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The Wonderful Barn, Leixlip, Co. Kildare

The Wonderful Barn was built in 1743 as a famine relief scheme by Katherine Conolly of Castletown, widow of William ‘Speaker’ Conolly. Described as ‘arguably one of the finest follies to be found in Ireland’, it was conceived not only as a functional grain store but as an architectural eye-catcher which would provide an eastern terminating vista from the grounds of Castletown.

The Wonderful Barn

The eccentrically designed barn, which rises to a height of 70 feet in a tapering cone, is encircled by a cantilevered staircase with a crow’s nest viewing gallery. It is adjoined by a courtyard area in which two conical pigeon houses are found and also by Barnhall House which was constructed shortly before the barn complex.

Today the Wonderful Barn stands sandwiched between the M4 Motorway and a housing estate and, with its associated buildings, is in direly in need of a vision and a plan to secure its future. Sadly Barnhall House was badly damaged in a fire in recent years however, Kildare County Council with support from the Heritage Council has undertaken considerable works to repair and restore the Wonderful Barn and is actively seeking new uses for the buildings in association with third parties including the Irish Georgian Society, the Irish Landmark Trust and the Castletown Foundation.

Winter vegetables

Winter vegetablesWhen you’re happily beavering away in the veg garden over summer in Paston and Oundle, it can seem like the long days of abundant flowers and fruit will never end. But one day, inevitably, you cut the last pumpkin and pull up the bean plants and it is, undeniably, winter.

There’s no need to stop enjoying your plot just because the weather has turned cold, though. Embrace winter as part of your veg-growing year and you’ll find your patch can be as productive from November to February as it is for the rest of the year.

You’ll need to begin planning in early spring, as these are plants which need a long time in the ground. Start by choosing some of the great winter veg we offer as seeds or plug plants in our garden centre: here’s our pick of the best.

  • Parsnips: sow fresh seed direct into the ground: the sweet, pale roots taste better after being kissed by frost.
    Recommended varieties: ‘Tender and True’, ‘Gladiator’.
  • Cabbages: super-hardy savoys have fabulous flavour and texture: follow with crunchy spring cabbages for an April treat.
    Recommended varieties: ‘January King’, ‘Duncan’ (spring cabbage).
  • Brussels sprouts: plant early, mid-season and late varieties to pick fat sprouts from September to February.
    Recommended varieties: ‘Trafalgar’, ‘Rubine’.
  • Celeriac: knobbly roots with the fine flavour of celery but much easier to grow: keeps well, too.
    Recommended varieties: ‘Prinz’, ‘Monarch’.
  • Kale: if you want an easy-to-grow cabbage substitute, pick young kale leaves for a taste sensation.
    Recommended varieties: ‘Dwarf Green Curled’, ‘Cavolo Nero’.
  • Winter salads: sow spicy winter baby-leaf mixes under cloches, or pick from the new range of Japanese salads.
    Recommended varieties: Mizuna, Mustard ‘Red Frills’.
  • Chard: sow in September and you’ll be picking spinach-like chard all winter. Protect with cloches in bad weather.
    Recommended varieties: ‘Rhubarb’, ‘Swiss Chard’.
  • Leeks: ramrod straight leeks are as hardy as anything: plant seedlings deeply for long white shanks.
    Recommended varieties: ‘Musselburgh’, ‘Bleu de Solaise’.
  • Rhubarb: force clumps of big, beefy rhubarb for tender pink stems from February onwards.
    Recommended varieties: ‘Timperley Early’, ‘Victoria’.

5 Ways to Make Coop-Cleaning Easier

Admit it: Raising chickens is fun, but cleaning the coop can be a hassle. However, it’s a necessary part of the chicken keeper’s job, preventing health problems and decreased production in the flock. Because I work a couple side jobs in addition to a full-time farming and breeding program, I need a coop-cleaning method that’s fast and efficient. Fortunately, there are many ways to clean a chicken coop, based on your location, housing and the number of birds you keep. Here are some methods you can try on your farm.

5 Ways to Make Coop-Cleaning Easier - Photo courtesy iStock/Thinkstock (

1. Hay
Although in Florida, where I live, many chicken coops have dirt floors, I like to cover the dirt with barn lime to dry the ground and kill bacteria, then add a layer of hay overtop to minimize health issues. Hay is easier to manage than straw and is clean and dust-free, unlike pine shavings. Plus, hay is economical and easy to obtain. Although you’ll need to change it out weekly, it can be dumped straight into the compost bin.

Diatomaceous earth is often used in coops to keep mites at bay, but I prefer barn lime. Poultry experts recommend against DE because it causes respiratory illness in chickens and is harmful to their lungs. Barn lime, on the other hand, is made of crushed limestone, or calcium carbonate, which aids in the formation of eggshells. Bear in mind, barn lime is different from hydrated lime; hydrated lime should not be used for animals.

To clean the coop, we rake the ground and move the old hay to the composting bin, then rebed with barn lime and fresh hay. We clean the coop every two weeks in hot, dry weather and once a week during the wet season. For a chicken coop of 100 chickens, it takes us about 1 hour to re-bed.

2. Dropping Boards
Chickens naturally head to the coop at night to roost, so you’ll typically find a hefty number of droppings waiting for you in the morning. Minimize your morning work by placing dropping boards under the roosts. Dropping boards are plastic trays or wooden boards that can easily be installed into your chicken coop by nailing, screwing or just placing them on the ground. You’ll need to measure your coop fit the appropriate size dropping boards. As an alternative, some chicken keepers build their coops with dropping pans, wooden boxes under the roost to aid in easy cleanup.

You can find manure scrapers on the market to clean the dropping boards, but a spare taping knife or spatula can be used instead. To clean, use the scraper to pull all the droppings into a bucket. Voila! You’ve cleaned the coop! Compost the manure and use it as a natural fertilizer in the garden.

3. Removable Roosts
Many coops are constructed with built-in roosts, but you can opt for removable ones for easier cleaning and disinfecting. Use undiluted distilled vinegar or Oxine, an animal-safe product effective against bacteria, fungi and viruses, for disinfecting the roosts and inside the coop.

4. Deep Litter Method
For colder climates, the deep litter method is a wonderful way to keep your coop warm and easy to manage. As the name implies, the deep litter method is a way to allow your litter to build up and compost over a period of time, from a couple months to a whole season. As the litter and manure composts in the pen, it provides warmth to the chickens. For the colder states, the litter can build up the entire winter. To start the deep litter method, sprinkle barn lime to help with odor and fly control. Top with 4 to 6 inches of pine shavings or hay. Every few weeks, stir the litter, adding more barn lime and fresh shavings or hay to the mix. For natural mite and lice control, you can mix in ash once a month.

5. Tarp Method
My friend Hope E. Tolda, owner of Fancy Feathers Farm, uses the tarp method on her farm and is able to clean 15 coops in less than 1½ hours. Lay a tarp on the coop floor and top with straw. When the straw needs to be changed, fold the tarp and dump the manure and straw into the compost pile. Pressure wash the tarp and disinfect it with vinegar or Oxine before rebedding the coop.

Slow Tools, Fast Change

Cars, houses, meal sizes: for the past few decades, all have been getting larger. The same goes for farming equipment. In this era of “bigger is better,” it’s not easy to find farming tools suitable for small-scale operations. In fact, it’s almost impossible.

That’s why Griffin is teaming up with Stone Barns Center on the Slow Tools Project, a partnership that is re-imagining and re-inventing tools to bring appropriately scaled, lightweight, affordable and open-source tools to the swelling ranks of young farmers.

“The re-emergence of small-scale farming has created a need for small tractors and other tools and implements capable of performing traditional and newer farming tasks more efficiently and ergonomically,” says Griffin. Today’s small farmers simply cannot purchase the equipment they need to work a 30-inch greenhouse bed, for instance. They end up having to buy standard, cumbersome pieces and adapt them for their needs, hurting efficiency and very often their backs.

The Slow Tools project is bringing together a small group of engineers and leading farmers to design, build and make available through open-source systems a host of new tools. Among the partners are Eliot Coleman, an organic farmer, inventor and author from Four Season Farm in Maine, Ron Kholsa, organic farmer and egineer of Huguenot Farm in New Paltz, Josh Volk of Slow Hand Farm in Oregon, and Jack Algiere, our Vegetable Farm Manager. They have identified 34 tools in need of development, beginning with a small electric tractor that will serve as the “motherboard” frame to which other tools can be attached. Other inventions to follow will be the solar-powered “Horse Tractor,” which could have a significant impact among cultures dependent on draft animals and where drought limits water availability, and a compressed-air grain harvester and processor.

“We believe that these essential pieces of equipment will help reduce the risk of failure that so many young and beginning farmers face,” says Jill Isenbarger, executive director of Stone Barns Center. “The challenges they deal with are significant: high land prices and connection to markets, for instance. Tools shouldn’t be one of them.”

Technologies for Farmers

To disseminate IARI technologies to the ultimate users ATIC is regularly publishing a Six monthly farm magazine i.e., Prasar Doot which is popular amongst the farming communities. Besides this, publications on package of practices of Rabi and Kharif crops, Fal fool evam Sabjiyon ki Utpadan Takniki are being publishes by the centre. To make the farmers aware about government schemes and facilities, a publication entitled “Krishi evam Gramin Vikas-Yojanayen evam Suvidhayen” has also been published by the centre. “Kisan Jigyasa evam Samadhan” containing the Frequently Asked Questions along with their answers is very popular among the farmers. Farmers who purchase the seed from the centre are provided a leaflet free of cost related with production technology of the crop. ATIC is regularly organizing crop/horticultural, medicinal plants demonstrations in its crops cafeteria so that visiting farmers can see live performance of IARI varieties. Over the period, ATIC through its transfer of technology efforts has developed a number of champion farmers who have excelled in different areas of agriculture and agricultural enterprises. Now they are motivational force for other farmers and working as ambassador to promote and disseminate IARI technologies amongst the farmers of their areas.Information and advisory needs of visitors are also being catered through information museum, plant clinic, farm library, exhibits and biofertilizers etc. displayed in the centre. The demands of IARI products, technology and services are increasing day by day in the market, besides farmers, industry has shown a lot of interest in IARI Research products. ATIC is providing a mechanism for getting direct feed-back from the Technology Users to the Technology Generators. The feed-back strengthened the ATIC activities and provides a ground for need based technologies. The ATIC has also developed functional linkages with various agencies working for the farming community to effectively cater the information needs of the different stake holders.

  • New wheat varieties developed by IARI, with higher yield potential and better resistance to rusts, are increasingly becoming popular with farmers in the northern, eastern and central plains of the country. The country was losing up to 10% of wheat yield due to rust disease. The strategic research done at the Institute in identifying different wheat varieties resistant to races of pathogens has saved wheat losses to the extent of 6.8 m.t., worth Rs. 2,500 crores annually. The percentage share of IARI varieties in total breeder seed production in the country varies from 20.4-32.9% in wheat.

  • Aromatic fine quality high-yielding rice variety, ‘Puss Basmati l’ developed by the Institute yields an advantage of 2 tlha at farm level and gives a net income of about Rs. 20,000 per ha. Due to the consumer acceptance, Basmati rice export has increased coincidently over the years. At present, ‘Puse Basmai-l’ constitutes nearly 60% in terms of volume and almost 50% (Rs. 1000 crores) of the foreign exchange earning through the export of Basmati rice. ‘Pusa 44’, developed by the Institute for Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu became very popular in Punjab on account of its stiff stem, non-lodging habit, high input response and suitability for combine harvesting and very high yield potential (10 tlha). Hybrid rice, ‘PRH- 10’, the first basmati quality hybrid in the world, significantly outyields ‘Puse Basmati l’ and has been taken up by large number of seed companies. The recently released varieties like ‘Pusa Sugandh-2’ and ‘Puss Sugandh-3’ and ‘Pusa Sugandh-5’, with improved productivity from 2.5 tlha to 5-6 tlha have spread over more than 10,000 ha.
  • Improved varieties of chickpea, pigeon pea and mungbean developed by IARI have contributed significantly to rainfed crop production. These varieties are of short duration and most suitable for crop rotation, leading to increase in foodgrains production and improvement in the protein status in Indian diet. Improved oilseeds varieties developed at IARI have contributed significantly to the national oilseeds production. Widespread adoption of the IARI variety ‘Puss Bold’, was instrumental to the success of the Technology Mission on Oilseeds.

  • Vegetable varieties and germplasm support of the Institute has led to the development of a seed industry, which has helped in the spread of IARI varieties throughout the country. The cultivation of these varieties is highly profitable to the marginal and small farmers, and generates direct and indirect employment for the rural and urban population. Further, many of the IARI varieties are early or late-sown, giving a price premium advantage throughout the year. This has also diversified the food basket and increased the consumption of vegetables, both in rural and urban areas. The Institute has developed 200 improved vegetable varieties of 43 crops. More than two dozen hybrids have also been developed in commercially-important vegetable crops. More than 50% area is under cultivation of veg of the Institute.

  • The Institute has developed improved technology for vegetable production like low-cost polyhouse for raising off-season nursery, low-cost polyhouse cultivation technology for high-value vegetable crops, easy and economical hybrid seed production technology in important cucurbitaceae vegetables, onion production technology in kharif season, cauliflower cultivation in different seasons, cultivation of unusual exotic vegetables etc. Growth of the seed industry in the country has been possible mainly due to the availability of high quality breeder seed of more than 160 varieties of field and vegetable crops developed by IARI.

  • A breakthrough in increasing irrigation efficiency was achieved through techniques developed at IARI. The Institute has developed and popularized the High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) pipe-based sprinkler unit. The drip irrigation system developed and popularized by the Institute is contributing significant increases in the area under fruits and vegetables and their production every year. The Institute has designed a prefabricated concrete lining technology suitable for several irrigation projects for the sandy and sandy loam areas of northern India. This technology has the potential to save 5 million ha-m of surface water, which will irrigate 10 m ha of additional crop area and increase foodgrain production by 10m t annually in the country.

  • Technologies, such as pesticidal oxime ethers, alkane polyol alkanoates, azadirachtin and reduced azadirachtin concentrates (insecticides); mancozeb, thiophanate methyl substituted a-pyrones (fungicides), substituted aromatic alkenes (nematicide), Rabdosia based mosquito larvicide, neem oil EW, water dispersible granules of DDT and temephos, floating granules of butachlor, carbaryl EC and controlled release products (pesticide formulations); natural and synthetic stabilizers for azadirachtin, di and tetrahydroazadirachtin, preparation of 5-substituted-1,3,4-oxadiozole-2-thiols as urease and nitrification inhibitors, and trichloro-benzenes (pesticide adjuvants) are available for commercialization.

  • IARI has provided technological support for agro-based industrialization and exports. Rice variety ‘Pusa Basmati-1‘ has led to the modernization of rice mills and exports. The horticultural crops, through increased production, have induced a growth in the processing industry and exports of value-added products. The private agro-chemical industries got a boost from the indigenous technologies for pesticides and agro-chemicals developed at the Institute for commercial adoption. The technology in respect of two bio-formulations, namely, Kalisena SD and Kalisena SL, found effective against c’evastating soil borne pathogens, and promoting plant growth and crop yields, has been translerred to Mis Cadila Pharmaceuticals Ltd. by the Institute for marketing these bioformulations in India and abroad.

Timesaving Tips Around the Barn

Work smarter, not harder, management experts tell us. That’s easy for them to say–they’ve never had a barn full of horses to look after. If you’re like most horse owners, you devote every minute you can spare to ensuring your horses’ well-being. You don’t begrudge them the hours you spend pushing brooms, filling buckets and cleaning stalls. After all, you knew what you were getting into when you became a horse owner.

But could you be doing things more efficiently? Is it possible to provide even better care for your horses while still having time for the rest of your life? In other words, can you work smarter, not harder, around the barn?

Sure you can. There are timesaving techniques and tools out there that can help you complete your barn chores faster without sacrificing safety and cleanliness. We’ve collected some favorites here and arranged them by work category, focusing on the universal (and traditionally time-eating) chores of stall cleaning, watering and feeding, general maintenance, grooming and tacking. Some of our suggestions require specific equipment, but others call for nothing more than changing a routine or two to better utilize your existing resources.

Stall Cleaning
You could immediately reduce your stall-cleaning time by 100 percent–and improve your horses’ health in the process–by turning your herd out 24 hours a day. But since that’s not feasible for everyone, here’s how to cut the time you spend wielding a pitchfork without compromising the cleanliness your horses require.

Switch to a deep-litter system. If you bed on shavings, this European practice can help you establish a thick, clean bed with minimal daily labor. At each cleaning, remove only the visible piles of manure and wet spots–don’t dig down to the floor or turn the bedding over. Toss slightly soiled bedding to the sides of the stall, and put a thin layer of clean bedding in the center. Eventually, “banks” of dry shavings will form around the outside of the stall, and you can use these to refresh the center, eliminating trips to the shavings heap. Properly maintained, a deep-litter bed is dry, has no odor and is very cushioning to the legs. You will have to completely strip the stall once or twice a year, however.

Invest in the right tools for the job. A heavyweight pitchfork and a too-small wheelbarrow make for inefficient stall cleaning. Shop for multi-tined, lightweight forks that will allow clean shavings to fall through, along with oversized wheelbarrows that can reduce the number of trips you must make to the manure pile. Consider a mechanized manure sifter that separate clean shavings from dirty, saving both time and money.

Purchase stall mats or other floor coverings. Floor coverings, such as mats and grids, reduce the amount of labor involved in stall cleaning in two ways: by facilitating drainage and by reducing the amount of bedding needed. Properly installed, graded mats or grids channel urine to a drain or through the floor, eliminating the hours you’ve been spending each month digging out wet spots. They’ll also protect floors, cutting down on (or even eliminating) the heavy work of repairing holes or uneven surfaces each year. Mats have one additional advantage: Since they provide cushioning of their own, they require less bedding on top.

Establish a cleaning system. Clean stalls from front to back, back to front or side to side–it doesn’t matter what your pattern is; just stick with one method for more efficiency. Simplify waste removal by placing a tarp outside the stall door and tossing everything into the center. When the tarp is full, pick it up by the corners and place it in the wheelbarrow or carry it to the manure heap.

It goes without saying that your horses must have access to ample, clean water at all times. Still, there are some changes you can make to reduce the amount of time you spend delivering liquid refreshment to your beasts.

Add more water containers. The simplest and cheapest way to cut down on the time you spend watering is to add a second water bucket to each stall, as well as additional troughs in each paddock. Fill all the containers in the morning, and you may be able to skip the afternoon refill if the water is still clean.

Extend pipes to stalls. The next level of watering convenience requires a plumber’s help. Run pipes from the main water line along the outside of the stalls in the aisleway, above door-frame height. For quick and easy watering, install an on/off valve at each stall, and run short hoses from the valves to just above each water bucket. This kind of pipe system must be drained in the winter to prevent freezing, but during the summer it can save hours of hose-dragging.

A less frost-prone, but more costly, variation is to have pipes installed in the floor of the aisleway, with a spigot at each stall and a “dedicated” hose running through a hole cut in the stall wall above the bucket.

Go fully automatic.If you can afford it, automatic waterers are the way to go. With safety features to prevent shock, insulation to guard against freezing and gauges to measure a horse’s water intake, these equine water fountains are perhaps the most common and effective time-savers available to horsekeepers. They offer the added benefit of ensuring that your horses always have access to water and are available for both stalls and pastures.

If your horse had his way, he’d be eating all the time. Grazing on pasture is his natural feeding pattern, after all, and even when it comes to concentrates, experts agree that giving small amounts at intervals during the day is the optimal schedule for your horse’s digestive well-being. Still, from a time-management perspective, the “little and often” approach can be tough to follow. Here are some ways you can cut the time it takes to feed your horses without compromising their health and happiness.

Streamline delivery. Instead of running back and forth from stall to feed bin, put all feeds and supplements into a large, wheeled cart with several compartments. With this system, you can roll down the aisleway, stopping at each stall to dole out rations. The process is made even more efficient by adding small, swing-out doors or other openings over the feed buckets.

Make gravity work for you. Stack hay bales in well-ventilated lofts with strategically located “drops” over each stall or hayrack. With this arrangement, you can toss flakes to their destination with minimal time or effort. This also works for feeds stored in the loft. Run individual PVC pipes (six inches or larger in diameter) into each stall, and pour grain down the pipe directly into the feed bucket for each eagerly awaiting horse. Just make sure you inspect the feed buckets daily for signs of contamination or indications that a horse has stopped eating.

