Cat Salad Patrol

IMG_20150227_160042While closing up the tunnel doors for the evening, I noticed a local resident in one of the polytunnels, keeping guard over the salads and watching out for nibbling mice and voles hiding under the Mypex. So I’ve left one of the doors open a crack so he can get in and out – it’s nice and warm in there on a chilly evening…

Sow & Sow

IMG_20150219_104710Despite this freezing rain (is it me, or has it been weirdly consistently cold all February so far?), it was amazing to peek in the module tunnel this morning and see the first few shoots of rainbow chard poking up through the compost. Life! Poor little monkeys, they will get a bit of shock at the weekend when it drops to 0C again; still, fortunately chard is pretty hardy. I took this progress as a good omen, so promptly sowed 8 trays of early kale (1 tray of Redbor red curly kale, 2 Westland Winter green curly, 2 Red Russian & 3 Cavolo Nero).

IMG_20150213_133524Talking of Life, it’s also lovely to see the worm casts in the polytunnels, where the extra warmth and protection from winter has encouraged the soil biota to keep working, and the worms to turn the black woody compost and charcoal finings into ‘proper’ soil, by mixing it with the sandy clay loam I have. The black/brown effect is rather pretty, and indicates the amazing mass of life going on undergound which I’m mostly oblivious to, but which means the plants can grow.

I’m still (just about) picking the remaining kales sown from last year out in the field at the moment – the pigeons have a great time out there in the last few weeks, so I covered the PSB and some of the kale with a net, and have picked out the rest of the cavolo nero today. I thought I was going to get away with pigeon damage this winter and wouldn’t need to net, since they hadn’t really touched the brassicas even by mid-January. Just biding their time obviously, drat them.

Assistant Grower Wanted

Jobs

IMG-20130418-00322Grown Green is currently looking to recruit a part-time assistant grower, to join this exciting and award-winning sustainable market garden near Bath; from April until at least October. Hours will be either 2 afternoons a week, or 1 day a week (8 hours per week – with the possiblity of more available work hours as the season goes on). Hours are very flexible and can be changed according to applicant’s circumstances (eg childcare/other commitments). Hourly rate is £7/hour for the first month (paid on a freelance basis), increasing after this probation period according to skill/experience. Some knowledge of horticulture/gardening is desirable, and a willingness to learn essential. Work here can also count towards the Soil Association’s Future Grower scheme if you have another placement for the rest of the week. Please send your CV and covering letter to kate.collyns@gmail.com: closing date for applications is Monday 2nd March 2015.

Howard’s Way

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Wire coil inserted into chamber, central spring and nut balanced & ready… now for the tricky bit!

Victory! After many, many, many expletives, cussings and general sulking and temper-losing, I managed to re-fit the pull-start chamber on my Howard 300 rotovator! This looked extremely unlikey however at midday today, after a couple of hours’ work trying to recoil the spring, fit one end through the chamber plate with the rest of the spring lying inside the chamber, re-wind the pull rope around the pulley, then put the other end of the coil spring into the pulley chamber – whilst at the same time trying to balance it on top of a nut which is on top of another small spring in the middle of the chamber. In a very small space. And without the coiled spring bursting up and out of the chamber while you’re messing about pulling one end of it into the pulley. Argh!

It helped having a look on YouTube beforehand, to get an idea of where to start. This video was pretty useful, although his Briggs Stratton engine is a bit different to mine – he didn’t have to deal with the extra small spring and nut issue for a start. I also love how he didn’t film the crucial bit of squeezing the end of the wire coil into the pullet wheel!

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Rotovated tunnel with central woodchip path

So, at last my first piece of DIY mechanics is done! Yippee! And best still, once I’d fiddled with the choke a bit on the rotovator, I also got it going, and rotovated the whole of 5-penny tunnel. I then drilled 2 rows of Alvro Mono beetroot, 2 rows of Palco spinach, a row of mixed radishes, a row of rocket, and planted out a row of land cress which has been sitting patiently in the module tunnel since November. Success! Let’s just hope the seeds and plants like the conditions in the tunnel enough to get going. A pair of robins love it in there, and pretty much hopped around me while I was in there. As long as they’re eating the bad guys…

