Thank You Tom!

A big thank you to Tom for all his amazing work on the farm since January last year! He’s done a grand job getting things running smoother for us all. Since Tom joined he’s welcomed a new addition to his family, Leon.

Tom (L) being given a card from all of us at The Oak Tree

Tom (L) being given a card from all of us at The Oak Tree

Tom will  be going back into teaching next week so, although he’ll remain a member of the farm Community Supported Agriculture Scheme, he won’t be doing regular work at the farm any more.  Here he is with a leaving gift of a signed limited edition print of Forrest and Gump, the calves who will be arriving later this year, drawn by Kasia of the Calf at Foot dairy, and a card from all of us :)

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Veg box week beginning 14th April 2014

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In the veg boxes this week:

  • 500g carrots
  • 3 of : cauliflower/250g sprouting broccoli (eg. two caulis, 250g broccoli, or one cauli and 500g broccoli)
  • 200g salad leaves
  • bunch of 8 radishes
  • at least 100g beetroot (enough to grate into a salad!)
  • 100g true spinach
  • 100g perpetual spinach
  • 150g borecole sprouts
  • 200g Swiss chard.

We are in the hungry gap, and are both delighted and suprised to be able to harvest so much at this time of year. However, be warned, the hungry gap proper will hit us at some point soon…..

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Gosling cam

Thank you Richard who has now put a live (updated every minute) “gosling cam” in the hatching incubator so we can keep an eye on the hatching goslings without taking the lid off which cools and dries them, which isn’t good. So, without further ado
http://www.oaktreelabs.co.uk/cam/001.jpg

… as it is live it doesn’t show anything when it is dark outside :)

To read more about Richard’s technical wizardry at the farm, including live information on the humidity and temperature in incubator 1 (so you know which graph to look at) here is his Oak Tree Labs site.

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Tom’s wildlife blog March 2014

March has been warm and relatively dry, which has brought an early spring to the local wildlife.

Blackbirds, started singing at the start of the month and have now been joined by blackcaps and chiffchaffs. The finches and tits are in fine breeding plumage, while nest building twigs in the bills of magpies, crows and rooks are a common sight. Unfortunately there has been no sign of the barn owl who was with us last year, but keep your eyes peeled – he or she may still make an appearance.

Small tortoiseshells are easily spotted while you might see some other butterfly species now, peacocks and small whites have been seen on the wing now that the warmer drier weather is here.

Get ready for the arrival of more of our summer migrant birds such as swallows in April.

 

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Week beginning 7th April 2014

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500g carrots

400g parsnips

2 leeks

200g sprouting broccoli OR 1 cauliflower

150g borecole flower sprouts

150g spinach

200g mixed salad leaves

small bunch of radishes

We are now in what is traditionally known as the ‘hungry gap‘; the time of year when the winter veg runs out while the bulk of the new season’s crops are not yet ready. We have all been working hard to prepare for this difficult period (roughly April and May) but if the boxes are a little less generous than usual over the next few weeks that is the reason!

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Get ready for goslings!

It is an exciting time here at Joanne & Richard’s home. It is nearly gosling hatching time. All the goslings to be hatched this year will come from our own Embden breeding geese!

goosetowers

Goose Towers chez Joanne. Admire the pallet shelf construction by Richard. The boxes are to keep direct sunlight off the eggs.

The first of our hatching goose eggs went from the bottom blue incubator (a wonderful Italian Corti Automatic incubator that gently turns the eggs back and forth) to the top white Chinese built incubator which was cheap as chips off ebay last year, and has proven to be remarkably effective!

During the final few days before hatching the eggs mustn’t be turned, so the goslings can turn themselves round inside the shell and get ready to “pip”, i.e. make the first air hole in the shell. This is exhausting work and they then rest for up to 24 hours before actually hatching out. This is why they go into the top incubator, with strips of towel soaked in water to raise the humidity, and which doesn’t have a turning mechanism. That way we can keep loading new eggs into the other incubators: their combined maximium goose egg capacity is 40 and our ladies are still laying eggs almost daily!

Before putting our first 7 eggs into the hatching incubator I “candled” them to check all was well (once again a gadget from Richard: a birthday present during my utterly impecunious first years of running the farm). Here is a newly hatched egg compared to a 25 day incubated one.

A newly laid egg being candled.

A newly laid egg being candled.

A 25 day incubated egg being candled.

A 25 day incubated egg being candled. The shadow is the gosling.

