Equinox has passed and we move into longer days again. Time to celebrate the end of the dark season and gear up to a season of long working days and hard work ahead. As the sap rises in the tress, so does the energy in my veins. It really feels like spring is here now, as i jump out of bed each morning eager to get on with the many chores that are waiting on the land. March is a busy time for us; as we finish the winter jobs of pruning and planting perennials, we are also busy sowing seeds and preparing planting areas. The grass has started to grow and has had it’s first cut. David has been working on all the machinery during the winter to ensure we will have a working mower throughout the whole season ahead. The tractor too, has had major engine work, the PTO had stopped working and so it has had the engine stripped down and two new clutches fitted. It still looks rubbish, but not for long. Dave has made a start at dealing with the rust and getting some paint on when the weather is dry.
Despite the destruction the polytunnel took in the January gales, our emergency patch up job has withheld several more storms and snow showers. The large rip that still remains is losing us a lot of heat, which has delayed the early planting, but the over wintering crops have still survived. I am using extra fleece and micro tunnels to allow me to get planting in the tunnel and some early crops of broad beans and peas are now emerging.
The cold being the least of my troubles, what with fat happy mice and naughty chickens the seedlings don’t stand a chance really. We are cropping lots of salad, spinach, chard, coriander and parsley.Whilst the first flowers in the tunnel, tulips and Anemone, are now ready to harvest we still have masses of daffodils coming ready for the later Easter this weekend.
With the hot sunny weather at coming at the beginning of April we have been able to mend the rip in the tunnel by covering it with a sheet of polytunnel plastic. So it is sweltering in there now, which means 6 O’clock starts to get crops harvested and watered before the sun gets on them.
Each year we have the perennial problem of watering, as soon as we have some warm weather we return our thoughts to the irrigation system in the polytunnel. Each year this is slightly improved and i dream of one day owning the deluxe total automated system. We now are able to collect enough rain water for all our needs and last year we installed a tap in the tunnel that flows by gravity from the large tanks, unfortunately the flow is so slow it is not very effective. The best solution was baths at every corner of the tunnel to dunk the watering cans in. But wait for further updates i am currently working on a better system, that will save me hours of time this year.
The bird flue scare is still an issue and although the compulsory sanction has been lifted in certain areas, there is still a risk. The government guide lines states that if you are not in a high risk area (Wales is not high risk at the moment) then birds can be allowed outdoors into fenced areas provided the areas meet certain conditions. Which is keeping food away from wild birds and avoiding aquatic birds (ducks, geese etc.) as the main spread of the disease is through birds congregating around water. So our poultry is very happy to be back out and free ranging around the farm, causing havoc in my flower beds and kicking my beautifully mulched beds all over the place. Our belief is our birds with their now healthy foraged, free ranging diet, will be much more resistant to any disease. To prove our thinking, within a couple of days of being out they started laying eggs again (partly due to the warmer weather and longer days, but also i am sure they were just more content). So maybe not the best time to expand our flock, but we did it anyway. Last week i bought 40 new hens, 72 weeks old and saved from an early slaughter. We are giving them a second chance at life, these rather stupid barn hens are now learning about roosting and the big outdoors.
We had an excellent woofer from America, Philip, who came early in the season, Feb into March. An interesting young man who was very helpfully just when we needed some ‘get up and get on with it’. He helped me tidy and mulch the raspberries, start to installing the Rayburn into the barn, plant the wildlife pond, mend the large pond and sort the pork…..
Yes the 10 little porkers have gone!!! They were 6 months old and had become too much trouble, they were plenty big enough to handle and made a lot of mess, noise and naughtiness. Ideally we would have fattened them up for another 2 months, but they were costing a lot to feed and they kept breaking out and causing damage. Are we sad to see them go? NO, we are relieved. At last we can go into the field not expecting disaster and damage, keen to get on the with new growing season. Philip didn’t meet the piglets, but he was here to sort out the pork (luckily he was a meat eater and appreciated the experience). We rented the Cultivate packing shed (which has a 5* environmental health rating) for sorting and packing the 70 different orders we had for pork. We had pick ups that day in Newtown and the following day in Llanidloes and Machynlleth. The whole thing went very smoothly and was a massive relief when all done. With 70 orders it was a lot of logistics to sort out, with different people having different contact preferences that complicated messaging, but it all came together in the end. Unfortunately the dead weight of the pigs was a bit less than we had expected averaging at 32kg each, we had expected 38kg, the norm is 50kg. So we had no meat left at the end of the orders and made no profit. We think we just about broke even (not finished the accounts yet). So 6 months wet, cold, muddy, stinky work for no pay. Would i do it again?… Probably. Would we do it better?… Possibly. (Had we kept them an extra 2-3 months we would have got the extra weight but after paying for the food, we would have still only made £500 profit). If we were to do it another time, it would be better for the piglets to be born as early as possible in the year, so most of the work would be done in the summer months, when the weather is nice and the grass is still growing. Although we had a lot of very tasty sausages made, they cost us £2.50 /kg so ate away at our profit as they were sold at the same price as the rest of the meat. We needed to find a cheaper source of pig food. In somerset we can buy a bag of food direct from the farmer @£3.50 locally it is £8.50. Perhaps next time we will have to factor in regular trips south.We still have kept our original two kune kune’s; mum and granddad (castrated male, useless pet), they are so easy to look after in comparison to the hoard of hooligan teenagers.
Our spring wwoofer is Polo, from France, come to learn English for 6 weeks. Perhaps i will improve my French at the same time. I have given him the job of spring cleaning the caravans ready for the summer visitors. A job i hate, and each year spend many thankless hours doing, when i should be doing gardening tasks. It is great to have extra help at the time of year.
We have tidied up the nursery, sown lots of seed, harvested crops, planted up the polytunnel with early season crops and tidied the flower beds and finished planting the box hedge around the flower cutting garden.
We have two new French wwoofer joining us this week to help with all the spring planting. Perfect timing to fit in with the bio-dynamic planting calendar too. Now the weather is getting better and the days are longer, the soil is starting to warm up at last, so seeds should germinate quickly now.
This year we are putting in an acre of potatoes, which will be grown as seed for Sarpo Potatoes Research Trust. The pigs have been on the ground to clear it over the winter, although the grass has mainly grown back, this week it was ploughed and is nicely drying out in the hot weather, ready for planting later in the month. During February we had a potato growers technical day at the field. The potato experts were on hand to give advice and get growers started growing potatoes for seed.