November 2009


As we get ready for our new orchard there are a few casualties of our new planting – all the attractive, but ultimately unproductive, shrubs at are in the way. They’ve got to go and so far I haven’t found any takers – if you want one just let us know on the contact page and you can come down and dig one up to take away. Now is the  perfect time to transplant shrubs, so what are you waiting for!

Here are some piccies to tempt you:

With the nights closing in we really need good lighting in the poytunnel so that we can keep working on the aquaponic system in the evenings. After a fair bit of research I found the perfect solution – low-energy security lighting. We’ve now got two of these lighting the tunnel, they’re only 36w each but give the same amount of light as standard 150w security lamps, we bought them online from TLC for £17.99 each.

 I’m pretty impressed with them so far: they come on quickly, and throw a good amount of light .We’ve got them secured to the ridge pole of the tunnel so that they throw the most light possible – and here’s the result:

We’ve made some major progress on the Aquaponics in the last couple of weeks, and now I’m getting ready to start ‘cycling’ the system. This is what you need to do to build up the colonies of beneficial bacteria in the growbeds that will clean the water once we have added the fish. To minimise the risk to the fish you do this cycling ‘fishless’, by adding ammonia manually to the water. Once the bacteria are going well they will feed off this ammonia, turning it into nitrates for the plants. Without the bacteria, ammonia in the fish water would quickly reach a fatal level, so we need to have the bacteria well established before we add any fish.

We’re going to start cycling the completed side of the aquaponics system while I complete the plumbing and gravel-washing on the other sections, and here is the completed side:

Now you can see the plumbing all connected it hopefully makes more sense: The water overflows from the fish tank at the back into the dark grey pipes which feed each growbed. The water then slowly drains through holes in the bottom of the growbeds into the white return pipe, which returns it to the sump.

I’ve connected up the pump too. It’s quite an impressive beast:

What’s even more impressive is the flow from it – the pipe in the photo is 38mm (1.5″):

So now I just have to get the bacteria to build up and we’ll be ready for the fish – I might even start to plant some seeds in the beds while we’re waiting.

Apart from two light fittings, all of the bulbs in our house are traditional incandescents. And there are lots of them. Tackling them all at once would be a mammoth task, so we’re going at it in a piecemeal fashion. Now that the evenings are drawing in we’re using the lights in the house a lot more, and I think they’re starting to become a significant drain on our electricity consumption.

My first spot to start was the bathroom. This has three – yes three – recessed light fittings. That makes it sound palatial, but it’s not. What it is is unbearably bright. Each fitting takes a full-size “R80” 100 watt reflector bulb. Luckily these had been progressively blowing, so at point of replacement we only had one running, and the light in the room was adequate, although poorly spread.

After some detailed online research I gave up and went to B&Q. Quite a lot of money later I had three Megaman 11W R63 reflector bulbs – each one equivalent to a 60W conventional bulb. I went for the slightly smaller, lower-powered R63 size because I new that three 100W-equivalent bulbs would be far too bright.

Putting them in was easy; the bulbs fitted perfectly and didn’t protrude from the ceiling. Turning them on was a little less impressive. Startup is a little slow, with them remaining dim for a little too long for my liking. Once they are all going though they are impressively bright – in fact if they’d had more of a choice I might have been tempted to go for something closer to 8W (40W equivalent). Still, even with these three, we’ve reduced the wattage in the bathroom from 300W to 33W – that should help our electricity bills a little, be a good step towards our 10:10 target, and make us a little more solar-ready.

As my work laptop is currently a smoking wreck on the bench of our local IT support guys, I’ve had a bit more time to work on the Aquaponics system. And so here we are: the first growbed is ready. All the piping to it is cut, the standpipe and standpipe surround are in, and I’ve filled it with gravel.

Completed aquaponic growbed

I have to admit, that is a pretty good feeling – even though I now have another 11 small ones like this, and then 3 large ones to do. Pretty fantastic stuff really!

Not long and we’ll be planting, and adding fish.

