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.

Seeds Are GoGo!

IMG_20150312_130607So, being a good girl and following the notes I made myself on the wallplanner at the beginning of the year, I’m well underway with the spring seed sowing. The tomatoes, peppers and chillies have germinated (more or less, only a few chillies have appeared so far but that will probably be enough if nothing else happens); two separate batches of lettuces have germinated, the broad beans are starting to pop up, the rainbow chard and kales are looking good. That menas time to sow some summer salad leaves, to fill in the gap when the last of the overwintering stuff in the polytunnels will need pulling out in late April/May.

I sowed a tray (the usual 150-cell trays) of nasturtiums (this are my little salad peppery powerhouse, great for both leaves and flowers in the salad bags), plus another couple of trays of lettuce (more Drunken Woman, hurrah!), some salad burnet, red amaranthe, shungiku and red perilla (shiso) – I tried this tricksy leaf a couple of year ago, and the germination was dreadful; so I’m giving it one more go, just in case. The seeds are amazing, like tiny circular pine cones. Hope they make it to leaf stage this time…

Farm Gym: Volunteer Days

IMG-20130710-00480Fancy getting outside to stretch your hamstrings, build up your biceps, tone your waist and get a great all-round aerobic workout – all for free? We’re going to start up monthly volunteer “Farm Gym” days from April to September, on Thursdays or Fridays around the middle of the month (dates to be confirmed depending on interest and availability). Here willing workers can come and join in various horticultural activities, in return for wholesome outdoor exercise, gardening and food-growing experience, skill exchanges, fun and friendship – and, best of all of course, a free delicious lunch courtesy of the amazing Hartley Farm Café!

2013-09-05_13-25-06_680 SmallActivities will range from small building projects (such as making benches and tables, bird tables, wildlife habitat, polytunnel construction and skinning) to sowing and planting, weeding, harvesting, compost-making – and all the other intriguing little jobs that pop up in an ecologically sustainable market garden. Interested? Then email kate.collyns@gmail.com; please mention if you have any previous horticultural or relevant experience (none necessary for volunteering, but it’s useful for us to know – especially build skills, if you’re an expert welder, for example), and tell us what you’d like to get out of the volunteer days too (such as general experience, lots of exercise, socialising, practical skills, whether you really love weeding & have a personal violent vendetta against docks or thistles that you’d like to satisfy and so on).

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We can also take volunteers or work experience students individually on other pre-arranged days. Please contact kate.collyns@gmail.com with your request, for more information.

 

 

New hot bed

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IMG_20150212_123656 IMG_20150212_123704Cor, look at that lovely hot bed! Mind you, it’s not very hot at the moment becuase I’ve only just built it; but hopefully in a few days the temperature will start rocketing!

We had a pile of pallets mounting up from around the farm, from the various enterprises here (general farm & farm shop deliveries, Bath Bespoke carpentry, Easy José coffee, not to mention The Oven bakery, Young Blooms florists and Willy Good Ale) – along with all my veg, fruit and herbs, soon we’ll pretty much have everything here you need to avoid the supermarkets altogether!

IMG_20150212_140815 IMG_20150212_143843 IMG_20150213_135814So I dismantled a load of pallets using a pry bar and reused the wood to build 2 sides of the hot-bed; screwing or nailing the long pallet wood into the thicker shorter planks from underneath the pallets. I’d found a large sheet of scrap ply wood used as pallet separators, so thought that would save me stripping another pallet to make the 3rd side, and used that instead; plus I’d saved an old wooden door from the carpenter’s scrap pile a few months previously, which slotted into position and just about made the moveable 4th side.

IMG_20150213_140736 IMG_20150213_145135The 3-side C-shape of the bed went into the top of the Little Tunnel (just about fitted through the doorway sideways), on the bare clear soil (the mustard stumps in the pictures came out before loading the bed up); then I could start filling the box up with horse manure. Farmer Richard had kindly dropped a whole bucket-load of fresh strawy manure next to the tunnel over the weekend, so I set about trundling 15 wheelbarrows-full into the box. I’d also been left some spent hops from the Willy Good Ale guys (I have used these previously to mulch the raspberries as an experiment, and also dropped some in the compost); so I though I’d throw some of these in the hot bed too, to help the fermentation of the straw and manure, and general break-down of materials by bacteria and others, which is what gives off the heat. Mind you I’ve not heard of this being done before; and there may not be too much potential fermentation left in the hops, so I only put a few sprinkles in. The nice chaps at Carbon Gold have also offered to give me some GrowChar soil conditoner, to trial some in the hot bed and elsehwere (full of mycorrhizae and other exciting things that the microscopic fauna and flauna in the hot bed should love), so when that arrives I’ll pop a bit in there too.

IMG_20150302_115353 IMG_20150302_121047IMG_20150302_125912 IMG_20150302_132940After several tramplings down, and a few watering cans full of rainwater sprinkled over the layers to keep things nice and moist, and therefore in peak composting condition, I placed a thin pallet top over the whole bed with some empty compost sacks on top (to keep the moisture in the hot bed on one side, and leftover irrigation water under the seed trays on the other); then brought in the tomatoes, plus a tray of broad beans, all sown on Friday 27th – the broadies are partly to trial against the other broadies in the Module Tunnel, to see if germination is any quicker/better. Plus it gives me more room in the module tunnel for when the next mega batch of sowing happens in the next few weeks.

I popped a compost themometer in the hot bed too, to keep an eye on approx temperatures there: on Monday (approx 7-8C) the soil temperature in the tunnels was around 11C; the air temperature in the polytunnels was around 20C (nice sunny day); and the freshly made hot bed was 9C (the material had been outside in the cold, and was waterered with cold rain water). I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the temperature rises soon…