Monday, March 24, 2008

Still lots to do

The poor weather gave me an ideal excuse to get into the greenhouse at home to carry on potting on and pricking out. The poached egg plant seedlings (above) are grown as sacrificial companion plants as they attract greenfly far more readily than most other crops and are planted at the end of rows. These are now ready to prick out.

The farmers long aubergine plants (shown above) are romping along now and will be potted on itnto 5" pots within the next week or so.
All of our tomato plants are now in 5" pots and will remain in them until mid April when they will be planted out into the polytunnels.

This is a close up of Dahlis shoots growing from a potted on tuber. They are ideal material to take as basal shoot cuttings. I just pull them off the tuber and pot them in pots filled with a 50-50 mix of multi purpose compost and perlite. Most root within the first couple of weeks, making it an easy way of building up stocks of your favourite varieties.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Planting spuds the easy way.

Trenching potatoes, your having a laugh?
We just set out a string line and then use a 5' length of scaffold pole to make a hole about 6" deep into the soil. Holes are made every 12" for first earlies and every 14-16" for maincrop varieties. A seed potato is then just dropped into the hole, chitted end up and the bed raked over to fill the holes.
The potatoes shown are a first early variety called pentland javelin, we normally grow foremost as a first early but are having a change this year. They have gone in a bit early but the top growth, when it pops through the soil, will be covered over as we earth them up giving some frost protection. Hopefully we will be eating these from Mid June.


Most of our top fruit stock are budget supermarket trees bought for less than £4. They have been an absolute bargain and has fruited very well from the first year. The blossom is already getting ready to burst out and herald spring as the pictures of the pear (top) and apple tree show.

Bringing them on

We make good use of the plot tunnels and greenhouses to bring on less tender plants, leaving room in the heated home greenhouse for the soft stuff. Here are a few trays of lettuce and brassica plantlets which will be ready to be hardened off and planted out within the next month.

As usual most stuff has been module sown or pricked out into pots so that only healthy, well established plants go out to grow on.

Turning the heap

With the weather on Saturday being a bit suspect, I undertook a hard but very satisfactory job, turning one of the compost heaps. The top 12" has already been turned, leaving the already composted stuff underneath. As you can see it was quite compact but well rotted.

This picture shows the job complete with a compost bin nearly ready to use. Some courgettes will be planted on this heap in May and in late autumn it will be used to top up beds or as a mulch.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

More pots, modules and planting out

We plant very few things directly into the ground, finding than planting pot or module sown plants suffer little disturbance caused by thining or transplanting, dont get damaged when very small by pests or the weather and romp away when planted out at their optimum spacings. The broad beans above (Witkiem Vroma) will be planted out at the begining of April and will be followed by a further sowing made in late March.

The above Rainbow Chard were sown 2-3 seeds to a pot and wont be thinned out at all, just planted about 12" apart in raised beds and harvested regularly.

This spinach is grown in exactly the same way with these well established plantlets having been hardened off, getting planted out, again about 12" apart.

As a couple of these Hative de Niort shallot sets had started to sprout in January, rather than lose the whole lot, they were potted up and kept in a frost free greenhouse then coldframe to harden off before being planted out last weekend. The pots were full of root and the sets had lots of top growth and were ready to be planted out.

Using pots and modules can be a bit more time consuming and take a little fore-thought initialy than direct sowing but does yield excellent results and when you take into account losses, thinning out and the like when direct sowing, can be a much better option.


Last year we bought a dozen fruit trees from Aldi and one of those trees was an Apricot. All of the other trees went into our mini orchard or were cordoned along fencing and all actually gave a fruit or two that year. The apricot however remained a bit sullen despite being fan trained and in a pot full of quality medium.
However, this year we have a couple of dozen flowers which I have pollinated with a small paint brush, so hopefully we may get to eat an apricot this year, frosts permitting.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Rock Dust

There has been a fair amount of press in recent months about using rock dust to improve your soil. As all soil is in effect ground up rock, its original supply of minerals have been used up over the following millenia, leaving some soils quite poor in mineral content. Now, whilst adding compost etc will improve structure and add some elements, most noticeable being nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, some elements are not replenished and some of these, whilst not required by a plant to grow, unlock nutrients from the soil giving much better growth.

As I work in a quarry, granite dust is in plentiful supply so I am giving all of my beds a top dressing with it and will hoe it into the top inch or so and allow rain to dissipate it further. At worst it will be a soil conditioner, at best it may well have a noticeable effect. I will report back later in the season.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Where I work

Carrying on from the previous post, on site there are some 12 substations suplying power and control sustems to the site. Voltage varies from 3.3Kva (3300 volts) down to 4-20mA control signals, all of which we electricians are responsible for the maintenance and repair off. The picture above shows part of a substation.

We are responsible for safely isolating plant for fitters and others to work on. Communication is key, as is a high level of common sense and safety awareness. With the demise of mining, quarrying is now the most dangerous industry in the country with two fatalities only last month in other quarries.

The above pictures give a small insight of what is involved in the electical workings of a quarry, most of the electrical plant however is outside, exposed to the elements, dust, rock and other elements. All of it is critical as even the smallest rotation sensor or pressure switch can stop a critical item of plant. When there is a breakdown, the pressure really is on to get the plant up and running as quickly as possible.

That hopefully, gives a small insight into the environment that I work in and some of the responsibilities.

Where I work

As some of you know, I work as an electrician in a granite quarry which produces 5 million tons a year. There are two quarry holes, this is the forked out one which is now being filled with clay overburden from the other hole.
This is a Catterpillar 988 shovel which can scoop up 10 tons at a go. Nathan, another electrician gives you an idea of scale.

This picture shows the "surge pile" where pre crushed rock piles up before going through underground feeders to the secondary crushing plant. The primary route from hole to surge pile can cope with up to 2500 tons per hour.

Everything is on a massive scale. The building in the background is a covered store and has underground feeders and conveyors taking stone to our rail loading plant, bitumen coating plants or to a wash plant.

This is one of two bitumen coating plants and can continuously produce 300 tons per hour of tarmac. At present we are suppling product for the M69 resurfacing project.