Sunday, 25 March 2012

Make the most of the sunshine. Looks like we will have a settled start to next week too after this summery weekend. I wonder if BBQ sales have taken off early. It is all slightly disconcerting as it was only a few weeks ago that we were in the depths of that cold snap and now legs are out all over the place, I even played hockey yesterday without my vest! Hope you haven’t had too many confused gardeners asking about the summer bedding yet?!
Had a busy week as sales build in the lovely weather and potting is now well under way. Not quite manic yet, just bubbling under. I squeezed in my last game of hockey of the season yesterday in a hard fought and sweaty 1 -0 loss. Lovely pint and sandwich after as felt we like we earned it.

Irrigation is running higher than usual for March and naturally behaves beautifully until you really need it! Having trouble with our slave pump which is supposed to step in when pressure falls. It seems to forget unless I re-set it by turning it all on and off again. Thank goodness for all those years of IT training. It has happened a couple of times this week so I suppose I will have to bite the bullet and phone the manufacturers and follow their instructions. Not something I’m very good at.

A relatively quiet weekend after a couple of busy ones. I survived two games last Saturday, came fifth out of twenty in the annual Wellow Growmore quiz and had a delicious family Mothering Sunday lunch with five mums and lots of helpers. Nice to get back to work for a rest.

Had an interesting trip out on Thursday afternoon to test out the new nursery costing programme developed by the HDC. Not perhaps the friendliest user presentation but at this early stage it looks like it could be a useful tool for any grower wanting to check out the cost of producing individual crops on the nursery. If nothing else it does make you take note of the amounts of time and input put into each operation involved in producing the end product. Once you have some basic info to enter it is quite simple to adjust bits here and there to see what elements have the biggest influence on margins. Apparently one grower was surprised what an influence price made! Perhaps there is hope for the rest of us after all. One of the biggest influences is the crop waste element. This can be crop losses which can be difficult to avoid sometimes but more often than not it is over production by over optimistic planning. Growers tend to think it will always be better next year and we can’t afford to be without lots of stock, big mistake. Not the test will come, can I avoid the temptation of buying in more young plants when the sun comes out, it will be a struggle!

Eco News

I have one very happy brother in law who is relishing this sunny weather as he has recently finished a couple of solar panel installations on his farm. On top of this he heard on Friday that the government had lost their High Court appeal and are going to have to pay a higher rate of FIT to all the solar installations put in from December 2011 to March 2012. Lucky boy. Meanwhile our turbines are suffering from too much still sunny weather and output is less than hoped for over the last few weeks. They are still doing something just not enough. Still looking on the bright side this might be it for the summer of 2012 and we might make it back up later!

Mum and I sowed the areas under the turbines with a wild flower mix last weekend so they will look yummy come the summer.

Have a good week, from all at Kirton Farm Nurseries

Saturday, 17 March 2012

A lovely drop of rain this morning to freshen things up. Hoping it will have stopped by midday as I have my first game of hockey of the day. Normally two games in a weekend finishes me off but two in one day is madness in my physical condition. I just struggle to say no and late last night when nephew Tom phoned to ask if I could take his place as he had had a better offer (only vague details involving university, games and social eventing) and I hadn’t the heart to refuse.

I hope Mothering Sunday gives you all a boost to sales, there was certainly plenty of activity in the Waitrose flower and chocolate dept’s this morning. Things are definitely picking up on the sales front after a lovely weekend and a bit of rain over a couple of days hopefully will reduce concerns about impending hosepipe restrictions.

Although we do work in a great industry which has lots of potential positive aspects I found parts of this week a little less than idyllic. We get quite frantic on Mondays after a sunny weekend, the orders flood in and we have to start sorting out order collation and delivery. The last thing I needed was the news that the men’s urinals were not emptying! I spent the next rather tense day and a half dodging between the office and underneath the loo block. I will spare you the detail but it was one of those jobs where just about everything that could go wrong did, no standard pipe fittings and no easy access. Anyway it’s all sorted now but the attraction of running your own nursery did take a dent. On the positive side I can now end the week flushed with success.

