Monday, 28 January 2013

After over a week of real wintery stuff we are suddenly bathed in fantastic warm sunshine and the thought of selling a few plants reawakens. The longer term forecasts had not filled me with hope, I could see the snow and frost going on for months if some of the newspapers were to be believed. Not great for cash-flow at the most difficult time of year for most hardy plant growers. Sales are about to lift off and costs accelerate just at the time when income is dribbly and overdraft stretched to its limit. So to see the sun out is a real bonus and I am very pleased to see it.

This is the time of year when a bit of inspiration and innovation can bring some real hope back into the frame. We have just about finished revamping despatch, the potting tunnel and the pricking out areas and we have some great new toys to play with. A new layout in despatch is slick, clean, simple and efficient and is now complimented with a new label storage system. Many of our colour and wooden labels are prepared in bundles of 12 each in their own basket in advance of the manic (hopefully) spring sales period which makes order processing so much easier. The problem we have had is that the light that
hits the shelves perishes the elastic bands, the baskets and eventually the labels too if we don’t use them quickly enough. We have now clad all the shelving with spare woven black plastic complete with pull up curtains to eliminate the light. Not only should it slow up the light damage but it keeps everything cleaner too.

Inspiration and encouragement can come big or small. I attended Contact 2013 (conference for ornamental growers) a couple of weeks ago and was treated to speaker after speaker of amazing quality each giving their insight on the future path of ornamental horticulture. Quite a bit of it was pretty scary but still full of opportunities if you don’t stick your head in the sand. The effect of population, energy, climate, food and resource challenges were all in there in big chunks as well as IT and career
development stuff. Lots to think about especially the lack of joined up thinking in such a diverse industry. Everyone does their own thing and we don’t work together enough to sort out the sensible stuff. There are something like 1,500 horticultural nurseries with only 11,500 people working in it (from Contact 2013), that’s a lot of small businesses. Our NBIS business group where we seek to sort out problems together is still going strong but with only about 8 active members, there is now only one
other regional NBIS group running. Only about 45 nurseries attended the Contact conference. Look at logistics, how many individual nurseries still run around delivering small orders all over the country and coming back empty, service is often slower than the customer needs and it is very inefficient for everyone. The logistic companies don’t seem to be able to solve it and the nurseries don’t work together to help either but there will have to be a solution sometime or we will end up pricing ourselves out of the market.

Tiny inspiration now with our latest purchase from Lakeland (other designs available I am told). Having cleared out the loft of ancient accounts ready for the insulation a while ago we have been looking to fuel the wood burner with the unwanted paperwork. But putting on sheets of old invoices etc just clogged everything up. I have looked at making papier-mâché briquettes but life is too short for some things, but we now have the answer. We now just roll up a thick wad of paper and pop it into a ‘Logsaver’, a simple wire frame holds the roll and it burns brilliantly, very thoroughly and for quite a while. Need to
be a bit careful lifting it out to cool down as it gets very hot.

Watch out for customers looking for ‘Value Optimisation’, taken to the extreme with the big boys it can lead to burger ingredients galloping away with you. There is so often a price to pay for a bargain.

Nature notes

RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch this weekend. No eagles to report but plenty of activity around all 11 feeders. I suspect we are keeping the bird seed industry going on our own. The growing interest in this sort of thing just keeps the momentum building for better things to come.

Have a good week from all at Kirton Farm

Monday, 14 January 2013

Morning all,

Just a quick one this week as I have to get back to computer mending. My favourite job! How come everything goes so smoothly for months on end then all of a sudden it all goes pear shaped.

We had a great start to the week with getting all this seasons picture labels delivered, bundled up and filed away under our new storage curtain (keeps the light off the elastic bands to prevent perishing and storage baskets from going brittle, as well as keeping things cleaner). We also ‘redesigned’ the waxed card tray inserts which are supposed to slow the drainage from our wooden trays allowing a little more time for the plants to absorb the irrigation or rain water. The original design had only very small gaps in the corners to allow water escape and was performing a bit too well, holding the water too long, especially apparent when last year proved to be a little on the damp side. We are enlarging the drainage outlets in each corner with the highly skilled application of the office guillotine. We have more of less finished resetting out despatch after a major lean management project was done, just a bit of price label organisation and storage to complete and we should be there.

After that I decided to tidy up the computer backup problem we had with the link failing between the computer and the external hard drive. I also tried fitting a small device in the lab growth room which is supposed to send us an email if the temperature goes out of its safe range. All seemed to be going well when it became apparent that something had gone wrong with a lot of the devices connected to our network. Sometimes they would talk to each other and at other times they would not. The computers seemed ok it was all the other stuff. By Friday morning we had no printers working other than the fax, the hands-free dect phones were out of action and the backup refused to find its destination folder. At some point the IP addresses of a lot of the stuff on the network changed and consequently the network path was lost. After spending all Friday and Saturday morning on it we now have everything back except the phones. This morning (Sunday) I found a ridiculously simply fix which allowed the devices to find each other automatically, which they were supposed to be doing anyway. Thank goodness for Google searches coming up with a solution. Not actually sure it has sorted it 100% but fingers crossed. Catherine helped me out on Saturday trying to get things right, she would read out an ‘easy solution’ and within 3 or 4 words a haze came over both of us, it just didn’t make any sense, it was like a foreign language. Just tell us what to do and which buttons to press.