Prepare meals ahead of time. A popular time-saver at racetracks is to prepare “bag lunches,” thus reducing measuring and scooping time. Whoever makes up the morning feeding also doles out the lunch and/or dinner rations in separate canvas bags. These are hung outside the stall when the morning feeding is delivered. Feeding the next meal simply requires dumping the contents into the bucket.

Install automatic feeders. If you want to spend the money, you can automate your feeding routine. Automatic feeders on the market can hold several days’ worth of concentrates, and some even hold hay. Just fill them up once and let the timer do the rest of the work. The benefit of automatic feeders is they can be set to dispense a small amount several times throughout the day, but the drawbacks are the maintenance and extra vigilance they require. You must check that automatic feeders are working properly every day, or risk a hungry–or worse, overfed–horse.

Feed concentrates in the field. Bringing in field-kept horses just to eat their daily rations can be a huge time-waster. If you choose to feed in the field, however, you’ll need to make sure that each horse gets his fair share and that no feed is wasted. Feed tubs that latch onto fences are a good start; these not only conserve feed but also prevent ingestion of soil or sand, a possible colic producer. If you’re good at construction, you can build standing stalls with individual feed tubs along a fence line. Your horses will soon learn to claim a stall at feeding time, and chains across the back of the stalls will keep bullies in until the slowest eater has finished.

Keep a bale-opening tool handy. Wrestling the twine off a bale of hay can be a real time-waster. Hang a pair of tin snips (special scissors for cutting metal) or a farrier’s knife on a nail next to the hay shed or loft ladder; either will safely and easily cut even the toughest baling twine. Be faithful about putting this tool back when you are done.

Maintenance and Record Keeping
The maintenance required around a farm can range from simple daily house-keeping to backbreaking, once-a-year heavy work. With horses needing constant care, these are the kinds of jobs that tend to get pushed to the bottom of a “to do” list. Cutting the time it takes to handle routine maintenance will let you get to the end of that “to do” list a lot faster.

Banish the brooms. Rather than push a broom for hours, invest in a quality vacuum and leaf blower. Use the blower for outdoor jobs only, such as cleaning driveways or gutters; indoors, a blower will stir up unhealthy dust. Instead, use a vacuum for aisles and rafters. A heavy-duty shop vacuum will do, but for really efficient cleaning, try a model specifically designed for cleaning barns or industrial buildings.

Buy synthetic tack for daily use. Cut down time spent on leather care by using synthetic tack for your everyday riding. Man-made materials are easily hosed clean, and your show tack will stay nice for dressy occasions.

Maximize storage space in tack and feed rooms. Spend a rainy afternoon overhauling your storage areas. Prefab shelving, wire racks and cabinetry, available at most hardware stores, will go a long way toward making sense of your mess. While you’re at it, hang a halter and lead shank on each horse’s stall so they’ll always be there when you need them, saving extra trips to the tack room.

Invest in high-quality, high-tech fencing. As much as you may love the traditional look of wooden board fences, they take a lot of time to maintain. Installing synthetic fences made of PVC and other polymers is more costly in the short term, but over time you’ll save on maintenance and repair. Properly installed electric fencing–particularly “tape” and poly-cord varieties–is also a mostly maintenance-free option.

Buy an appropriate-sized tractor and accessories. All but the smallest of farmettes can benefit from some sort of tractor for the hauling, dumping and dragging associated with heavy maintenance work. As a rule, it’s better to have slightly “too much” tractor than not enough, so set your minimum requirement at 20 horsepower and work up from there.

With the appropriate accessories, a tractor can speed nearly every farm job: Pull the tractor into the barn and muck out directly into a dump cart or manure spreader; cut grass and brush around the barn and in the pastures with mover attachments; drag fields and rings with a chain-link harrow; use a front-end loader to straighten fence posts.

Auto-water your ring. Use a simple lawn sprinkler to water down your riding ring quickly and inexpensively and keep dust at bay. Just remember to move the sprinkler before puddles form.

Start a binder system for your records. For each horse, purchase an inexpensive three-ring notebook, with pocket inserts and loose-leaf paper. Put official documents, such as Coggins test results, into the pockets, and record all other relevant information on the loose-leaf paper: Put veterinary visits on one sheet, show results on another, and so on. The idea is to have all of the horse’s vital papers and information readily available in one place. Start a similar binder for farm expenses, such as feed bills and hay deliveries.

Computerize your system. Consider one of the many software programs designed to organize horsekeeping data. Some are intended for large operations, others are better suited for smaller farms, so shop around with your specific needs and computer capabilities in mind. A computer program does require you to enter information on a regular basis, but it also means that records and data are easily and instantly retrievable.

Grooming and Tacking
So the chores are done, and you’re ready to ride? Make the transition even faster by streamlining your grooming and tacking procedures. A few basic changes can whittle your pre-ride routine down to 10 minutes or less:

Move everything at once. Elaborate wheeled carts with saddle racks and baskets can bring everything you need for grooming and tacking right to the horse, eliminating extra trips to the tack room.

Vacuum instead of brushing. Not only will grooming go faster with a vacuum, but your horse will be cleaner. It may take a few days to accustom him to the sound and sensation of the machine, but eventually your grooming routine will be pared down to a quick curry and a five-minute vacuum treatment. A good wet/dry shop vacuum will do, but a heavy-duty model designed for horses will last longer and make less noise.

Use both hands. It may sound obvious, but put a tool in each hand and you’ll cut your grooming time in half.

Teach your horse to lift both feet from one side. Pick out the left and right hooves from the same side. All but the stiffest horses (and grooms) find this no problem. In fact, same-side picking is standard practice at many racetracks. If you worry about developing “sidedness” this way, alternate the side you pick from. – See more at:

7 Clean-up Tips for Your Cluttered Barn

There are two things you should think about when organizing your barn and outbuildings. First, dedicate some time to thinking about your work flow. Knowing how you use your barn space will help you use your body more effectively to reach that needed tool or material, as well as save both time and stress by allowing you to find everything more quickly. Second, organizing your barn doesn’t need to be a complicated, drawn-out process requiring heaps of time. As you’ll see below, small changes can make a huge difference in farm workflow.

7 Clean-up Tips for Your Cluttered Barn - Photo courtesty Elena Elisseeva/iStock/Thinkstock (

1. Customize for You
“I’m only 5 feet, 4 inches, so I do everything from building shelves to hanging hooks based on my height,” says Kathy Zeman, who runs Simple Harvest Farm Organics in Nerstrand, Minn. Customization can come in many forms: Think about your personal needs and how your outbuildings can best serve them. For example, if you need to be mindful of back issues, hang more shelving and pack things in smaller, lighter boxes so you’re not putting undue strain on your back.

2. Hang It Up
Getting things off the floor creates multiple benefits, from preventing tripping hazards to keeping materials cleaner and intact. If you’re short on wall space, take advantage of your barn ceiling: Hang bundles of hoses or drip tape with rope from the rafters for winter storage.

When hanging things in hard-to-reach places, make sure you have a ladder of suitable height handy.

“I have several ladders that I keep in different places so I’ll have one where I need it and don’t need to lug it around,” Zeman says. “I always hang my ladders and never keep them on the floor. This makes it easier to keep the area underneath clean and also serves as a safety technique so kids don’t feel the urge to climb.”

3. Group Like Materials Together
A simple organizing technique is to arrange tools or materials with others of a similar use. “We have one shelf with everything for the farmers’ market, another with our beekeeping supplies, another with all things soap making, et cetera,” says Yvonne Brunot, who runs Right Mind Farm, a diversified farm operation, with her husband, Ed Safford, in Walingford, Vt. “Sometimes there may be some overlap, but this way we can easily and quickly put our hands on what we need at that moment.”

4. Identify and Consolidate Tools
“I host a lot of work parties on my farm and appreciate all the extra helping hands, but folks typically don’t know where all the tools are, so I try to make it easy by consolidating everything in one place,” says Clare Hintz, who runs Elsewhere Farm in Herbster, Wis. Placing one hook per tool—and perhaps labeling or color-coding the tool—clearly communicates to helpers how many of each tool you have so things can be accurately and quickly returned at the end of the day.

Color-coding with bright paint also helps with field cleanup at the end of the day.”I paint the handles of my tools bright fluorescent colors, which is an easy reminder when you leave something out in the field or are looking for that shovel at the end of the day,” Zeman says.

5. Think Multiple Purpose
Creatively arranging outbuilding space for multiple purposes allows you to get more accomplished in your limited space. “My outbuilding serves a variety of functions throughout the year, from drying garlic to packing produce to a classroom for interns and other workshops,” Hintz says. She built large, sturdy tables that can be quickly cleared off for her upcoming projects.

6. Recycle Creatively
Castoff tools can take on a second, functional life in your outbuildings. Kim Marsin and Rachel Reklau, of Sweet Home Organics, a garden seedling business based in St. Charles, Ill., don’t have a permanent barn or outbuilding on the property, so they’ve learned to be creative in utilizing and stretching the space in their hoop greenhouses. “We repurpose pallets as table tops and hardening off spaces for our seedlings,” Marsin explains. “We just finished building raised beds to go underneath our seeding tables to maximize the space.”

7. Purge Regularly
When you have decent-sized outbuilding space, it’s all too easy to accumulate stuff, especially others’ castoffs that you “might use someday.” Over the years, this adds up to clutter, which negatively impacts how efficiently you can use your outbuilding space. “I find the more extra stuff I have around, the harder it is to keep things organized and clean, so I operate under my ‘five-year rule.’” Zeman says. “If I haven’t used it in five years, I gift it to someone else, ideally a new farmer starting out who could really benefit from it. I’ve rarely actually needed any of it once I got rid of it, and the positive impact of the extra space is well worth it.”

An extra bonus to all this outbuilding efficiency: You’ll save money! By knowing where things are and having easy access to them, you’ll avoid those extra trips to the local hardware or farm-supply store because something you need is “lost somewhere in the barn.”

Farming Simulator 16 – Tips, Tricks, and Strategies to Get You Started

So you’ve started up your own farm. That’s fantastic, but where do you go from here? As peculiarly entertaining as it may be to meticulously guide heavy machinery around a field or two, it can be a little tricky to figure out what to do when you get behind the wheel for the first time. That’s why we’ve put together some helpful tips and tricks to get your farm going.

First steps

  • Get familiar with the controls – There’s no real tutorial to speak of, so you’ll want to learn what the button icons mean as soon as possible. From bottom-left to bottom-right: the steering slider, switch vehicles, detach tools, activate tools, hire assistant, honk the horn, and throttle (i.e. forward/backward, general speed).
  • Then get familiar with your tools – Your harvester is pretty easy to figure out from the start (it’s the big yellow thing and it already has the appropriate header attached) but you also have one tractor and a few things that can attach to the back of it – a cultivator (the flat-looking green thing), a sowing machine (the red thing), and a tipper (the green bin on wheels).
  • Start harvesting immediately – You’ll have two fields of your own right away – one that’s full of wheat and ready to harvest, and another that needs to be cultivated. It’s very important that you start harvesting that wheat right away, otherwise you run the risk of it going bad.
  • Cultivating is also a good idea – You can use your tractor to cultivate your fields and make them ready for sowing. You can also save time by hiring an assistant to drive your harvester, having them harvest your first wheat field, and manually cultivating the second field yourself.

  • Sell all your starter grains – Every time you begin a new game you’ll start with 5’000 Wheat, Canola, Corn, Sugarbeet, and Potato. Sell all of it for quite a bit more starting cash.
  • Buy a second tractor before you buy anything else – If you harvest your first field and sell off as much of your starting grains as you can, you should have more than enough to buy yourself a second tractor. Definitely do that, because having a second machine around to cultivate, sow, and haul will be extremely useful.
  • Only sow wheat and canola to start – When you have a sowing machine attached to your tractor you can tap on the seed button (it’s the one highlighted in blue) to switch seeds. Stick with wheat and canola for a while, because harvesting everything else requires tools you won’t have yet.

General farming

  • Make liberal use of assistants – It costs roughly $1 of in-game cash per second when you have an assistant using your vehicles, but it saves you so much time it’s easily worth the price. You can certainly do everything yourself, but if you add a couple of assistants to the mix you can harvest, cultivate, and sow a single field at the same time – just make sure you leave enough space between vehicles or you might cause a pile-up.
  • Assistants can be used for more than just working fields – If you’re in the middle of harvesting and you need to unload a tipper, you can attach a tractor to it and have an assistant haul it over to your silo for you. They can also sell your grain if you tell them where to go (hint: the location highlighted in blue pays the best). They can also refill sowing machines and fertilizer spreaders, refuel, and even take your vehicles to get washed. Most of these actions are contextual and can be triggered by pressing the Hire Assistants button, but you can also open up the map and direct them from there using the Functions icons at the bottom of the screen (drive, refill, refuel, and wash).
  • Cruise control is a less effective but cheaper alternative to assistants – It’s not a real replacement, but if you pull up on a vehicle’s throttle all the way it will keep going forward until you slow it down – or until it crashes. You can use this to line your tractor or harvester up, turn on the attached tool, and pretty much sit back while it does its thing. Then once you reach the end of the field you can turn it around and repeat the process. Just keep an eye on it so you don’t end up in a pond or something.
  • Top everything off when you have some downtime – Your assistants will automatically refuel the vehicles they’re driving and refill any attached tools that might need it whenever they run dry. But if you refuel/refill yourself (or make an assistant do it) in between tasks, you’ll save a bit of time in the long run.

  • Can’t tell if a field is ready for harvesting? Check the map! – Any fields you own that have been planted will show up on your map with a green icon depicting the seeds planted in them. When they’re ready to harvest, those seed icons will change to yellow.
  • Store unused tools in nearby empty fields – The fields you don’t own aren’t actually in use, so feel free to dump your stuff there when you’re not using it. It’s closer, faster for your vehicles to gear-up, and just generally more convenient.
  • Check current prices before attempting to sell your grains – You can see how much each grain type is selling for (and at which location) from the Prices option in the menu (its next to the map button). If something isn’t selling for a whole lot, wait a bit and the price will eventually start to go back up. Conversely, if the price has skyrocketed then sell, sell, sell!

Misc tips

  • Keep an eye on your harvester’s capacity – The bigger the field, the faster it’s going to fill up your harvester. Keep a tipper nearby and unload it – just stop alongside it right side and the harvester should unload automatically – when it starts to get too full. If you have an assistant driving the harvester you can also manually drive a tractor with a tipper attached alongside it while it harvests, and it’ll unload while moving. You can also honk when your harvester is full to have a tipper automatically move to you, take your crops, then move back to its starting location – providing the tipper is either empty or contains the same crops as your harvestor.
  • Save up for a Tedder and a Baler – It’s expensive, but once you get a baler and Tedder you can start cutting the grass in nearby overgrown fields and making hay bales for your cows and sheep, which in-turn will allow them to produce milk and wool, respectively. And milk and wool sell for quite a bit.
  • Don’t over-extend yourself – Try not to have too many fields growing crops at the same time – at least until you have a small fleet of harvesters and tractors – or else you’re just going to end up losing crops because it takes you too long to collect them.

  • Check in on your assistants – They’re a big help, but sometimes your assistants will get themselves stuck. Whether it’s because they got too close to one another while tending a field or because they decided to try and drive through the back of the gas station, it’s going to happen. Just check in on them every now and then, and take over for a bit to get them unstuck.
  • Remember to pick up what you buy – Whenever you buy equipment that isn’t a vehicle you’re going to need to drive down to the shop to pick it up. Don’t just buy something and then leave it in the parking lot!
  • Keep an eye out for special requests – Sometimes you’ll see a red circle with an exclamation point in it sitting in the top-left corner of the screen. Tap on it, and you’ll be able to take part in a limited-time challenge for some extra cash.

Keeping up the harvest

Keeping up the harvestPlanting a veg garden really kicks off the year. By the end of March you’ll have bought new potatoes and onion sets from our Paston and Oundle garden centre and tucked them into their new homes, and with a bit of luck you’ll be getting out those seed packets you chose from our extensive range of fruit and veg to sow the first hardy crops like carrots, peas, cabbages and beetroot.

But what happens when that first flush of productivity is over? Once you’ve harvested those new potatoes it’s still only June, there’s half the growing year left but you’ve got bare patches opening up all over the place.

Planting for a continuous harvest throughout the year is one of the holy grails of veg gardening. With a little planning and some tricks of the trade you too can avoid boom and bust, evening out your harvest so there’s always something to pick somewhere on the plot. Here’s how:

  • Successional sowing: Fast-growing veg like baby-leaf salads and carrots are ready within weeks, so repeat sow just half a row at a time every month through the season to keep them coming.
  • Intercropping: use every inch of space by sowing quick-growing carrots, spinach or beetroot among slower-growing brassicas: that way while they’re growing, you get an extra harvest from the same space.
  • Plug plants: in our garden centre you’ll find a huge range of young vegetable plants, ideal for dropping into gaps opened up by harvesting lettuces, cabbages or leeks for a near-instant second harvest.
  • Sow different varieties: many types of veg, like carrots, calabrese and sprouts, have early, mid-season and late varieties: sow all three and they’ll mature at different rates, extending your harvesting time.
  • Remember winter: you won’t feel like sowing crops for winter while it’s still spring, but if you don’t your harvest will stop dead in October. Plant purple-sprouting broccoli, winter cabbage, leeks and parsnips in March to keep the veg garden pumping out the harvest through the chill.

Gasoline Tractor

In 1892 John Froelich built the first gasoline-powered tractor that propelled itself backward and forward. His invention helped pave the way for modern farming.

John grew up in Froelich, a Clayton County town named after his father, Henry. John ran a feed mill and elevator and tinkered with machines. Mounting a gasoline engine on a well-drilling rig gave him the idea to mount an internal combustion engine on a tractor. A few weeks later, the tractor— a forerunner of John Deere tractors— was shipped to South Dakota, where it threshed 72,000 bushels of wheat in 52 days.

Froelich, with other investors, founded the Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Company in 1893. This company eventually became the John Deere Tractor Works.

Like many inventors, Froelich received little recognition for his work during his lifetime while others profited from his creations.

The Science and Technology of Agriculture

 Throughout history, scientific and technological advances have greatly impacted the agriculture industry. Early farmers improved their crop production by inventing the first hoes. Today, farmers improve crop production through the use of global positioning systems. How did these changes happen? How did people learn about new ideas? How have these ideas changed farming methods?

Early advances were shared by word of mouth. As new ideas were tried out and applied to growing crops and livestock, they were shared and passed to the next generation as parents taught their children. Neighboring tribes exchanged ideas with one another and with new settlers. In more recent times, scientists studying at universities devote their lives to research and development of farming products and practices. Iowa farmers and agricultural scientists have benefited and contributed to the ever-evolving science of agriculture.

New Ideas and Inventions

One milestone in the evolution of technology in Iowa occurred with the completion of rail lines across the state. By 1870 transportation had been greatly expanded—which made it easier for farmers to market their products outside the Midwest. Transportation advances greatly impacted the life of an Iowa farmer. Another event that affected farm life was the commercial production of barbed wire. As the land became more settled and there were fewer and fewer acres of open prairie, farmers needed a way to keep their own cattle at home. Barbed wire was the answer. Instead of grazing on open prairie, cattle were fenced in the farmer’s own field and fed with corn. This allowed Iowa farmers to transition from cattle grazing to cattle raising.

Mechanical corn picker New Ways of Farming

By the latter part of the 19th century farmers had learned to diversify their crop production and to raise livestock for profit. Iowa farmers had learned the value in planting corn and feeding it to fatten their livestock.

Advances in farm machinery production changed the way farmers worked. They were able to cover more land at a faster pace; and as manufacturers added seats to farm machinery, farmers found some relief from their backbreaking labors.

The development of better corn seed is one of the biggest improvements in the past 100 years. Farmers once shelled the kernels from the longest and best looking ears from the harvest and planted those kernels the next spring. However, plant scientists like Henry A. Wallace began experimenting with ways to produce even better seed. They learned how to use the pollen from one variety of corn to fertilize another variety to produce a hybrid. The new variety grew ears that were better than either of its “parents.” In the 1930s many farmers began buying hybrid corn seed. Today nearly all corn planted in the United States and much of the rest of the world is some hybrid variety.

Spreading New Ideas

Early in Iowa’s settlement by European farmers, a number of institutions were established to encourage agricultural advances. State and county fairs were held and became show places for the best in all areas of agriculture. They helped spread the news about new ideas and methods. And they encouraged farmers to develop new products and ways of doing their work.