See the darkness of the little gosling inside? A couple of the nine eggs hadn’t developed properly, so they don’t go into the hatching incubator to avoid contaminating the healthy ones, hence the seven eggs in there.

Our first seven eggs in the hatching incubator

Our first seven eggs in the hatching incubator

This is all the peeking I am allowed to do, from the outside of the incubator. It is important to leave the incubator closed to keep the humidity and temperature constant during this final stage, and luckily the ever-ingenious Richard has built sensors that put the crucial humidity and temperature figures live on the internet for us all to see! If you want to learn more about how he did this visit Oak Tree Labs. For those of us who just want to check the goslings are ok, here is just the regults (the hatching incubator is #1 at time of posting):

24 hours after hatching the goslings will go up to the farm to the new brooder, complete with gas heater and yet another Richard gadget to report the temperature on another web graph – amazingly transmitted via radio, then SMS message, and finally made available on the web. The sensor is this tiny wireless box which I have been told to clean the goose crap off before I give it back! This is wonderful as I can then relax, and know that the goslings are fine in between our regular checks on them. I’ll post you a link to that when the first goslings move in.

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Week beginning 31st March 2014

IMG_2966

500g carrots

400g parsnips

2 leeks

200g sprouting broccoli

200g mixed salad leaves

100g spinach

200g borecole flower sprouts OR 1 cauliflower

We are now entering what is traditionally known as the ‘hungry gap‘; the time of year when the winter veg runs out while the bulk of the new season’s crops are not yet ready. We have all been working hard to prepare for this difficult period (roughly April and May) but if the boxes are a little less generous than usual over the next few weeks that is the reason!

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Week beginning 24th March 2014

IMG_2964

 500g carrots

2 leeks

200g sprouting broccoli

400g kale

100g mixed salad leaves

150g perpetual spinach

50g borecole flower sprouts

We will soon be in what is traditionally known as the ‘hungry gap‘; the time of year when the winter veg runs out while the bulk of the new season’s crops are not yet ready. We have all been working hard to prepare for this difficult period (roughly April and May) but if the boxes are a little less generous than usual over the next few weeks that is the reason!

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Book review: Gardening Myths and Misconceptions By Charles Dowding

A Charles Dowding book is always good value, so it was a pleasure to pick up a copy of his latest publication Gardening Myths and Misconceptions.

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Far too many gardening books appear to be written by people with only a basic grasp of biology and gardening principles, most contain very few original ideas, and too many give unreliable, or even misleading, advice.

You don;t grow veg like this unless you know what you are talking about.

You don’t grow veg like this unless you know what you are talking about.

Unless a gardening author has many years of experience, ideally in a commercial garden, I regard any book they write as suspect. Commercial gardening forces you to really think about what you are doing. If you get it wrong, the consequences can be very serious indeed.

amazing veg

Abundant Dowding salad leaves

Charles Dowding has run commercial market gardens for many years. Not only that, his inquisitive intelligence leads him to ask the most basic questions and, more often than not, his conclusions are genuinely surprising.

I attended a gardening course with him towards the end of my honeymoon a few years ago. I ran the The Oak Tree Farm on my own at the time and I hadn’t had a holiday in several years: some volunteer members generously took over the harvesting for a week to give Richard and I a break. It was an opportunity not to be missed, we went to Wales in October and I called in for a day-long course with Charles Dowding on the return journey.  It was well worth it. He confirmed many unconventional gardening truths I had suspected for some time, and revealed more things I hadn’t thought of at all. Beginners and experienced gardeners alike can only benefit from Charles’ enthusiastic and deep understanding of what plants really need. Feel free to ignore your allotment neighbour’s advice if Charles says so (that’s a relief, eh?)

Charles Dowding among his abundant veg

Charles Dowding among his abundant veg

Out goes the universally accepted rule, “never water your plants in bright sunlight”. Charles has tracked down the scientific research that shows water droplets cannot scorch leaves.  Similarly the generally accepted truth that the regular use of natural animal manure makes soil acidic turns out to be false. Which would (finally) explain why the pH of my vegetable beds hasn’t budged in years.  The book goes on in that vein for an entertaining hundred or so pages.

The book is a delighful small hardback complete with red ribbon bookmark. I confess it has now found a permanent home in the Mudhar toilet, but that really has to be the highest praise possible for a book owned by a busy gardener.

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Week beginning 17th March 2014

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500g carrots

2 leeks

400g sprouting broccoli

150g chard

125g mixed salad leaves

60g borecole flower sprouts (delicious raw or gently steamed)

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