Farm Hack: Open Source Farmers

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Ed works the Ruckin Mill horses with his homemade soil ‘crumbler’

On Saturday I toddled up to Ruskin Mill near Stroud, for the first ever Farm Hack event outside the USA: exciting! A filled day of seminars, workshops, tool demos, idea-sharing and general chat left my head spinning and me raring to get inventing, adapting – and desperate to get either horses or a solar panel (or both)! The general theme was open sourcing: software, tool ideas on the website, skills, experience… so farmers, growers and landworkers can use preciously invented tools and ideas to make their own holding work better. Check out the myriad amazing tool ideas on the website here!

 

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Peddle-powered flour mill

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3D printers do their thing

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Blacksmith workshops ran all day

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The farmer’s favourite: welding

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Mike uses planks with bolts underneath to mark holes in bio-mulch and plastic for planting alliums

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Severine from Farm Hack welcomes all

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An adapted rocket stove for making soil-improving biochar

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Radio 4’s On The Farm interviews attendees – to be broadcast in May

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One participant made this mini hoe in a a few minutes

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Abbey from Chile explains the variety of useful apps available

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Julian recommends his workshops in France

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The solar panel powers a drill, which turns the wheel hub to wind in the wire

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Solar-powered polytunnel weeder trolley from Barcombe in Sussex

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A worker lies on the end comfy ‘bed’ and weeds while the bed is pulled along

 

Volunteers’ Afternoon: Friday 17th May 2pm

IMG-20130624-00468Fancy heading outside in this glorious weather, getting some fresh air, exercise, learning some skills & enjoying a free barista coffee? Pop along to our Volunteers’ Afternoon next Friday, from 2pm until around 5pm, and help with tasks such as making a wild bird table (somewhere to put all the leatherjackets, slugs and wireworms from the polytunnels); marking out the new polytunnels; and possibly some planting and other interesting little jobs too. We will probably come up with some special yoga stretches for gardeners too as a warm up! If you fancy it, just let us know by emailing kate.collyns@gmail.com, so we know how much yummy Easy José coffee to brew, and biscuits to reserve! See you there!

DEFRA Marketing Standard: Crazy Talk

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Strawberries: now born into a class-war

WARNING: mini rant

So DEFRA are implementing updated marketing standards for everyone involved in selling fresh fruit & veg; including Farm Shops such as Hartley. They have said that 10 certain crops (apples, grapes, kiwis, citrus, peaches & nectarines, pears starwberries, lettuce, sweet peppers & tomatoes) must have a quality class written on the label, as well as country of origin. Why these 10 and no other? Why these 10 at all?

The clases are Excellent, Class 1, Class 2. Class 1 will probably be the most common class when it comes to fruit & veg: good quality produce, some little deviation in size, ie not all completely uniform. You’d think that when it comes to fruit & veg, a) this judgement is subjective depending on who is looking at the produce; and b) you wouldn’t need to be told that something is good quality and roughly uniform – you can look at the apples/lettuce/whatever themselves.

Having to write the Class on the labels in the shop means much less room for other info, such as variety and price. Plus just putting ‘Hartley Farm’ as the origin of the product isn’t enough apparently; we have to put ‘UK’ on there too. Because obviously it won’t be clear to customers where in the world they are when they are on the farm, and they could think they are in Spain.

Weirdly variety info is not mandatory on the label; so DEFRA would have us label lettuces grown here on the farm as “Lettuce; Class 1; UK produce”. Which is of course MUCH more use to the customer than “Little Gem Lettuce; Hartley Farm; £1.99″; and if the lettuce was a bit dodgy looking, customer will OF COURSE need some other person to write “Class 2″ on the label, rather than looking at the lettuce before picking it up. Because no one actually looks at the produce they’re buying, do they? They only ever look at the label; and then if it turns out that the lettuce doesn’t fit what they would describe as a Class 1 lettuce, they will sue the vendor for false description.

I am also not sure how produce such as caulifowers, bananas, cucumbers, aubergines, chilli peppers, mushrooms… have escaped these labelling measures. Anyone would think that the standards are completely arbitrary and pointless when it comes to retail labels.

 

Productivity Survey

IMG_20140530_110949 copyIf you’ve not seen it already, there is an excellent survey doing the rounds for small-scale growers, farmers and smallholders, looking at how productive your land it. The idea is to collect some really valuable and useful data – it’s hard to push for small-scale producers’ interests, when we can’t accurately describe how productive we are, and only use anedotal evidence. Most of us small-scale growers, gardeners and smallholders believe that smaller spaces can be much more productive than some larger scale agri-businesses (usually down to more labour input, which isn’t a bad thing if it means more jobs and greater sustainability); so now we need the hard data and facts to prove it. Fill in this survey before the end of April and get your voice heard.