We had a brilliant time last weekend, after a birthday curry with a few friends and an ace present of a shiny new archaeologist’s trowel on Saturday, we went on a walk around Stonehenge on Sunday. The weather was stunning and the walk fascinating. It was led by Brian who is a very enthusiastic and imaginative archaeologist and he walked and talked us through all the latest discoveries about the famous ancient site. Most of the new info has only come to light over the last few years or even months and is summarised in a new book about Stonehenge coming out next June. We visited the newly found Blue Stonehenge (2009) which is down by the River Avon. This is where the Welsh Blue Stones that make up the original inner circle of Stonehenge were first originally erected in a circle before being moved to the existing site. The site of Blue Stonehenge was found when ‘The Avenue’, a track/processional route that goes from Stonehenge, was traced back to the River Avon. The remains of the holes left by the stones and a few bluestone chips were discovered next to the river and matched by laser mapping to the shape of the stones now at Stonehenge. There is nothing much to see other than a privately owned unmarked tussocky field but it was quite exciting to be there none the less. Then we had a sandwich on the Cursus which is another odd marked area believed to be another processional site in full view of Stonehenge. It is about 3km long and 100m across and is marked out with the remains of a ditch and bank and predates most of Stonehenge by 500 years. A few months ago they discovered two big pits believed to hold two stones near each end of the feature. When mapped on computer they were found to relate to the large Heel Stone next to Stonehenge and aline exactly to midsummer sunrise and midsummer sunset when viewed from the Heel Stone. Google on ‘Blue Stonehenge’ or ‘Cursus pits found’ for more info but watch out for the bonkers sites this sort of subject attracts! I wonder if this discovery will change the midsummer focus at the henge, as this summer’s event will be the first since the discovery.

Eco News

Finalised and ordered the basic bio-control programme this week, with 7 predators coming in on a regular schedule to do their bit against a wide range of pests. We also have a couple of bio-fungicides and bio-insecticides which use funguses to attack specific pests and diseases. It’s early days in this field but progress is accelerating at an exciting rate as more effort is put into chemical alternatives. The drive behind this progress isn’t wishy-washy beardy-weirdy hopes, but a commercial need to combat the resistance to chemical controls building up in the pests and diseases. Hopefully we will all benefit from these new approaches in the long run.

Have a good week, from all at Kirton Farm Nurseries

Monday, 12 March 2012

What a lovely spring day. I just walked past one of the nursery ponds and there was a lot of splashing about as all the frogs took cover, they are very active today in the warm sunshine. I’ve been active too in an exciting 0-0 draw early today in Petersfield. Feeling a bit weak now and very nearly fell asleep in front of the rugby but couldn’t afford the time. It’s a busy day today, lots to fit in with groceries, hockey, availability lists, irrigating, seed sowing and present opening, then later I’ve birthday visitors, turbine inspection and curry, ace! Caroline is looking after me on my big day by disappearing off to see Saints play in another important game still pushing for promotion. Had some lovely presents including the now regular nest-box (I think that’s about six in the last three years, this time it is a very smart sparrow terrace) chocs and beer, and best of all two packs of mixed grill from the fantastic local butchers in Stockbridge.

Had a great day out last Sunday on our over 50’s cup trip to Jersey. Exciting flight with high cross winds making for a lively approach and landing and warranting a round of applause from many on touchdown. I think we were still reliving the plane trip in the first few minutes when we went behind, but we pulled ourselves together and made a good game of it nearly getting it back on several occasions. However it would have been terribly rude of us to win as they had funded most of our trip and looked after us so well, so we were satisfied enough with a good game a nice beer and lunch at the pub. I managed to attract a strip search in airport security on the way out which was a novelty, not something we experience on our trips into Cornwall! I don’t think it was my shifty appearance particularly, just the old man’s back brace I was wearing to hold myself together. Things are building up on the nursery with sales picking up and the potting and pricking out well underway which gets us all in the spring mood.

