Thursday, 26 June 2008

Uncovered beds

We removed the rest of the mesh covers today and so I can show the progress made by onions and beetroot

T he beetroot have been looking healthy but growing slowly, we will miss our major market this weekend at Moseley for these a nuisance but it happens.The onions are making reasonable progress, again a bit slow and a marked difference in the later planted beds they look several weeks behind, perhaps they will catch up if we get some prolonged sunshine.

A view of the borders of our land and the neighbours woodland, who needs herbaceous borders when you can get Digitalis flowering like this for free.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Moving Bees

Have just got back from moving bees from our Rape site to an organic orchard near Leominster and a site in a secluded valley near Hopton Castle in Shropshire. A total of 23 hives were moved tonight.

We did a quick count up and we have up to 70 colonies depending on queen mating, our target is 100 colonies plus 20 nucleus hives to go into the winter. So on target so far.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Summer vegetable's progress

We took the covers from the allium and lettuce beds to mow the paths. I thought it would be a good opportunity to show the progress the crops are making. In the centre there are beetroot about ready for cropping to your right are the spinach and chard both are being harvested at the moment . At the extreme left and right are the newly planted leeks.

Below are the first lettuce we planted outside in early June, They may be ready to harvest for Moseley market this weekend

This picture of Chard shows how the maize mulch works for weed control, there is no weed growth and the crop is clean , no rain splash spoiling the look and quality of the harvested leaves

Bees are on the clover

The first week we have seen honey bees working white clover. In the South Shropshire area this is a really important crop. The fact that honey bees are working are foraging means that it has started to yield. So all we need now is 2 or 3 weeks really warm weather and we could yet get a reasonable harvest.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

First honey harvest of 2008

We have taken our first honey harvest of the season, it was raining so we had to wear waterproofs over our beesuits. The majority of our honey is collected in full depth supers (Langstroth), we took twenty from this site each holding between 20 and 30lbs of honey

We took the crop from this site as it contains oil seed rape honey which, if left on the hives will set hard in the comb making extraction difficult.
In the end we were only able to extract about 220lbs from these supers as some had set in the comb preventing effective extraction. These supers will be returned to the hives as soon as possible for the bees to fill again.

Leek planting

Leek planting has started, about 3 weeks later than I would like but growth in the frames has been slow, I think because of the cold nights lowering the soil temperature.

We plant in the region of six to eight thousand plants every year, so far this week we have got about five thousand in. The rest will be finished this coming Tuesday, in all approximately 7,000 plants

Below you can see the transplants prepared for planting they have grown well since the 1st June when we last looked at them. The roots have been trimmed and the tops cut back so the transplant is about 9" long. Any longer and the transplant is liable to wilt and much smaller they are slow to establish. These have been grown in the cold frame and will be planted bare root after being placed in a root dip of seaweed solution.

Below shows the dibber we use for planting leeks, as can be seen we are planting through the plastic ulch which was laid in April so capturing the high soil moisture at the time.

This final picture shows the depth that the leeks are planted at, they are watered in by filling each planting hole individually with a hose. Unless there is a very dry spell the leeks will not be watered again during the life of the crop.

In September we will compare the bare root transplants with the module leeks and see which produces the better crop.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Weed control with mypex

The crops planted so far this year are through a plastic maize mulch, which is biodegradable preventing disposal costs but has gaps between beds which can allow weed growth. It is also expensive and doesn't allow the ingress of rain or irrigation water although it does prevent the loss of water through evaporation.

Recently we have been experimenting with Mypex , a woven plastic sheet which is reusable and allows the penetration of water while preventing loss through evaporation. The main problems are that it can move so covering young plants and is more difficult to plant through.The make the planting holes we have cut the Mypex but this leads to the edge of the hole fraying and some materials being lost. Which could lead to a long term deterioration of the sheet.

Below you can see that we have burnt the planting holes using a small blow torch. This seals the edges preventing and further deterioration of the sheet but gives a less flexible space to plant through.

Another method of using sheet materials for weed control is to cover the cropping area for about 4 weeks prior to planting,the sheet is then removed prior to planting. This methods can give up to 4 weeks before weed seeds start to germinate.
For for sown crops a similar method is used except that the cover is re applied after sowing and left in place until germination, giving an extra week or two before seedlings are exposed to weed competition. Obviously the sown rows must be checked regularly and the sheet removed as soon as germination has started.

We will monitor the various sheets to see how they perform over the coming season.

Progress in the tunnels

Fennel is planted in batches of 150 in the tunnel, we found that large batches planted outside would bolt before we could sell them and a large proportion would develop undersize bulbs.

The bulbs are developing reasonably well but we still have too many undersized bulbs, we may have to look at the soil fertility for future plantings

Fine beans are planted and starting to grow well but I would anticipate another 3 weeks the beans develop. These particular beans are round podded, have a dark green skin, good texture and flavour. One of our best selling lines in mid summer.

The Aubergines seen below are starting to recover from their earlier set back. I fed them with a plant based organic liquid fertiliser and you can see the lower leaves are taking on a darker green hue. I'm hoping that they will establish now and put on some growth.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Queen Cells in transit

A regular supply of cells is vital to our operation. They are used for in swarm control, making increase, re-queening queenless colonies or drone layers and improving our stock.

Cells at this time of the season used mainly for swarming and some re-queening of queenless colonies. For swarming colonies we split the hive and put a cell in each side without checking for the queen. The emergent virgin will mate and start laying in about 10 days usually superseding the old queen.

Before a cell can be introduced into a strange colony it needs to be protected from the workers, here is a sealed queen cell 6 days after grafting we are using baking foil wrapped round the cell.

The image below shows the cell with the end exposed, this allows the queen to emerge, this area is never damaged by the bees, presumably there are pheromones located in the tip which signal to the bees to leave it alone.

The cells are transported in a specifically designed incubator called the Carricell, which protects the cells in the foam pockets and maintains the correct temperature with a small panel heater under the foam block.

You can see from above the Carricell is of a robust construction and that the heating element is powered from the cigar lighter

Stopping for a break and admiring the view

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Progress so far on three crops

The Aubergines have been planted fro two weeks now but made little growth, I think due to the cold weather we had this past 10 days. We closed down the tunnel vents in an attempt to keep the temperature higher over night, this week we maintained 15 to 18 C minimum night temp. Hopefully this will stimulate improved growth rates. We've just planted the sweet peppers seen at the top of this picture and for the first time we are growing some chili peppers.
The Lettuce in the tunnel are going well, this is the final planting under polythene before Autumn, I anticipate them being harvested in 3 to 4 weeks depending on weather.

The outdoor planting of beetroot is established and starting to grow away. They were sown direct into 150 module trays and planted through our usual maize mulch.

Leeks modules or bare root transplants

We've sown two batches of leeks. one in module trays and the other in frames. The module trays(sown 3rd week March) were germinated in our growing room and grown on in an unheated and well ventilated poly tunnel.
The frame leeks were sown 2 weeks later than the above and were direct sown in a frame, protected by bubble insulated plastic.Leeks grown in modules

Leeks sown in frames

The initial growth rates of the module sown leeks was faster but the frame leeks have almost caught up this week. However the module leeks can be planted as smaller plants and these were planted in the beds last week. I estimate that it will be another 7 to 10 days before we can plant the frame leeks, it remains to be seen how much difference this makes when the crop matures.