Spring Time Shuffle & Update

The rains have subsided, the sun shows itself and we begin to shed the winter sleep from our eyes. Well, that’s not strictly true – a fortnight ago we started digging over the allotment – I tackled the last of the fruit tree pruning in the orchard whilst Suz dug over one of the vegetable beds and cleared the old strawberry patch which had started to deteriorate, having been in the ground for five years. Last Friday I dug over another vegetable bed and the rhubarbs whilst Suz pulled the remaining parsnips, carrots and beetroot, and weeded the artichokes, most of which have survived the mild winter! Jay got stuck into the first mow of the season, and Smiler prepared the raised bed. What a day! This was all on the only sunny day of the Easter weekend, but at least it gave us an excuse to take Saturday easy.

And then yesterday – the Sunday. The Little Orchard was looking quite sorry for itself – the occupation of the quarter acre by 20 chickens had taken its toll, the mole hills had become mole holes, the grass was quite short and it just looked grubby. I started to get the yearning to move them to cleaner ground a few weeks ago, but the time wasn’t right – but yesterday it was. It was a bit of a military exercise – Smiler and I got stuck into shifting electric fences – we’d done it before together and it was fun to get outside on a decent day.

2016 spring move pilgrim geeseWe managed to move the geese from the Big Orchard to the Hay Quarter, where they will have half that quarter acre. We are only making half as much hay this year, partly down to the fact that we have too many animals and need the ground, and also because we have other projects kicking from summer through to harvest that will soak time up. We are finally, hopefully, extending the kitchen, so we can get more than two people in it at a time, and will no longer have to chop apples up outside, press them on the dining table and transfer them to the kitchen to bottle! Which brings me to the other reason harvest time will be busy – apples! I expect a larger crop this year, and it would be good to give more attention to that side of things properly, without shoe-horning it in between hay making and vegetable growing. Again, with the kitchen being dismantled and the apple trees taking over, we have decided to grow only one third of the vegetables we normally do, as we won’t have anywhere to really prep or cook it this summer. We can, however, freeze a lot and eat much of it in salads, but next year we can begin again with renewed vigour, knowing we’ll have a kitchen table for the first time ever! As a plus point, moving the geese to the hay quarter will also give it    some much needed fertiliser – once the hay has been cut later in the year we’ll move them to the other half I imagine, or give them free roaming over the whole quarter acre.

2016 spring move light sussex bantamsWith the geese out of the Big Orchard, we moved the majority of the chickens in, as the geese hadn’t made much of a mess of the quatrer acre. We separated the chickens, the Light Sussex bantams were all put together, with William the Cock and his ladies having their own fenced off area. I suspect it was a bit of a relief for William – there were far too many ladies for him to control, and anarchy had reigned, with egg-eating having begun. We suspected the rescue Warrens had started it, as some are laying soft shells, but it had spread. So now he can control his five ladies, and they’re not competing for space with the huge hens.

2016 spring move june suzColin the Light Sussex cock was separated and placed with the four Light Sussex hens, and they have all moved down to the Chicken Paddock at the back of the house where we can keep an eye on them. They’re the potential parents of the next generation, so we’ll start collecting their eggs for incubation in two weeks, once he’s had time to do his business! We also put Jackie the possible-Light-Sussex-but-not-quite-sure rescue in with them, as the other hybrids were pecking her!

2016 spring move ducksThe ducks have all been annexed in the Banty Paddock, which has weld mesh fencing, to keep them contained! Once the vegetables in the allotment have grown to a duck-proof size, we can let them in there to clear slugs and snails, but at the moment I just don’t trust them!

2016 spring move hybridsAnd that left the remaining big hybrid hens – a motley crew if ever there was one! They are also in the Big Orchard, next to the bantams, so they’ll have some decent shade in the summer under the fruit trees.

As far as the egg-eating goes, the shuffle around seems to have helped somewhat – they’re in a new place so any egg-snaffling through boredom has been nobbled. And we’ve also trialled a roll away nest box in one of the Omlet Cubes, which seems to have worked. It was a simple affair, produced as an insert for the Chick Box. Some of the hens took to it straight away, but as one fills the double nest box of the Cube, it’s meant a queue from some ladies, or some just drop their egg down the side as they try and squeeze in. To help matters we’ve ordered two Chick Boxes, complete with the roll away nest box inserts, and we’ll place one in each of the Cubes. I think we can fit two in, but the floor space would suffer, so we’ll see how we go. I could always make a nest box holder that sits separately to the Cubes, if needed.

And that’s where we’re at! This morning we let them all out, and June came over from the farm next door to let us know they’d tried our cider and were still alive, which is a good thing, I think!


Finished Hay Bales

2015 Hay Bale TractorAnd once the deed is done – 68 bales need carting to their storage shed. What you really need is a kind neigbour with a tractor and bucket – what a welcome site (and we all fought over who would sit in the air-conditioned cab ;)).

