Thursday, 9 February 2017

The First Seedling of 2017

3rd February 2017
The First Seedling
Storm Doris was so offended by the name she was given that she veered off toward France. I was expecting a howler but instead we got a whimper.
Meanwhile, the first seedlings are up! A momentous day each year. Glory went to the third aubergine in row two, narrowly beating the lemon drop chillis which were sown on the same day last week.
I start these seeds off so early as they require a long growing season to grow and ripen. The downside is that they will need gentle tending until the polytunnel warms up properly.
The start of the 2017 growing season
4th February 2017
While the cat's away...
Well, more precisely, while Sue's away we all sleep on the bed and have a lay in.

Slightly 'soft focus' but it's not easy taking a selfie with four animals on the bed.
My battle with the rat(s) in the polytunnel is still ongoing. It took ten bags of Eradibait - the 'friendly bait' that doesn't harm other wildlife, they just forget to tell you that the rats don't bother to eat it either!
I thought it must be taking the bait until I found more rat holes with Eradibait pellets strewn everywhere. They have simply been dispersed. So I have set the proper poison up and they have started taking it.
I am itching to clear out and clean the polytunnel so I can get growing in there.

This afternoon I moved the sheep around a bit, along with hay feeders, the Xmas tree for them to keep munching on, water...
The Shetland lambs in their new home.
The lambs were moving back up to the main paddocks to give the paddock near the house time to rest for when this year's lambs move into it. But before they moved, the adults had to be moved further down the land.
This operation was all going very smoothly until a very unfortunate incident when three dogs briefly ran amok through them. Unfortunately it happened in the short period when I had the electric fence off to move the sheep. But it shouldn't have happened and I just hope no harm has come to the ewes or their unborn lambs. The dogs were not vicious but I was powerless to stop them chasing the sheep.
As it had happened while I was moving the sheep, we had all been taken by surprise. Otherwise I don't think the sheep would have turned tail and ran. The trouble is that it only takes one sheep to lose its nerve. If Rambo head butted a dog I have no doubt he would do some very serious damage. I don't think the sheep realised this would happen, as Boris and Arthur are the only dogs they know and these have always kept a respectful distance.
It took me a long time to persuade the sheep to follow me back up to their new paddock again.

The adult sheep finally where I wanted them, lured with Christmas tree, hay and mangels.

After this incident I left the sheep to recover in peace while I took cuttings from my buddleias, willows and elders. These three species are the keenest to take root and it is very hard to fail with them. And if you take enough cuttings it doesn't matter if a few don't take.

While I was cutting the buddleia, I came across the first snowdrops of the year. It's beginning to feel like Spring is just around the corner (cue gales, rain and snow!)

5th Feb 2017
Plants for free
I spent the morning poking yesterday's cuttings into the ground, over two hundred of them. I have put them into a special cuttings area and will move them to  their final growing sites early next winter, once they have had a season to grow some roots and gone dormant again.
The unexpected early arrival of Sue back from London cheered me up and I quickly had her helping me erect a temporary stretch of fence alongside the bottom sheep paddock. We had to improvise with what few materials we had on hand but it was more important to get something up quickly than to make it look good.

6th & 7th Feb 2017
A Hullaballoo in the Polytunnel
Main job for the two days was to create as much hullaballoo as possible in the polytunnel. For I had finally lost patience. Rat activity seemed to have died down so I guessed the poison was finally taking effect.

The polytunnel is a lovely place. Warm, dry, full of food at the right time of year. It was brilliant for the first few years, but it has been harder going the last couple of years. It is an ideal place for rearing seedlings, but later in the year the red spider mites undertake a silent invasion, sucking the life out of many of the crops. Voles and field mice enjoy the warm and dry, along with the supply of carrots, though many end up in the traps. Then this winter the rats have found it to their liking too.

I felt I needed a fresh start, so Monday morning I started clearing all old plants and dead material out. I followed this up by taking Mr Rotavator in and churning up and down the beds, taking extra care near the thin plastic walls. The idea was to turn the soil but also to cause maximum underground disruption, collapsing all the tunnels and generally scaring anything taking shelter. Rats do not like disturbance.
Next up came chemical warfare. I am pragmatic organic, which means that I am totally organic unless there is absolutely no other way to save a crop or to eradicate a weed. It is rare that I have to resort to other methods, but today I blasted the polytunnel with a spray of Jeyes Fluid, paying special attention  to all the nooks and crannies between the metal framework and the polythene.

Then came a thorough power blast with the hose pipe. It is very difficult to stay dry during this operation!
All this took the best part of a whole day, but there was still more to come.
Tuesday brought out the soft broom and the washing up liquid, for the polytunnel imperceptibly turns green during the year. It doesn't really notice, but a thin film of algae builds up, along with grime on the outside. All of this blocks out the light, not so important in midsummer but crucial when the sun is low and the days are only just starting to draw out.
The outside is relatively easy to clean, although there is a strip about a foot wide on top which I can never reach. Inside is a different story as most of the water ends up coming back down on me!
Anyway, after two hard days of cleaning the polytunnel is looking like brand new. This weekend I shall plant my super early potatoes in there and sow my first carrots, turnips and lettuces.

If any pests return I am going to hit them very hard indeed.

8th February 2017
A Bird Flu update from The Ministry.
Full details in the next couple of days. This merits its own post.

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