Tuesday 29 May 2018

Only 210 days to go

I collected 12 day old turkey poults today. In fact they only hatched this morning. They are Norfolk Blacks and we will grow them on for Christmas. For us, they normally range between 5-10 kg dressed weight depending on whether they are hens or stags. I’m not sure if it’s the breed or the fact that they are slow grown or perhaps both, but they have the tenderest turkey meat I’ve experienced. There’ll all be spoken for before the winter.

A few hours old

A few months old

For the first three or four weeks young turkey’s seem to have a precarious hold on life and can drop dead for no discernible reason. As our supplier put it, they are the poultry equivalent of sheep and prone to all sorts of maladies. 

The poults are currently in a ring brooder in the workshop under a heat lamp. Over the next four weeks I’ll gradually wean them off the heat with a view to moving to their outside quarters in 4-5 weeks time. Hopefully all will make it to that stage.

Sunday 27 May 2018

A gift from nature

I would not call myself a beekeeper but rather a smallholder who keeps bees. Bees are the most fascinating of creatures and are always a source of amazement the more you observe their behaviour. As someone who keeps bees the challenge is to understand and then take advantage of their patterns of behaviour to, firstly, help sustain a healthy and strong colony where you want them, i.e. in your hive or hives. Secondly, to harvest the most glorious of Nature’s gifts: honey. 

All that sounds simple enough but it does involve making regular decisions as to how to best manage a colony of bees and also get the timing right. Judgements have to be made as what to do to avoid swarming and risk losing a colony, or, when and how much honey to take during the summer. The more experience you accumulate the more informed your judgement and hopefully the more skilled at managing bees you will be. This certainly seems to be the case when mixing with long standing beekeepers, notwithstanding the different approaches they might individually favour. 

Anyway, today I extracted the first honey of the summer. Just about 20lbs from nine frames (I left the remaining two). ‘My’ bees are quite placid and seemed only mildly put out by me ransacking their hive to retrieve the frames from one of the two supers whilst at the same time taking the opportunity to inspect the rest of the hive. We are in swarming season but I didn’t see any evidence of any imminent desertion. I'll be extracting a second time later in the summer from this hive.

It takes a little effort to extract  but a lot of hard work
for the bees to produce. A wonder of nature. 

Extraction kit all ready 

Tuesday 22 May 2018

Beans no longer rotating

I've just planted out my climbing beans: 'Scarlet Emperor' runner beans; 'Blue Lake' French climbing beans; climbing borlotti beans. Last year we had a bit of a disaster because at the height of summer, when the beans were at full sail, a strong wind blew the whole structure over and our bean crop was diminished as a result. It also looked rather unsightly but I had to bear with it until the whole lot could be cleared away at the end of the summer. 

Part of the problem is that our light sandy soil does not provide robust enough anchorage for the bean poles even though they are inserted quite deeply into the soil. What was called for was a much stronger structure but this would be irksome to have to erect and dismantle each year.

Then I remembered Gordon. When I first took on an allotment many years ago, Gordon had two full sized plots adjoining my half plot. They were immaculately maintained and every bit of ground was put to use. He was a very skilled vegetable grower. Most of his input was carried out in short stints after work. He was a painter and decorator and he would cycle to the plot after work and then go home for his tea carrying away more freshly picked produce. Gordon grew his beans up a metal and steel cable framework which was permanently sited in one of his plots. He grew his runner beans seemingly successfully in the same spot year after year.

The idea of crop rotation is to avoid the build up of pests and diseases associated with one particular plant or plant group. But the reality is that beans are not especially prone to systemic diseases so this problem as far as they are concerned is much less of a risk. Coupled with this, common practice is to trench the planting area to incorporate bulky organic matter so as to improve water retention for this thirsty crop. In the process the soil is being ‘freshened’ up each year. Anyway, I’ve convinced myself it’s okay to permanently site my climbing beans and so justify the erection of a strong framework that will resist the impact of summer storms.

Here is the new bean set up.

Four 3" square x 8' fence posts sunk 2' deep to span a 20'
row. Cross beams or struts added top and bottom with bean
poles fixed to these. 

I would like to add my best wishes to Sue at The Cottage at the End of the Lane. I'm sure Colin new a thing or two about growing beans.

Tuesday 1 May 2018

Transition period

If you sow lots of plants in trays and modules to germinate indoors as I do then it is important to harden them off before finally planting out in their final positions. This is particularly important for tender plants and crops such as half hardy annuals or outdoor tomatoes. It also applies to hardy plants too. Just because a plant, say a cabbage, is hardy, if it has been accustomed to the warmth of a green house then it will still experience a shock, and a check to its growth, if planted out without a transition period. 

This is where a cold frame comes in handy. Of course they are not absolutely essential. You can put seedlings outside on warm sunny days and bring them back in at night. This can get a bit awkward if warm sunny days are few and far between as is currently the case. 

A cold frame is a useful intermediate step from the green house or window sill. Further regulation is possible by how much the 'lights' are open. Tomorrow we are expecting a fall in temperature and a return of heavy rain so I’ll keep some of the cold frames shut.

This spring the weather has been somewhat unpredictable. Having been teased by a couple of  days in the mid 20 Cs a week or two ago, it has since been unseasonably cold. As a result, like our local farmers, I’m a bit behind with vegetable production and there is a growing queue of young plants ready to be potted on or planted out, but conditions have not made it safe to do so yet. 

This led me to decide to build another cold frame to add to the one I already have to accommodate seedlings and young plants. I had enough left over materials from previous projects to do the job except for some hinges. It took me an afternoon to build and measures 16’ x 2’, which is the length of the green house along one side of which it sits.

Cold frame made from leftover bits. The four doors or
'lights' are made from some PVC roofing sheets
Plenty to fill it in one go