Plastic Bin Baler

After the successful trial of the DIY plastic bin baler methed post a few days ago, here’s the video showing just how we did it. Small details changed by the end (this was the third bale we’d made using this method), such as cutting the two twine strands before getting into the bin, only treading it down once at the end by climbing in – but pushing it down with fists as the hay was added, as examples. But in general this was the method 🙂

Hay Cutting

2015 Haycutting 2And here it is – after four hours of cutting the grass is done, and the tractor is wheeled off for a service as it feels as though it’s running a bit hot.

We were torn between cutting now or leaving it longer. We have a 5-day window of decent weather to make the hay in, after that it becomes unsettled. As the grass is already a good length, it was decided to cut it now before it started dying off in the base. The only issue is that it’s recently rained, so cutting was hard work, and the ground is still very moist to start with, which is no help. We’ll turn it tomorrow, with the forecast being good, and hope that it starts to dry out.

Plastic Bin Baler

Bit of a quandry this year, and we’ve seen it coming for the last two years.

Our first year of ‘proper’ hay making, in the hay quarter, began in 2013 – Read here for a refresher.

2013 Hay Barn

2013 Hay Barn

At the time I commented on the impossible mission of tracking down someone willing to cut and bail a miserly quarter acre – no farmers were small enough scale anymore to have the kit to do it. Back then we managed to enlist the help of a chap with a mulcher, who cut the grass into small pieces. We had no luck with a bailer, so we ended up bagging the hay into refuse sacks – Farmer John let us have some storage space in the motor room of his grain barn, and things turned out fine.

Fort Cri-Cri Super with Cutterbar

Hay Cutting Independence in 2014!

Then into our second year of hay making – we bought a shiny new 120cm cutter bar for our old Fort 2-wheel tractor, meaning we were self-sufficient when it comes to cutting the hay. Brilliant. Still no luck finding anyone to bail, so we relied on the refuse sacks method again. It’s great, but as our production doubled, Farmer John’s motor room was stacked three bags high, with every bit of floor space taken up!

We’d always envisaged storing the hay ourselves – in our own barn (shed). In fact I worked out that we could fit 20 small 4′ x 2′ x 2′ bales in a 10′ x 10′ x 7′ shed, way back when we were deciding how large a shed we’d need – it ended up being a 30′ x 10′ broken down into three equal 10′ sections – one for dirty machinery (2-wheel tractor, attachments, mower, chainsaws etc), one for clean equipment and seeds animal food (electric fencing, animal products, grain, pellets etc), and one for storing hay for the winter feed. Currently our barn (shed) is 16′ x 10′, so we’re owed 14′ still. If we had our own hay storage space then we would be carrying it 40′ from where it’s cut, rather than carrying it 600′ to the farm next door! And as last year’s production grew to 200 bags and 14 tonne bags, it would save an awful lot of time.

So. On to this year. We’ve solved the cutting issue. A baler attachment to our 2-wheel tractor doesn’t exist, it’s too small a motor. Besides, even if we had a shiny new 2-wheel tractor with more oomph, a baler attachment is a ridiculous price! You can buy a second-hand baler for a fraction of the cost, whic is slightly annoying. No. Our problem is not the effort required to bag the hay, it’s more the transportation and storage.

Our solution? Well – in the future I might build a contraption I’ve seen that they used in North America, to make pine straw bales. It’s a wooden contraption you can build from 1/2″ plywood and some 2″ x 2″ wood, which helps you compact straw that you feed into it from the top. It’s portable, cheap, and does the job. The logic is that rather than drag a baler to where the straw is, you drag the straw to where the baler is, once it’s set up.

2015 Bail Test 3

Tie a strand of twine to each of the two hinges at the top, draping them into the bin, then back up and out over the front of the bin (nearest side)

But for this year I’ve just carried out a test with the good old ‘plastic bin’ baler  method – and I’m chuffed to bits with how well it works! Firstly, it helps being 6’5″ and not a lightweight. I started by tying to long strands of baler twine to each hinge, and dropping  the loops of twine into and back out of the bin – letting the loose ends dangle over the front of the bin. Once the straw is dropped in to the bin, it will cover the twine, and eventually the twine will encompass three sides of the bale.

2015 Bail Test 1

Part full bin and launch tower!

Employing the use of a handy platform ladder that we use for apple picking/hedge cutting/shed roof repairs etc, you climb into the bin once some straw has been thrown in. People throw more straw in, you stand on it to compress it, and once it’s a nice height, simple crouch down, and tie the loose ends of twine to the ends you’ve tied around the hinges, forming two complete loops of twine around the length of your bale (which is actually standing upright in the bin at the time).

2015 Bail Test 2

Bale trussed up inside

Once you’ve tied it up nice and tight, simply drop the bin to its horizontal and drag the bale out – hey presto! One slightly wobbly but firm enough bale home made bale with no fuel used, except the extra butty you had to eat for energy 🙂

2015 Bail Test 4

Side on view – bit ropey but functional

The bale here is the equivalent of eight refuse sacks full. Doing some simple maths, we used 200 refuse sacks last year, and 14 tonne bags. Each tonne bag is the equivalent of 10 refuse sacks, so we produced 340 refuse sacks of hay. That means that if we baled it using this method we’ll have around 42 bales. Each bale is 3′ x 2′ x 2 and you can fit 16 bales onto a floor size of 8′ x 12′, which is perfect for a shed with 10′ x 14′ outside dimensions! Three layers high will allow for 48 bales – easily enough for our needs. This works out at probably double the size needed for a proper baler (I worked out we’d get 20 bales from our quarter acre, rather than 42 bin bales), but I was working on a 4′ long bale in that case.

