Tuesday, 31 July 2012

That was July

Tuesday 31st July 2012
A group of gulls heads out to The Wash at first light
Monday 30th July 2012

Weatherwise, July was a month of two halves. The first, continuing on from the previous three months, was wet ... very wet. Then came a hot spell, dominated for me by the epic saga of the polytunnel.
Early on, the month saw despair triumph over hope on the veg front, crops starved of heat and sunshine, devastated by slugs, unable to outgrow the damage. The rain seemed to benefit only the peas and potatoes.
But inevitably in such conditions, blight hit at the end of the month, putting the whole potato crop at risk. At least the spell of warm weather meant that the sweetcorn, runners and cucurbits began to look more healthy. We got our first modest crops of soft fruits too.

Chicken numbers went up by three with the hatching of three punky Polands, but the young cockerels are approaching time to go as they've started challenging Cocky, as well as fighting amongst themselves and trying it on with the ladies. Egg production is back up to about 5 a day.

While all this has happened, Lady Guinea has gone AWOL, though she occasionally reappears for food.

On the pig front, Gerald and Daisy have been getting jiggy jiggy, while the piglets have been chasing each other around. They are nearly five months old now and the two boys are booked to go off on 2nd September (they are in a state of ignorant bliss about this). Two of the girls will be following in mid October. One of them is sold already.

The bees swarmed again. Their behaviour is totally mystifying at the moment. However, after an eventful start, we are roughly back to where we started with them.
The farm's wild birds have been busy raising young and some are onto their second brood now. The summer visitors briefly started singing again mid-month. Presumably their young had fledged if they bred successfully. For now they are quiet again. They may even have moved on. The first migrants have started passing through with a couple of Marsh Harriers, Chiffcaffs and Willow Warblers putting in brief appearances.  

Finally, we've had some decent sunrises, though totally cloudless skies don't give the most dramatic effects. Best for me though, sunrise has come forward to past 5.

Here's a look back at July's sunrises.








Sunday, 29 July 2012


Sunday 29th July 2012
A heart-warming sunrise
Three nights ago I did the daily trip in the evening gloom to lock away the chickens and I noticed that our two guineafowl were not up on their normal fence. I could just make out the distinctive spotty feathers of one of them in the roost house with Cocky and his harem. This I found moderately insulting given the fun and games we used to have persuading them to actually go in there at night!
This has been repeated for the last two nights and Lady Guinea has only been seen briefly twice. Other than that, she has gone AWOL.
I am hoping she is sitting on eggs somewhere, but I don't want to count my chickens yet ... that may not be quite the right phrase to use.

Burning diseased potato haulms
and ragwort.
Not an easy task in damp conditions.
While I've been preoccupied with my polytunnel, a most unwelcome, yet inevitable stranger has crept onto the farm and destroyed my potato crops. Invisible, wafting through the air, thriving in warm, damp conditions, it strikes with alarming speed.

Having never actually seen blight before (only pictures in books and on the internet) I was not definite exactly what to look for, since at this time the early potatoes are dying down anyway. But I had my strong suspicions, especially when the maincrops down in the spare veg patch started to develop dark blotches on the leaves.
I knew it was coming and hoped it wouldn't strike my patch, but I couldn't have done anything to stop it anyway. Standard procedure is to spray with Bordeaux Mix, but to do that you need dry weather. By the time that came it was too late.

What has really surprised me, though, is the speed and deadliness of its strike. Okay, so I was busy with other things, but it has already virtually wiped out all of the foliage and made its way down the plant into some of the tubers. All I can do now is to pull all the stems and leaves and burn them, then wait two weeks before digging up the crop for storage. Its then that I know whether I've got any spuds left and whether they had time to grow properly.

As for the Earlies, I'll use them as quickly as I can. Even with a few losses it's still been a good crop. What a shame they are more difficult to store, but I have plans for a potato cookery day so a good proportion of them can make their way into the freezer in one form or another.

I should also learn which claims of blight resistance are the most valid.

