Farm ponds invertebrate audit

An out of the blue call from Helen Greaves changed the plans for the day as it became the day to do an audit of invertebrates in both the restored farm ponds and the newly created scrapes.

A lovely hot sunny day isn’t the best sort of day to don waders but, if you want to count pond invertebrates, they are essential attire. Sherpa, helper and stopwatch operator were just some of the roles fulfilled by Helen’s mum with Millie the dog just enjoying the walk and the sunshine.

A three minute sampling technique was interesting to watch and tubs of findings have been taken away for analysis. I really do hope we can share the data here in due course.


Raising the water levels in a restored farm pond

It’s been a few wet months since we cleaned out and restored the main pond and despite the rain the retained water level held in the pond has been disappointing.

Raising the water level in the farm pond
Raising the water level in the farm pond

As we had a digger on site today to prep a shed floor, it had a few minutes diversion to carry across a few buckets of clay to raise the level of the outfall ditch.  Not a big job (with a digger) but hopefully it will have a big impact.

Raising the pond outfall level with clay
Raising the pond outfall level with clay

The vegetation around the pond has started to reappear after the shock of all the cleaning out activity.

Filling the pond outfall with clay to raise the water level
Filling the pond outfall with clay to raise the water level

The only wildlife I spotted today was a moorhen hiding in the scrub, four male mallards on the pond and a frog in the ditch.



Detached Bungalow For Rent – 165 Moss Lane, Hesketh Bank

Large 3/4 Bedroom Detached Bungalow For Rent

A spacious detached bungalow in semi rural location, gardens front and rear with off road parking.

£850 pcm / £195 a week
Council Tax: WLBC Band D
Double glazed windows throughout
Oil fired central heating (with new boiler)
EPC Rating: D
Strictly no smoking. Pets by negotiation.

For more details and viewings, contact Mark on 07834 324080 (office hours only please)


Master Bedroom: Double / Two Singles Approx 4.4m x 3.8m with En Suite
Bedroom 2: Double / Two Singles Approx 4.4m x 3.8m
Bedroom 3: Double / Two Singles Approx 3.8m x 3.6m
Bathroom: Approx 3.3m x 2.0m
Kitchen: Approx 4.0m x 4.9m
Utility Room: Approx 2.7m x 2.1m Toilet, pedestal wash hand basin. Space for washing machine, drier.
Lounge: Approx 6.2m x 4.5m
Conservatory: Approx 4.2m x 4.4m

First Floor:
Under eaves storage
Landing Office Space
Bedroom 4: Double Approx 4.4m x 2.4m with Velux Windows

Walled lawn and borders to front.
Gravelled driveway leading to off road parking.
Paved Patio area.
Fenced lawn area to rear.



Giant Pumpkin Season Begins

The first of our 2018 giant pumpkin seedlings has popped up overnight which heralds the start of the new season.

The first of our 2018 giant pumpkin seeds emerges
The first of our 2018 giant pumpkin seeds emerges

We do quite a few staggered sowings to ensure we have some giants ready for the PR demand which usually begins early September. There is plenty of time to sow if you want yours ready for Hallow’een, so, if you want a go, the seeds harvested from the very same pumpkin as this one was (as witnessed by BBC Countryfile) are available to buy from


2018 hybrid Willow SRC harvest

A dry day (at last) allowed a late afternoon walk through a row of hybrid willow short rotation coppice (SRC) to hand cut poles of 7cm dia or more for processing into wood chunks to be used as fuel in BBQ’s, wood fired Pizza Ovens, Wood boilers wood burners.

Hand cutting hybrid SRC willow for wood fuel
Hand cutting hybrid SRC willow for wood fuel

Whilst a mechanical harvest is much faster, it would clear all stems and thus be much more disruptive to the habitat. Hand cutting allows only those poles which have achieved the optimum size to be cut leaving the rest for future years.

The hybrid willow SRC 'stools'
The hybrid willow SRC ‘stools’

It might be some time before we can get on to the ground with a trailer to collect the harvest but at least this row has been cut through.

Lengths of hand cut Willow Short Rotation Coppice (SRC)
Lengths of hand cut Willow Short Rotation Coppice (SRC)

A few sticks were brought back to the yard for processing into wood chunks. Once dried, the willow wood chunks makes a first first class fuel for wood ovens and also as a great alternative to lumpwood charcoal on BBQ’s (just light it 15 minutes earlier than you would with charcoal).

Willow sticks loaded into the back of the car
Willow sticks loaded into the back of the car

The chunker is powered by a tractor and makes short work of all the sticks fed into it. The wood chunks are then air dried in plastic trays for a year.

