Monday, 25 February 2013

Morning all,

Back to winter again this last few days, a real bite in that wind and a few snowflakes too. Perhaps not perfect gardening weather but at least it has dried out a bit.

We had a stunning day on Tuesday when the sun blazed and wind died completely, a perfect tunnel covering day. We have had four tunnels shredded over the autumn and winter and in desperate need of a recover but we just haven’t had the right sort of weather here to get it sorted. We are quite particular about the conditions we need for a successful re-clad, sunny, breathless and preferably warm. We had to forgo the warmth bit although the heat did build under the covers when we left them to settle draped over the hoops in the sun. There was just enough stretch to get a decent tautness to the covers and the wind stayed perfectly still the whole day which reduces stress levels enormously. Usually what happens is that it is still un til you have unrolled the cover and pulled it over the frame, then it blows up. Holding onto a large sheet of plastic in even the slightest breeze is quite exciting not only with the damage risk to the thin sheet but the lift potential to someone hanging on to it! We are all experienced, sensible and knowledgeable enough to know when to give up and let go so no real issue, but it can make for a tense day. Anyway Tuesday went brilliantly and we got 2 done, including one very awkward one which is always a challenge to get done well.

After Tuesday's success Wednesday was a more sobering day with the tragic news that a Hampshire fruit farm had lost two young workers who had apparently got caught in a controlled atmosphere fruit store. Few details have emerged yet but I had visited the farm a year or two ago and had been impressed by their professionalism and staff training regimes, so to hear such news is a real shock. Our thoughts go out to all those affected and I hope everyone takes away the message that mistakes and accidents do happen and we do need to look after everyone around us, you never know when a slip may occur. Take care.

A bit closer to home we had a worrying few days when the donkeys got taken away to the vets for a small op on one of them. Donkeys are gregarious things and so both had to go together to keep the stress levels down. It was their first time in a horse box for 13 years so that was extra excitement although not as exciting as trying to get them back in for the return journey.

Not sure if it was the box that was the problem or that they didn’t want to come back to a hillside unheated stable from the under-floor heated, soft surfaced play pad they had been staying in for previous two nights! Anyway all settled in again now and back to the usual routine.

Nursery preparations for the eventual arrival of spring are continuing with more 5S projects (or ‘tidying up’) getting done and the installation of several sections of shading over work areas that have a tendency to overheat in the sun. How about that for optimism and forward planning! The farm kindly helped out by clearing their kit stored in the yard overwinter to allow us a bit more room should we ever have any more big lorries in to deliver compost etc. I can’t remember having such a long period with so few big deliveries coming in, although the money still seems to go out just as fast. A tricky few weeks coming up now as we all juggle with the orders going out and the lack of cash coming in. That lag period between delivery and payment is always a challenge on the cash-flow but after last year’s poor sales the whole growing industry is in dire need of a nice smooth start to the season with no weather or financial delays to throw a spanner in the works.

Good luck everyone and a special thanks to all those prompt payers.


I sent off all our figures for the Winchester Carbon Smart accreditation this week and got interviewed by one of their advisers. I think that is the initial phase complete on our part and we are just awaiting a report to be completed and the accreditation level to be awarded. I believe there are three levels, so we can progress up to gold if we can push the right buttons. Let’s see what comes.

Nature notes

Cold snap seems to have delayed frog spawning although I have heard of some completed locally elsewhere.

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, 18 February 2013

Morning all,

What a lovely weekend as the cold and rain recede for a bit. The first milder day this week saw the main pond suddenly wake up with loads of frog activity although no visible spawning yet. Hopefully this hint of spring will get the gardeners up and going, we could all do with a few green pounds being spent fairly soon.

What a hectic week we had, with loads of stuff going on. Greg and myself went on a day’s training to be signed off as ‘competent’ people, Valentine’s Day gifts went down fairly well, and I lost £1,000 in just a few seconds!

As spring approaches our propagation area get’s going and larger areas need a bit of heat, so we fired up another heater this week which always hurts. On the plus side our oil consumption was tiny over the winter after we installed extra pipe insulation around the boilers and smugness welled inside, only to be rudely punctured this week when we tapped the tank gauge and the needle fell off! Having then dipped the tank we found only a few inches left in the bottom rather than it being nearly¾full, that’s a thousand pound bill materialising with the tap of the finger, ouch. Still at least we didn’t run out and lose plants
instead which would have been more painful. Gauge is repaired and working again and a valuable lesson learnt. Beware the self-righteous glow it can burn.

Invested a bit more in the future this week by training as a Portable Appliance Tester so we can now carry out our own testing once the new kit arrives. The one day course at Sparsholt College was perfect, a bit of technical stuff, lots of practical te sting of appliances and trying out a wide range of testing kits. I have now ordered a really user-friendly tester and two of us are now sanctioned as ‘competent’ to use it. Now we can do our annual checking and sticker application at our own convenience which is great, keeps us up to date and saves us money each year.


After ‘helping’ launch the Winchester Carbon Smart Scheme back in the Autumn by talking about our sustainable developments over the last few years, we have actually got round to signing up for it this week. Having taken a quick look at the Carbon Smart website and questionnaire back then I wasn’t sure if we had already gone too far to really benefit from their input. The level of recording they are initially looking at is a bit more general than the level we have got to. This is great for encouraging those who have yet to get stuck in to sustainability, by keeping it simple, but not so useful to us. However the point I missed was that we could get accredited and recognised for our efforts and this I am told is a good thing. Personally I would rather not make too much of a fuss as we still could do more and I still feel guilty that we can’t get it all perfect.