At the moment, it seems as if the Edgecote Purples have fared best out of the Earlies. The Sarpo Mira have certainly lived up to their reputation, their lush green leaves standing out like a sore thumb amongst the withered, brown haulms of all the other varieties. It is possible that some varieties will have resisted enough for the tubers to remain largely unaffected. Let's hope so.

The fire produced plenty of smoke...

But I don't think
all this was down to me!

And before you think it, please don't leave any comments reminding me that blight can be even more lethal to tomatoes. I watch with crossed fingers.
The loss of many of my potatoes I can swallow. We had far too many anyway, and even if  the worst comes to the worst it won't cost us a fortune to buy them locally, even if our rather gourmet selection of varieties will be limited. But the tomatoes are a different story. Even if we don't sell any, they are a crop which simply cannot be replaced from the shops and I'll find it very difficult to pay through the nose for any that actually have any significant flavour.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Bee surprised

Saturday 28th July 2012
You may have noticed that recently I've taken full advantage of Blogger's ability to pre and post date posts. That's because I've been totally dedicated to getting the polytunnel erected. With fifteen hour days in the baking sun, I'm afraid doing anything when I got inside was out of the question.

Anyway, if you look at the last 6 posts you'll get an account of the saga that was the polytunnel.

So today I took a very well earned rest.

Sunrise has crept past 5 o'clock now. It may sound early, but it's a little luxury to set my alarm a minute later every day! So today, as the sun rose, I captured this striking cloud formation before going straight back to bed till 10. Then I watched the Olympics!

Bee Surprise
Our introduction to bee-keeping has been eventful to say the least. Our bees seem determined to colonise the whole of the fens, beavering away and building queen cells left, right and centre. Despite our best efforts, they have swarmed twice that we know of. Presumably they are not completely happy with the queen.

It's a week now since I briefly spotted a swarm settled in the veg patch. Since then, there's been mixed activity at the entrance of each hive. At least the bees have been able to get out and about at last and the warmth will be very welcome to them.

No pictures today I'm afraid, but Sue came back from her inspection of the hives with some very surprising news.

The hive which I thought had swarmed has young brood and is thriving. If you remember, when we split the hives we found a newly emerged queen to go in this hive. But, after over a month there was no sign of eggs or larvae, so we put in a couple of queen cells from the other hive. Well, obviously something went according to plan, though we're not sure which plan!!

The other, into which we moved the original queen, is faring OK but Sue could not find the queen. She is marked and has always been easy to find in the past. Could it be that the swarm actually came from here? After all, this is where the queen cells were being built. Could it be that both hives have swarmed?

All in all, by hook or by crook, it seems as if we are pretty much back where we started!

Friday, 27 July 2012

Polytunnel: Part 6 - The Opening Ceremony

Friday 27th July 2012
Will the weather hold?
Most importantly, we need wind speeds of zero mph
Well, I've really pushed my luck on the weather as polytunnel deadlines have slipped further and further back (not or lack of effort). It's been an absolutely scorching week and I have single-mindedly applied myslef to constructing this Olympic-sized polytunnel. Poor Sue, as well as being my third hand and occasional labourer, has had to get on with all the other farm jobs.

There's a race on this morning. Just a couple of jobs to do in readiness for the cover going on, but experience tells me that those jobs could end up taking a lot longer than expected.

Irrigation fitted.
Timber base-rail almost completed.

The last few jobs were completed at breakneck speed, but the wind was freshening and the sky was clouding over. We had been advised by a friend who works in a large commercial nursery that we would need a large team of helpers and many sets of step ladders to get the cover on. Even the manual, which made everything else sound impossibly easy, warned of opening up a giant sail!
We could end up doing some pretty spectacular kite-surfing!

We had a decision to make. Should we attempt to get the cover on today? We would need to get our team together.

Come early afternoon the sun shone, the wind dropped and our luck, already pushed to the limit, continued to hold. In fact, we could not have picked a better day for the job in hand.

Game on!

We assembled our team of helpers. That's me, Sue and Don!!! We're stubbornly independent, whatever the scale of the task in hand.

First job was to lay out the cover. This would tell us how difficult the job would be. If it blew everywhere, we would abandon the attempt.