Interests in agricultural advancement also was reflected in the early provision for a state agricultural college and model farm to promote better farming techniques. The formal program of instruction began at Ames in 1869, and the college eventually developed into a nationally recognized leader in scientific agricultural advancement. The college developed extension services, education to people who are not enrolled as students, to provide up-to-date assistance for women and men on Iowa’s farms. They learned about soil conservation, corn seed selection and cultivation, crop rotation and manure management.

The invention of radio and television made it possible for farm families to learn about new ideas. They learned about new kinds of technologies such as food-freezing processes that revolutionized food storage. They also learned about hybrid seed that boosted crop production, and soybeans that became a major crop addition. New ways of spreading information allowed farm families to hear about soil conservation programs also. They learned about cattle and hog breeding which in turn improved the livestock industry.

Conserving Resources

Over the years farmers have become more aware of conservation methods to prevent erosion and to protect the water. Some farmers have planted buffer strips—wide strips of grass—along waterways. These grassy strips trap soil and chemicals before they reach the water. Many farmers have changed plowing practices—plowing their fields less often and not as deep. This helps to keep soil from blowing away.

All these advances in the area of science and technology have resulted in fewer farmers working bigger farms. They have also meant Iowa’s farm families are producing more than in the past. Some of the changes that have occurred as a result of scientific advances have been good for Iowa; some have caused problems for Iowans. Many farmers use global positioning systems and agree that it is a new form of technology that benefits farmers. But advances in biotechnology and crop production has caused controversy. Iowa’s farmers continue to adapt to the changing technologies. And they continue to contribute to the science of agriculture.

Farming Technologies

Industrial Hemp (iHemp) is made up of varieties of “Cannabis Sativa” that contain less than 0.3% Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It is an annual broadleaf plant with a taproot and is capable of very rapid growth under ideal growing conditions. The female flowers and seeds are indeterminate, meaning that there are both ripe and immature seeds on the same plants at the time of grain harvest.

Fibre hemp plants will grow to 2-4 meters tall without branching. In dense plantings (i.e.: seed drilled) the bottom leaves fall off due to lack of sunlight and the male plants die back after shedding pollen, generally 4-5 weeks into the growing cycle, lasting approx. 1 week.

The stem has an outer bark that contains the long, tough bast fibers. They are similar in length to soft wood fibers and are very low in lignin content. Hemp rope, textiles and clothing is made from these fibers. The core contains the “hurds” or “Shives” (short fibers), similar to hard wood fibers and these are used for building, particleboard (MDF) and pet bedding, as well as plastics.

For grain production the plant may branch and reach heights of 2-3 meters. Tall plants do not mean more grain and shorter plants are preferred for combing. In well structured and well drained soils the taproot may penetrate 15-30 cm deep (12”). In compacted soils the taproot remains short and the plant produces more lateral, fibrous roots.

Each iHemp variety has its own set of characteristics; small or large seed, low or high oil content, different oil composition, etc….

Varieties grown for fibre may contain from 15-25% bast fibres. As markets develop contracts to grow iHemp may specify the exact varieties that will meet specific market needs.

iHemp varieties tested in Ontario, Canada so far have all been of European origin with the exception of new Ontario-bred varieties such as “Anka” and “Carmen” and they come in 2 types; “dioecious”, which have male & female flower parts on separate plants (i.e.: “Kompolti” and “Unico B”) and “monoecious”, which have male & female flower parts on the same plant (i.e.: “Ferimon” and “Futura”). A 3rd type of cultivar, known as female predominant, is a dioecious type that has 85-90% female plants. It is believed that this type of plant can yield more grain. Most French varieties are a hybrid of predominantly female types.

Only varieties of iHemp that are named in the list of approved cultivars, published by Health Canada, are approved for planting in Canada. These varieties are known to produce plants containing less than 0.3% Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) under normal conditions. The THC level may vary with stage of growth and increase under environmental stress conditions. They mature to fibre in 60-90 days and to grain in 110-150 days. Using home-grown or “common” seed is illegal.

Dual Purpose Crops:
Most of the French and Romanian cultivars are suitable for grain and fibre production however these tall cultivars present some challenges for harvesting because growers need also to consider that weather conditions after grain harvest (late August or September) may not be suitable for retting & drying the stalks. The FIN 314 variety, which will grow to a maximum height of 0.9 meters (36 inches) and other short-stalked grain types (1-1.5 meters) are not suitable for dual production. Industry trends seem to be moving specifically towards grain or fibre varieties.

Soil Conditions:
iHemp responds to a well drained, loam soil with pH (acidity) above 6.0. Neutral to slightly alkaline (pH7.0 – 7.5) is preferred. The higher the clay content of the soil the lower the yield of grain or fibre. Clay soils are easily compacted and iHemp is very sensitive to soil compaction. Young plants are very sensitive to wet soils or flooding during the first 3 weeks or until growth reaches the fourth internode (approx. 30 cm or 12” tall). Water damaged plants will remain stunted, resulting in a weedy, uneven and poor crop.

Poorly structured, drought-prone sandy soils provide very little natural fertility or support for the iHemp plant. Extra nutrients and water will be required to achieve maximum yields on these soils, hence the extra costs make production uneconomical.

Climate for Growing:

iHemp requires lots of moisture; approx. 3-400mm (10-13”) of rainfall equivalent. If that amount of rainfall does not occur during the growing season it is important to make use of early soil moisture and to get early ground cover to reduce surface evaporation, as well as maintain good weed control. About ½ of this moisture is required during flowering and seed set in order to produce maximum grain yields. Drought during this stage produces poorly developed grain heads and continued drought results in low yields of light grain. During the vegetative growth period iHemp responds to daytime high temperatures with increased growth and water needs. After the 3rd pair of leaves develop iHemp can survive daily low temperatures as low as -0.5 degrees Celsius for 4-5 days.


iHemp requires approximately the same fertility as a high-yielding crop of wheat. Apply up to 110kg/hectare of nitrogen, depending on soil fertility and past cropping history. Research also supports the application of 40-90kg/hectare of potash for fibre hemp. Base your phosphorus (P205) and potash (K20) applications on a recent soil test. To interpret soil test information, follow the nitrogen, phosphate and potash recommendations for winter wheat in OMAFRA publication 811.

Hemp growers in some places may benefit from adding sulphur. It is important to balance the nutrients applied with then crop requirements and with each other. For example; excessive nitrogen, combined with inadequate potash, can result in stalk breakage and loss of crop !

Approximately 42% of the plant’s biomass returns to the soil in the form of leaves, roots and tops. These contain over half of the nutrients applied to the crop in the first place and many of these nutrients will be available to help feed the following crop.

Weed Control:
If hemp is planted into well-drained, fertile soil under nearly optimum temperature and moisture conditions, it will germinate quickly and reach 30 cm (12”) in 3-4 weeks from planting. At this stage it will give 90% ground shade. Weed growth is suppressed by the exclusion of light from the soil. A rapidly growing iHemp population of 200-250 plants per square meter will suppress nearly all weed growth, including twitch grass. For pre-plant site preparation guidelines, refer to OMAFRA Publication 75, “Guide to Weed Control”.

Weed suppression is not a permanent condition. Weeds may appear on the same field next year if the field is rotated out of iHemp production. Perennial grasses may be weakened or killed if iHemp is grown a 2nd year on the same ground however this practice increases the chance of crop diseases to develop.

Under grain production conditions weed suppression may be less complete; the lower plant population or uneven stands allow more light to penetrate the canopy, thus aiding the germination of weed seeds. Cross seeding may improve canopy distribution and subsequent weed control where early, shorter verities are grown. In conclusion; early planting, as soon as the soil is warm enough, is the recommended weed strategy.

Diseases and Pests:
More than 50 different viruses, bacteria, fungi and insect pests are known to affect the iHemp crop. However, iHemp’s rapid growth rate and vigorous nature allow it to overcome the attack of most diseases and pests.

Botrytis Cinerea (grey mould) and Scierotinia Scierotiorum (white mould) are common moulds affecting iHemp. Scierotinia also affects edible beans, canola and sunflowers. Mould spores may be spread by combines, other harvesting equipment and straw.

A 4-year crop rotation is recommended as a good practice to avoid disease build-up. Do not grow iHemp on the same fields following canola, edible beans, soybeans or sunflowers.

Wind and hail damage can be significant to the iHemp crop. Tall plants with lots of upper leaf mass can be bent quite easily by mid-to-late summer storms. Broken plants will recover partially if not broken too low. This results in significant variability in plant height and maturity at seed harvest time.

Harvesting Fibre:
Air-dry stem yields range from 2.5-14.0 metric tons of dry, retted stalks per hectare (1 to 5 tons/acre) at 12% moisture. Approx. one ton of bast fibre and 2-3 tons of core material can be decorticated from 3-4 tons of good quality, dry-retted straw.

Yield of fibre depends on both the stalk yield per hectare and the fibre content of the stalk. Varieties differ in the amount of actual fibre content and on the ratio of bast fibre to core material (hurds). Dioecious varieties originating in southern Europe give the highest stalk yields. For textile applications, cut the iHemp in the early flowering stage or while pollen is being shed, but before seed sets. Fibre that is cut after seed harvest will have lignified considerably and is usable only in some non-woven industrial fibre applications. In dioecious varieties the male plants die back after shedding pollen. This results in lower fibre yields if the straw is cut after grain has matured.

On small acreages, good quality sickle-bar mowers and hay swathers have been used to cut iHemp. Frequent plugging has been a constant problem with this equipment. It is important to keep knives sharp and in good repair at all times. As acreage increases, more sophisticated equipment may have to be imported or developed.

Retting (turning):
Retting is the process of beginning to separate the bast fibres from the hurds or other plant tissues. This is done in the field, taking advantage of the natural elements of dew, rain, wind and sun, or under controlled conditions using water (most common in China), enzymes or chemicals. The method chosen depends on the end use of the fibre or hurd. To date, suitable industrial processes of water and/or chemical retting have not been developed.

Successful field retting requires a delicate balance of nightly dews and good daytime conditions. Planting date and selection of variety are factors in predicting a suitable harvest date for your region.

The length of the retting process is critical for optimum fibre yield and quality. It normally takes 21-28 days to complete but dry weather and low dew conditions may require longer retting periods. In fact, the process can take a little as 2 weeks.

The “windrows” are turned vigorously once or twice with tines (rakes) to facilitate even retting of the windrow and to knock the leaves off the stems. It is important that the retting process be complete before baling, so that the fibres reach the desired colour and do not rot or discolour in storage. In wet conditions a 3rd turning may be necessary.

Baling and Storage:
Baling can be done with any kind of baler. Large round, soft-core balers may are more satisfactory, allowing bales to fry more quickly in storage. For some industrial processes, the buyer may require a uniform large, square bale, to fit into the processing system however this may present a challenge in preventing spoilage if the bales are stored for later delivery, as square bales are packed more tightly, allowing less air passage than round bales. Note: Sisal or Hemp twine must be used to tie bales because polyester and plastic twines become contaminants in the processing of hemp fibres.

Bales must be stored indoors under dry conditions to stop the retting process before the fibres become rotted. Stalk moisture should be less than 15% at time of baling and should continue to dry to about 10%. Hemp straw also absorbs air moisture quite readily.

Hemp Seed and Fibre Harvesting:
When iHemp is grown for both grain and fibre it is necessary to re-cut the tall stalks after combining. A combine can be modified to perform both functions at the same time by mounting a sickle-bar mower under the header to operate close to the ground.

It is expected that as markets for grain and fibre begin to differentiate dual harvesting will cease to be a common practice. Growers of small acreages will most likely continue to combine and cut stalks as 2 separate operations.

If straw is to be harvested after combining it is important that the weather conditions must also be suitable for drying the stalks for baling.

Combining Seed for iHemp:
Combining iHemp gives a special challenge to both the combine and the operator. In tall varieties large quantities of plant material are put thru the combine. iHemp straw contains very tough fibres that tend to wind around the moving parts. Fine fibres work into bearings, causing friction that can lead to bearing breakdown and combustion. These factors cause heavy machinery wear, high maintenance costs and a great deal of time loss and frustration on the part of the operator. Early grain varieties like “Fedora 19”, “FIN314” and “Fasamo” are shorter and easier to combine.

iHemp seed is harvested when the seed begins to shatter. At this optimum harvest time about 70% of the seeds are ripe at about 22-30% moisture. Later combining increases grain losses due to shattering, bird damage and lower quality grain. Mature fibres tend to wrap more tenaciously around moving parts on the combine.

Raising the cutting blade to about 1 meter (40”) or as high as the header will cut effectively, reduces the amount of material entering the combine. With shorter varieties use a “closer-to-normal” header position. The header knife must be kept sharp at all times to minimise winding of fibres on the sickle bar. Replacing the slatted feeder conveyor with a belt helps reduce the amount of fibre that winds on the feeder shaft. Exterior rotating shafts and pulleys that may come in contact with stalks should be protected when harvesting taller varieties.

Proper setting of the combine improves the yield and quality of the grain and reduces wear on the combine. Experiment with ground speed, concave openings, air and cylinder speeds. For conventional combines use the following:

  • 250rpm Cylinder speed
  • 1070rpm Fan speed
  • ⅛” sieve
  • ⅜” chaffer
  • Concave set tight

Run feeder housing chain loose in the corn position and close the pre-cleaner. Lower the beater gate, remove the curtains and install a speed-up kit for the beaters. Individual combine operators might find different settings work for their machines. Rotary combines seem to be less satisfactory for harvesting hemp grain because of tendency to plug more readily.

Some “volunteer” hemp (also called “Ditch Weed”) will likely appear in the fall or spring following the iHemp crop. These plants are illegal and must be destroyed before being discovered by local drug enforcement authorities. Thorough cultivation or seedbed preparation is effective.

Battle to keep development away from Wonderful Barn

But supporters of council plans say the bizarre building, with its spiral outer staircase reminiscent of a fairground helter skelter, will be given a new lease of life as a trade-off for the development of 430 houses nearby.

The dispute over the building and surrounding lands zoned for residential use has rumbled on for years.

Both sides agree the Wonderful Barn is an extraordinary structure.

The cone-shaped building with its highly complex snail shell interior has fascinated connoisseurs of 18th-century European architecture and is a landmark for motoristsusing the N4 primary route west.

It was conceived as a famine relief project by Laura, widow of the Speaker Connolly, and its main role was as a grain store.

However, a pigeon house is incorporated in the building. As James Howley points out in his book The Folies and Garden Buildings of Ireland, the principle was that the birds would consume any spilled grain, which would then be indirectly recovered as pigeon meat.

In his letter to Kildare County Council, Desmond Guinness says the land surrounding the Wonderful Barn should be kept free ofhousing.

“Elton Court [an existing housing estate] is fortunately well screened from the barn but encroachment by new housing on the fields around it would be disastrous.

“No amount of botanical names for the trees, or new-speak such as ‘the council promotes an improved awareness of sunlight’, can alter the one plain truth that housing is already uncomfortably close to the barn,” Mr Guiness wrote.

The lands are owned by Bayzana Limited. Its directors are listed at the Companies Office as Lebhras O’Corrigain of Garroustown, Termonfeckin, Drogheda; Patrick Conlon of Tully Road, Kildare Town; and Peter Brill of 22 Ailesbury Lawn, Dundrum, Dublin. A company spokesman was unavailable forcomment.

The plan is to hand over the barn and lands in exchange for a parcel of nearby land for housing.

Kildare County Council wants to restore the barn, completed in 1743 and now in disrepair. There are plans for extensive landscaping, a park, a playground and various other amenities that would give the public access to the barn for the first time.

Councillor Catherine Murphy (Labour) said the council had tried to protect the barn while meeting its responsibilities to allow sensitive development around it.

“The land that it is proposed to put houses on is zoned residential and it has been since 2001. So it isn’t a question that the council has an entitlement to refuse planning for houses if it is a reasonable plan.

“That is why we are doing the area action plan for the Wonderful Barn and the surrounding area – to make sure it is as sensitive as it can be,” she said.

“I know that all of us would like to see everything being preserved, but I think when you are in an area like this you have to try and strike abalance.

“What we have tried to do is keep a sufficient amount of land around the barn to keep it in a reasonable setting, and to have the money to make sure it stays in goodcondition.”

Desmond Guinness disagrees. He says a huge estate of 430 new houses could attract 800 cars to the area and 2,000 residents.

“Castletown nearby already suffers from rubbish dumping, burnt-out cars, drinking parties with cans and bottles left behind and trees being destroyed by fires lit in their roots,” Mr Guinness said.

He also referred to a letter from Gabriel Gleeson of the Historic Properties Division, Office of Public Works (OPW), who wrote in 1994: “I wish to confirm that we share your concern on this issue and consider that housing in the immediate area of the Wonderful Barn would be entirely inappropriate.”

Duck Hunting Tips: 6 Old Tricks that Still Work

Waterfowlers have proven to be some of the most resourceful of all sportsmen throughout history, with their combined approach of calling, decoying, and plain old woodsmanship. Here are six old-school tips worth remembering as you prepare to hit the water for ducks and geese this fall.

Add motion – Before motion decoys, hunters used jerk strings and pumped their legs in the water to send ripples through their spread. Another great trick is to mount an electric trolling motor to your blind or on a wood frame painted to blend in, set it near your spread, and let the propeller run just below the surface. The motion will provide silent but continuous motion to your decoys and keep water from freezing, too.

Fake a water hole – Virginia water fowler Kurt Derwort can be found most days of the season hunting geese on the state’s famed Eastern Shore, where on frozen mornings old-timers used to use large sheets of plastic-cut in irregular shapes—to mimic a shallow depression of water in a field. To make the trick work for ducks or geese, Derwort says to find a depression, remove any big stalks and weeds, lay the plastic down, and put the weeds and a few decoys around the edge. Sprinkle the plastic with water to give it more reflection and shine. From the air, it will look like open water when everything else is frozen.

Muddy the waters – Ducks feeding in the shallows upset the bottom and make the water muddy. Clear water will look unnatural to ducks pulling a fly-by, so stir the muck up in your spread by stomping through it and grinding your feet around during slow, flightless periods. Skim the submerged soil with a paddle, or if you’re on an ATV, drive it in figure eights to stir up silt, which will linger for at least a half hour.

Multiply with mud hens – Another old trick is to hunt a marsh at low tide and flip a shovelful of mud onto an existing mud mound or in a very shallow spot to make it look like a duck floating among a scattering of real decoys. Derwort says mud hens or mud ducks are a cheap way to make it look like there are more bodies in your spread than you’ve actually put out.

Ratchet it up – One of the best pieces of water fowling gear to carry along with your calls and shells is a pair of ratchet cutters. Whether your blind needs a quick spruce up just before legal shooting light or the ducks prefer landing in another part of the lake and a move is in order, cutters allow you to quickly and quietly snip limbs up to a half inch thick that can be used to brush-in a favored spot or set up an impromptu blind along an open bank where the ducks are waiting to land.

Look lazy – On warm, still, or cloudy days when ducks can see every detail and flights are few and far between, add a few sleeper decoys to your mix, as well as field decoys lined up on a log. Real ducks tend to loaf like this on such days, and adding these dekes to your mix will make your spread appear far more realistic. A cordless drill enables a quick and easy setup. Just drill a few holes in an existing log and insert your decoy stakes into the holes. Sleeper decoys will also help add to the realism of your goose spread—and can be effective straight through the tail end of the season once ice becomes a factor. A spread of standing, floater, and sleeper decoys can be just the ticket to fool late-season birds that have been shot at for weeks on their way down the flyway.

Sheep Raising and Management Tips

Robin Rye’s article on sheep raising in the September/October 1974 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS was basically good, but we feel that a few points should be emphasized for good sheep management. Our advice is based on personal experience with caring for both commercial and purebred farm flocks in Minnesota, Wisconsin and California.

First, when you start your small homestead flock, we suggest that you buy a purebred (but not necessarily registered) meat-type ram: blackfaced Suffolk, Hampshire or Shropshire, but choose wool-type ewes of whatever whitefaced breed is most suited to your climate. That way you’ll get lots of wool for sale or hand spinning, yet meaty lambs for the table.

Although it may seem more natural to let your ram run with the flock all year — as Ms. Rye recommends — we don’t encourage you to do so, for two reasons. First, he can hurt both the pregnant ewes and newborn lambs. We’ve seen males butting females and their young, and even trying to mount ewes directly after lambing. Why take the chance?

Perhaps the main reason for separating your ram from the rest of the flock, however, is so that you’ll know when the offspring are due and be able to prepare for the event. (Some ewes can come in heat all year round, and it’s the presence of the ram that triggers ovulation.) A ewe will give birth about 147 days after she’s bred, so turn the male in with the flock about five months before you want your lambs born. The ideal time of year depends on your climate. In the Midwest we loosed our ram at Thanksgiving, but here in California we do so in mid-August.

