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.

Last Winter’s Grafting Update

Old Merrybower graft

Old Merrybower graft

I thought it might be useful to show what the grafted apple trees look like 6 months after the deed was done.

Old Merrybower graft closeup

Old Merrybower graft closeup

Both of these varieties – the Old Merrybower and Beeley Pippin – were grafted using the whip and tongue method. Scion wood was taken from the donor tree whilst it was dormant, in winter. In these cases, the Old Merrybower was one of the last standard trees in the old orchard at Merrybower Farm, and had fallen down through a combination of very water-logged soil and extremely strong winds. We call it Old Merrybower as it’s likely around 100 years old, according to old maps, and we have absolutely no idea of the variety. The second graft used scion wood cut from a Beeley Pippin we already had, but which the geese had managed to ring-bark. Despite the ring-barking happening in late summer and the tree had already started to die back, the growing ends had enough life in them to survive the autumn, and we managed to cut them and use them to graft five new Beeley Pippin trees.

As you can see, the MM106 rootstock we used for both trees were from a different supplier, as we didn’t plan on trying to save the Old Merrybower tree, as it was well and truly planted in the ground when we put our order in. The Beeley Pippin graft is much neater – the scion wood was a perfect match in diameter to the rootstock, and we could graft at a good height from the soil level – around six inches.

Beeley Pippin graft

Beeley Pippin graft

The Old Merrybower, however, had to make do with the only MM106 rootstock we could get hold of at short notice, and it was fairly thick in diameter compared to the scion wood we needed to graft to it. For this reason we moved the graft quite far up the rootstock, and even then we only managed to get the cambium layer (the extremely thin vascular cambium tissues that are as yet undecided as to what type of cell they will become – stem cells if you will) to touch from each donor tree, on one side rather than two. That said, all five grafts of the Old Merrybower were successful, which heartened me no end to my grafting skills!

Beeley Pippin graft closeup

Beeley Pippin graft closeup

Looking at the closeups of the grafts, you can see the Old Merrybower is a bit messy, but the Beeley Pippin is a lovely graft, the zig-zag between scion and rootstock showing quite clearly – a bit like a Harry Potter scar.

We’ve donated one of each to the local village and their secret garden scheme, and Merrybower Farm will also get one of each, to replace the fallen tree. We’ll then find homes in our orchard for the other six – I think we can just about fit them in as we have a spare plot in the small orchard, and the last small cherry tree doesn’t look particularly well either.

Say Hello to Mr Carrot

Oh no! I hear you cry…

But oh yes – it’s that time of year when the rude veg stomp onto the stage and demand our attention. Suz plonked this in front of me and declared “We can tell it’s a he can’t we?”

You know – like Baldrick – amusing vegetables will never, ever, get dull to me 🙂


2014 Mr Carrot

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…

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Replacement Beans

The slugs have managed to decimate the French climbing beans and runner beans – only five out of forty stations surviving their onslaught! Luckily we have backup at the cottage. Chatting to a friend today, he mentioned he drinks half a can of cheap bitter (they prefer bitter to lager apparently, being British slugs I guess), lie the can on its side and they’ll climb up and in through the hole. So much easier than filling sunken pint pots, and you can add the slugs and old beer to the compost, and recycle the can. Nice, I’m off to drink several half cans of cheap bitter!



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!

Our New Cutterbar

You may remember the post I made about our little Fort Cri-Cri Super, trying to get the rotavator parted from the Power Take-Off  after it had obviously sat on it since the day it left the factory in 1998? Well, The Beast, as it is fondly known, had another surprise up its oily and rather grubby sleave. I’d always bemoaned the fact that as you rotavate, you need to walk through the lovely soil you’ve cultivated as the handles point backwards. Well, the arrival of the new cutter bar meant we had to rotate the handles somehow so that they pointed forwards, removing the very likely threat of neatly shearing the operator off at the calves by the cutter bars as the engine needed to be at the back with the cutterbar, as opposed to the front with the rotavator attachment.

Of course, I figured it was as easy as lifting the pin that kept the handles in place, un-hooking the clutch and accelerator cable, rotating the handles and snapping the pin back in place. How wrong could I have been. Common sense should have blinked into life – why would a PTO seize up after 16 years of neglect, yet a handle remain perfectly lubricated? Answer – it wouldn’t!

Fort Cri-Cri Super with CutterbarOf course, this time we knew what to do. First we must pull, really hard, on the handles, in a futile attempt to make them move. Then we must hit them a few times – hard enough to bruise the sides of our fists – followed by the swearing and cursing phase. That’s an important one – it helps a lot, with the pain. Finally, we must grab a large piece of wood, a lump hammer, and hit the proverbial out of the piece that won’t budge. Only once we’ve hammered through several pieces of 4″ x 4″ post, mangled our thumbs in the process, and removed much of the red paint from the metalwork, must we resort to the oxy-acetlylene torch that worked last time. Two minutes heating up the shaft with Clive, our tame ‘man-that-can-when-I-can’t’, and it was off. Obviously the preceding hours of me bashing it black and blue had loosened it enough to let the torch do its work.

A good papering with emery and some new grease and it’s back to new again. In the course of putting it all back together I discovered that the handlebars actually have several positions, offset from centre. The result is that next time I use it to rotavate (I have some headland to resow at some stage) I can stand to one side whilst doing so – ingenious!

So finally the cutterbar could go on, and we’re ready for the hay making!

The upside to owning this particular older 2-wheel tractor is that the manufacturer, Fort, is still going. Last year, once I had realised we’d bought a 2-wheel tractor rather than a one-trick-pony rotavator, I attempted to find a supplier of bits for it – accessories and so on. All to no avail – it’s an Italian manufacturer, and it was a struggle, really. This year, knowing it was a pain to find someone last year to cut our hay, I sat at the computer even longer, searching for someone who could help and lo and behold, since last summer a new UK dealer had cropped up! Even better still, they’re head office is not far from us – Rapid Tractors at Tutbury! It turns out our little Cri-Cri Super is the old version of the new Serie 280, and all the parts fit! Our motor might struggle with something like the baler, but at a few thousand pounds it can rest well, knowing it will never be asked to power one! Hence the new cutterbar – 122cm of pure evil teeth – can’t wait to get stuck in!

June Update


What can I say?! The weather has been absolutely fantastic! Mostly sun, the odd shower here and there, then back to sun. Everything is growing as it should be – no late frost to nobble the early starters, no waterlogging, no drought. To be honest, it’s getting a bit scary.

So, to firmly plant the goodness that has been the last month, here’s a quick update on just how well everything’s growing.