowth and grass gets growing they move onto this so hopefully won’t do too much permanent damage.

The plants are beginning to show signs of the first spring growth spurt which makes things look more positive after the recent cold snap which did knock a few things back. Hopefully seeing the green shoots of the spring will restore a bit of confidence in the customers and we can all get excited about growing stuff all over again.

We got quite excited yesterday with a night out in King’s Somborne village hall. Not a venue we frequent often, I’m not much good at village panto’s, I struggle to let my imagination go far enough to really enjoy that sort of thing! However they hosted a concert by The Wiyo’s who are a fantastically talented band from New York we had never heard of before this week. We checked them out on the internet and they were well reviewed, so went to see. There was a sell out crowd of about 150 and they got a very varied show from polka’s and a waltz to rock and roll and bizarre folk. I think the song about ‘mother had a baby and its head popped off’ was probably the most surprising. Overall an evening when it was a good decision to take a risk. Bonkers.

Unfortunately the evening was spoilt at the end by the news that one of our great friends had gone to hospital earlier with chest pains. He is should be OK now as they have fitted a stent to sort out the problem so should be out on Tuesday. We were playing skittles together last Tuesday (could have been the excitement) and he was playing hockey when he felt unwell, so it all feels very close. Luckily he is such a lovely chap with such a nice family that there is lots of support to help and our best wishes go to all for a speedy recovery. Well done the NHS for sorting him out so efficiently and for the other three chaps I know of my sort of age who have had the same op in the last year or so. Years ago the outcome might have been different. On top of one of our staff sadly losing her mother this week it is a sobering time, I’m off for a therapeutic hug under the turbines.

Eco News

A quiet couple of days on the turbines but they are still up there doing their thing when conditions allow. We will really miss them when the leaves come out and we lose sight of them from the house, it’s always nice to see them greeting us with a wave when we open the curtains.

I came across this document last week which goes over the governments current feed in tariff review which is a bit log winded but does have some very interesting graphs and info in it. The current position on the number of solar installations in comparison with the other renewable schemes is included which is surprising. You can see why they wanted to lower the tariff early for solar, it has been taken up on such a big scale.

If anyone lives in Hampshire and is short on house insulation check out where you can now get free cavity wall insulation and either free or very cheap loft insulation to top up to the minimum requirement of 11.5 inches. Alternatively contact your energy supplier as I heard this week that some are offering financial rewards for installing free insulation, as the take up was not high enough. Do it if you can, it seems like a really dull purchase but saves money year after year and will save more and more as energy prices continue to rise.

Nature Stuff

No frogspawn at 7.30am on Saturday, but loads by 10.00am. Spring has sprung.

Have a good week from all at Kirton Farm Nurseries

Monday, 20 February 2012

Central heating turned off again last week as the weather warms up and the insulation does its thing . The house copes well with the odd beautiful frost like this morning and it looks like it is only cooler for another 24hrs and we will be basking in 17C by the end of the week! What is going on?

Loads of exciting stuff last week, we had a new part time lady, Gillian, start work on Monday which is always fun for all and two of our regular agency staff returned after their winter break. It’s always nice to see regulars coming back for more. The orders have started picking up a bit so that has kept us busy and we installed a bigger trial of the capillary matting trial in one of our prop tunnels. We organised delivery of two more trials of different peat free composts to assess spring potting performance and managed to get the irrigation up and running again after the freeze up.

The new irrigation spray-line air flushing system seems to have worked so far with no split pipes. I had to flush again yesterday ready for the frost and as I have had to water a couple of tunnels today I will have to repeat it again this afternoon. The flushed water goes onto the crop so no waste there, it just needs the air compressor running for a couple of hours to push all the water out, the irrigation programmer opens and shuts all the valves in turn to work round the site so I only need to be here to set it going and turn off the compressor at the end. It’s nice when something goes to plan, it doesn’t happen often!

Other things I squeezed in were attending a local driver awareness course, oops. Got caught doing 35 in a 30 over Christmas. First time for me in 34 years driving, but still naughty. The course was very effective, sensible and practical. It highlighted the fact that we rarely read the highway code after passing our test, we forget stuff over that time and the code and law change. So we were updated on some basics, like if there are 3 or more streetlights you are in a 30 limit unless there are reminder signs advising otherwise and the 2 second rule for keeping your distance behind the vehicle in front (4 seconds in the wet). There were the horror stories of what happens when things go wrong, the Saab convertible that wasn’t one before the driver went to retrieve a text message and ran into a tractor trailer but most impressive of all was the extra damage caused to pedestrians if hit at only slightly high speeds. That few MPH extra does make a huge difference and can result in a changed lives for all concerned if things go badly. Take care, it can happen to anyone, 95% of RTA’s are human error.