We would also like to share our experience in feeding pregnant ewes. Remember also that by controlling the time of breeding and lambing you can feed your sheep more economically. For the best use of fodder, flush the ewes (feed them extra grain or hay) 17 days before and 17 days after you turn your ram in with them. This will increase your twinning rate. Throughout pregnancy, the sheep need only good pasture or alfalfa hay.

Give the ewes grain again just before lambing and make sure they have adequate alfalfa or forage until the young are weaned. Between that time and their next breeding the animals need not be fed much. They can lose weight during this period and stay perfectly healthy, since the nonpregnant, non-lactating female has a much lower nutritional requirement. Most small pet flocks are overfed, which is bad for them and makes breeding difficult.

Although Ms. Rye objects to the docking of sheep, we feel it’s important. If you’ve ever seen a young animal with its rear end eaten raw by maggots — and this condition can kill a lamb — you’ll agree with us. It’s easier to keep the rump clean when the tail has been docked, and the operation, properly done, is safe, painless and bloodless.

How to Raise Sheep

So, you’re thinking about raising sheep. It can be fun and rewarding. Sheep are docile, gentle animals and they are multipurpose, providing meat and wool, and even milk. There are some basics to master before you get your first flock, so read on.
Lambs and sheep in a pen - Mint Images - Henry Arden/Mint Images RF/Getty Images
Mint Images – Henry Arden/Mint Images RF/Getty Images

Why Raise Sheep?

People have raised sheep for milk, meat and wool for thousands of years. Sheep have some advantages over other types of livestock: they’re relatively small and easy to handle, compared with cows and pigs. They don’t need a lot of space. They don’t need perfect pasture, and they eat brush, grasses and weeds that grow in poor soil.

Sheep manure will fertilize the soil. They are gentle and docile (although rams can be aggressive at times) and they are trainable (you can teach them to come when called, to follow you, and to stand).

They don’t need much space, either: even one acre can support a small flock – three or four ewes and their lambs.

Choosing a Breed

The first thing you need to decide is the purpose for which you want the sheep. Are you raising them for meat or wool (or just as pet lawnmowers)? Or are you taking the less common route and raising them for milk? The reason milking sheep is not common is that sheep don’t yield nearly as much milk as cows or goats.

You will need to consider your climate, so ask around locally as to what breeds are being raised by other farmers.

There are hundreds of breeds of sheep, but some of the most popular are listed here.

Dual-purpose (meat and wool):

  • Corriedale
  • Dorset
  • Polypay
  • Tunis
  • Columbia


  • Hampshire
  • Katahdin
  • Romney
  • Suffolk

Buying Sheep

Make sure that you purchase sheep directly from the person who raised them. Look at the flock the sheep comes from. Talk with the farmer about the sheep’s history.

Check the sheep’s physical condition: eyes should be clear and bright; teeth should not be worn or missing. The lower jaw must not be undershot or overshot. Check the head and neck for lumps or swelling, which may mean an untreated worm infestation or abscess. The sheep’s hooves should be trimmed properly and the sheep should not be limping (make sure other sheep in the flock are not limping either, because this may mean they have foot rot, which can infect your sheep).

The sheep should have a wide back and deep body and not be too thin or too fat. Potbellies indicate worm infestation. If buying an adult ewe, make sure the udders are healthy and not lumpy (which can indicate mastitis and can damage her milk production for future lambs).

Care and Feeding of Sheep

You can use a characteristic of sheep to your advantage. They love grain, peanuts and apples. Be careful not to make sheep think you are chasing them. They have only one defense against predators or danger: to bunch together and run to escape. So you must learn how to get the sheep to come to you, because if you try to drive them into, say, a barn or other enclosure, they will feel trapped and avoid going in. Lure them in with their favorite treats, coaxing them to follow you.

Sheep are ruminants, meaning they eat plants like fresh grass and hay. Their main feed is pasture grasses, salt, a vitamin and mineral supplement, and fresh water. While the pasture grass is growing, they can feed themselves. If there is a drought, or in winter, you will need to supplement their diet with hay and/or grain. Use a feeder rather than putting the hay on the ground where it will get wet and dirty.

Sheep need salt – it can be granulated or loose. Never use a salt block.

Fencing and Shelter for Sheep

The best type of fence for sheep is a smooth-wire electric or woven wire fencing (not electric). You can also use electric net fencing for temporary paddocks. Rotating sheep into different paddocks keeps them on fresh pasture.

Sheep don’t need much protection – they prefer to have a simple, south-facing, three-sided shed to protect them from the worst of the rain, cold, snow and wind. Using a light, portable shed allows you to move it to their current paddock. Its size should be 15 to 20 square feet per adult sheep.

Tips for Cow Rearing

Cow Rearing
Livestock and cow rearing are closely related each other for improvement and development of agricultural sector. It is said that marital development of a nation depends on how much milk they can take. Today Agriculture has developed in those places of the world where milk production and their uses have been established as industry. In our country, cow rearing is being established almost as an industry. There are five types of improved cow breed. These are Holstein Friesian, Jersey, Sahiwal, Shindhi, Red Chittagong etc. The production efficiency of these breeds is almost good and their production efficiency will be increased if they are reared and bred in a scientific method.
Housing for Cow
Housing of cow is called cow barn. In our country, cow is reared by keeping in cow barn. Cow barn should be built up on high and dry place so that faces can properly be cleaned out and the barn become dry. Cow barn should be built up in such a way that lighting and proper ventilation will be available and rain water, temperature, humidity etc. can be controlled. Cow barn must be the safe shelter for cow. Cow barn should be larger in size. In every cow barn, feed and separately water should be managed.
Caring for Cow
The objective of caring for cows is to keep them for more efficient. During pregnancy, parturition and milking, care should be given with special importance. Special emphasis should be given on regular washing, dehorning, hoof trimming of cows etc. This caring keeps the cow healthy and affects the production performance. During pregnancy, special care should be taken because the calf is growing inside the body of cow. In this time, cow should be provided sufficient amount of concentrates. Before and during of parturition, care should be provided to cows by keeping them in separate place. Cows are kept in a flat area. During pregnancy and parturition, proper care should be provided to cow. Fetus may be damaged if careless during pregnancy. Moreover, cow may lose the breeding and pregnancy ability. Cow should be observed for 2-3 hours in a quiet environment during showing symptoms of parturition. If the parturition is not going smoothly, it is worth calling a veterinary doctor. Colostrums must be provided to calf for increasing disease prevention ability and helping the calf growing properly. Cow gives colostrums for 5-7 days and after that gives milk. During milking, keep the cows free from any excitement and milking should be performed quickly. Another objective of cow rearing is to keep cow free from any insects and flies.
Feeding of Cow
Quality feed is necessary for cow’s body growth, development and repairing of cells and tissues, heat and energy production, fat storage, milk and meat production, achieving breeding ability, fetal development during pregnancy, etc. Special importance should be given on adequacy of carbohydrate, protein and fat during feed supply, because all kinds of feed nutrient are very important for cow’s body growth. To meet up the animals’ requirement, all kinds of nutrients have to be available in mixed feed with sufficient quantity and properly balanced. So, balanced feed is required for cow for their complete development and production. Generally, cow’s feed can be classified in to three groups, such as Roughages, concentrates and feed additives. Roughage includes mainly straw, green grass, tree leaves, hay, silage etc. Concentrate includes mainly cereal grains, wheat bran, rice polish, oil cake etc. Besides, bone meal, various vitamins –mineral premix is included in vitamin and mineral. The feeds have to be collected according to requirement and supplied to the cow. The amount of feed required to supply cow can be calculated by Thumb-rule method. Such as-
  1. Daily straw and green grass has to be provided to cow that how much it can intake a day.
  2. 1.5 kg concentrates have to be provided to cow for its body maintenance and 0.5 kg concentrates have to be provided along with straw and green grass daily for 1.0 liter milk production.
  3. 40-50g bone meal and 100-120g common salt will need to be provided.
  4. Moreover, clean, organism free feed and drinking water has to be provided to dairy cow.
Hygienic Rearing of Cows and Disease Prevention:
Hygienic rearing may be defined as the hygienic means which have been followed for livestock production. This are-
  1. To facilitate lighting and ventilation during house making and protect disaster.
  2. To keep feeder and drinker neat and clean.
  3. To avoid rotten, stale and dirty feed and water.
  4. To provide always fresh feed and water.
  5. To follow the microorganisms free method during breeding and parturition.
  6. To drain out faces and urine quickly.
  7. To separate sick cow and dispose dead cow.
  8. To follow deworming practice regularly.
  9. To apply vaccination program against the infectious disease etc.
Regular Observation of Cow and Treatment:
Sick animal can be identified by regular observation. Regular vaccination program is applied to cows for preventing different diseases. Cow may be affected by black quarter, anthrax, foot and mouth disease, goiter, rinderpest, mastitis, parasites etc. It is wise to take advice from a Veterinary doctor if any disease outbreaks.

Tips for Managing Dairy Cows in Cold Weather

Winter can be a rough time for the milking herd. There can be freezing rain, snow, wind chill, very cold temperatures, warm ups, then cold temperatures again. All of these conditions can take a toll on the dairy cow and milk production.

However, dairy cows will do quite well in cold temperatures if they are dry, protected from wind, and properly fed and watered. According to Neil Broadwater, Regional Extension Educator for Livestock, here are some reminders for dairy producers in taking care of their milking herd during very cold weather:

  • Water. Dairy cows need water, or they won’t eat, which will affect the cow’s health and milk production. Be sure waterers or water tanks are not frozen. Cows can draw water at a rate of 3 to 5 gallons per minute, so the water supply and system needs to keep up with demand. Don’t allow the water to get too hot or cold. The best temperature for drinkable water is between 40 degrees and 65 degrees F.

Use a thermometer to check waterers with heaters to detect whether or not a heating element is working properly. Even a small limitation in water intake will decrease dry matter intake by 1-2 pounds daily which could limit peak milk production by 2-5 pounds. Lactating dairy cows require 4.5-5 pounds of water (includes both drinking water and moisture in the consumed ration) per pound of milk produced.

  • Feed. A dairy cow’s need for nutrients goes up as the temperature drops and winter winds increase. Watch body condition. Cows in less than moderate condition will find it much harder to stay warm. Their energy requirements will be higher. Under diverse environmental conditions, it is critical that dietary energy be adjusted. Producers should ask their feed consultant to calculate a “standby” ration for the dairy herd that can be mixed and fed during those extremely cold weather days. Keep on hand in a convenient location for easy reference for those days when this ration is needed.
  • Managing Wind Chill. Wind speeds of 5 mph or less or temperatures as low as -20 degrees F can be tolerated. On the other hand, with extremely high winds (35 mph) and temperatures as high as 15 degrees F, wind chill could be a problem.

Therefore, any time cows exit a parlor into wind chill conditions of -25 degrees F or lower, preventive steps need to be taken to prevent frostbite even when the teat is dry. Protection from winds around parlor exits and feed bunks located outside buildings should be provided.

  • Free-Stall Ventilation. Do not close eave inlets during cold weather. This will restrict the ventilating rate and create wet, damp conditions and lead to respiratory health problems in the cows. Wet, damp conditions will be evidenced by fog, condensation or frost on building surfaces, and high humidity. During severe cold weather and blizzard conditions, eave inlets can be partially closed to reduce airflow and the amount of snow blowing into the barn. The guideline is to have a minimum inlet opening during severe cold weather of one-half inch for each 10 ft of building width. When normal winter weather returns, eave inlets should be reopened to the standard one inch per 10 feet on both sides of the building.
  • Stall Barn Ventilation. Proper maintenance of barn wall fans is important for good ventilation. Keep all fans, shutters, and other equipment clean and properly lubricated. Adjust and replace belts as required. Even during the coldest of temperatures, for stall barn ventilation to work properly, fresh air inlets must still allow air into the barn to replace “old” air being removed. Extension Ag. Engineers recommend four air exchanges per hour for enclosed environments during the winter.
  • Prevent Drafts. Cows need a dry, draft-free resting area. Check for drafts near doors, windows, and haymow openings if housing the herd in a stall barn. In free-stall barns, drafty conditions at cow level can be reduced by patching curtain holes, minimizing gaps at the ends of curtains, and sealing around doors to eliminate small gaps where the wind blows through.
  • Teat Dip during cold weather? Research shows that consistent use of an effective teat dip is a very important mastitis control procedure. Having dry teats when the cow leaves the parlor is extremely important during cold weather. Omitting teat dipping does not assure that teats are dry.

Dairy scientists suggest that in severe cold, even the thin milk film should be dried before the cow is turned out of the parlor. Instead of not teat dipping, teat dip using a 30-second contact time and then wipe teats dry. This procedure does add a few additional seconds per cow during each milking. However, the benefits of teat dipping in the reduction of intramammary infection can continue to be realized.

Teat irritations, such as chapping or cracking of the teat skin can inhibit milk let-down which, in turn, reduces milk production and can cause an increase in mastitis. Teat dip before and after milking with a dip that disinfects and conditions skin.

Use germicidal dips that contain from 5 to 12 percent skin conditioners or the skin-conditioning equivalent. Teat washing with water in cold weather should be avoided because it removes the skin’s natural oils and washing and drying can be abrasive.

If a dairyman desires to not teat dip, then it is even more important to pay extra attention to bedding, housing cleanliness and thorough drying of teats.

  • Bedding. Ample amounts of bedding material should be placed in free-stalls. It is important to have good, dry bedding. Cows who are kept dry have a better chance of staying comfortable than those who stay wet during cold spells.
  • Semen. Cold weather increases the danger of cold shocking of semen. Cold shock causes loss of motility, sperm metabolic activity and fertilizing ability of sperm. Cold shock occurs when semen is thawed and then subjected to cool or cold environmental temperatures before reaching the cow.

Inseminate the cow within minutes after semen has been thawed. The period of time between straw removal from liquid nitrogen and semen deposition in the cow should be as short as possible. If at all possible semen should be thawed and handled in a warm room or at least inside out of cold or subfreezing weather.

Six Tips for Safely Handling Raw Milk

1. Clean it- Before sitting down on my stool to milk, I wipe off Miss Oakley’s udder with a hot, wet towel. She likes to lay in the mud, so sometimes it takes a bit of elbow grease to get her teats clean and pink again. Some folks use bleach to wash their cow’s udder, but I can’t stand that stuff, so hot water is good enough for me.

raw milk safety

After washing her down, I spray the first 2-3 squirts of milk from each teat onto the ground (Some folks prefer to spray it into a small cup). The reason for this is to flush out any bacteria or dirt that may be in the tip of the teat.

2. Contain it- Next, I grab my stainless steel milk bucket. The type of container you use to store your raw milk is very important. Plastic is a big no-no for me, since it’s very difficult to properly clean, AND it tends to hold onto off-smells and tastes. You don’t want to bring a glass container out into the barn, since it will shatter the first time your cow (or goat) gets fidgety.

Stainless steel buckets can be a little spendy, but trust me, they are worth the investment. They are easy to sanitize, and will survive lots of kicks from a persnickety cow. And make sure you get one with a lid– my lid has saved my milk many times from curious dogs/cats, and dust/dirt/poop/hay that is perpetually floating in barn air.

3. Strain it- It’s never fun to take a big gulp of fresh milk and end up with a hair in your mouth, so always strain your fresh milk ASAP. Floaties WILL happen, no matter how hard to try to prevent it while you are milking…

How big of a floatie is too big? There are some days when it’s just better to throw in the towel and donate your milk to the chickens or pigs… I’m usually fine with a couple bits of hay or a random hair, but if you get a big clod of manure floating in your bucket, it’s best to just skip bringing it into the house that day… Bonus: your chickens will love you forever.

4. Cool it– It’s important to get your fresh milk as cold as you can as fast as possible (40 degrees F is ideal). Some folks put a small, reusable ice pack in the bottom of their bucket to cool it as it comes out of the cow or goat. I personally haven’t found that to be necessary, but I do bring my bucket inside right away and get it strained, and into the fridge.

Rapid cooling of the milk prevents the bacteria count from rising, and it keeps the milk tasting better, longer. However, keep in mind that once raw milk has naturally soured, it’s still good and can be used for lots of other stuff.

5. Store it- Only store your milk in glass containers- never plastic. I get my one-gallon jars from Azure Standard (or save big pickle jars- just be sure to wash them thoroughly.)

Place your jars of raw milk towards the back of the refrigerator (avoid the door, since that area tends to be warmer.) If you have home dairy animals, you’ll find that your raw milk jars fill up your fridge rather quickly. So, you might want to keep your eyes open for small, dorm-size fridges at yard sales.

6. Sanitize it– Cleaning your home dairy equipment thoroughly is a MUST. After I pour my milk into the jars, I immediately run cool (not hot) water over my bucket and filter to wash off the milk solids which can cause build-up if allowed to dry.

I don’t use bleach to wash my equipment (have I mentioned that I hate bleach?), but I do like to run everything through my dishwasher which sanitizes the equipment. If you don’t have a dishwasher, you may hand wash it with a bit of soap and very hot water.

Allow each piece of equipment to air-dry. Don’t dry anything off with a towel, as this can transfer any bacteria that might be hanging out on your dish towel onto your milking equipment. Make sure everything is completely dry before replacing lids.

So, there you have it. My routine is nothing fancy, but it has ensured that our milk has stayed great-tasting so far.

10 Puppy Training Tips

Dogs are pack animals and will naturally look for a pack leader. Your puppy will be looking to you for guidance from the moment you arrive home. Start puppy training with simple commands from the moment you arrive home.

  1. Dedicate training time with your puppy every day.
  2. Your puppy is looking at your reactions and listening to the tone of your voice. So keep your commandments consistent when interacting with your pet. Whether you mean it or not, you are constantly teaching your puppy.
  3. Pick your training times carefully. The best time for training is when your dog has a high state of alertness like anticipating food or playing.
  4. Dogs respond to body language and tones so use hand signals and tone of voice to help your dog learn and respond to commands.
  5. Keep your puppy safe. When you start out, use a training lead so your puppy can’t run away.
  6. Like a child, your puppy may have a short attention span. Use many short training sessions (5-10 minutes) throughout the day to keep them interested.
  7. Use short (one word) commands like “Sit” or “Down.” This is less confusing for your puppy. Check out our Basic Commandments page for more information.
  8. Always use your puppy’s name to get their attention before you give them a command. Remember don’t use the dog’s name in place of a command. For example if you want your pet to come to you, ‘Rover!’ is not the same as giving them the clear command of ‘Rover! – Come!’
  9. Use every opportunity you can to train and bond with your puppy.
  10. Never physically punish your dog or lose your temper.

About the Farm Market

The Round Barn Farm also has it’s place in the history of Adams County and the fruit industry. In 1878 Noah Sheely planted the first large commercial apple acreage of 2,000 trees on what is now know as the Round Barn Farm. Word has it that his neighbors thought him somewhat foolish until the orchard began paying off. His most notable sale was negotiated at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The deal was for the shipment of 1,500 three-bushel barrels of apples for, $1.50 a barrel to a Chicago based company. As Sheely’s success continued, more and more farmers began to plant fruit trees, leading to the industry for which Adams County is famous.

In 1963, Lt. Col. John S. Linn, Sr., retired from the Air Force and, as the only living heir, took over the operation of the farm from his uncles, Daniel and Robert Sheely. Linn introduced beef cattle to the farm, which grew to 147 head when he was later joined by his son, John S. (Mike) Linn. It was Mike and his wife, Carolyn, who later turned the Round Barn into a successful farm market and pick your-own operation.

In 1985, the Knouse family, operating as Knouse Fruitlands, Inc., purchased the Round Barn farm from the Linn family, who had closed the farm market operation a number of years earlier. The barns original slate roof was in disrepair and was replaced with cedar shakes. Additional extensive repairs and renovations had to be undertaken to prevent the barn from becoming extinct. Also, substantial effort was needed to bring the orchards back into commercial production. Finally, in 1993, getting our “feet wet” in the retail business, the farm market was open the first two weekends in October, during the National Apple Harvest Festival, which is held nearby. Encouraged by this first experience, the Farm Market has been in operation from early summer through fall since 1994. Our family is enthusiastic about the continual development of the market to it’s full potential.

Today, the Historic Round Barn and Farm Market lies nestled in the beautiful foothills of Pennsylvania, just 8 miles west of Gettysburg off U.S. Route 30. We pride ourselves in offering a wide selection of high quality “own grown” and locally grown fruits and vegetables in season. We grow and have available in the fall one of the largest selections of apple varieties in the area……..fresh-squeezed apple cider too!! Fall also brings pumpkins, gourds, indian corn and other colorful offerings to the market. We also offer many interesting food, decorative and gift items that fill the shelves as they curve their way around the interior of the barn.

