The first of our 2018 giant pumpkin seedlings has popped up overnight which heralds the start of the new season.
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 GiantVegetableSeed.co.uk
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 www.gemueseanbau-geil.de 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.
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.
A nice frosty morning allowed a quick venture into our hazel coppice to select and cut some sticks for our stock of blank walking stick shanks catering for local stick makers.
In the main they only get offered for sale after being seasoned for at least twelve months (necessary for the stick straightening process to be effective) but some of our more eager customers do like a browse through the freshly cut stock as well.
An extremely rare opportunity to buy an approx 2.77 acre field of Grade 1 agricultural land presently designated as Greenbelt and laid down to grass.
Located just off the A565 dual carriageway at Banks roundabout, the land benefits from being easily accessed from Banks, Crossens, Tarleton, Southport and beyond.
The field is a rectangular shaped plot accessed from Gravel Lane on the eastern boundary. A band of sapling trees have been established to the rear (west) of the field to create habitat and a shelter belt. To the north a row of hybrid willow has been established on the boundary. Click here for google maps
The plot has a metered water supply in place. There is no electrical connection but it is understood that the mains supply is nearby.
Ideal for agricultural use or as a smallholding. The plot may also be desirable as an investment plot subject to achieving the necessary permissions.
It makes you wonder just who does not know how dangerous sky lanterns can be yet we still get them landing in grazing land.
Today’s find was of the dreaded bamboo and wire construction which landed on fields grazed by sheep.
I only wish I knew who had sent this beautiful paper lantern up into the evening sky not knowing (or caring) where it would come down, what it might set fire to or what unsuspecting animal it might maim (or kill) could be traced so that I could thank them in person probably by shaking them warmly by the throat.