2015 Bail Test 5

End on view – much more respectable

Any way you look at it, we’re all set for hay making time this year, and we’ve automated it enough for our liking, making the most of the small space we have. I don’t like the idea of adding another small building to our land, but we never add foundations to sheds, so if it’s ever needed to grow on again, we can simply dismantle it and relocate it 🙂

Second Weekend in the Patch

I swear someone has sped the Earth up – each year passes faster and faster! Last weekend we had our first day in the patch, tidying up odds and sods, ready for the year ahead. It’s always a good feeling, starting over again, with thoughts of how things will be done differently from previous years, or the same if they proved a good idea. The geese were extradited from the hay quarter, to let the grass grow! They seemed happy to be back in the big orchard, their summer home, but their attitudes are definitely taking a turn for the worst, with breeding season upon us. The orchard pruning was also completed, with large cuts covered in Arbrex, smaller cuts left to heal on their own. Mole hills are popping up as they get ready for the new year, and their hill earth we squirrelled away to top up the raised bed, as it’s great stuff! Compost bins were emptied, and seeds bought for the year ahead.

Today, I spent the morning on a late hedge cut, after first checking for any new nests. Suz and Smiler cleared away hedge cuttings from a hedge next door at the farm, which has been laid and looks amazing. Jay took on the mantle of chief seed sower, and popped the following into propagators for indoor germination.

  • Lyon (Prizetaker) leek
  • Monarch celeriac
  • Green Magic F1 hybrid broccoli
  • Golden Acre (Primo III) round summer/autumn cabbage
  • All the Year Round cauliflower
  • January King 3 (savoy) winter cabbage
  • Evesham Special brussels sprout

After a lunch which saw us prise open Smiler’s first ever jar of home-made pickled onions (they were fantastic, he made them from growing to pickling), Suz and Jay took it on themselves to clear some of the rubbish on the lane where we live, Smiler scattered chicken manure fertiliser around the various trees and bushes, whilst I rotovated the onion patch, ready for planting out the sets tomorrow. I also got carried away with de-twitching the couch grass that had worked its way into the onion patch, have I mentioned how much I loathe that stuff? We’ve a plastic field trough set aside for weeds this year, which we’ll fill with water and drop any weeds into. Over the year they’ll rot down into great fertiliser liquid and we don’t waste any of the nutrients tucked away in them.


The hay is made – finally!

Hay bags looking to the rightFive long days of turning the hay at every available opportunity and finally the deed is done. The last turn was carried out this morning, to dry off the underbelly of the windrows, and at 4pm the entire family turned out, armed with grass rakes and a box of 200 new recycled refuse sacks. Last year we filled 120 and a couple of tonne bags, so we thought we’d have a few spare. How wrong we were…

…At 9pm we had filled the hay barn we used last year, three bags high in places! And yet we still had more. The 200 refuse bags had managed to fit only two thirds of the Hay Quarter’s rye/timothy/clover hay, leaving us with no option but to fill our tonne bags as back up. Then we also had to pop round to the farm next door to borrow even more tonne bags! By 10.30pm, the garage was also filled with tonne bags, and the old workshop outbuilding was now home to around thirty refuse sacks of hay. Hay bags looking straight aheadI swear if we’d emptied our socks and shoes and trousers of hay that had made its way to any place hay can make its way, we’d have filled another refuse sack! Needless to say, this year has been a better year than last – the grass had grown longer with the great weather we’ve had so far this year. The seed heads are nice and big, and as we’d cut it long, rather than mulched, it’s a bit bulkier in the bag, which is better for air circulation in storage.

A late night snack for all the family and a well-earned drink, then sleep.

Patch 2014 Panorama

So far the year has been fantastic. The hay is almost ready to get in – we just need one more day of no rain and we’ll be bagging it up tomorrow. Fingers crossed we miss the showers! The air smells damp, but I’m optimistic…

[photonav url=’https://www.merrybower.co.uk/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/2014-patch-panoramic-low-res.jpg’ mode=’drag360′ popup=’none’ animate=’1′ container_width=’450′ container_height=’450′]

Hay making in progress

Suz & Penny Turning the HayThird day in and we’ve left the hay to dry out before another turn. They’ve been long days, no sooner had we finished turning it, we could have started again from the start, had we the time and energy. The forecast is decent for another two days, so in theory we’ll get five full days – fingers crossed the good old BBC forecasters have got it right!

Hay Cutting!

Finally the day is here! The forecast is decent for the next five days – the grass seed looks a decent size on the stalks, and the cutterbar is ready. Let’s rock! cut!