Barn Fact

Why are barns redish?
A Ferric oxide (rust), a primary component of red paint, is inexpensive and this appealed to the thrifty farmers of New England and New York State. Red is the predominant barn color in that region. Natives of these areas were the early settlers of the Great Lakes states migrating there via the Erie Canal and the Lakes. This red barn tradition may also be true in central and northern Wisconsin and Minnesota.

round barn

A Barn is a building that is constructed on agricultural land for storage purposes, such as to store livestock and farming vehicles and other farming equipment. There are different types of barns, namely horse barns, pole barns, etc. Centuries ago, European farmers would seal the wood on their barns with an oil, often linseed oil, a tawny colored oil extracted from the seed of the flax plant. They would paint their barns with a linseed-oil mixture, often consisting of additions such as milk and lime. The combination produced a long-lasting paint that dried and hardened quickly. Now, where does the red come from?

In times, when the ready made paints were not available; they made their own red paint by mixing ferrous oxide to the traditional mix of ingredients that acts as a preservative; lime, linseed oil and milk to create their own version of red paint. That is how the color red was discovered for the olden barns. This red wasn’t the bright red though, it had more of a burnt orange color because of the ferrous oxide, which is nothing but rust.

But white barns are the norm in Pennsylvania, central Maryland, and the Shenandoah Valley, and those in the Corn Belt states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa. The later states are directly in the path of early Pennsylvania/Maryland migration along the National Road (I-70 today).

White barns became popular with the beginning of commercial dairying (as contrasted with subsistence farming) that began with urbanization and the availability of rail transport after the Civil War. General belief is that white suggests the idea of cleanliness and purity—both good associations for milk. Maybe this was the period when farmers began to annually whitewash interior stable walls and it was a natural progression to transfer white to the exterior.

Although most barns have either red, white or weathered exteriors, other colors were used especially at “show farms” that raised horses or purebred livestock. The Hanover farms in Pennsylvania were yellow, green is found in the Virginia horse country, and black in Kentucky’s Bluegrass.

Dutch Barn HistoryBuilt in large numbers between 1630 and 1825, New World Dutch barns served as all-purpose working farm buildings in a region dominated by grain farming.

These buildings represented the center of historic farm activity during this period, providing housing for farm animals, a facility for threshing grain, and storage for both hay and grain. Although rapidly disappearing from the rural landscape, a few hundred Dutch barns survive in the area roughly corresponding to the seventeenth century Colony of New Netherland.

Why are some barns round?
Round barns date to the late 18th and early 19th century. George Washington owned a sixteen-sided threshing barn that he designed himself in 1793. Built at his Dogue Run Farm in Fairfax County, Virginia[4] it is regarded as the first American round barn. Early round barns were particularly associated with the Shaker community,[1][5] one was constructed in 1826 at just such a community in Hancock, Massachusetts. Outside of Hancock and Mount Vernon, a few scattered round barns appeared on the American landscape before the Civil War.

Despite considerable publicity of the 1826 round barn in Massachusetts, the design was not popularized until the 1880s. During this time period agricultural colleges began to push the design as they taught progressive farming methods, based on the principles of industrial efficiency. It was from 1880–1920 that round barns began were the most popular in the United States, especially in the Midwest.

The rise in popularity and the promotion of round barns occurred surrounding the new focus on efficiency. The circular shape has a greater volume-to-surface ratio than a square shaped barn. Regardless of size, this made round barns cheaper to construct than similar sized square or rectangular barns because they required less materials. The structural stability is also enhanced over that of a typical quadrilaterally shaped barn. Simplified construction lacking elaborate truss systems for the arched roof was also seen as an advantage. In the Midwest, particularly, the buildings were thought more resilient against prairie thunderstorms. The interior layout of round barns was, at the time, promoted as more efficient, since farmers could work in a continuous direction.[1] In the days before mechanization, labor-saving features were a big selling point.

The interest in round barns spread to California in the later 19th century and a number were built there. Santa Rosa, California is home to two well-preserved and well-known round barns.[6] One, the Fountain Grove Round Barn, is located on land that was part of the Fountain Grove spiritual commune, the Brotherhood of New Life, founded by Thomas Lake Harris around 1875. Built near the end of the 19th century, it was part of the Fountaingrove winery owned by Harris’s protege, Kanawe Nagasawa, who reportedly designed the structure. Another survivor is the De Turk Round Barn on Donahue Street, and was built in the late 1870s by local settler and businessman Isaac De Turk.

Claims of round barn efficiency were overstated. The round barn never caught on as a standard barn, as some of those pushing the progressive, efficiency-based agricultural methods had hoped. The spread of machinery, especially with the Rural Electrification program, eliminated the advantages of labor-saving designs that were more complicated to build, and the popularity of round barns faded. Regardless, numerous round barns were constructed during the period of popularity the design enjoyed, and a large number still stand today.

Barn History

Only a handful of round barns survive today, and so few remain that they are considered “an endangered species” and are registered with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Most round barns were built between 1900 and 1920, primarily in the Northeast and then the Midwest. The Shakers, who built the first round barn, believed the circle to be the most perfect shape (the devil couldn’t trap you in the corner).

There are two distinct shapes of round barns: the polygonal barn, which consists of five or more equal sides and the truly round barn, which is also known as the “barrel barn”. One example of the barrel barn is still very much alive and well in Adams County, Pennsylvania, and is well-known as one of the counties special landmarks. The Historic Round Barn, a spectacular structure, was built in 1914 by the Noah Sheely family.

Having lost there conventional barn to fire, the Sheelys needed a new barn. As the family was well-known at the time for being innovative, it followed that son Daniel, who had seen a round barn near Hershey, Pennsylvania, convinced his father and brother that a round barn is what they needed. They wrote to the Illinois Agriculture Experiment Station for information and hired an architect, Morris Rhodes, from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania to do the design.

It is an awesome sight to stand on the top floor of the barn and gaze up and up and up to view the incredible skeletal structure of the roof. What is even more amazing is realizing that when the barn was built there were no high-tech, high-powered machines — just ingenuity and manpower. In fact, the builder, John Fritz of nearby Cashtown, one of Adams County’s best builders, armed only with his trusty saw, axe, and square, bicycled the five miles from his home each morning to work on the round barn construction project. Mr. Fritz was assisted by Bob Mickley, a widely known “mechanic”, plus some laborers.

This was no ordinary “barn raising”! Two hundred and fifty barrels of cement were poured to form the foundation and first floor. Large hemlocks, chestnuts, oaks, and pines were felled on the farms woodlands and sawed on the farm’s sawmill. The logs were then hauled by mule-drawn wagons over the mountain to Chambersburg where they were finished and then brought back to the farm.

The circumference of the barn is 282 feet, with a diameter of over 87 feet. As was characteristic of round barns, the barn was constructed around a central silo measuring 60 feet high and 12 feet wide, with storage capacity of 145 tons of silage. The silo acts as the “hub” of a wheel, with 38 “spokes” that form the interior structure and support for the second floor. All but one of the “spokes” are single lengths of wood — each nearly 37 feet long!! The barn as it was originally

Attracting Turkeys to Your Backyard

Attracting Turkeys to Your BackyardOne of the great advantages of living in rural Kansas is the opportunity to see wildlife up-close and personal.

At this time of year, many of us find ourselves thinking about turkey.  While spring is probably the best time to see turkeys in Kansas, since they are abundant and rather noisy, these big birds are still present and visible in the fall.

If you want to increase your chances of viewing wild turkeys, there are two things you can do:

  1. Provide shelter.  While turkeys don’t mind coming out into the open to feed, they still need safe places to hide and trees to roost in at night.  Leaving a stand of trees and brush somewhere on your property next to a grassy field can provide wild turkeys with all of the shelter they need.
  2. Provide food.  Turkeys are often seen foraging for waste grain in the fall.  If you raise field crops, you probably have all you need to attract wild turkeys.  If not, you can plant a small food plot just for the turkeys.  Turkeys will also come to low platform feeders stocked with scratch grains for chickens, but can become territorial if the feeders are kept filled into the spring.

However, many lucky Kansans living in more rural areas, particularly where cash crops are grown, don’t need to take action to attract wild turkeys.  If a varied habitat is available, including brushy shelter, open grasslands, fields of grain, and a source of water, turkeys will often show up voluntarily in both spring and fall.

Why Did People Build Round Barns?

Why Did People Build Round Barns?
Raymond Brinkman barn near Stillwell, Kansas

If you have ventured out on some of the scenic back roads of Kansas, you have probably seen quite a few old barns—simple barns, ornate barns, wood barns, stone barns…and round barns.

Round barns aren’t always round.  Many times they have eight, twelve, or sixteen sides.  One old barn in eastern Kansas had twenty-four sides!  Only a few barns are considered “true circular.”

Why build a round barn?  Many people believed that round barns were efficient in a number of ways:

  • The round barn had a greater volume-to-surface ratio than a rectangular barn.
  • The Kansas State Board of Agriculture estimated a 34% to 58% savings in cost of materials compared to a rectangular barn.
  • The open floor gave farmers space to work without having to dodge the posts supporting the building.
  • Farmers could also work in a continuous direction.
  • Feed was often stored in the center of the barn, making it easy to distribute to the stalls.
  • Stalls were wedge-shaped, which actually fits quite well with the natural shape of cattle.

But efficiency was just one of the reasons some farmers built round barns.  Many people believed that round barns were stronger and could better withstand severe weather.  Others thought that the design stayed warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.

Were all of these advantages true, or were they just propaganda concocted by the early promoters of the design?  Many of the reasons for building round barns actually had some basis in mathematical fact, such as the volume-to-surface ratio.  Others were borne out in practice, such as the ability of round barns to stand up in storms and tornadoes while their rectangular neighbors were destroyed.

Often, however, the efficiency of the barn simply depended on its design and construction.  The Fromme-Birney round barn near Mullinville, Kansas, cost several thousand dollars more than a typical barn of its era, and some round barns are decidedly inefficient in maintaining a relatively stable temperature.  Sometimes the architects were a little overambitious and built huge barns that were dark and poorly ventilated, not to mention wastes of space.  Furthermore, there were disadvantages to storing feeds such as silage in the middle of the building because of the toxic fumes.

An estimated 41 round barns were built in Kansas.  Unfortunately, many of these have been lost to storms, fires, and old age.  Over half are still believed to exist, although it is difficult to say because so many are privately owned.  Of the survivors, the Fromme-Birney barn is probably the best known.

Efficiency of the Round Barn

From the Kansas State Board of Agriculture, Eighteenth Biennial Report, 1911-1912, pgs. 139-142.

The round barn, which a half score of years ago was derided and scoffed at, is rapidly gaining in popularity on account of its all-around utility and adaptability to practically every line of farming from exclusive grain production to general live-stock farming. When a country man is convinced that he can save from thirty-four to fifty-eight per cent of the cost of a rectangular barn by constructing a round barn of quite similar area he usually becomes decidedly enthusiastic about this unique building, other things being equal. Great credit is owing to the Illinois agricultural college for its commendable and, in the main, successful efforts in popularizing the round barn. Especially in the dairy districts of northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin has the round barn met with particular favor, as the fact that it permits of having the silo centrally located and in this way minimizes feeding labor strongly appeals to the overworked mild farmer.

Probably one of the most active opponents of the round barn is community custom, which in certain districts has favored the erection of one special type of barn to the exclusion of all others; square, rectangular, pentagonal, and even octagonal-shaped structures for the accommodation of the farm animals, and the housing of the grain and roughage have been the result. In barn building as in farming the general country man is much more willing to follow custom than to attempt to deviate from locality dictate and to build a barn which would be an innovation for his district. However, this lack of inclination to adopt a new idea simply because it is new is gradually being overruled; all that is necessary to popularize the round barn in certain neighborhoods is to have one farmer build a practical structure of this character and if it proves a success in less than no time all the farmers there about are talking round barn.

The Illinois authorities have conducted innumerable tests pertaining to the efficiency of the round barn; they have built two of these barns on the grounds of the college farm, and for several years have utilized them with great success as quarters for live stock and to provide storage room for grain and hay. The results of their detailed investigations show that the circular structure is much stronger; that the rectangular form requires twenty-two percent more wall and foundation to enclose the same space; and that the cost of material is from thirty-four to fifty-eight per cent more for the rectangular building. The round barn offers greater convenience in storing, handling and distributing the feed while much greater strength is secured with less lumber than is possible in the case of the rectangular building.

In the early days when lumber was dirt cheap it was only natural that the rectangular structure should predominate in popular opinion but nowadays when timber is scarce and therefore expensive the country man is gradually being forced into accepting the circular barn on account of the fact that it can be built at so pronounced a saving in material. The noteworthy point about this matter is that once a farmer owns and uses a round barn he will never thereafter be satisfied with any other building. The trouble with most round barns which have been constructed in the past is that they were not provided with self-supporting roofs. They usually were equipped with straight roofs, which necessitated numerous supports in the barn below, and were both costly and inconvenient. The dome-shaped, self-supporting roof in use to-day does away with these defects, and in addition nearly doubles the capacity of the mow.

Another objection to the round barn where the owner does not carefully study the proposition before building, is that he is liable to build a structure of too great a diameter and as a result have lots of waste space in the building. Circular barns ranging from sixty to ninety feet in diameter are very practical; they will accommodate as many as one hundred dairy cows with space to spare. However, when one builds a barn of greater diameter his wisdom is to be questioned because with round barns large enough for two or more rows of cows, the row headed out does not utilize the space as economically as in the case of the rectangular barn, as a cow needs more width at the rear of the platform than at the manger. Where there are two rows of cows, the inner row is usually headed out, and as only about one-third of the cows are in this row, this loss of space is counterbalanced by the large number of cows in the outer circle using the space more economically than they do in the rectangular barn.

Naturally a round barn can not be so readily enlarged as one of rectangular construction, but this difficulty is overcome by the fact that the circular structure may be built higher to the eaves, thus allowing for an extensive growth in the size of the herd by providing for stables in the second story should the occasion for a larger barn arise. This plan also provides sufficient room for the hay mows and granary on the second floor. The popular supposition that a round barn is difficult to light is erroneous, in a circular barn and during the winter the sun can directly shine into some portion of the stable at all hours of the day. A final objection that a rectangular object can not be placed in a circle without a waste of space in no way applies to the circular dairy barn, as the storage of hay and grain depends upon cubical content of the building irrespective of its shape.

The essential advantages of the round barn are convenience, strength, and cheapness, as was previously mentioned. Either a wooden, brick, or concrete silo is constructed in the center of the barn, as in this position it is of material importance as a support to the roof and in addition its central location minimizes the labor involved in feeding the succulent silage to the dairy matrons. Hay and grain may be fed quite as easily as the ensilage by arranging the grain and hay chutes so that they terminate near the silo in the central feeding alley in the basement. One practical dairyman who owns a round barn elevates his grain to the bins which are located near the top of the structure, by means of machinery; by gravity the grain slides through chutes to the second floor, where it passes through a feed grinder; hence to the basement stable, where with little labor it is fed to the stock.

A second advantage is contained in the large unobstructed hay mow, where the self-supporting roof is employed. The hay carrier runs on a circular track located midway between the silo and the outside wall of the barn and permits of depositing the forkful of roughage at the desired point; the man in the mow never has to move more than a few feet at a time in moving away the hay in ship-shape fashion; this means another saving in labor. A third good point in the round barn is that in case a Gurler silo is built in the center of the building it is unnecessary to board it up on the outside, and on this account quite a savings in the gross cost of the silo is possible. The circular construction is by all odds the stronger, as it takes advantage of the lineal instead of the breaking strength of the lumber; each row of boards running around the barn really acts as a hoop to hold the structure together; the real strain comes on these hoops in the lineal direction, where the maximum strength lies.

In case the lumber is properly placed in a round barn much of it will perform two or more functions, as every row of siding boards surrounding the framework serves also as a brake; the same is true of the roof boards and the arched rafters. If the siding is put on vertically, and the roof built dome-shaped, no scaffolding is required inside or outside. In order to infallibly impress the country man with the efficiency of the round barn the Illinois Agricultural College made a careful study of the proportional expenses involved in the construction of circular barns of different diameters as compared with correspondingly dimensioned rectangular buildings of both plank frame and mortise frame construction. Their results were somewhat as follows: The lumber for a round barn sixty feet in diameter with a cubical content of 117,669 feet cost $799.76, while the bill of material for a rectangular structure 36 feet wide and 78 ½ feet long, with a cubical content of 117,138 feet, amounted to $1023.27 where plank frame construction was employed, while it came to $1233.41 where mortise frame construction was employed, while it came to $1628.48 for the lumber, while the rectangular form with a cubical content of 270,570 feet necessitated the use of $2007.67 worth of material where the plank frame construction was used and $2497.56 worth of lumber where the mortise frame method was followed.

The Fromme-Birney “Round” Barn

In 1912, Henry W. Fromme, a German immigrant, hired William “Pat” Campbell, a local carpenter, to build a large round barn to house 28 draft horses and a box stall for the registered Percheron stallion which he imported from France.  Round barns were promoted as being more wind resistant, efficient use of space, and took less lumber to construct the same volume of space.  The estimated cost was $8,000, which was several thousand dollars higher than that of other barns of the time.

Soon after construction the tractor replaced the horse as the farm power source and the barn was obsolete.  It was later used for hay storage.  In the 1980’s Phyllis Birney received the barn and one acre of land from her husband Lawrence as a 15th wedding anniversary gift.  Through her efforts, in 1987 the barn became listed as the Fromme-Birney “Round” Barn on the National Register of Historic Places for its architectural significance.


 The Fromme-Birney “Round” Barn prior to the restoration
Not actually round, but sixteen sided, the barn stands 50 ft. tall and 70 ft. in diameter.  It is covered with a double pitch, dome-shaped roof that is topped with a sixteen sided cupola with an elaborate 6 1/2 foot weather vane.  Almost 2,000 pattern imprinted galvanized metal “hip shingles” covered the ridges where the sixteen sides of the roof come together.

A sixteen sided granary stands in the center of the barn on the first floor, and measures sixteen feet across.  A wagon area measuring thirteen feet wide encircles the granary.  Fourteen trapezoidal stalls measuring fourteen feet in length and fourteen feet at their widest part line the exterior wall on the first floor.  The two level haymow is covered with tongue in groove pine boards.

Original color was white with a green roof.  The barn stands out from miles around and served as a landmark for training WWII bomber navigators.  Visitors are welcome.  The barn is located 3.5 miles south and 1.75 miles west of Mullinville, KS.  Displays inside include pictures and stories of round barns of the United States, farm machinery and farm life of 1912, and information on the builders.

Phyllis Birney gave the barn to the Kiowa County Historical Society in 1993 and it has since been restored to original exterior condition with the help of many individual donors and a Heritage Trust Fund Grant from the Kansas State Historical Preservation Office.  The weather vane is a work of art. Although you cannot see the details from the ground, each of the 2,000 metal roof hip shingles were imprinted with the same floral pattern as the originals.  The haymow and interior were restored in memory of Moritz Fromme, son of the original owner.

Open daily, no admission fee but donations are gladly accepted.  For rentals contact the Norval Ralstin 620-635-6360.


The Fromme-Birney “Round” barn after restoration

Dealing With Cobwebs and Spiders at the Barn

While I understand that some of us view cobwebs as a great way to help control flies in the barn, it’s at the risk of spreading a barn fire.  Cobwebs are SUPER at moving fires from one stall to the next, and when they fall from the ceilings and rafters they can ignite more fire starting materials in the stalls (bedding and hay and any wood).  Not so awesome.  Fly control is a multi pronged effort, and if you practice good fly control on your farm the presence of spiders and cobwebs in the barn won’t make a difference.



Most spiders that live in barns pose little risk to horses, humans, and barn critters.  Black Widows and Brown Recluse spiders have a reputation of being dangerous, but you must take into account a zillion different factors, including:

  • Species of spider.  Widows and Brown Recluse spiders have multiple species in the US, some are more dangerous than others.   Also, there are many species of spiders that are virtually identical to the Brown Recluse that you need to examine their tiny, tiny eyes.
  • Did the spider break the skin?  Many spiders can’t bite through skin, much less the hair of a horse, cat, or dog.
  • What’s your medical history?  Elderly and young people are more likely to have a reaction to a spider bite.
  • How did you, your horse, or barn dog/cat come into contact with a spider?  Widows and Brown Recluse spiders like to hide, in dark and undisturbed places.  Most only bite when pressed, so if you have a stack of blankets in the back of your tack room, do some laundry before you use them for the season.

