Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Runner bean cloche trial

These runner beans were sown in early May under a standard polythene cloche through a maize mulch, 4 weeks earlier than we normal.
The cloche has protected the young plants from the cold weather, but the slugs have taken their toll of the leaves but I think they should grow out of the damage.

The experiment does seem to be a success, we have runner bean plants established several weeks earlier than usual, but we will have to use some control methods for slugs. Luckily there is the new organic slug control pellets, Ferramol which I think could be laid under the mulch before planting.
Next year we hope to plant the seeds in early April and get germination before the beginning of May which should advance the crop by 3 or 4 weeks.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Green Manure

We have been using green manures as the main form of fertility input for three years now, below you see the plot of sweet clover which was sowed last year, It could reach up to 2m high in its second year but we've mown it down in preparation for cultivation and subsequent planting

We don,t plough here so we deep tine then rotary cultivate two or three times to incorporate all the materials and to prevent re-growth.

The main green manure we use is a humus builder which includes Clover red and white, cocksfoot grass, chicory and ryegrass. The growth last year was very good in the wet summer and so produced good root growth for the humus levels. The main problem with this mix has been the re-growth particularly of chicory see ,http://hopesayglebefarm.blogspot.com/2008/05/yet-more-wet-weather-slows-progress.html
we are waiting to see what crop growth we get now we have planted in last years green manure area before deciding which green manure crop we use this year.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Queen cell raising started

Today we did our first graft to produce queen cells, we use plastic queen cups attached to a wooden frame into which we graft our one day larvae from our chosen breeder colony.

We use a chinese grafting tool which is easy to use, the tip slips under the larva, then lifted from the donor frame and deposited in the bottom of the artificial queen cup by pushing the plunger on the other end of the tool which pushes the grub off into the cup

We put our grafts into queenless colonies which act as starter finisher hives. The cells will be removed after 7 days to use in swarm control and making increase.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Checking colonies on the OSR site

Hives on the new OSR site, further away from neighbours.
We checked the 23 colonies left on the Herefordshire oil seed rape site. All the colonies have been split and as a result are not yet showing signs of swarming. All colonies had a minimum of four frames of brood, some had as many as eight and each has two supers, some with three.
We use full depth supers which are interchangeable with brood frames, this means that we are able to put brood frames above the queen excluder and empty frames in the brood box. The advantage is, we can increase space in the brood chamber and have "queen free" brood frames and bees above the queen excluder which can be used to make nucleus hives for queen mating and increase.

We moved the three colonies left at the old site and had time to pick up enough frames of brood and bees to make two queenless colonies ready for cell raising next week.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Planting continues and spring growth

Planting is still going ahead, we have just finished the main crop onions (about 3weeks late) with the leeks and shallots still to go in on the allium part of the rotation.
As seen below some of the courgettes, marrows and squash have gone in, this is earlier than we would normally plant but the forecast seems promising so we have taken a chance on there being no late frost.

Now that the warm weather has been with us for a couple of weeks there has been some rapid growth with some crops, Jerusalem Artichokes for example have gone from nothing to this in one week. The grass is making similar rapid growth.

The broad beans are flowering, these were planted in september last year, after a period of poor growth seem to have made a reasonable recovery. That part of the south bank does have low fertility so for future years we will be growing green manure to improve growth rates.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Planting in the poly tunnel

The First batch of Aubergines were planted today, they have been grown in 3" pots in our grow room under lights for 4 weeks then hardened off in a conservatory. As they are starting to flower we decided to put them in.
We have found that a long growing season is important to get a reasonable from Aubergine as is high fertility
They are planted through a woven plastic sheet, Phormax this suppresses the weed growth but still allows water to penetrate. It has the additional advantage of being reusable, this sheet is in its fourth year.
Last year we bought some white Phormax thinking that the additional reflected light would improve growth rates. In fact the growth was half of plants grown through black and because light could penetrate there was a large amount of weed growth under the cover. That sheet is now laid between the tunnels to reflect light back into the tunnel.

Tha apples are in full flower now, about 2 to 3 weeks later than recent average, the advantage of a late flowering season is that the blooms are less likely to succumb to late frosts.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Planting continues

Beetroot and chard in trays just prior to planting out, just to the left you can see newly planted lettuce

More onions planted also beetroot and summer purple. Nicky put the last of the tunnel lettuce out yesterday. The Aubergine and Peppers are now being moved from the growing room to a conservatory.