Under The Broadfork

IMG_20150202_121509 IMG_20150202_121648Well despite the flipping freezing conditions today, it’s sort of felt like the beginning of the season, hurrah – because I cleared out the celery and salad from Fivepenny tunnel, ready for drilling some early rocket, spinach and beetroot in one half, and carrots in the other. I bought a De Wit broadfork a week ago, to loosen up the paths in the tunnels and relieve some of the compaction there; and I might try it in the compacted parts of the field too. It’s so difficult trying to find tools for small scale farms and market gardens thought – everything is either for gardens, or for beefy tractors – there’s not much on offer in between. It’s such a massive gap in the market too…

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Sandy clay below the darker compost-rich topsoil

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Broadforked pathways

I did find another broadfork with longer tines on offer, but it was more expensive and I wasn’t sure that the extra length would make enough difference to justify the expense. I’ve also seen a few useful videos and diagrams of designs, and more broadforks for sale in the USA which, if I was a welder or woodworker, would be bobbins to make. Hmm, maybe one day… It’s difficult enough trying to keep on top of easy maintenance for my Howard 300 rotovator – I took off the starter handle section today since the pull cord has been getting slower and slower, and now pulls out and stops altogether after the winter break. So I thought I’d take the whole piece off and give it a good clean, as it feels like there’s just a lot of greasy sandy soil in there stopping the cord retracting; but a load of springy metal popped out as I was taking it apart (seems obvious now that that’s how the retraction worked!), and I now have to work out how to out it together again, doh…

IMG_20150202_134534 IMG_20150202_140027Today I also managed to bodge up a long tear in the polytunnel plastic in Vole tunnel, caused by the wind last week beating the skin to hard against one of the ribs, pulling the plastic apart over it. The tension on the skin is too tight to pull the sides back together again to meet though; so I had to make do with cutting up some spare plastic and patching it over the top, sticking it all together with polytunnel repair tape. Hopefully it’ll help the skin last for another year or two anyway – I don’t want to have to reskin tunnels any sooner than I have to! Mending tunnels over the hoops is such a pain – I have no way of reaching over the bending ribs to get to the top, so have to do it from the inside. It’s also extra hard work when you’re on your own, and have no pressure on the other side to push the tape against. Hopefully however I will soon have an assistant grower/trainee for a day a week, starting in April. I’m going to be advertising the position soon, probably in conjunction with my friends at Purton House Organics, who also want a trainee for 4 days a week, so it could work out well. Check out the latest trainee and apprenticeship positions here.

 

Pop-Up Beds

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Bottom layer of cardboard

It’s that time of year again – when I make raised beds! There is a huge stack of pallets accumulating on the farm (I think they multiply overnight when no-one if looking), so we’ve pried off the good planks and nails, and then turned them into a lovely large and sturdy raised bed. I’ve placed it on the old green waste compost footprint (now very couch grassy), and placed a layer of cardboard on the bottom to keep the perennial weeds from bursting through. Then I shovelled a load of the (rather weedy) green waste compost into the bed, until it was about half-full, then laid another load of cardboard on top. This was then weighed down with scrap wood to stop it blowing away; I’m hoping this layer will keep the couch at bay so it will die off before the cardboard breaks down at the end of the year. I’m going to order some new (and therefore weed-free) green waste compost in next month, which I’ll use to finish off the top layer of the bed, and then plant nasturtiums in it in the spring.

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Second layer of cardboard, on top of compost

I might make another one or two of these beds – they are so easy (and cheap) to make – and after the nasturtiums, I’m hoping to use them for asparagus beds, once I’ve raised enough plants from seed this year.

Rabbit De-Fences

IMG_20150119_151300The sun was out all day today yippee, so despite the cold, the perfect day to have a crack at mending my mangled rabbit fencing round the field. One side had got caught up in a passing tractor/mower the summer before last, and I just haven’t had the time (well, inclination really), to mend it. However, this autumn the rabbits really have made themselves at home, and truly taken the Mickey – grazing of all the carrots I was hoping to save seed from this year, as well as having a go at the parsley too (and who knows what else). So we patched up that bad side with some new rabbit fencing: a right old pain, attaching the new fencing to the strips of buried old fencing remaining (there’s no way I’m redigging those trenches when there’s perfectly buried fencing to hand on to). We also banged in some loose posts (one good thing about sliding about in the mud, at least the posts went in easily) and tightened the straining wire; so all I need to do later in the week is carry on patch up the smaller holes and tears with hog ring pliers (my joint-favourite tool at the moment, along with fencing pliers. Just pliers generally).

The cows up in the big barns at Hartley Farm found it intriguing to watch me trundle past them to borrow the large post hammer and wheel it down to the field; then back again as the sun went down. There’s really nothing like the unflinching gaze of a cow to make you doubt yourself, is there?