If you suspect a spider bite on you, your horse, your barn cat or dog, please call your Doctor or Veterinarian for a check up. Spider bites can cause damage, often taking weeks to heal.  The Brown Recluse spider can cause neurological issues and skin damage in a small percentage of cases.


Easy and inexpensive cobweb clearing tools!

Which brings me back to the whole cobweb thing.  I’m a big fan of minimizing all risks when working around horses, and that includes spreading fires via cobweb and the minor possibility of a bad spider bite and the major possibility of getting totally creeped out if a spider lands on me.  For these reasons, I prefer to remove spider webs and make the barn as unwelcoming to spiders as possible.

  • Clear cobwebs with brooms or a vacuum.  Shop vacs are great for this, as they wheel around and are easy to use.  Your horse vac could work, also, but it’s not as easy to cart around.  Using a broom works, but sometimes you end up with spiders and webs falling.
  • Store your spider friendly stuff (AKA stuff you don’t use a lot) in sealed containers.  Looking for uses for those giant supplement tubs?  There you go.  Keep the bags your horse blankets come in for easy storage in warmer month.
  • It’s believed that some citrus oils and eucalyptus oils work to keep spiders away.
  • Seal off storage areas if you can.  Cabinets work, as does using a caulk around windows and other gaps in your barn, such as the wall to floor junction.  Weather proofing doors helps, too.
  • Add a “spider plan” into your barn and home’s overall pest control plan if you have one.
  • Stay on top of clutter – this is a dream castle for most spiders, especially clutter that you don’t use a lot.

Barn Design Tips: A Place to Call Home

Constructing horse shelters is an art form almost as old as the domestication of the horse itself. Whether considered a member of the household, a sporting partner, or a tool for work, we have always created a “place” for our horses. While today we have a greater variety of materials and equipment available for creating that special horse place than in the past, the principles remain the same: safety, ease of use, and maintenance.

Barn Layout

Caring for horses properly is a lot of work. You might love the smell of the barn and be invigorated by the exercise now, but that might not always be the case. Therefore, careful planning of your barn for efficiency will pay dividends over the years.

Placement of the barn in a convenient, well-drained location, close or adjacent to turnout areas should be your primary consideration. Access for hay, feed, or bedding delivery vehicles is important. Try to put the structure downwind from the house, if that is nearby. Since fungus and mold are enemies of horse health, make sure drainage allows moisture to escape. Utility access for water and electric service will be important as well.

Design the floor plan to minimize the number of steps you will take every day. Often this leads to the traditional center-aisle configuration with stalls and utility spaces on each side under roof, maximizing the useful space, efficiency, and ease of stall care. This design provides every stall a side facing the aisle and a side facing outdoors for access, ventilation, and natural light. Another option includes back-to-back stalls that open to the outside only (often called a shedrow). This arrangement is commonly used at competition barns and racetracks where vehicular access near the stalls is important. If your horse-housing requirement is limited, the stalls can be a single row, often with an extra roof overhang over the side with door openings.

Less-common designs include round barns with a center area for access, and “racehorse-style” barns with back-to-back interior stalls and an aisleway around all four sides of the exterior stall walls.

If you have internal barn aisles, make them straight and wide enough for tractors or pickup trucks. Aisleways and door openings should also be wide enough to allow handlers to safely lead a less-than-attentive or uncooperative animal through. While you might think your horses are easy to lead, consider the behavior of sick, visiting, injured, or frightened animals. The general rule for aisles is to provide 12 feet in width and 10 feet in height, if possible. It is desirable, although not necessary, to be able to drive all the way through the structure and out the other side. Backing a hay wagon in a straight line can be a challenging experience.

Use nonslip floor surfaces and always pitch the floor to drains or toward the outside. There should never be standing water where you will lead a horse. Options for aisles include popcorn asphalt, exposed aggregate concrete, soft or hard paving brick, or Class I sand. Dirt or clay makes a poor aisle material and, along with sand, can cause a dust problem.

Good lighting combined with good housekeeping, especially in traffic areas, increases safety as well. To the extent possible, eliminate or pad sharp edges and corners. Lay out the barn to make traffic patterns as direct as possible.

The Stall

This is the heart of your barn and should be well-thought-out. The 12-foot by 12-foot stalls have evolved as the standard in barn design because they will accommodate all but the largest draft horses. This size will increase the long-term value of the barn by allowing future buyers of your property flexibility of use. Foaling stalls need to be slightly larger. Often this is accomplished by using a removable partition between two standard stalls.

The door to the stall should be four feet wide and eight feet high. Usually sliding doors are used for safety and durability. Latches should be rugged and positioned so the horse cannot scrape against them and injure himself, or fidget with them and escape. Since the horse associates the door with leaving the stall, it tends to receive abuse from kicking or pushing at feed or turnout times. Therefore, it should be designed for this abuse.

Our stall doors at home are field- constructed heavy wood doors with steel grilles on heavy-duty track. We cover the edges of the door with angle iron where the horses tend to chew on the wood. Several manufacturers build high-quality steel stall door and track systems in several price ranges that should also be considered.

Stall flooring is a much-debated subject directly related to your philosophy of horse management and health. Hard floors, such as concrete or asphalt, require the least maintenance, but they can put stress on equine hooves and joints. Drainage can also be a problem, although asphalt can be placed that is sufficiently coarse to allow some moisture to evacuate. The average horse produces 30 pounds of manure and 2.5 gallons of urine per day. The portion of that material that ends up in the stall will be removed by hand in the form of soiled bedding material, or it will soak into the ground as liquid. Often compacted Class I sand or fine ground stone is used over coarse rock to create a floor that drains. This type of floor is economical, but it also requires regular stripping and replacement of the floor surface. Stall mats can be used over any type of surface to reduce maintenance and ease stress on joints.

Stall accessories such as water and feed buckets, hay racks, and salt block holders are largely a matter of personal management style. They should be easily accessible from the stall door and have no sharp edges or projections that can lead to injury of horse or handler.

Utility Space

Tack room Every horse barn needs a tack room. The amount of “stuff” you need to store is directly related to the amount of space you provide. Nature abhors a vacuum, and if there is excess space in the tack room, it will fill. Some tack rooms are pretentious displays of wealth with trophy racks and conditioned air, while others are strictly utilitarian in nature. In any case it should be bright, well-ventilated, and convenient to the location where you tack up. There should be shelves, hooks, and racks enough for all of your equipment. The tack room also needs to be secure from the elements, rodents, and thieves. A locking cabinet for first-aid supplies, etc., is a handy component.

Hay storage This is another area of considerable debate. Large horse operations store hay in separate structures for accessibility and to reduce fire risk. This might not be practical for the smaller horse operator. Plan to store hay in a well-ventilated, easy-to-clean area with good access. The more air moving around the hay, the lower the risk of fire or mold. Access for a hay wagon or truck should be simple and direct. Overhead storage is less commonly used than in the past for the same reasons.

Wash stalls Considered a luxury by some and a necessity by others, wash stalls are typically the size of a conventional stall. They should be constructed of water- tolerant materials such as concrete block, with concrete floors sloped to trench drains designed for this use. Many localities require these drains to be connected to a septic system. Hot and cold water can be provided, often through frost-proof valves if the space is not heated.

Equipment and tool storage Designate a space to store shovels, brooms, pitchforks, wheelbarrows, hoses, ladders, spare light bulbs, and all of the other “stuff” that does not belong in the tack room. If you do not provide a space, these items will end up in the aisles and become a hazard. To the extent possible, store gasoline or diesel equipment somewhere other than the horse barn. The risk of fire is greater when they are present, and the inherent dustiness of barns is not ideal for the machinery.


Now that you know what’s going in the barn, what will it be made of? Basic material selection is determined by style, initial expense, maintenance requirements, and climate. Some materials do not lend themselves well to horse barns. Avoid wood stud walls like those in your home. Walls must be sturdy enough to be kicked, chewed, rubbed, and leaned on by horses and, occasionally, people. Wood structures should be post-and-beam construction using a minimum of 6-inch by 6-inch posts. Larger barns will require even larger framing members. Wood interior and exterior walls between the posts should be heavy lumber at least 2 inches thick. Wood siding requires regular painting and often tends to rot in areas where moisture is present. Barns with pre-finished metal siding must be lined with wood at least 4 feet high in the stalls. If the turnout area is immediately adjacent to the barn, metal siding can be hazardous due to sharp edges and fasteners.

Initially, concrete block is a more expensive wall material than wood. But block has better moisture and acid resistance than wood, and horses don’t tend to chew on it. It does require properly designed footings (for laying the block) and should be reinforced with rebar (a rod or bar used for reinforcement in concrete or asphalt pourings), but when installed properly, it remains attractive for many years. If unpainted or unsealed, concrete block can absorb moisture and odor. If sealed, the block can simply be pressure washed regularly.

Roof structures are typically wood framing. The interior height of the barn should be at least 8 feet at the eaves. Ventilation should be provided at the ridge and eaves to allow constant air movement. Shingle and metal roof panels are acceptable materials, and skylight panels are a popular option. Metal roof panels should use screw fasteners instead of nails to reduce wind damage. Provide plenty of pitch to the roof (6/12 or more, meaning the roof rises 6 inches vertically for every 12 inches horizontally). In addition to shedding rain more efficiently, the height creates better airflow from the eave vents.

Other Considerations

Building permits are a fact of life in most locales. Instead of avoiding a permit, embrace the concept and pick your building official’s brain. He or she has probably seen what does or does not work well in your area and can be a good resource.

All wiring should meet electrical code. Use dust-resistant light fixtures and place all wiring in conduit, even if your local code does not require it. Rodents and dust are facts of life in every barn. Put in a larger electrical service than you think you will need because eventually you will need it.

Don’t forget to budget exterior items such as road and utility improvements to the barn site, fence and gate modifications, exterior waterers, landscaping, and reseeding. These costs are commonly underestimated and can affect where you place the barn.

Take-Home Message

Barn design is to horse owners like house design is to the rest of us. There is a tendency to think we know all we need to know about design because we have been around these kinds of structures so much of our lives. We know what we like, and we can describe it to a builder. The truth is, if you are unsure of what to do with your barn design and the structure will be larger than a two-car garage, it might be time to consider a barn contractor and/or architect who understands–and has actually built–horse barns. Selection of a design professional is beyond the scope of this article, but suffice it to say that you might have to interview several before you find a good fit. Horse barn design experience is a must. The price tag will be 7-12% of construction cost, but it can be well worth it for a solid set of useful plans from which to build.

Ryan’s Round Barn

A round barn! Have you ever heard of such a thing? Ask the folks from Henry County who live within driving distance of Johnson Sauk Trail Park on Route 78 near Kewanee, Ill., and they will answer you in their typical, straight-forward Midwestern fashion: “Yep.”

Weekend retreat for Dr. Lawrence P. Ryan

Nestled on a knoll near the entrance of the 1,361-acre Illinois state park, Ryan’s Round Barn was the brainstorm and pet project of a turn-of-the-century Chicago brain surgeon named Lawrence P. Ryan.

Wanting a weekend retreat for himself, and a permanent home for his small herd of prized Black Angus show cattle, Dr. Ryan’s quest for the perfect site ended in the early 1900s, when he purchased four tracts of land, 80 acres each, in the southeast corner of Henry County.

Designing Ryan’s Round Barn

The industrious doctor decided to deviate from the standard square barn design that dotted the countryside adjacent to his farm. Implementing an unusual architectural design first used in the U.S. by the Shakers in the early 1800s, he had plans drawn to build a round barn on his newly acquired property.

Why did Ryan choose to build a round barn? Unlike their square counterparts, round barns were considered tornado-proof, the first-floor circular feeding and waste-removal systems were more space- and labor-efficient, and they were round, so tax collectors often underestimated their size.

Construction of the barn was completed in 1910 at a cost, according to the Illinois State Preservation Agency, of a whopping $9,600 (more than $175,000 in today’s terms) – at a time when the average round barn cost $2,500.

Ryan’s barn is a three-level, domed-ceiling structure built on a slope so that the first and second floors are easily accessible from the outside at ground level. Built by an out-of-state crew of southern carpenters who specialized in round barn construction, it measures 80 feet tall and 85 feet in diameter.

Unique features of Ryan’s Round Barn

Most early 20th century round barns utilized vertical siding, but Ryan’s was built with horizontal siding, which helped to reinforce the strength of the walls. Sixteen-foot pieces of white pine siding were taken to a small lake located near the barn, soaked overnight, and hammered on to the frame while wet. The pine was so saturated that it bent, and subsequently dried with a curve.

Another interesting feature of Ryan’s barn is its silo, located in the building’s center. Beginning on the first floor, it extends up through all three levels of the structure. Due to the pressure of the enormous amount of silage that would be stored there, more support was needed around the silo’s base. That problem was solved when the carpenters double-boarded and reinforced the base with iron bands. Ryan, a man who paid close attention to details, instructed the crew to plaster the interior of the silo to protect the wooden frame from moisture and make it airtight, reducing the chances of rotting silage.

Christenson Restores Rare Round Barn

By Ryan Flanders
The dawn of rural electricity in 1938 marked the beginning of the end for round barns.Somewhat rare even in their time, round barns were built in the Midwest during the 1920s and 1930s as an efficient way to distribute silage without the need for electricity.

Outside round barn Now that they are almost completely extinct from the countryside, Allard Christenson is seeking to restore the round barn on his seventh-generation farm. The barn was built in 1925, four years after Allard’s father, Alfred, and uncle, George, bought the farm from their father.

Standing on the scoop of his tractor, Allard Christenson uses a potato fork to remove old cedar shingles from the roof of his 78-year-old round barn. Christenson is restoring the barn to its original condition with the help of Steve Hislop and Laurel Hanson.

Round barns were originally developed in New England. One of the most famous was a stone structure made in 1824 by the Shaker colony of Hancock, Mass.

The round barn is structured around a silo, and a feeding trough surrounds the silo at the barn’s center. This way, silage can be put directly into the feeding trough from the silo, without the need for electric conveyor belts or augers.

“It was still quite a bit of work to spread it all the way around by hand, but it was the best system at the time,” said Christenson.

“These days most farmers use augers. You don’t have to touch the silage hardly at all,” he said.

Christenson recalls another round barn in the area, but now all that remains is the original silo, because the surrounding barn was ripped down. Christenson hasn’t filled his own silo since 1975, so he had plans to take down the entire structure.

Allard Christenson“I had originally given up on fixing it, but as I got older I got more interested in its uniqueness,” said Christenson. “I thought I’d just let it go and maybe build a pole barn, but then I realized it would probably be nice to try to keep it. I can still use it for cattle shelter and storage, but I don’t think it will ever be used for silage again.”

Allard Christenson reaches to pull out a shingle after removing a rotten board from the roof of his barn. Due to the building’s round construction, the longest piece of lumber is only four feet.

Though the round barn is less practical for use as a cattle shed than a pole barn, Christenson says he can clean the round barn in just a few minutes now that he has a Bobcat.

Regardless of advances in technology, the design of the round barn remains efficient becuase it maximizes interior space and minimizes exterior walls. As an added bonus, the design frees occupants from worry about an old superstition that the devil could literally “corner” you in a building with angles.

Christenson thinks the building has held up quite well, considering it is 78 years old and this is the first time it is being repaired. When it was built, everything was done by hand. Due to the building’s round shape, the longest piece of lumber on the whole building was four feet long – which meant a lot of cutting.

The relatively good condition of the barn is also due in part to the quality of materials used in its construction. Instead of using home-sawed lumber, Alfred and George bought good lumber, which Christenson said was uncommon for 1925. They also used cedar shingles and steel siding.

“They used a lot of steel sheeting in those days, because then you wouldn’t ever have to paint it and it would last a long time,” said Christenson.

The Christenson farm was started in 1875 by Allard’s great-grandparents, Ole and Anne. Ole homesteaded 120 acres and was Kandiyohi County’s first blacksmith. Allard and his son David have now been running the farm since about 1975, when they took it over from Allard’s father and uncle, who ran the farm together for 55 years

Round barn inside “My son David Christenson lives in the new house, and his kids make the seventh generation of Christensons to live on the farm,” said Allard. The farm is currently 360 acres and has 35 beef cows.

The round barn’s design allowed for silage to be efficiently transferred directly from the silo to a central feeding trough without electricity.

Steve Hislop and Laurel Hanson are working with Christenson on the restoration process. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a barn like this around,” said Hislop. He, like the others, is glad to see the rare building preserved.

To restore the building, Christenson, Hislop, and Hanson are pulling the old nails and replacing rotten boards and shingles. “Apparently, they used about twice as many nails as they needed to,” laughed Christenson.

To keep the barn in its original condition, Christenson is using new cedar shingles to replace the old ones. When the barn was built, cedar shingles were practical because they were relatively inexpensive, which is no longer the case. “They’re somewhat of a novelty, because now everyone uses tar shingles,” said Christenson.

Christenson started work on the barn in December, and hopes to be finished with the project in about another week. He notes that the warm weather has made work easier. “When you can work on December 31 and use your bare hands to pull out nails, you know it’s unusual weather,” said Christenson.

20 Tips for Safer Farming

If you think farm safety is someone else’s problem, you’re right. It was Bill’s and Angie’s problems when the tractors they were driving crushed them. It was Roger’s problem when he got wrapped around a PTO shaft, and it was my problem when I leapt over a fence barely ahead of an angry sow.

Healthy cow

These are just a few of the people I know who have had problems related to farm safety. It isn’t that we were careless. Like most farm accidents, they occurred during everyday activities. The fact is farming and farms are dangerous. There are hazards literally everywhere you look.

Safety hazards shouldn’t deter your from you farm or from moving to one. However, thinking about safety and making it a part of everything you do on your farm is important. Make your farm a safer place, and you’ll be able to thrive on it.  Here are 20 farm-safety tips for you to consider:

Farm Buildings and Grounds

  • Perform a safety check of buildings and grounds for obvious fire hazards and hazardous materials.
  • Store farm chemicals securely where kids and animals can’t access them. Then make a list of the chemicals for firefighters in the event of a fire on your property.
  • Keep weeds and grasses trimmed so tractor and ATV drivers won’t run into hidden obstacles and holes that can cause the vehicle to overturn.
  • Maintain clean and neat work areas with tools stored out of the way.
  • Establish a safety boundary around gas and diesel fuel tanks and other flammable substances.

Personal Farm Safety

  • Don’t wear loose clothing around equipment or work areas.
  • Use safety equipment the way it was intended. That means appropriate gloves, hearing protection and safety eyewear, not to mention face masks and respirators when working in dusty conditions.
  • Always have a helper nearby when entering grain bins, breeding pens or other high-risk areas.
  • Discuss safety concerns with children as you explain safe handling and operating procedures. Practice what you preach, and they will practice it, too.

Tractors and Implements

  • Keep tractor roll-over protection structures in place. If you have a tractor without one, get it installed today … and while you’re at it, buckle your seat belt.
  • Prohibit riders on tractor fenders, hitches, attachments or implements.
  • Shield all PTO-powered equipment drive shafts, and keep kids at a distance from them.
  • Never start or run gas or diesel engines in an enclosed area without being assured of good ventilation.
  • Outfit tractors and farm trucks with fire extinguishers and first aid kits.
  • Never exit a tractor or truck without placing it in park or engaging the emergency brakes.
  • Never leave running power equipment unattended.
  • Check and maintain equipment, especially hydraulic hoses and electrical cables showing cracks or other signs of wear.


  • Keep animals in good health. An animal in pain and discomfort can react aggressively.
  • Treat farm animals with respect. If understand their behavior, you’ll be ready for their actions.
  • Take extra care with farm animals at breeding and birthing, and you won’t have to outrun a sow like I did.

Looking after garden tools

Looking after garden toolsYour tools are your best friends in the garden. They’ll stand by you through thick and thin: they’re the first things you reach for at times of trouble, and your companions through your greatest triumphs.