On a brighter note last week saw Valentine’s Day come and go, so I hope you remembered. I took Caroline out for a delicious pizza which sounds pretty good for me. Mind you it did involve about 20 others and a skittles game so perhaps not perfect. Still it went down better than the bag of fresh spinach I got her a few years ago, it was organic.

Eco News

At long last we received our first FIT payment this week so we can start paying off the turbines.

I did a little 20 minute presentation to a farming group on Thursday on our turbine project along with a solar installer and an anaerobic digester expert. I think I was the light relief at the end, as my presentation perhaps wasn’t as slick as the pro’s but I did get more laughs! Does that count? Overall the reaction was very positive with the vast majority preferring wind power to the others despite the fact that in this area it is the others that are being installed. Still as long as someone is looking to do something we can move on.

If anyone lives in Hampshire and is short on house insulation check out where you can now get free cavity wall insulation and either free or very cheap loft insulation to top up to the minimum requirement of 11.5 inches.

Nature Stuff

There must be an influx of Blackcaps, we now have three in the garden and we have heard of several others locally in the last week or two. No frogspawn yet.

Have a good week, from all at Kirton Farm Nurseries

Monday, 13 February 2012

Morning all,

Slightly warmer this morning after another very cold week. Luckily the very coldest nights have been over the weekend so we have just about managed to keep things defrosted enough to keep us all busy. The new van arrived on Wednesday just in time for it to get snowed in on Thursday, so we haven’t yet been out in it. Disappointingly, it looks remarkably similar to the la st one, mostly due to the fact it is the same make with a direct copy of our previous body on the back. The paint job is new and it looks quite smart but for the amount these things cost it should have been more satisfying and made the blood pump a bit harder. I did try to find a more exciting alternative but I will just have to make do with a little bit of extra efficiency and its cleaner running.

I have been able to abandon the ‘Chums’ fleece lined trousers this morning which is a relief. They do a great job in the cold but  the combination of multiple fleece build up and vigorous movement does make for a sparky time. I can relight the wood burner by just earthing myself with the poker on the casing. As soon as I start removing layers the crackling and sparking starts and I know at some point I am going to find an earthing point. Caroline seems particularly sensitive to static at this time of year and any human contact is discouraged, offers of an earthing rod to help out are not very well received so I keep my distance.

As we get a bit closer to spring and you get organised for your first orders feel free to let us know if you need any new wooden pot labels to replace any that may have rotted away over the winter

This week I lashed out on a new computer programme to help created online fillinable availability lists. This means that with a bit of luck if you have MS Word on your computer you should be able to fill it in on screen and email it back to me. We haven’t had many requests for this but I know a few of you would like to use it so let me know if it works. Naturally it was child’s play to set it up, it converts, with one click, the pdf file our nursery stock production programme produces into a Word document which can then be typed over. It took me most of the week to get it to work, the programme is a lot cleverer than me. We can also combine multiple files into one which makes it simpler to send, so if you print it off just check you print only the pages you need.

Eco News

We are still hopeful that we might actually receive our first feed in tariff check this week. It will be 8 months since we st arted but eventually the stalling and rubbish organisation will sort itself out and the payments we come become a bit more regular, maybe. If we were this slow paying our electric bills we would have been cut off months ago.

If anyone lives in Hampshire and is short on house insulation go to where you can now get free cavity wall insulation and either free or very cheap loft insulation to top up to the minimum requirement of 11.5 inches. We paid a bit more for ours last year and did a bit extra ourselves under the floor too and it made a huge difference. There are lots of scare stories about on the internet about damp etc with cavity walls but there are long term guarantees with the installation and we have had no problems, in fact we have less internal condensation than we did before. The house is warmer and the bills much lower. If you have a good heating system you might not notice a temperature change but the bills will be less and that will save a little, or in our case a lot, every year, so the cumulative affect can be huge. If you are not in Hampshire check out your local area, this type of scheme is sponsored by the energy companies and I’m sure must be fairly wide spread.

