Sunflower Down

Disaster! Came home to find the 2015 giant sunflower on its side.

It makes it a bit easier to measure though… so at 12’6″ it means there was a little bit of growth since the last measurement but I suspect that was mainly in the head opening up fully.

Flower head from 2015 giant sunflower
Flower head from 2015 giant sunflower

The seed head of the sunflower measures 25cm diameter (approx 10″). This will be dried and distributed to the village sunflower competition competitors next year.

This sunflower was grown from ‘MOH SF 2014’ seed available from Giant Vegetable Seed


Growing SRC willow for firewood

For some years now we have been growing a variety of traditional basket making willow for use as wreath bases, twig wreaths and wreath decorations with any leftovers and offcuts being used as fuel for use in wood boilers. Nothing at all goes to waste.

We spotted a number of websites proclaiming hybrid willow and poplar to be a rapid source of wood fuel with some astounding claims on the potential harvest so we decided to conduct our own trial.

Willow SRC in third year of growth
Willow SRC in third year of growth

We to try a commercial hybrid willow which is planted as Short Rotation Coppice (SRC) for biomass production. It has taken about 6 years to get enough plants propagated to establish a meaningful crop on the different soil types around the place and whilst there will be a another couple of years needed to complete the planting plan, the initial plants are now in production phase. The first patch is now into its third year of growth so if it was to be used for biomass it would be harvested this coming winter.

SRC Willow 3rd year of growth
SRC Willow 3rd year of growth

The stems are long and straight with the average diameter being around 50mm at 1m height. If harvested this winter and left to season, the crop would already be ideal for use as wood boiler and wood fired pizza oven fuel but we intend to leave this until at least 6 years to see if the firewood logs claimed by the sellers of the hybrid plants are attained and produced in any quantity.

The photo below is of a row of established SRC willow which was harvested in February 2015. The 5 months of growth is now at a height of around 2.5 meters (8ft),

Row of 1 year old SRC willow
Row of 1 year old SRC willow

Our processed willow is sold through a variety of channels depending on what it is made into:


Making Log Wreath Picks

Son and heir James has found a new skill to raise funds before returning to Manchester for the final year of his Masters degree…. bundling up small willow ‘logs’ to make what florists call “picks” which are used to decorate festive wreaths and garlands.

A length of green stubbing wire is wrapped around three suitably sized twigs or sticks (we use our home grown willow) to form the bundle which leaves the tail of the wire to be pushed through the wreath base and bent over at the back to hold it secure.

Wired bundles of twigs for Wreaths
Bundles of ‘log’ picks for wreaths and garlands

The picks can be used ‘as is’ or further decorated with bows made of ribbon or raffia to suit the colour scheme of the wreath (and hide the wire) in a similar way to how cinnamon is often used.

The fruits of James’ labours are available in packs of six, along with everything else you need to make your own wreath, from


Leafing Tomato Plants

We usually only remove tomato leaves as they eventually turn yellow as the tomato plant slowly moves its efforts to supporting fruit higher up the plant (i.e. de-leafing the plant up to the truss that is producing ripe tomatoes). But, due to the very low light levels we have experienced this year we have got a bit ahead of ourselves and stripped back the leaves so that what light there is can see the fruit and ripen the tomatoes.

Leafing Tomatoes
Leafing tomatoes

Mowing draws the crowds

Yesterday proved to be quite an attraction for the residents of our coppice with both hens and geese needing to see if anything tasty was being uncovered.

Mowing coppice with Kubota tractor and spectating hens
Mowing between the coppice trees to prevent weed seeds spreading to neighbouring land
Mowing with geese
Our geese keeping an eye on mowing progress in the coppice

This field was partially planted with ash trees (all grown from seed ourselves) but after news of the breakout of ‘ash die back’ we planted the remainder of the field with a mix of Alder, Birch and Sycamore.

Where possible, the best of the harvested wood is used for a variety of crafts, but the bulk of it gets cut up for fuelling wood fired pizza ovens, wood smokers or logged as a certified Renewable Heat Initiative Biomass for wood boilers.


The giant sunflower has flowered

I don’t know if they stop growing once they have flowered so we thought it best to take a measurement…. 12′ 3″ (3.73 meters).

Definitely a personal best but I suspect it won’t be enough to win the local competition. All the plants in the local competition were from the same source  so it was a level playing field.

The giant sunflower has flowered
Giant Sunflower Competition

Later on I accepted an invite to verify the height of the sunflower grown by Mr Peter Ball of Banks, Southport. It was 12’5.5″ so was 2.5 inches higher than mine. I really don’t think it counts though as he has had a massive sodium light on above it throughout the nights AND he lives in Banks. Cheats the lot of ’em.

Giant sunflower grown by Peter Ball of Banks
12′ 5.5″ sunflower grown by Peter Ball




Hydroponic Lemongrass Update

A quick view on the progress of our fresh lemongrass being trialled in two simple hydroponic systems; both in a polytunnel that has no electrical supply.

Pot Culture
One is a very simple ‘pot culture’ system where the plants are in a soil medium with a capillary wick which dangles down into a reservoir containing the nutrient solution.

Hydroponic Pot Culture Lemon Grass
Hydroponic ‘Pot Culture’ Lemon Grass

Drip Irrigation
When the sun shines, our solar powered pump circulates the nutrient solution from the reservoir to the top of the clay balls in which the lemongrass plants are sitting. There is no other medium around the roots, just the clay balls.

Lemongrass growing in solar drip irrigation
Solar powered drip irrigation hydroponic system

Both systems are performing very well and a nice fresh Thai curry is very much anticipated soon!