Well-made, good-quality tools like those you’ll find in our Paston and Oundle garden centre can last you a lifetime if you take good care of them. So make it a part of your annual routine to spend an hour or two at the end of the season getting them in good shape before storing them away for the winter. Here’s how:

  • Give them a clean: let your stainless steel spades and forks dry for a few days so the mud is easier to brush off with a stiff-bristled hand brush. Get every last bit off including the mud wedged in to the neck of the tool head.
  • Repair any breakages: bent fork tines can be straightened with a piece of hollow metal piping: just slot it over the end of the tine and pull. Replacement wooden handles are available in our garden centre, and you’ll also find spare watering can roses to replace the one you lost, and new blades for pruning saws.
  • Oil non-steel tools to prevent them rusting in damp weather. This can be as easy as wiping them over with a rag soaked in paraffin, or alternatively fill a bucket with sand and mix in some oil; then dig your tools into the sand to clean and oil them at the same time.
  • Hang everything up out of the way so they won’t fall over into a hopeless tangle which you’ll have to sort out before you can use them.. Hang spades, hoes, forks and rakes blade-upwards, on double nails banged into the wall, and add some single nails to hold hand trowels, forks, and shears.
  • Get powered tools serviced at a reputable garden machine company once a year, to change the oil, sharpen blades and generally give them the once over before they’re back in regular use again.

10 Ways to Improve Garden Soil by Elizabeth Murphy

After spending years learning how to make garden soils light, fluffy, and easy to work, I wrote Building Soil: A Down-to-Earth Approach, a new guide to everything you need to know to improve soil. Here are 10 of my top tips to improve soil:

An Organic Diet

Red Damsel Farm | Gardenista

Above: Florist Clare Day raises her own organic flowers on her 12-acre farm in British Columbia. See more at Organic Flowers at Red Damsel Farm.

Spring brings a flurry of underground activity that we can’t see. Billions of soil organisms stretch and yawn, exploding into existence. It’s this living soil below ground that helps gardens thrive above ground by recycling nutrients, capturing water, improving soil tilth, and fighting pests and disease.

We build soil health all year-round by feeding and caring for it. How? Living soil has the same four basic requirements we do: food, water, shelter, and air.

Autumn is the best season to start. Organic materials, the key ingredients for healthy soils, abound. You can add fallen leaves, garden debris, kitchen scraps, and even apples raked from beneath fruit trees to soil.

Chop organic material directly into the top 2 inches of soil with a heavy bladed hoe and cover with mulch. Ideally, add concentrated manures, mineral phosphorous and potassium fertilizers, and lime at the same time. Adding these materials in the fall gives them time to break down for use when plants need them in the spring.

Till With Worms

DIY: Compost. Photo Jim Powell. Gardenista

Above: Photograph by Jim Powell for Gardenista. For more, see DIY Composting: A Man Obsessed.

Instead of breaking out the rototiller, or breaking my back double digging, I like to let the worms do my tilling for me by using sheet mulching techniques.

Sheet mulching is the process of building compost right on the soil surface. For new gardens, I’ll add a smothering bottom layer of cardboard to kill existing vegetation, then alternate 2- to 4-inch-inch thick green and brown compost layers. This invites worms to burrow through the soil as they transport food. In the process, they dramatically improve soil structure, while depositing power-packed worm manure castings.

Sheet mulching takes advance planning. Ideally, start sheet mulches for new gardens the year before you plan to plant (and for existing gardens a few months before planting). Sheet mulching will build new garden soil literally from the ground up. It maximizes nutrients, smothers weeds, and keeps soil life intact and undisturbed.

Grow Your Own Soil

Build soil cover crops ; Gardenista

Above: Photograph via Crystal Liepa Photography.

Green manures and cover crops —such as buckwheat and phacelia in the summertime and vetch, daikon, and clovers in the fall—are my favorite way to improve soils. Whenever I have a window before planting, I grow a cover crop to add organic matter, lighten and loosen soil structure, and enrich garden nutrients. Cover crops also act as a living mulch to shelter soils and control weeds in the off-season.

Chop over-wintered cover crops directly into spring soils a few weeks before planting. During the growing season, sow a quick-growing cover crop, such as buckwheat, to fill the gap between spring and fall crops. When it’s time to plant, pull the buckwheat cover and use it as a mulch for fall garden beds.

Test for Success

urban gardener gift guide | gardenista

Above: A Soil Test Kit in a sturdy plastic case is $18.50 from Basic Science Supplies.

Soil tests are an indispensable garden tool. I always recommend taking one when starting a new garden, or when garden health declines. If an essential nutrient is missing, garden and soil health will suffer. For best results, take nutrient tests in the late summer or early fall. Submit a soil test to a certified lab to add the right balance fertilizers and lime materials to new gardens. For a list of certified labs visit NAPT.

Supply What’s Missing

planting a black pussy willow by Justine Hand, fertilizer, Gardenista

Above: Photograph by Justine Hand.

Over several seasons of soil building, a living, organic soil recycles and retains most nutrients, reducing or eliminating added fertilizer needs. When planting a new garden, however, organic fertilizers and lime ensure proper nutrition for the season ahead. If you’ve missed the fall window to add lime and mineral fertilizers, add them several weeks before planting in spring.

Use soil tests results and other resources to determine your garden’s fertilizer needs. For general purposes, purchase a complete organic fertilizer mix from your garden center and use as recommended. Scratch fertilizers into the top 2 inches of vegetable gardens. For perennial gardens, don’t dig at all. Spread fertilizers and lime, when needed, around the plants, water lightly, and cover with mulch.

Don’t Forget The Nitrogen

soil mix | Gardenista

Above: Photograph by Erin Boyle.

Of all the essential plant nutrients, nitrogen deserves special mention. Though a living soil will continue to recycle and retain most other mineral nutrients, nitrogen is often in short supply, even after years of soil building. Not only does nitrogen feed soil plants, it also feeds soil organisms. Because of this, garden growth and long-term soil health depend on nitrogen.

Before planting every year, ensure sufficient nitrogen by counting all the sources you’ve added. Organic fertilizers, such as blood, seed, or feather meal, are sources of concentrated nitrogen. Fall or spring legume cover crops transfer nitrogen from the atmosphere to the soil.  Manures or green grass clippings, incorporated as amendments, provide nitrogen as well. Compost, on the other hand, does not supply enough garden nitrogen. While compost is great for improving overall soil health, additional nitrogen sources are needed when using compost as an amendment.

Pull, Cover, Smother

Weeds in garden ; Gardenista

Above: Photograph by Michelle Slatalla.

As our garden wakes up in spring, so do the weeds. Before planting, get them under control. Weeds compete with garden plants, and from a soil perspective, they steal organic food away from the living soil.

For starters, fall mulching gives you the upper hand on spring weeds. Pull weeds that do emerge in the spring early and quickly, when they are small and easy to manage. If not noxious—that is, not spreading vigorously by root or stem—I suggest laying them right back on the soil surface and covering them with from 2 to 4 inches of organic mulch. Covering garden beds right from the start gives you the jump on garden weeds, while feeding the soil with organic material at the same time.

Recycle Perennials

DIY: Compost. Photo Jim Powell. Gardenista

Above: Photograph by Jim Powell for Gardenista.

If you have a landscape garden, hedges, woodlands, or fruit trees, then you have a wealth of materials to amend soils. Winter and early spring tree prunings, hedge trimmings, and perennial cuttings can feed the soil when recycled back into the garden.

Chipped yard debris and bits pruned from trees make effective mulch. When green, they also provide a valuable nitrogen source as a sheet mulch layer. Use softer perennial cuttings as mulch, sheet mulch compost, or a garden bed amendment. I like a natural look in my landscape gardens. I’ll actually chop cuttings into smaller pieces and mulch them right below the perennials I’ve cut. This type of composting in place mimics the way plant litter falls in nature.

Let Soils Dry

Improve garden soil ; Gardenista

Above: Photograph via Crystal Liepa Photography.

For soils, it’s often what we don’t do, as much as what we do, that matters. Before planting spring gardens, the most important soil care priority is letting wet spring soils dry. Digging, walking on, or driving a rototiller over wet soils, particularly those with clays, compacts and damages the soil structure we work so hard to build. When this happens, we literally squeeze the air out of soils, leaving little space for organisms to breathe or roots to grow.

To tell when your soils are ready to work in the spring, take a handful and squeeze. If water comes out, hold off for a week or so. Soils that form a sturdy ball when molded or clay soils that press into a shiny ribbon also need to dry more.

Winter Garden Tips from Stone Barns Center by Erin Boyle

Before diving headlong into the world of blogging, I was lucky enough to enjoy a stint working in the fresh air as public programs manager at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, New York. Even though I’m no longer making the daily trek up to the 80-acre farm just north of New York City, it’s still the first place I think of when anyone mentions wintertime growing.

There’s no season that’s not busy at Stone Barns, a nonprofit organization on a mission to change the way America eats and farms. Even in the depths of winter there are greenhouses to maintain and hardy greens to harvest from hoop houses—to say nothing of snow to clear and fences to repair. Four season farm director, Jack Algiere, took a few minutes’ break from the cold to share his top tips for wintertime growing.


1. Think of winter in summer. 

You may be wiping your brow and fawning over tomatoes while working in your summer garden, but focus part of your mind on the seasons to come. It’s important to think of your garden as a yearlong plan, not separate season plans. The easiest way to do this is to consider the succession of your crops. Are your tomatoes finished in October? That may be too late to plant some fall or winter crops. But it’s the perfect time to plant a cover crop like winter rye. (Stone Barns explains cover cropping here.) Your pea plants are through in July? This is when you can plant many of your winter storage crops. Have a bed opening up in September? Get your winter lettuces, mustards and spinach in then.

winter growing tips from stone barns center | gardenista

2. Stock your soil.
Just as you may stock your pantry with seasonal dry goods, think about stocking your soil crops to eat through the winter. In July and early August plant carrots, beets, cauliflower, kohlrabi, and celery root. Winter lettuces, mustards and hearty greens can be planted into September and October.

winter growing tips from stone barns center | gardenista

3. It’s all in the timing.
The lack of light and radiance after the fall equinox (September 21) extends the maturation period of plants. All seed packs list “days to maturity” as an indication of when a crop will be ready to harvest. However, these estimations are based on spring light—when the days get longer. So if you plant a seed listed as 30 days to maturity after the equinox—when the days get shorter—you might see as much as a doubling in the days to readiness. Allow plenty of time for crops to mature to full size.

4. Be choosey.
Not all kale is created equal. Even within plant varieties, there are some more suited for winter growing. Choose the heartiest plants. For example, Russian varieties of kale withstand the cold far better that Italian varieties.

winter growing tips from stone barns center | gardenista

5. Cover up.
Hearty crops like spinach can be grown over the winter with the added protection of low tunnels you can make out of hardware-found conduit pipe and polyethylene film covers. (Not sure what a low tunnel is? Stone Barns Center explains, here.) If you’re growing kale, mache and carrots through the cold season, you will want to add a second layer of protection, building a higher tunnel over the low tunnel.

winter growing tips from stone barns center | gardenista

6. Plant for your table.
When planning, try to estimate your winter consumption. Think about how much per week you’d like to eat from your garden. How many pounds of beets or carrots? One squash or four? Look for varieties that will produce what you need and plant accordingly.

7. Pick when perfect.
It’s better to harvest crops at their peak and store them in that state, when they are beautiful and ripe, rather than risk rot or flowering in the soil. This may not happen all at once for one crop, you may find half your carrots are ready to go while the other half needs some more time. But you’ll want beets and carrots out before the first hard frost, and cauliflower and cabbage out in December.

winter growing tips from stone barns center | gardenista

8. Go to the “store.”
After harvests of your storage crops, store them! All you need for storage is a cool, dark place. Basements work well, so do coolers. The hope is to discourage further growth and create a stable environment that’s not too hot or too cold. Ideal temperatures are between 55 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Crops like cauliflower, kohlrabi, celery root and cabbages do best in plastic bags inside refrigerators. Potatoes, beets and carrots can be kept in crates packed with soil or sand.

And more than anything else? Plant what you love.

Eager to see the farm in winter for yourself? Stone Barns Center is open to the public year-round: 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, Wednesday to Sunday.

Corkscrew-shaped barn in Ireland

Barns tend to be thought of as big, red, wooden and filled with hay and farming tools.

Or at least that seems to be the American conception of the barn. In Ireland the Wonderful barn fulfills none of these stereotypes. Made out of rock and shaped like a corkscrew it towers above the surrounding countryside, looking more like a medieval keep than a barn.

Built in 1743 on the edge of the Castletown estate (also famous for the Conolly Folly which rests on the property) there is some debate over the original intended purpose of the barn. Some have speculated that it may have been used as a dovecote, a place for birds to nest. Doves were considered a delicacy in the 1700s especially when other game was out of season.

Others argue that because of the unique holes drilled through each of the floors the most likely use of the barn was as a granary. This would make sense as in the years preceding its construction several famines ravished Ireland. The barn could have been used to store extra grain in case of times of need. Additionally, the barn bares a striking resemblance to an Indian rice store, which may be where the inspiration for the initial design came from.

Another possibility is that the barn, much like the Conolly Folly, was constructed as a public works program meant to put destitute farmers who had been hurt by the famine back to work.

Interestingly, the staircase scales the exterior of the building, winding around the circumference as it travels upward. This architectural anomaly gives the entire building a slightly corkscrewing effect, as if there were a very slight optical illusion at work. The staircase ends on a flat roof, surrounded by a parapet that furthers the medieval motif of the entire building.

Buildings at risk: The Wonderful Barn, Co Kildare

Why is it of interest?

It is deemed to be one of the finest follies in Ireland. The Wonderful Barn was built in 1743 as a Famine relief project by Katherine Conolly, the widow of William “speaker” Conolly, of Castletown House. Based on the design of an Indian rice store, the 70ft-high conical grain store is encircled by a cantilevered staircase with a crow’s nest viewing gallery.

The Wonderful Barn was built in 1743 as a Famine relief project by Katherine Conolly, the widow of William “speaker” Conolly, of Castletown House. Photographs: Eric Luke

The interior has remarkable brick vaulting covered with an outer skin of rubble stone. Although originally positioned at the eastern end of the Castletown Estate to terminate the vista of a tree-lined walkway, it is now separated from the estate by the M4 motorway. The site stands next to a crescent-shaped piece of development land, where a housing project by Albany Homes was abandoned in the noughties.

What state of dereliction is it in?

Kildare County Council acquired the site in 2005 from the developers of the Albany Homes scheme. It was placed on the World Monuments List of 100 Most Endangered Sites in 2006, following nomination by the Irish Georgian Society. Preceding this, the Wonderful Barn, the two conical shaped dove cotes and the adjoining 18th-Century Barnhall House were badly damaged by vandalism.

What repairs have been carried out?

In recent years, the council has spent more than €180,000 rendering the outside of the Wonderful Barn and repairing the stonework on the cantilevered staircase. “The building was getting worse and we were concerned that it would move beyond a state in which we could restore it easily,” says Peter Minnock, director of services for housing, community and culture at Kildare County Council. The council is in a continuous battle to secure the buildings against vandalism and has successfully established allotments to encourage positive interaction with the site.

Who is championing its cause?

The Irish Georgian Society, the Castletown Foundation, the Irish Landmark Trust and the Office of Public Works, which manages Castletown House, have all been involved in seeking a solution for the barn and ancillary buildings. To its credit, Kildare County Council has liaised with all these groups in an effort to find a sustainable future for the entire site. “We need now to build a consensus to protect the building with the limited resources that we have,” says Minnock. Jeanne Meldon of the Castletown Foundation adds: “We hope that whatever use does emerge is compatible with conservation of the Wonderful Barn because it is such a significant building. We would also like to see it open to the public with clear historic information and possibly a physical link back to Castletown Estate.”

What happens next?

Kildare County Council is committed to building a discovery park with the barn as a centrepiece if funding is secured. “We believe the Wonderful Barn Discovery Park has great potential as a local and national tourist attraction in the same way that Airfield in Dundrum and Newbridge House in Donabate have,” says Peter Minnock. “It could be the jewel in the crown of amenities for north Kildare.”

Seven Tips to Make Your Duck Adoption Go Swimmingly After the Great Chelmsford Giveaway

 1. Ducks love water and use about one litre of drinking water per duck per day. They need water to keep their eyes, bills, feet and feathers in good condition. A kids pool or a tub about 20cm deep is perfect for looking after ducks.

2. A duck house should be raised from the ground with a ramp for access, and have a suitably sized doorway for the ducks to get in and out.

The house should have a secure door at night while providing adequate ventilation, to keep your ducks safe from foxes and other predators.

3. Ducks like to eat slugs and insects, so can be good at keeping garden pests under control. A balanced diet for ducks consists of wheat and maize, as well as soy bean oil and meal.

4. Ducks are sociable creatures, and you should not keep one duck alone. Too many males with not enough females will fight with each other, sometimes to the death. It is therefore recommended that there is an equal balance between males and females in your duck house, creating a ‘flock of ducks’.

5. If a duck’s enclosure gets too messy, or the ground that the duck walks on is abrasive to the padding on the feet, the duck can develop a condition known as bumblefoot that can potentially cause death. Keeping the enclosure clean is therefore essential to the well-being of your ducks.

6. The average lifespan of a domestic duck is 10 years or less. The larger breeds of duck have the shortest life spans. They rarely live beyond five to seven years.

7. This may not apply to you, ducklings become feathered at about six weeks old, and they begin to quack around four months old.

Females lay eggs at eight months old, where around this time ducks become sexually active and have developed to their adult size.

Sheep Tips and Tricks

Moving Sheep

  • Sheep move better if they’re going toward light. Don’t expect them to voluntarily go into a dark barn if they’re not trained to it. Turn on a light or open a window to lighten the interior.
  • Most flocks ‘elect’ a leader they always seem to follow. Identify your leader ewe and induce her to go where you need the sheep to go, and chances are the rest of the flock will follow if not spooked.
  • Standing near a sheep, note that when you move parallel to her, in the direction her head is pointed, she will back up; moving in the direction of her tail, she will move forward. Use this knowledge to help direct sheep where you need them.
  • Train your sheep to come when they hear grain rattling in a bucket. It’s easy to do–just reward them with grain a few times! After that, you will be able to use the rattling bucket to lead them.
  • You can also use a particular call each time you offer grain for a while, then they will follow you when you call them without the grain.

General Tips

  • Keep pieces of baling twine from hay bales handy around the barn, pastures, and paddocks. It can be made into a temporary halter for an animal, can be used to hold gates closed, temporarily fix a fence, and many other uses.
  • But make sure the twine isn’t dangling where lambs can get to it. We had one lamb manage to strangle himself this year that way.
  • Use combo panels, fence-like sections of heavy welded wire measuring 16 feet wide by 4 feet tall, to temporarily contain sheep or move them.
  • You can also use combo panels to make gates that will be wide enough to allow full-sized trucks and tractors through easily.

Feeding Tips

  • Feed your ewes mid-morning each time, and they will be more likely to lamb during daylight hours.
  • Make sure you don’t throw hay out over their backs, or feed in a way that they are taking mouthfuls of hay from above their heads, and you will greatly reduce the amount of hay in their wool at shearing time.
  • When feeding square bales, weigh several bales to get an average weight, then count how many flakes each contains to get that average. Figuring each sheep eats 4% of its bodyweight in hay each day, you now know approximately how many flakes and/or whole bales to feed. Sheep will always baaa for more, but you will know just what they need for good health and reduced waste.
  • Try to set things up so you feed only every other day. This will both reduce the amount of time you must work, but also encourage the sheep to eat the last bits they might otherwise turn their noses up at, so reducing waste.
  • To know how much water they have without having to actually walk all the way into far paddocks, place a small, brightly-colored, inflated child’s ball in the tank as a float. When you can see the ball, you know they have water.
  • To save electricity when using tank heaters in the winter to keep their water from freezing solid, use a timer set to come on less frequently during daylight hours, more often at night. It will require frequent adjustments to allow for temperature swings, but might be worth the electricity saved.

Handling Ram Tips

  • It’s tempting, but don’t make a pet out of a ram lamb! When he’s an adult, he will ram you when the mood strikes, no matter how affectionate he used to be. If he’s wary of you, he’s less likely to butt you.
  • If a ram is acting rambunctious with you, smack him on the nose to show him who’s boss. Or try throwing a bucket of cold water in his face. Eventually you may be able to face him down with just a squirt of water rather than a whole bucket.
  • Never turn your back on a ram when in his pen, particularly if he’s with a group of ewes during breeding season. You are the interloper, and he’s just protecting his harem.
  • Warn your shearer when he’s about to work on a ram or wether, or the poor sheep might end up missing some important parts!