Our 'Chunker' powered by a 1971 MF 135
Our ‘Chunker’ powered by a 1971 MF 135

The chunker will process seasoned sticks but it is much kinder to feed it freshly cut sticks as it is far easier for it to processes them and it makes less splinters whilst doing so.

The 'Chunker' output: Willow wood chunks
The ‘Chunker’ output: Willow wood chunks

Once in plastic trays, the wood chunks are stacked up on a pallet and air dried for at least one year before they are ready for use.

Wet willow wood chunks stacked ready for seasoning
Wet willow wood chunks stacked ready for seasoning



Long Chilli Competition plants

The ‘long chilli’ and heavy chilli are relatively new additions to the giant vegetable competition schedules so growing techniques and plant genetics are still very much up for debate. I had a go last year with some donated chilli seed and had great success with the long chilli but less so with the heaviest.

Some start their seeds early February but I have not found any advantage in this so go for an early March sowing and another early April.

This year is now underway with a few plants grown from seeds selected from the best performing chilli’s of last year.

Germinating 'Long Chilli' plants
Germinating ‘Long Chilli’ plants

The chilli’s are a good ‘competition’ choice for amateur growers as they take up very little space and can be grown in a conservatory or small green house… unlike our giant pumpkins which take up an inordinate amount of room and require a lot of attention.

Let the challenge begin!

More info on ‘competitive growing :



Growing Firewood – 2018 Update

The latest annual update in our trial of a number of species planted specifically for firewood. All species are on the same soil type so whilst not particularly scientific the findings are sufficient to judge which performs best for us.

Storming ahead in both rate of growth and quality of logs is the Eucalyptus Omeo. A very hardy variety which has incredible growth leaving everything else well behind. It is incredible to think this was a tiny seed in a packet four years ago.

Growing firewood 2018 update - Eucalyptus Omeo
Growing firewood 2018 update – Eucalyptus Omeo year 4

The Eucalyptus Gunnii is not far behind. Gunnii is a popular UK garden tree, not as hardy as the Omeo but easily and cheaply sourced.

Growing firewood 2018 update - Eucalyptus Gunnii year 4
Growing firewood 2018 update – Eucalyptus Gunnii year 4

The hybrid willow would be next in rate of growth. This would be commercially harvested every 3 years as chip for biomass boilers but we wanted to see, if left, would it make decent logs. What we have found is that as the regrowth gets bigger, the stool struggles to support the weight and splits. For more detail please see the August update on the 2017 post

Growing firewood 2018 update - Hybrid willow year 4
Growing firewood 2018 update – Hybrid willow year 4

The same hybrid willow in its third year is perfect for making wood chunks and so it is likely that this will be the optimum time to harvest. Willow wood chunks really do make a for good biomass when dry. Fantastic for use in log boilers, good for the first load in a wood burner and the perfect fuel for pizza ovens where the gases flare off quickly and leave a wall of very hot charcoal that can be moved around easily.

Growing firewood 2018 update - Hybrid willow year 3
Growing firewood 2018 update – Hybrid willow year 3

We have some older Alder plants that we grew from seed but to keep up with demand for our Alder wood chunks (used primarily by local Polish and Latvian migrants for smoking meats and cheeses) we planted an acre of Alder in spring 2014 as 40cm bare rooted saplings.

Alder four years on from planting
Alder four years on from planting

Lastly and for reference the sycamore which was planted out from pots in the same year that the Eucalyptus seed arrived is doing will but just shows how far behind it is in terms of growth rate.

Growing firewood 2018 update - Sycamore year 4
Growing firewood 2018 update – Sycamore year 4

Links to the previous updates are:
2017 update
2016 update


Cold Day At The Office

I was out and about before the inevitable traffic chaos that goes hand in hand with a dusting of snow and glad I did so judging by the traffic later on.

First stop was feeding the hens, the goose, his pheasant lady friends and two robins who stopped fighting for a few minutes so they could feed on a bit of barley.

Our gander doesn't look that impressed with the snow
Our gander doesn’t look that impressed with the snow

The ‘Office’ looked nice but it was a bit chilly for processing firewood. We had a bit of a rush on yesterday when the snow was forecast but managed to keep everyone happy.

The wood yard
The wood yard this morning

We don’t do firewood deliveries and today would really not be the day to start but we have the kit and could do it the hard way at a price!

Delivering logs in the snow
Delivering logs in the snow



Recycling telegraph poles for farm gate posts

Since all the horrible additives were banned from pressure treated ‘tantalised’ wood we have found that modern fence posts last little more than 3 years before rotting off at the base. Whilst this has dramatically increasing the maintenance bill for stock fencing it is totally impractical to replace corner posts and gate posts so frequently. Old telegraph poles are perfect for recycling into gate posts that will give many years of further service and, for that reason, are becoming fairly hard to source. The first problem is getting hold of them and the second problem is transporting them. So when you see the the contractor parked up right outside the yard with three old full length telegraph poles on the back it not time to ponder, it is time to act. For an appropriate consideration they unloaded the poles exactly where I could store them.