Philips have just launched another design of LED light for growth rooms (TLED lights) which are quite a bit cheaper than the previous model we have on trial at the moment. I think this is partly due to the fact that the IP rating is lower (can’t use them in damp conditions) but they look quite different too. We will now have to trial these as well to check they are ok and hope that they bring them out in a size that will fit our shelving. Electric saving of 60% on the light and reduced cooling too should mean a quick payback but still have to find the cash to invest.

At home the Valentine’s gift of a new showerhead went down fairly well, it was an improvement on the bag of organic spinach! I splashed out on a quite expensive Hansgrohe Monsoon Eco-smart head which draws air into the head and mixes it with the water to reduce water volume without losing effectiveness. Although it does save water the main saving is the cost of heating that water. According to the Greenwise website the average 8 min power shower uses 136 li (cost of 0.463p/li). I have been in our power shower with a watering can to measure the actual output and in 8 mins we now use just 53 li saving 38p/shower, which pays back the head in 156 showers. Two of us makes just 78 days. Mind you our old head was so scaled up we were only getting 90 litres out in 8 mins so pay back will be slightly longer in reality. Chocolate bonus gift worked best! Hansgrohe also do taps and mixers using similar features which can greatly reduce hot water costs elsewhere too.

Nature notes

Frogs are back. Although bit of ice early in the mornings has slowed them up a bit I think.

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, 11 February 2013

A whole host of good news, I have an urgent date with a roast Sunday lunch, locally sourced, the New Forest is famous for its livestock. Then there was the great Southampton performance on Saturday showing Man City how to play football. Friday I saw The Beat again at The Railway pub in Winchester, just a brilliantly sweaty night out. The house is still toasty warm and we’ve only had the central heating on for 9 days during that snowy cold snap so far this winter. Lost a few pounds on the soup diet over the last few weeks, but might put a bit back on today with a bit of luck.

To keep up the positive vibes I am not going to discuss the damp atmosphere which may dent the excitement of the upcoming spring frenzy or the slightly scary mood of the growers group meeting I attended last week. Instead let us rejoice in the abundance of ground water and that the quality of meat in frozen lasagne has probably improved with the reduction of mechanically retrieved ‘beef’ in its ingredient list.

Roast spuds beckon.

Nature notes

No frogs yet.

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, 4 February 2013

Morning all,

Bit nippy out still, but I’m ok tucked up over the office heat at a barmy 9C, at least I’m out of that cold wind.

The garden is still pretty squelchy so I can’t envisage a mad rush to get out there until we get a bit more of a prolonged dry spell. The forecast doesn’t look brilliant for dry weather with another big storm coming in next week but hopefully it will go a bit further north and just leave us with a nice turbine turning, drying breeze.

With a week of better weather we are pressing on with loads of plant trimming to be ready for the main spring flush of growth . Many plants are already showing sign’s of serious activity despite the cold which must mean spring is close. The snowdrops in the garden are looking great and the odd aconite is showing a bright splash of yellow.

This week I have been out and about a bit seeing new stuff. At Wired Wessex, a local business networking group I learnt about shooting video as a promotional tool for small businesses. Apparently Google now scores website videos very highly in their ranking of websites so getting one or two on your site can dramatically improve hit rates. Naturally to make the best impression you need it to be professionally made as we were told by the presenter (a man who runs his own video production company) and doing it yourself could easily lead to commercial disaster. The session was very impressive and I’m sure he is right about trying to make the right impact but the investment doesn’t look that small in a business our size, so I suspect we may have a play ourselves at some point when I can find some time. The cost was very politely skirted around but apparently is the equivalent of a cup of coffee a day (I assume for a year). Now I thought that was pretty good when my coffee only costs 10p a cup but I suspect that in the real world real people pay someone else for their coffee and it comes out at £2.50+ or £900 for a sub 2 minute video. There were some very convincing arguments about how it could sell your product 24/7 but we would have to have a lot more spare cash to warrant that sort of spending at the moment.

On Friday we were very lucky to get invited to a wedding of a relative in Chelsea Old Church in the middle of London. Had to do some emergency shopping to find a new shirt as all my collared shirts seem to have shrunk. Picked up a nice one with a tie in the sale’s reduced by 2/3’s. I don’t get out much as you might have noticed but going into this strange environment was quite an eye opener. Travelling through Sloane Square and Chelsea was astonishing, I have never seen so many Bentleys, Rolls Royce’s, Range Rover’s, Ferrari’s, Maserati’s and slinky Merc’s, how the other half live! It was a lovely wedding, the church site dates back to pre-Christianity and King Henry 8th had one of his many weddings there. It was rebuilt after being hit in the war but still had loads of original bits re-glued together inside. We had real fanfares and part of a brass band playing as well as a fantastic choir, it was a real celebration. Champagne tea behind Harrods (in ‘rooms’ not between the bins) finished off the day for the oldies while the youngsters went off to party into the night. All home and tucked up before midnight so fresh for hockey on Saturday.

Back to the soup diet tonight to combat overstretched waistband (and collar).

Nature notes

Tawny Owl seen last night perched on the loo block keeping an eye on the pond area, I kept hearing it close by in the early evening but not spotted until yesterday, must check to see if there is any frog activity yet.

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