Polytunnel With Polythene

Finally, after much work inside and outside the polytunnel over the last few weeks, we have put the polythene onto the tunnel. We only just got there – had a full-on Sunday getting everything ready and then doing it. We haven’t finished yet – one end needs more battens, and we need to put the doors back on. We did manage to do it though, and just in time – the first frost of the season was last night, and while everything outside the polytunnel was frosty, everything inside was just a few degrees warmer, with no frost. Not bad bearing in mind we only got the cover on at dusk, so it didn’t have much time to heat up yesterday.

Here’s what it looked like just after we had finished – showing the fantastic lighting:

Polytunnel at night

Today we’ve started to put the completed growbed stands  in. The growbeds now all have drain holes in their bases and the drains are almost all in place. We’ve even connected all the sumps together (nice big 110 mm pipe). Now I just need to get the tubing and fittings for the drains and inlets and we’ll be ready to start the system up.

Here are some more pics of the growbeds and stands:

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This morning we awoke to the first frost of the season, which probably means it’s our first frost for about six years. I just thought it was worth recording the date so we can use it to plan next year’s planting and harvesting.

For the record, the forecast was 2°C !

delicious apple juiceI’ve had a few questions from people following the Cider-Making workshop that I went to a week ago, and while doing a bit more research I came across Vigo Presses “Suppliers of juicing equipment to HM the Queen” no less. They have a good range of the things we’ll need – bottles, presses, and other preserving supplies. And also, they have two really clear guides to apple juice and cider making. These are nice simple flowcharts showing what to do, and in what order. More details are required in some areas – how do you know when your cider has stopped fermenting? – but they are a good introduction and make it all look very easy. I particularly like the guidance on preserving juice – that’s something I really want to do, particularly after tasting the delicious juice we got from the workshop!

You can get the guides from the link here but just in case the link dies I have kept a copy of them below.

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800px-Claytonia_sibirica_EglintonI’m keen to try as many edible perennials as possible – I like the idea of not having to re-plant things every year, with all the work that involves. I’ve been having a great time watching “A year in a Forest Garden” from Martin Crawford at Agroforestry, and it’s been giving me lots of ideas for new plants to try. One I’ve ordered is Claytonia Sibirica, or “Siberian / Pink Purslane”.

Siberian purslane. Not from Siberia, this North American short-lived perennial grows 20 cm high in any moist soil in sun or part or full shade. The leaves are edible, raw (an excellent salad plant – beet flavour) or cooked, and the plant can be used for ground cover – it self-seeds freely. Hardy to -35ºC.

Plants for a Future have more info on it:

  • “It is in leaf all year, in flower from April to July, and the seeds ripen from June to August. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees, flies. The plant is self-fertile.”
  • It seems to handle any soil and shade situation, as long as it is not too wet.
  • The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. “They usually have a fairly bland flavour and are quite nice in a salad or cooked as a green vegetable”
  • I particularly like their cultivation notes. It just sounds too good to be true – I’ll have to give it a go:

A very tolerant and easily grown plant, it prefers a moist peaty soil and is unhappy in dry situations. It succeeds in full sun though is happier when given some shade and also grows in the dense shade of beech trees. Plants usually self-sow freely. This is an excellent and trouble-free salad plant. It is extremely cold-hardy and can provide edible leaves all year round in all areas of the country even if it is not given protection.

Now I just have to sow some. Apparently it can be sown in spring or autumn, in situ. I’m planning to put it in a shady spot under the Aquaponic growbeds in the polytunnel so I’ll have to see whether their spot is ready before winter really gets going. If not, they can wait until spring – apparently they germinate quickly.

I’m really keen to have as many permanent plantings as possible – I don’t want to be dependant on my year-in, year-out digging skills – so we’re putting in a nice compact orchard. This should give us most of our fruit once it gets going, and then I just have to worry about the veg.

After much deliberation, we’ve finally ordered the trees, and they’ll be here in early December – plenty of time for us to dig their new beds. We’ve ordered them from the excellent Agroforestry Research Trust and here’s what we’re getting:

Apple Trees

These are £14.30 each, and are all on M26 rootstock except for the Sanspareil, which is on the smaller M27. The Semi-Dwarfing M26 should produce trees 2.5-3.5m high, and the Dwarfing M27 only 1.5-2m.

The descriptions from Agroforestry are excellent, so I’ve reproduced them below so that I don’t forget! I tried to get a mix of good-keeping eating & cooking apples plus apples for cider and juice.