For anyone visiting the nursery to pick up plants we can now quickly deal with card payments with our new card terminal which means that even I can cope with taking a payment by card. Thankfully I don’t have to remember any pin codes only you do, so I’m much more capable of taking your money than getting out any of my own!

Watch out for 5 planets in the sky over the next night or two, apparently it doesn’t happen often. Check out the Google sky app on a smart-phone to identify what you are seeing.

I’m off to polish up my iron-age cooking stones to impress Brian our visiting archaeologist. Not sure if he will be that excited really but it gives me a buzz when I’ve picked them out of a trench in our field.

Eco News

The wild flower strip we sowed last year as part of the ecological development to compensate for putting up the turbines is looking well established. We will be extending it this spring as it is keeping the willow-herb and bitter-cress weeds at bay and will attract a wider range of predator insects which we hope will help our pest control. We now have our plan set out of predator introductions for the coming season with the first batches going in towards the end of this month when the temperatures get high enough for them to be truly active. Until then we will spot spray any problem outbreaks so that the predators get off to a nice balanced start. This means we need a small pest population for the predators to get stuck into and establish themselves then they can spread successfully and keep on top of things.

Have a good week, from all at Kirton Farm Nurseries

Sunday, 4 March 2012

A little bit more warmth and some sunshine made for a jolly week on the nursery, the plants are looking more and more spring like and pre season tension is beginning to rise. Hopefully the worst of the winter is behind us and we can all get stuck into an exciting spring and summer. It’s always a funny time of year, things are about to go manic which is exciting but the cashflow hasn’t kicked in yet which is less motivating when looking for the cash to clear the bills over the next month. We want to do lots of work in preparation but without spending anything, a tricky balance to make sometimes. This week went well though, we started the spring potting, finished installing some more capillary matting in the propagation tunnel and recovered the two production tunnels that lost their covers in the January winds. The tunnel covers we had in stock and because we had previously emptied the stock from the tunnels we instantly created lots of clean potting space.

Suffered terribly during the week from old folk’s caffeine overdose. We had a skittles cup game which we sadly lost, but in an effort to keep awake towards the end of the evening we both had a coffee. Great for the skittles but rubbish for getting to sleep later, it must have been brewing for hours! Two thirty the next morning we are both watching telly, both still buzzing and getting cross knowing in a few hours we would be getting up again. Had a long night last night to make up a bit just need to do it again tonight. How come it takes so long now to get over one cup of coffee?

Busy weekend coming up, I’ve got our usual game of hockey this afternoon, lovely day for it, then a trip away on Sunday for an over 50’s cup game. Just a short trip to Jersey! I don’t know quite why I said yes, other than everyone else seemed so excited about it. I know I won’t be able to walk on Monday having played twice and I hate flying. The weather looks dodgy for the flight, it’s a small plane and I am told the runway is virtually in the sea, sounds great.

Eco News

We had a visit from Neil the expert pest and disease man from Fargro who is helping us get our bio controls organised on a more commercial footing. There are now an immense range of biological controls available which is great news for reducing the use of chemicals but not all are really commercially viable. It was great to be able to sort out a sensible regime to get effective results without breaking the bank. We will be introducing a range of predators, increasing the use of bio insecticides (bacteria and fungi which naturally attack other fungi and pests) and making more specific use of chemicals to target individual pests on individual crops. There are odd tricky subjects like the American Lupin Aphid which attacks just lupins. This is an imported wide spread pest that has few natural predators so does need some chemical control, where as we can get buy in 6 types of aphid predator to cope with other native aphids. With our new irrigation system and pump house we can now also install a compost tea application programme which will dose the nursery through the summer with beneficial bacteria and fungi strengthening the overall health of the crops. As well as making the crops more resilient to many pests and diseases it also supplies low levels of foliar feed which means we can reduce the levels of fertiliser in the compost which helps towards the cost of applying the tea. Neil liked our idea of planting small islands of native hedging close to the tunnels to provide
some extra overwintering habitat and did suggest some underplanting of Nepeta, Rudbekia and Solidago to attract the hoverflies in the summer which we will try out.

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.

Have a good week, from all at Kirton Farm Nurseries