Nature Stuff

The cold spell has brought a few extra visitors into the garden, we have a couple of very smart Fieldfares feeding on the remains of the fallen apples and a very aggressive male Black Cap on the suet feeder. It’s a shame they missed out on the RSPB Garden Watch survey of a couple of weeks ago, we only had plenty of the usual common garden suspects with no exciting ones to record at all.

We had been keeping an eye on the ponds over the week or two before the freeze, thinking the frogs might start up soon, good job they didn’t, but I suspect spring will leap on us once this snap gives up. Can’t wait.

Have a good week, from all at Kirton Farm Nurseries

Monday, 6 February 2012

Now that was a bit more wintery. I must admit we did turn on the central heating on Wednesday just to keep it nice and cosy. We got down to -9C on the nursery thermometer on Friday night and just a degree or two warmer the previous couple of nights. Last night we had a couple of inches of snow but this morning it is mostly slush and it is relatively warm so that might be the winter done for us in the barmy south. Despite the cold we still played hockey yesterday and although I wasn’t particularly looking forward to getting down to my shorts in this weather it was fine, partly due to foam shin pads, padded knee protectors and long shorts covering everything but an inch or two and partly due to scoring twice and setting up the third in a 3-2 win! Unfortunately my goals were not very pretty and the cross that set up the goal was supposed to be a shot but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

The cold weather did slow things up here a bit with a few frozen pipes in the loo’s and mess room but at least the irrigation system should be ok. A few weeks ago we set up the new system with a compressed air fitting so we can now blow out the water in the pipes and spray-lines onto the crop by running a specific programme on the irrigation controller, preventing any pipe freezing damage. Having suffered quite a bit of damage last winter this does give us a lot more irrigation flexibility in the cold season and confidence that we can cheaply and easily safeguard the system. Another step forwards. One new bit of kit I have discovered this winter is pipe heating cable which we had installed under the insulation on all our water inlet pipes around the storage tank and pump shed. It runs on low power electric cable which gently warms the pipe when temperatures drop, the colder it gets the more it heats. Although it does use a little bit of power it is much cheaper than fixing the damage that can be caused by frozen pipes. I will have to have a look at getting the pipe-work going into the portacabins done to help out these vulnerable spots which always seem to freeze up.

Sales were a bit subdued but the timing worked out well. We had been due to get our new van delivered this week, the old one has passed its sell by date and can no longer be used in the new London emissions zone, but it was delayed with some technical problem and never arrived. Hopefully it should be here in the coming week and we can have a play. It is a good illustration of how things move on in just 5 years, the emissions are far less and the fuel economy improved. We have gone with an automatic for the first time, as it is supposed to be more reliable (not a good start so far!) and save a bit on fuel.

Eco News

We are extending our LED lighting trial in the growth room of the microprop lab. The plants are doing really well under the trial lights but the light spread isn’t quite good enough for our narrow shelf heights, so we are going to try a different arrangement where the lights are individually mounted on a ‘string’ so we can spread them out over the whole shelf area. It will be more complicated to install but if it works could mean we can create more production area in the same room, while reducing energy costs for the lighting by 60% and reducing temperature control costs too.

Another example of technology moving forward for the better is the latest developments in air source heat pumps which we use for controlling the temperatures in the lab. We replaced one unit that died in the summer which was about 8 years old with a new unit which has an inverter in it. The running costs fell noticeably for us and the claims of between 35% and 65% savings in energy use looking true. The nice thing about this change is that the units are not just significantly cheaper to run but do the job better which can’t always be said of environmental advances. Basically an inverter changes the way the units work, rather than being on or off when heating or cooling, they make gradual changes adding a little more heat or cooling as the environment demands it. This variable control makes for more subtle temperature changes in the room, less cold draughts or hot winds and reduced energy use. Naturally the cleverer system is more expensive to initially buy but the payback is very quick if it is in constant use.

If you want to start on some environmental improvements where you are, the first steps are very cheap. Read, record and try and understand your energy use, it sounds really dull but it does focus attention but watch out it can get addictive! When I first started I was reading the meter several times a day to try and understand what was going on, but I have got it down to once a day now, well except for the turbine meter of course which gets read a lot when it’s windy!

Have a good week, from all at Kirton Farm Nurseries