  • Ashmeads Kernel: Dessert apple. Pick October, use Dec-Feb+. Flower group D. Fruit medium-sized, greenish-yellow with some russet. Flesh aromatic, excellent flavour. Tree moderately vigorous. Also used for cider & juice.
  • Braeburn: Dessert apple. Pick Oct, use Oct-Feb. Flower group D. Good crisp flavour – new clone suitable for planting in the UK. Good crops of medium size red fruits.
  • Dabinett: Cider apple. Very reliable, producing a high quality juice.
  • Golden Harvey: Dessert apple. Pick October, use Dec-Mar. Flower group D. Fruit round, golden; flesh aromatic with an intense rich flavour. Tree vigorous, good cropper. Good cider & juice apple.
  • Howgate Wonder: Cooking apple. Pick October, use Nov-March. Flower group C. Large fruits, good for juice & cider. Vigorous tree, heavy cropping.
  • Keswick Codlin: Cooking apple. Pick & use Aug-Sept. Flower group B. Medium sized greenish-yellow fruit, cooks to a good puree. Tree has ornamental flowers. Part self fertile.
  • Sanspareil: Dual purpose apple. Pick October, use Nov-April. Flower group C. Large fruit flushed & streaked scarlet. Flesh juicy, crisp, aromatic, good balanced fruity flavour. Also used cooked. Heavy cropper with ornamental flowers.
  • Saturn: Dual purpose apple. Pick & use Sept-Oct. Flower group C. Large fruit with crisp juicy flesh of good refreshing flavour. Good for juice. Tree heavy cropping,

Pear Trees

Also £14.30 each, the Concorde on Quince A (4.5m high) rootstock, and the Williams Bon Chretien on Quince C (4m high).

  • Concorde: Dessert pear. Pick October, use Oct-Jan. Flower group E. Fruit medium-large, pale green turning yellow. Flesh pale yellow, sweet and juicy. Very heavy cropping, compact grower. Quince A rootstock produces trees about 15 ft (4.5m) high.
  • Williams Bon Chretien: Dessert pear. Pick & use Aug-Sept. Flower group D. Fruit medium-large, pale green turning golden yellow. Flesh very juicy and sweet. Self-fertile.

Plums & Gages

Again, £14.30 each, all on Pixy rootstock, which’ll limit them to 3.5-4m.

  • Marjorie’s Seedling: September-October. Flower group E (psf). Fruit large, flesh firm, juicy, quite sweet, good flavour, hangs well on tree, good cooked. Tree vigorous, upright, heavy cropping.
  • Victoria: August-September. Flower group C (sf). Large fruit of good flavour fresh or cooked. Tree very heavy cropping, hardy, vigorous, a good pollinator.
  • Oullins Golden Gage: August. Flower group D (psf). Yellow fruit, flesh firm, sweet, good flavour, also good cooked. Tree large, vigorous, upright, fair cropper, good pollinator.

Peach

Grown on St Julian A rootstock, it’ll get to 3.5-4m high, and cost – £14.30!

  • Redwing:  Fruits very dark red, superb flavour, late flowering, bears good crops. This variety has some resistance to peach leaf curl. The late flowering means it’s more suitable to our northerly climate!

Raspberry

Not strictly for the orchard, but we’ll be planting them at the same time. They are sold at £12.65 for a pack of 10. We’ve tried to go for a good range of fruiting times so that we have the longest possible season – I love raspberries!

  • Autumn Bliss: Ripens mid-August onwards. Heavy crops of large red fruits. Canes medium high – easy to support.
  • Allgold: Autumn fruiting. Recent variety with yellow fruits – less likely to be eaten by the birds!
  • Glen Moy: Early season. Canes erect, spineless. Bears good crops of easily picked large fruits of good flavour.
  • Tulameen: Mid and late season. Fruits very large, good quality. Canes with few spines.

So that gives you a flavour of what we’ll be planting in early December – at the moment the places they’ll be planted are full of grass or ornamental shrubs. If anyone want a free mature shrub, come down and bring a spade!

    Redwing / St Julian

    Fruits very dark red, superb flavour, late flowering, bears good crops. This variety has some resistance to peach leaf curl.