Recycling telegraph poles for farm gate posts
Recycling telegraph poles for farm gate posts

Today provided a rare rain free day when I could cut them to length ready for the fencing to go around the new implement shed that (at last) has started to be erected.

Farm gate posts made from old telegraph poles
Farm gate posts made from old telegraph poles

Two of the three poles were cut to length at the yard and points put on ready to be knocked into the ground. From the two poles I managed to get four 9ft long posts and two ‘heavy duty’ 10ft long posts all of which should be enough to provide the corner posts and gate posts needed to fence off the shed. The trusty little 240v mains powered Husqvarna 317 electric chainsaw was all that was needed  to save the neighbours from a din on a Sunday afternoon. Job done.

New farm implement shed finally underway
New farm implement shed finally underway

LADS farm study 2018

I’ve just come back from a few days away on a Farmer Study Tour to Mannheim, Germany, with the Liverpool Agricultural Discussion Society (LADS).

Lets get the well deserved credits at the top of the page: Antony Ollerton (LADS), Colin Mountford-Smith (BASF) and Cornthwaites (John Deere) for organising the event and BASF for putting in a sizeable financial contribution which covered the bulk of food, transport and accommodation costs. I am sure all the attending 18 members of the discussion society are very grateful to all those involved directly and behind the scenes. Photos in most of the sites we visited were banned so please excuse the lack of photos.


First visit of the tour was to John Deere factory and tractor museum at Mannheim. The final assembly line was a sight to see with all the different variants being built to order on one line. The paint process stood out for me and I now much better understand how such a high quality finish is achieved. The museum was a tribute to the heritage of the site with many examples of the Charles Lanz Bulldog tractors which were originally made there.

After lunch in the canteen at Mannheim we went to the John Deere Cab factory at Bruchsal. Making the cabs for all the tractors, combines and forage harvesters. I had no idea so much stuff was packed into the cab roof and would now not recommend anyone ever ‘fitting a bracket’; far too risky with a real chance of a massive bill!

The John Deere cab factory at Bruschal
The John Deere cab factory at Bruschal

The Bruchsal site also hosts a worldwide spares and distribution store. A massive facility with worryingly few humans employed given the size of the task. Whatever can be automated has been and you get the feel that as technology allows the few remaining workers will be under pressure. A really impressive facility but I felt it was a bit of a dystopian view of the future where just a few humans remain in roles solely to service the robots.


An early start for the visit to the BASF plant at Ludwigshafen. A site that covered over half the town with facilities on both sides of the river. Absolutely no photos were allowed inside the plant which must be one of the most complicated man made structures on the planet with every square inch a rat’s nest of pipework. From the production site we went to the packing site and saw how the liquids were decanted from railway bulk tanks into the small bottles that we end up with on the farm. BASF put on a very nice lunch in ‘the Casino’ before a tour of the BASF wine shop and a tasting/education session after a tour of the extensive and well stocked (world famous) BASF wine cellar. Who knew?

After an afternoon getting ‘educated’ at the BASF wine shop we transferred to the Barrel House for our evening meal of Potato Soup with fried black pudding, Fass-Teller Saumagen, and Apple Fritters.


Another early start for a farm visit. The guided tour of Farm Geil at Harthausen couldn’t take place as the land was so wet so we were limited to a talk in the pack house which, at the time of the visit, was repacking Egyptian spring onions after having completed the home grown leek orders. Visit for more information.

The coach then took us to the BASF Agriculture Centre at Limburgerhoff for presentations and discussions about a wide range of topics from BASF strategies and communication, future ways of working, product licensing, GM and much more. It was welcoming to see the real passion of the BASF team and their openness to suggestions on opportunities for improving many aspects of the value chain.

Lunch and a guided tour of the BASF farm at Rehutte was followed by a talk on plant biology and a tour of the BASF agriculture centre greenhouses and trial plots.

Dinner was held at the Restaurant Skyline in Mannheim which at 250m high, affords spectacular views over the Rhine and Mannheim as it rotates 360 degrees every hour.

Day Four

A 6 O’Clock start to check out and get the coach to John Deere Zweibrucken where sheet metal goes in one door and completed combines and forage harvesters come out the other end. A really fascinating tour with some real engineering on display rounded off the trip nicely. An overnight stay in Homberg before our return flight gave us a welcome few hours of free time to relax or explore the caves under the Schlossberg Hotel.

Thanks again to Antony, Colin and all those behind the scenes that made this trip possible and I do hope that the new communication channels BASF aspire to establish with the farming community deliver the goods.