This is something I felt strongly about when writing Gardening For Profit 18 months ago – that commercial growers, no matter how small, should be aware fo what it is that keep their business afloat. After some calculations detailed in the book, my (surprising) top 3 crops in terms of creating turnover were chard, leeks and kale – although expensive crops such as salad bags and tomatoes also brought in a decent return, but with greater overheads. I can’t wait to look at the data from the survey, it will be amazing useful – and more so if most people take the time to fill it in, so get typing for the greater good!

Lean On Me (Shed)

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IMG_20150328_135318Phase 1 of the lean-to extension is complete! Round the side of my shipping container (aka packing shed & tool shed), I’ve been wanting a shelter for ages to help keep things tidy and dry. We (by which I mean most of the work was done by a couple of willing friends, while I looked on & fetched the tea) put up a brilliant round-wood lean-to a few years ago, with clear corrugated roofing, to keep the worst of the rain off while going in & out of the shipping container; and keep some equipment like my wheelhoe slightly protected underneath. The idea now is to build this small extension in the same way round the side of the container; and then at some point join the tops up with more roofing, or slab wood, to make a nice big sheltered area to keep tools, randoms and people dry.

IMG_20150328_152653 IMG_20150328_150059So the chaps went to work yesterday, buzzing up some more local larch round-wood poles, and bracing with some 2 x 4 pine; and in just 4 hours I had the framework for the lean-to extension! It was so windy and rainy though that we decided it would be more sensible to wait until the gales had subsided before trying to fix the roofing (which shouldn’t take too long to screw in). Oli (in the hat) decided to make the structure even more stable by building in a work bench for me, yippee! This will just need a piece of slab-wood on top; we measured it to fit my most-used 150-cell module trays too, so this will also work as a potting bench. So I will have a cosy lean-to-cum-potting-shed, hurrah!

Turning Up The Heat

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Removing the front panel shows how the manure has started to break down already

The hot bed temperature had dropped down to a steady 15-18C, so today I took off the top pallet & seedlings, and pulled away the front panel in order to turn the heap. It was amazing to see how much the heap had sunk in just a few weeks: and so much nice white fungal growth in there, breaking down the organic matter. A good stir-up and turn-over with a fork later and the heap had increased in size again since there was more air back in the mix, and the moisture is spread out more amongst the drier strawy ingredients; so hopefully we’ll see another small spike in temperature over the next few days, no doubt to the delight of the tomato and pepper seedlings on top. The top pallet went back on again, with the seedling trays on top – almost level with the top of the hot bed frame again, so a few inches higher than it had been over the last few days. I’ve put the fleece back over the whole lot again, since the night forecast is pretty low for the next week…

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Once turned, the manure level is higher; pallet back on top with seedlings

 

Piles of Poo

IMG_20150318_162125It’s surprising how tired you can get, hefting shovel-loads of horse poo around, isn’t it? I spent a few hours this afternoon spreading the lovely piles of rotted-down horse manure that Richard the farmer had plopped on the field for me with his front-load bucket (stop sniggering at the back) on the tractor. He also managed to spread it around quite a bit, using the back of the bucket and tractor tyres; but there were still a few piles of it that needed to be spread a bit more, to give a more even manuring to the patch, and also to try and dry it out as much as possible before I attempt to go through with the rotovator.

This patch is 1 and 1/2 of the patches from last year; where the carrots, parsnips and fennel were, and also where the leeks were. This year I am taking on a bit more land near the polytunnels – this new bit will be divided into 2 patches (brassicas & leeks/legumes); so the old field will be divided into 3 rather than 5 sections, to fit my 5-year rotation. The manured patch will be home to squashes, pumpkins, courgettes and beets this year; then go down to green manure in the autumn for next year. The other patches will be green manure (mostly established last year), and then where the brassicas where, I’ll put in the carrots, parsnips & fennel.

IMG_20150318_100040 IMG_20150316_103707Talking of poo, the hot bed made of fresh manure has been doing well – I recorded on 63C just below the surface on 5/3/15 (air temperature around 10-18C); 28C on 11/3/15; 40C on 13/3/15 (when it was pretty cold outside and not sunny, around 5C); and now seems to have settled at around 20C. The tomato seedlings and potted-on peppers are now nestled inside the hot bed, on a mini pallet, now that the tempature has settled down; so hopefully this will protect the seedlings even more from any chilly drafts coming through the polytunnel doors.