Hopefully I will have time on Monday to do a little preparation for my appearance at Contact 3013 on Thursday. I am part of a panel of growers and compost producers sharing our experiences of peat reduction and peat free composts in a couple of workshops. Unless I write down something I will end up forgetting it all, gone are the days when I could retain more than a couple of facts at a time.

Nice to see the sun out today, and a nip in the air is right for the time of year. Just hoping the cold doesn’t get to bad. We still haven’t put the central heating on yet this winter, the wood burner, aga and insulation have done us proud so far.

The extra insulation on the pipes in the prop tunnel has done well too. We now have to put a heater on when we are working in there! Can’t believe we didn’t do it before.

To take a look at or download our 2013 wholesale catalogue follow this link;

It is also available on the nursery website For pricing details please drop me an email.

Nature notes

Owls all over the place this week. Barn owls hunting down the road and a couple of tawny owls calling around the nursery and garden at most evenings.

If you need a fax list please let us know, pick it up from the website or alternately send an email address.

Have a good week, from all at Kirton Farm Nurseries

Monday, 7 January 2013

Morning all,

Happy New Year to all. Great to be back after a lovely break. We had a very busy but fun few days with loads of socialising and a monster Christmas lunch. I failed to compensate the extra number of items to fit on the plate with the volume of each and ended up with a small mountain. Luckily I had had only a light breakfast so managed to squeeze it all in and manage pudding too. Haven’t eaten since. Ok, that’s not quite true but serious rescue mission on the way to save moving up a waist size.

First day back got 2013 off to a great start with a few orders to put together and deliver which is always encouraging. At some points through the early winter you always wonder if anyone will ever buy anything again, especially after the previous year’s rubbish weather. So to be able to get things moving was a good welcome for those few who actually returned to the grindstone on Wednesday. I can’t say things went terribly smoothly in the admin and label printing dept, our just-in–time printer toner management bit me in the bum when on the first morning both printers ran out of the same coloured ink and refused to print despite one of them having plenty to spare in the drum. Usually we can swap toner from one to printer to the other but no, nothing would work. I also managed to detach a small piece of plastic and a spring from the drum mechanism which I couldn’t get back together and brought up a another error message but luckily consumable delivery is next day so I ordered up what we needed and printed out a few odd bits of paperwork on the multifunction fax instead which saw us through. The toner arrived early and the printers were instantly perfect again, it’s those little chips they put in consumables now that force you to buy new and in theory stop you fiddling about. By this time I had also messed up the label layout in the programme so needed to reinstate a backed up version to cure it. Naturally this is when we found out that the backup storage drive had stopped working a couple of weeks ago with a damaged cable so I had to manually reset up the label design. While trying to tidy up the printer list on my PC I also managed to delete all the driver set ups to the label printer and couldn’t find the disks to reinstate them! What fun. Just the nice relaxed start you need to a new year! Anyway, all sorted now, other than replacing the backup cable so no real harm done.

A full 5 days coming up this week with a full contingent of eager helpers so hopefully we will get stuck into loads of work. The weather looks a bit drier which is great although the local water table is still rising and appearing as pools in the lower local fields. The ex pub at the bottom of our hill has just been redeveloped as a private home and gone on the market again, I wonder if anyone has realised yet that the cellar is about to fill with water as it does in peak years?

Time to go and collect some straw for the donkeys so they don’t go hungry when the snow comes.

I have managed to put together our 2013 catalogue with all the latest info, and paper copies will be whizzing through the post to many of you. If you need to take a look on-line at the new list please take a look on the following Dropbox link; (Dropbox is a very useful site I found this year for posting large files on, instead of actually emailing them. I then send the link to the file and you can download them or just look at them. It is free to use)

It is also be available on the nursery website For pricing details please drop me an email.

Nature notes

Don’t forget to keep feeding the birds, the hedges look a bit bare here and we have loads of visitors to the feeders at the moment. Blue, great, coal and long tailed tits, gold, green and chaffinches, sparrows as well as the odd winter migrant like the male and female blackcaps that have been around now for a few weeks. Greater spotted woodpeckers are regulars and the big stuff hoover up the fallout. I shudder to think of the food bill as we are getting through sacks of seed and suet. Christmas brought another stand and four more feeders which are hopefully a bit more squirrel and jackdaw proof just to slow them down a bit. We are missing the Fieldfares this winter which are usually attracted by the apples from our old russet tree but there was no crop this year so no food.

If you need a fax list please let us know, pick it up from the website or alternately send an email address.

Have a good festive break, from all at Kirton Farm Nurseries