Sue tries to protect the Jerusalem Artichokes,
but they need a summer trim anyway
to stop the stems being snapped in the wind.
They need to make way for the cover to be spread out.
They'll grow back.
The cover spread out.
Good news is, Sue and I can move it without too much effort.
And it's not blowing away,
though we have tyres, straw bales, telegraph posts
and concrete blocks at the ready to weigh it down.

Warming up nicely in the sun. This will ensure it goes on nice and tight.

With the base rail option, there is no trench.
The bottom of the cover is pulled tight and trapped under battens of wood.  
The fellow with the braces is my wonderful neighbour, Don.

As you can see, the cover went on in no time.
Here I am just going round putting a few extra nails in.
The last screw goes in.
The inside.

The finished product.
There were times when I thought this would never happen.
I am very, very happy with it.
It's taken a week of my life.
I have a good tan, a back which has been injured and healed and a badly strained shoulder.
Overall though, I wouldn't have it any other way.
My thanks to Don for always being there for help when I needed and to Sue for her patience, support, hard work and keeping everything else going.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Polytunnel: Part 5 - The Home Straight

Thursday 26th July 2012
A dull start.
Finish the door frames and hang the doors.
Put on the timber base-rail
Insert 72 (non) self-drilling screws
Install irrigation system
Cover hoops with hotspot tape

These are the jobs which need doing before the cover can go on. The pressure is really on. I've learned that the sheer scale of this polytunnel means that, even if things go well and I work like a dog, each stage takes a good few hours.
The forecast is becoming a bit more dodgy - a North / South split with fresher weather on it's way. Fingers crossed we get the weather of the South.

Doors hung.
A long job, but worth doing properly.

View from afar.
It's a large polytunnel, but I'm happy that the scale fits in with everything else.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Polytunnel: Part 4 - The Marathon continues

Wednesday 25th July 2012
A fine start to the hottest day of the year.
Well, tomorrow is Cover Day. But I'm only about a third of the way through the instruction manual and the stables are still full of metal pipes and wooden battens!
With more Giant Meccano to assemble, then four doors to make, the door frames and the wooden base rail, this job is becoming a bit of a marathon. I have resigned myself to more deadline slippage, despite long, long days working in the extreme heat.
In fact, I'm really pushing my luck on the weather now. It's got to change soon. It may be that getting the cover on has to wait for the next spell of hot, windless weather. After all, I've only been waiting ten months for a suitable spell of weather!!

All this effort had better be worth it in the end.

The side ridges go on. Another wind protection feature.

A welcome couple of hours
building the doors out of the sun.

I've gone for double doors,
front and back,
to ensure enough ventillation.

Only trouble is,
four doors to make, not one.

It's a good thing I love working with wood.
Much prefer it to metalwork.

Last job of the day:
Make a start on the door frames.
The posts are sunk into holes and fixed to the metal door rail.
Tricky part is getting everything vertical.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Polytunnel: Part 3 - Giant Meccano

Tuesday 24th July 2012
The scorching weather continues.
Long may it last!
I made good progress yesterday, ending the day with a very satisfying colonnade of nine hoops. But when I looked in the stables most of the giant Meccano set was still there!
It's becoming apparent that Wednesday's deadline will need a minor miracle. Not to worry though, the forecast has this glorious weather lasting till at least Thursday, when the wind dies down - perfect for cover day.
After two days, at last things are taking shape.
I got the last hoop up late yesterday, too late for a photo.

These P-clips are used everywhere to fit the pipes together.
These ones cover the hoop joints and are known as the Storm Protection System,
One of the extras I purchased to protect my tunnel from the ravages of the fenland winds.

Next step: The central ridge.

Straw bales make an excellent work platform.

Very slow progress for the morning. Frustrating delays as the self-drilling screws prove not to be so well-named.
Thanks go to Don for saving the day with his extra long extension lead and metal drill bit for drilling pilot holes.

Stabilising corner bars and the top door rail attached.
The parasol is to keep the metsal parts cool.
At one point they got too hot to pick up!

Now for the crop bars.
Not a necessity, but useful
for hanging things from and attaching things to.
Also provide extra strength.

A well-deserved beer after another very long, very hot day of Giant Meccano.

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