Saturday, 28 February 2009

Raised beds and Chicken Tractors

I've just been reading about 'no dig' on the Scilly Organics blog and as I've been out on the land today I got to thinking. I have tried no dig systems before and was disappointed. The soil became compact and the living part became shallower due to the lack of oxygen I guess. However I did not use a strict bed growing system then.For a few years now I have been using a system of (more or less) raised beds. When I say raised, maybe humped is a more apt term. The important point is that I NEVER put any pressure on the soil, not foot or even hand to lean over if I can help it (they are only four feet wide). It has become a bit of a 'thing' for me, but it has worked. I now find that having removed the last leeks yesterday a quick rake over today and I have a seed bed and sowed my first organic seeds.

The soil condition is fantastic, but it has taken about three years to come to that state. Interestingly that was the time which Rosa Dalziel O'Brian, who wrote 'Intensive Gardening' about 50 years ago, said it would take and she insisted that you should not walk on the land!

So why was I thinking about soil compaction and no dig? Well my lovely seed bed and my new raised beds, real raised beds, not just areas that I don't walk on. These new beds are where I grew potatoes last year so the soil is quite clean and open and as the weather has been fine I gave them a quick once over with the hand cultivator. Disappointment! The soil was nowhere near as friable (I think that's the word I'm looking for) as the older bed. So I'll just have to wait a couple of years, with the addition of compost of course.

But there may be a shortcut, I don't know......yet. After using the cultivator to work over the soil my two chickens arrived to look for lunch. After only a few minutes scrathhing around they had produced a wonderfully fine tilth, here and there! Maybe, if they were confined on the bed for a day or two the scratched patches would join up? And so we've invented that device so loved by Permaculturists, The Chicken Tractor.

You may well ask how I reconcile all this talk of not walking on the land with my raving about old Ferguson tractors. Well I'll come to that next time, maybe. Or it may be about apple grafting, it's such a busy and exciting time of the year, who knows.

Friday, 20 February 2009

The tractor problem solved, or is it?

So even after I'd agonised about tractors and whether I should get a new/different one in an earlier post I still didn't know what to do. Should I get a new Chinese tractor or should I try and find a restored oldie? Or should I stick with my very old and tired Massey Ferguson 35 (1959 vintage) which to be honest I considered too tired to do what I wanted of it.

My arguments to myself were along these lines. Pro. Get a new one and it is going to be under warranty, will have after sales service etc. Con. BUT how long will it last, what is the quality control like, what will the spares situation be like in 50 years (If you know me and my age please feel free to laugh at the last concern!)

So looking through the classifieds in Classic Tractor magazine I noticed a local phone number. This led to me and other half viewing not one but two restored Massey Ferguson 135s on a very cold morning. This I felt was a cruel twist of fate, I had just about come to terms with getting a restored machine and just about decided on the MF135, but then to have to decide between two seemed unfair! However I did make a decision and here it is, after having the front end loader fitted which I need for turning all that compost I will be making.

Great now I can get on with the ploughing! Well the old 2 furrow plough needed a bit of fettling and a polish, I'd tried to use it behind the old MF35 and it was basically a bit of a disaster. Mainly my fault, but it taught me a lot about how not to plough, starting with a rusty plough is a no-no. Likewise blunt coulter disks. I just ended up with a load of turf tangled round the frame.

Right, everything is polished and sharp, lets get to it! The weather is fine and rain is predicted soon, don't want to make a mess (of the new tractor as well as the land) Hitch up plough and..... The hydraulics wont lift it!!!!!! I wont bother to type what I said, but you know I was a bit fed up.
This is odd I thought, fiddling with the front end loader, when all of a sudden as I lowered the loader the plough came up. Ah, something is wrong with the plumbing NOT the tractor. Major sigh of relief. But what to do?

I wanted to do the ploughing NOW so it had to be the old MF35. After the usual sniff of the yellow can (the tractor not me, this time) it started and kept going and did the job and I'm strangely glad it worked out that way. It feels like honouring an old friend for a service rendered, which neither of us really knew if it was in their power to achieve. It reminded me that things were made to last 50 years ago and don't have to be shiny to be functional. However I do think the 35's earned a coat of paint next winter, it sure needs it!
Oh yes, the MF135 problem was solved by putting in the diverter valve which should have been there in the first place. Hmmmm?

Thursday, 5 February 2009

WOOD BURNERS for a sustainable future!?

Well the snow came, almost went and then came back again. Hopefully the old adage about it waiting for some more to come along and take it away is true. The trouble is it feels colder out there now than it did when it was minus 8C a couple of weeks ago. At least I got some hedge laying done in the dry cold, now I can enjoy the fruits of last years cutting. We have two wood burners here, one which I bought from a friend many years ago and I've only just discovered is a Yeoman Exe. The other is an Esse Ironheart. The Yeoman only heats the room (though it did have a back boiler once). The Esse does the lot! Big hot plates, big oven, big firebox and it heats the water too.
Why do I mention this straight after hedge laying? Well the small wood, from 1 to 4 inches diameter, that gets cut out from an old hedge is ideal fuel for the range. If you are cooking on a wood burner you don't want big cold logs else your fire and oven temperature goes up and down. Smaller, lighter wood added at regular intervals allows far more control when cooking on a wood burner. The picture above is actually willow which was cut after only three years and dried for 12 months.
Thanks for the comment jon, it must be unusual for there to be snow in the scilly Isles. I like the pics too (
However, not to be outdone here is some Welsh snow, not quite so rare, but just as beautiful when you've a nice warm house to return to.