Fennel has been planted in the tunnel and is now established and starting to grow away

Moving bees at four hours notice

Well that was fun, we were up till 1.00am moving bees from our Oil Seed Rape site. A neighbouring property owner had been stung and was worried about his young child. So we moved 23 of the on site colonies last night,leaving three colonies to catch returning foragers as the new site is less than a mile from the existing so many of the older bees will pick up on their old flight paths. What made it more fun was the fact that we had just added two or more supers over new and very slippy plastic queen excluders and it was a warm evening which meant the bees were active even after dark.
All hives were moved open which for us is standard practice, this can cause problems with crawlers (bees walking on clothing and vehicle interior) but the bees suffer less heat stress and it saves all the worry about sealing up hives and fitting travelling screens
We ended up with hives stacked three high so that was six boxes from the floor of the pick ups. Got stung more times than I could count, and was more than ready for my bed when we finished. But is was good fun and am going out tonight to finish the job. The remaining 12 queens we ordered have arrived this morning in the post, we will be introducing them into nucleus hives before moving the remaining colonies.

Twelve new queens arrive from Cyprus this morning

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Warm weather at last, mulch laid and onions planted

Laying starch mulch in the sunshine

Warm and dry weather has given the holding a real boost, we have been able to put down a load more mulch beds, and the soil conditions were just about perfect. The soil was wet enough to preserve the maximum soil moisture content, but just dry enough to take the weight of the tractor without causing compaction. You can see from the above picture how the layer works. The fist shears make a furrow into which the mulch is pushed by the rubber press wheels and the edge is then buried by the follow on shears pushing soil back into the furrow. It takes about 15 to 20 mins to lay a 50m long bed.

These beds are then planted with a dibber direct by hand, today we got another 4000 onions (Red Baron) planted and watered.

On the outside beds we don't use regular irrigation, straight after planting we water plants individually by hose to establish them and then rely on the residual soil water to take the crop to maturity. This is why it is important to capture as much soil moisture as possible by careful timing of laying the mulch.

Other crops making progress include the runner beans which have just started to germinate under their cloche covers. We have planted savoy cabbage and summer purple in the brassica area and we are seeing good growth on the lettuce plants in the tunnel. The leeks sown in the frames have germinated but are showing slow development, this may change as the soil temperature improves.Earlier batch of lettuce in the tunnel. We are sowing one batch every week to give continuity. Heading types are cut and sold whole while loose leaf types are used in salad packs with various salad leaves. Including rocket, mizuna, red mustard, mibuna and various others depending on season.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Checking new queens and adding supers

Our truck, at the OSR site loaded with supers for the splits, a full load would be 40 supers if we go 5 high. In this instance I had 30 on board for the colonies here.

First though all colonies have to be checked for queens I previously introduced into splits on this site. I always like to check that the bees have released the queens from their cages as they can die while waiting to be released if there are problems.
There was in fact a problem with four colonies were the candy blocking the release hole had gone rock hard and the bees had not been able to chew through to release the queen. These four I released by hand which was fine except for one, where the queen flew off, I closed the colony up quickly and hoped that she'd return later. I'll find out later this week.

The OSR flowers are about 80% to 90% out now as you can see form the picture below. The final whorl on the top of the flower spike hasn't opened yet, so if the weather is kind we may get 2 to 3 weeks of nectar flow from this crop.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Rhubarb doing well

One crop that is doing quite well is the main crop Rhubarb in this case Sutton's Seedless it produces thick stems of a dark red colour

Even though Sutton Seedless is a main crop Rhubarb, it has for two years now developed earlier than the early variety Timperley Early. Seen below Timperley Early is on the right is less advanced than the main crop

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Yet more wet weather slows progress

The wet conditions have prevented us from completing the laying of the mulch, not too much of problem as growth is slow, so the plants are not out-growing their cells yet. However the previous green manure crop begun to grow back. You can see below the growth starting on the beds.

The main concern is Chicory seen below which is included in the green manure crop because of its strong root growth, for the same reason it has been rotovated in as it could push up under the mulch, displace and allow weed growth on exposed areas.

The area looks nice and clean now and ready for the mulche to be laid, even though it was only cultivated to a depth of about 3"