Lambing Tips

  • If you raise sheep that must have attention at lambing, then buy some sort of portable monitor device, such as are sold to new parents to put in the nursery so they can hear their baby crying. It will help you know when to check on the ewes-in-waiting.
  • Some eartags don’t adequately differentiate between the numbers 6 and 9. Check your tags. If you find it confusing, throw away the 9 and don’t worry about the gap in your records. Much better that than to worry if you have the right lamb, particuarly when they’re both black ram lambs! (Yes, the voice of direct experience talking :)
  • Cut down old sweatshirts and sweaters are often used to keep young lambs warm when it’s extra cold out–for extra small lambs, just a sleeve may be all that’s needed.
  • If a lamb seems cold, put your finger in its mouth. It should feel warm; if not, warm the lamb with a heat lamp, blow dryer, or warm bath.
  • Make up a form on your computer (or just use regular paper) of all the things you want to note when a new lamb is born, and keep several copies handy near your lambing area: Dam, date, time, sex, weight, condition, color of birth coat, ear tag number, whether it got selenium gel, etc. It’s amazing how easy it is to lose track when you have a lot of lambs.
  • Try not to interfere too much with mother nature. Good moms won’t be put off by you messing with their babies, but yearling ewes in particular may be spooked and reject the youngster if you do too much, too soon. Give them a chance to bond with minimal interference.
  • Sometimes a birth may occur so quickly that a first-time ewe is scared by this funny little lump following her around and crying. It may be best to jug them together, and you may need to hold the ewe while baby nurses a few times. After that, bonding will take place, belated but nonetheless sure.

6 Causes of Swollen Abdomen in Chickens

Poultry keepers who keep genetically improved breeds, bred for high egg production, might see these problems more frequently in their flocks, as production breeds—most of which are usually kept for 12 to 18 months in commercial settings—do not have the genetics to support three to four years of egg-laying. The risk of reproductive disorders increases with age in layers. These afflictions aren’t exclusive to production breeds, however—they can show up in any small-scale flock. Although it’s best to have a veterinarian examine your chicken, here’s a short list of differential diagnoses.

6 Causes of Swollen Abdomen in Chickens - Photo courtesy (

1. Ascites (aka Water Belly)
Fluid can accumulate in the abdominal cavity, secondary to heart disease or tumors in the heart and liver. Fluid in the abdominal cavity is usually accompanied by respiratory distress and cyanosis (bluish color) of the combs and wattles. There is no treatment for ascites.

2. Tumors
Several diseases, such as Marek’s disease, lymphoid leukosis and various adenocarcinomas, cause tumors and enlargement of a chicken’s internal organs, such as the liver, which might, in turn, distend the abdomen. Tumor diseases tend to be chronic, and affected chickens slowly suffer weight loss and decreased appetite. All day-old chicks should be vaccinated for Marek’s disease at the hatchery. Lymphoid leukosis can be transmitted from hens to developing embryos; therefore, disease-free chicks should be purchased from reputable hatcheries. There is no treatment for tumor diseases.

3. Fat Deposition
Extremely obese hens have a thick fat pad that can distend the lower abdomen. Obesity, normally caused by high-energy diets, also predisposes chickens to a condition called fatty liver hemorrhagic syndrome, where the liver is infiltrated with fat and can contribute to abdominal distension. The syndrome causes acute death in chickens when blood vessels in the liver rupture and cause internal bleeding. It’s seen increasingly in backyard and pet chickens that are fed table scraps high in calories. It’s also very common with small-scale flocks fed free-choice via feeders. Chickens should be fed a well-formulated and appropriately portioned diet to avoid FLHS.

4. Cystic Oviduct
Normally, only the left ovary and oviduct of the hen are functional, but sometimes, the right oviduct is functional and becomes cystic. The cysts appear in a range of sizes, and overly large cysts can distend the hen’s abdomen and compress internal organs. Your veterinarian might be able to drain the cyst nonsurgically using a sterile syringe and needle.

5. Impacted or Egg-Bound Oviducts
These oviductal disorders are seen in obese hens, older hens or pullets that come into lay too early. The oviduct becomes blocked by an egg or a mass of broken eggs and eventually eggs are pushed back into the body cavity as the hen continues to lay. Affected hens walk like penguins when the eggs in the abdomen are excessive.

There is no technical difference between impaction and “egg-bound;” however, I don’t like using the term egg-bound, as it’s more appropriate for what happens in pet birds, such as parrots, where one fully formed egg is stuck in the oviduct.

In chickens, the obstruction can result from several lodged eggs or a mass of broken shells, shell membranes, or a mass of yolk and egg white, and the result is the same. When impaction occurs in the front part of the oviduct (aka uterus), which is usually the case, eggs enclosed by shell membranes might be found in the abdominal cavity. This indicates that eggs continued to form but were refluxed back into the peritoneal cavity. The prognosis for affected hens is poor. The use of antibiotics might prolong an affected chicken’s life for a few months, but it will eventually die from the condition.

6. Salpingitis
This inflammation of the oviduct occurs frequently and can be introduced through the cloaca by various means, including pecking. The most common infection is by E. coli bacteria. In later stages of the condition, the oviduct and abdomen become distended due to masses of foul-smelling, cheesy contents in the oviduct. The cheesy masses are sometimes mixed with egg contents; as a result, salpingitis can frequently be confused with an impacted oviduct.

A chicken with salpingitis can remain healthy for a long time—until the late stage when oviductal contents start to impinge on vital organs. The chicken then becomes sick, refuses to eat and slowly declines. Antibiotics seem to help only temporarily, and while some veterinarians might attempt surgery, the chicken’s oviduct is so friable that the procedure is unlikely to be successful. Affected birds will die.

Displaying your houseplants

Displaying your houseplantsWhen it comes to houseplants, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t put your garden design skills to good use in just the same way as you would any outdoor display.

Houseplants may look more exotic – among the choice in our garden centre in Paston and Oundle you’ll find lush green ferns, stately weeping figs, orchids and sumptuous velvety-leaved begonias. But the principles are still the same, and a carefully-chosen group will always have far more impact than one plant standing on its own.

Follow our top tips for how to show off your houseplants at their very best.

Match houseplants to your interior décor: picking up your colour scheme in the foliage of your plants is a sure way to add serious wow factor to interior style. Plum-coloured curtains or upholstery echoed in a purple-flowered streptocarpus, for example, brings out the colour in both material and plant. The same trick works with texture, like shiny, reflective leaves in a modern chrome-and-glass kitchen.

Repeat the same plant: several identical plants repeated along a hallway or up stairs invite your eye to follow them – a great way to highlight something in your home, whether it’s a sculpture or a signature piece of furniture. Clipped green plants like ivy or privet can be made into elegant topiary that’s stylish and bold.

Choose contrasts: when you’re picking plants to group together, go for opposites. Tall, upright plants like dracaena work well with lower-growing, like philodendron, and small-leaved ivy contrasts with the broader leaves of the peace lily. Colours, too, can provide fabulous effects: try clover-like purple oxalis paired with yellow-flowered kalanchoe.

Plant a big specimen pot: several different houseplants can go in the same pot, as long as it’s big enough and all the plants like the same conditions – shade-loving ferns, for example, go well with peace lilies which don’t like full sun either. Then just choose your group so there’s one taller plant to give the display height, then mid-height plants and low-growing or cascading plants to cover the soil for a pleasing, well-balanced display.

Greenhouse grow bags

Greenhouse grow bagsGrow bags are incredibly useful throughout the garden: just pop them anywhere you want to grow plants but don’t have soil, like the edge of a patio or outside the back door. They give you an instant growing space for sweet peas, annual climbers like morning glory, or productive herbs, vegetables or even fruit.

We stock grow bags in our Paston and Oundle garden centre all year round, as well as useful accessories like frames that clip over them to support your plants as they grow and covers to help them blend more easily into the garden. Here are some top tips to make sure you get the best from your grow bags throughout the year.

  • Fluff up before planting: When you get your grow bags home, plump them up like a pillow before you use them. This breaks up the compost inside where it’s become compacted in the stack, letting in air and making it easier for your plants’ roots to penetrate.
  • Stack several together: If you’re growing big plants like tomatoes, consider stacking two or even three grow bags on top of each other to give your plants a better root run. Cut out a long rectangle from the first grow bag, then put another on the top, cutting squares from the underside to let the roots through.
  • Feed regularly: Plants in grow bags rely on you for feed and water, so make sure your plants never go short. A weekly general-purpose liquid seaweed feed keeps most plants going; switch to high-phosphate tomato feed once they start flowering. You’ll find both in our garden centre.
  • Use a second time for salads: Once your peppers and cucumbers have finished, don’t throw out your grow bag. Top up with compost if necessary (you may need to cut a longer rectangle from the top) and re-sow with baby-leaf salads to see you through autumn.
  • Recycle the compost: When you’ve finally finished with your grow bag, empty the spent compost on your compost heap or just straight onto your flower beds as a soil-improving mulch.

The Future of Food: 11 Unique Urban Farming Projects

Farming has a lot of romance in it. The idea of tilling the land, growing something from scratch and providing for yourself from the gifts of the land is a primal urge that runs through even the most cynical techie. Well, you don’t have to give up your iPad to get a piece of the farming pie with the growing interest in “urban farming,” which is finding ways to bring the farming lifestyle to cities, high-rises and other urban environments.

Farming and technology have always had a strange relationship. Traditional knowledge says that technology and the urban sprawl are at odds with the quiet, live-off-the-land mentality of farming. Modern farming was made possible, however, by technological inventions. Plows allowed people to cultivate previously inaccessible earth, the industrial revolution allowed farms to become bigger and more efficient, even genetics have played a part in helping our produce grow in colder weather and grow in size.

Of course, too much technology and too much modification can backfire, as with the controversies around factory farming in the U.K. or concerns that genetically modified foods might not carry the same nutritional values as their hand-grown counterparts.

Green markets and home gardens are popular for urbanites seeking to take farming into their own hands. While cities around the world are becoming hot beds for urban farming, we’re taking a look at some neat ideas in Japan, the UK and America that span the gap from personal projects to multimillion-dollar innovations.

Have a read through and let us know what cool urban farming projects are happening around you.

UK: Postcards, Crowdsourcing and Fish Feces

Postcardens — These tiny little gardens are made of, what else, greeting cards. The idea was to create both a memorable card and a functional way to grow something sweet. The cards obviously aren’t meant to grow full tomato plants, but it is a way to green up your desk space. Each postcarden comes with cress seeds that will start to grow in a few days and last for about two weeks. Postcardens were created by A Studio for Design and can be sent by mail.

myfarm image

MyFarm — Here’s one for all the FarmVillefans. MyFarm is a real life farm in Cambridgeshire, England, that is allowing the digital crowd to decide how to run its day-to-day operations.

The farm is 2,500 acres with all manner of crops and livestock. A group of 10,000 online “farmers” will then get to work with the farm manager and vote on the farm’s major decisions, all for an annual fee of $47. That may seem steep, but it’s not significantly more than some people spend on micro-transactions on fake digital farm games. The farm manager will help inform his online farmers about life on the farm, but the decisions will ultimately be left up to the crowd. It’s an ambitious way to blend education and the Internet, but one that just may turn couch-farmers into real-life farming enthusiasts.

Farm:Shop — The Farm:Shop team is hoping to create a widespread community of urban farmers creating specific crops who bring their grown goods to a central Farm:Shop to sell. It’s sort of like a CSA, but instead of communal giving, there are communal sales. What makes the project even more interesting is its focus on “aquaponics.” This farming method hooks up water from a tank of fish to a watering system for produce. Aquatic waste and effluents are toxic to fish, but are nutritional for produce (think fish-based fertilizer). The plants are fed with this water — which cleans the water for the fish. It’s a symbiotic relationship with little actual waste. The only trick is finding a place to put all those fish.

Japan: Bottlecaps, Rooftops and Underground Gardens

merry project image

Merry Project — Growing rooftop gardens is practically luxurious compared to these tiny gardens housed in bottle caps. Each kit costs about $2 and comes with seeds for planting. Because of the cap’s small size, most of the seeds are for herbs and other smaller produce, but Merry Project is hoping to expand its offerings, according to Springwise.

Green Potato — The project from NTT Facilities isn’t just about growing produce. The organization seeks out abandoned or wasted space and grows sweet potatoes on the roof. Sweet potatoes, aside from being delicious, are also able to grow in harsher conditions such as, say, on the roof of a Tokyo office building. NTT Facilities plans to expand the project to other Tokyo office buildings, according to

pasona o2 image

Pasona O2 — We’ve all heard of growing plants outdoors or on roofs, but what about converting an old underground vault into a green space? That’s just what Pasona O2 did, using light-emitting diodes, metal halide lamps and sodium vapor lamps to grow rice, fruits and vegetables underground. The whole project is tended by young people and aspiring farmers. The only downside to the hydroponic outfit is the high energy consumption, according to Still, it’s hard to argue with the cool factor, the fresh produce and the jobs Pasona O2 creates.

U.S.: USB Kits, Plant Mats and Industrial Gardens

usb greenhouse imageEasy Bloom and USB Greenhouse — Your computer can help you go green. Who knew? The Easy Bloom Plant Sensor reads and analyzes growing conditions at specific points in your house or yard by measuring a variety of factors, including sunlight, humidity, soil moisture and drainage. Greenthumbs might not be impressed, but nothing can crush an amateur grower like the seeds of your effort expiring.

The USB Greenhouse takes an opposite approach to Easy Bloom, creating a computer-powered safe haven where even the most stubborn of plants will grow. The greenhouse is relatively small — don’t expect to grow tomatoes — but there’s still plenty of room to cultivate something tasty. The greenhouse will also send you reminders to water your plant, though you’ll have to leave the thing plugged in for it to work.

Ready-to-Plant Mats — If you like having plants but don’t like actually planting them, these mats from Amber’s Garden might just be for you. The mats come packed with seeds spaced out and planted at the optimal depth. The mats can then be “planted” in your garden or cut into pieces to create a tiny garden. You can start harvesting after about a month, with several varieties including salsa mix, pumpkin patch, Asian garden mix and more.

Vertical Farming — Definitely the most expensive and most elaborate idea in this list, Vertical Farming challenges the idea that farms need to be, well, horizontal. Vertical Farming proposes creating high-rise-like farms to be filled top-to-bottom with plants. The small, slender design means Vertical Farms could be placed in central locations in a city. The plants would subsist on a hydroponic system and could be harvested with relative ease. The idea is that Vertical Farms will cut down on emissions and transportation costs by bringing the farm inside the city. Critics have cited the enormously large amount of water and energy needed to support Vertical Farms — as well as the fact that the farms may not actually save that much money compared to traditional, horizontal farms.

Big Box Farms — Skyscrapers aren’t the only buildings with a green thumb. Big Box Farms builds small farms inside industrial warehouses using a special, patented rack technology. The companies racks allow farms to be built in practically any warehouse space with added benefits. Big Box Farms says its technology eliminates contamination, runoff and the need for pesticides, while reducing the amount of water, land and fertilizer needed to grow healthy produce. There is also an option for brands to set up a private rack complete with branding and shipping help. Big Box Farms is tight-lipped on just how its racks are so good, but if it can back up its boasts, the future may just be green.

Future farming need to use every trick in the book

FEW subjects are as polarising as the genetic modification of food. Opponents of GM bandy about words like “unnatural”, “invasion” and “contamination”, decrying it as a technology forced upon the world by greedy corporations.

Its backers, in turn, slam such critics as “ignorant” and “irrational”, holding back the development of future farming technologies that will be needed to feed the world’s expanding population.

This war of words does little to illuminate the real value – or otherwise – of GM crops. Like any technology, GM has its advantages and its problems. But a review of the available evidence suggests that it has brought a host of benefits that have received relatively little attention compared with scarier, but generally less convincing, claims about its risks.

By reducing the need for tilling, for example, GM crops have enabled farmers to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, a small but important contribution to the fight against climate change. And GM promises more: creating drought-resistant crops that will thrive in the warmer climates of the future, for instance.

A Look at Early Farm Machinery

Man, animal and steam

During the 1800s farmers took everything from a simple hoe to a thresher “snorting black smoke” into Iowa fields in pursuit of better harvests. Machines were run by hand, by oxen or horses, and finally by steam engines. Farm machinery grew up with the state, whose farmers were always eager for anything that helped them get more work done.

The 19th century witnessed a revolution in farming. Just as machines were coming into factories in the city, new machinery was changing the way farmers planted and harvested their crops. In some cases, farming at the start of the 19th century was not much different from how had it been done thousands of years ago. Within the live time of many Iowa farm residents, the world seemed to be changing with incredible speed.

A New Kind of Plow

For over 100 years, American farm tools were made by local blacksmiths. An important tool to early farmers was the plow. The farmers used the plow to loosen up the soil to allow moisture to reach the roots of crops and to keep down the weeds. Plows were made of wood, held together with metal bolts and bars. Some blacksmiths experimented with changes to make their plows turn better furrows. (A furrow is the shallow trench of turned soil left behind the plow.) In the 1800s cast iron parts were added to the cutting edge.

Prairie soil stuck to the wooden or iron plows. Plowing took a yoke (pair) of oxen and three workers: one to drive the team, one to steer the plow, and the third to clean dirt off (scour) the blade. Or one person could do all three jobs in turn—very slow work!

John Deere’s plow solved the problem of sticking. It also pulled more easily than any plow that had been tried before. It allowed farmers to switch from slow oxen to faster teams of horses for plowing power.

New technologies allowed farmers to work more efficiently and faster. The colter, a sharp wheel-shaped piece on plows, cut into the surface of the ground to help the plow blade move through the soil more easily. Even so, a farmer walking behind a plow could only plow two acres a day. A plow pulled by two horses with a seat where the farmer could ride was called a sulky plow. With a two-horse sulky that could plow two rows at a rime, a farmer could plow up to seven acres a day.

Planting and Cultivating

Corn was first planted by hand, like other grains. After the corn began to grow, it needed cultivation (stirring the soil to kill the weeds). Because straight rows made cultivation easier, farmers marked out their field rows before planting. They drew lines across the field lengthwise and crosswise, making a checkerboard pattern. Corn seed was planted where the lines crossed. The field could then be cultivated either crosswise or lengthwise.

Corn seed was placed in the box of the hand corn planter. The tip of the planter was pushed into the ground. The handles were opened and closed, dropping a few seeds into the ground.

Some horse-drawn planters were operated by two workers—one who drove the horses and an extra helper who pulled the seed planting handle as the machine came to each cross. A paddle behind the seed planter pushed dirt over the seed, then the wheel rolled over, patting the dirt firmly down.

The horse drawn machines were a welcome addition to the farm. After years of walking along behind plows, bending over to hoe weeds, and working through a field on foot during harvest, farmers welcomed a chance to “farm sitting down.”

Harvesting Corn by Hand

Hand husking (picking) corn was slow, difficult work. As each ear was picked it was tossed into the wagon. The high board on one side is called a bang board. It acted much like the basketball backboard. The farmer tossed the ear of corn, it hit the board and dropped into the wagon.

Sometimes farmers harvested the whole corn plant at once. Corn stalks are heavy, and setting them up in a shock was back-breaking work. A machine to cut down and tie corn stalks into bundles helped make the harvesting of corn faster and easier. But the bundles still had to be lifted, stacked and tied into shocks.

Grain Harvest—Hard Work

Early Iowa farmers grew several small grain crops like wheat and oats. Wheat was made into flour and then into bread. Oats were fed to livestock. Before machinery, grain harvest took a lot of work for the whole family.

The grain harvest was hard work. When the grain had ripened on the stalk, it was cut with a cradle. At the bottom of the cradle was a scythe that sliced through the stalks close to the ground. The cradle of wooden rods caught up the loose stalks as the farmer swung the cradle around, and the stalks fell to the ground in neat rows. A helper then tied the stalks into bundles and set them into shocks to dry.

The bundles were then spread out on the ground or the barn floor on a large sheet of canvas. Farmers beat the stalks with flails, short wooden sticks tied onto a longer pole by a leather thong. Flailing knocked the grain loose from the stalks. The stalks went gathered up and saved as straw. The kernels of grain left on the canvas were put in a winnowing tray. They were tossed in the air several times so that the wind could blow away this husks and chaff that covered the kernels and small pieces of straw mixed in. The process was call winnowing. Only after all these steps did the farmer have clean oats or wheat.

Snorting Monsters

Toward the end of the 19th century, machines pulled by horses began to replace hand power in the grain harvest. By then Iowa farmers were not growing much wheat but they needed oats to feed the horses.

For thousands of years, farmers all over the world had cut, shocked, flailed and winnowed grains the same way. Machines changed all that very quickly. Horse-drawn reapers cut the grain, and binders tied the stalks into bundles.

When the grain was dry, the threshing team arrived. Because the operation with machines required many workers, men from up to a dozen farms worked together for several weeks, moving from farm to farm when the grain was ripe until all the grain was harvested. Some members of the crew loaded the bundles onto a wagon and hauled them to a threshing machine. The machine usually looked like a railroad locomotive. It had a firebox that burned coal to produce steam, and the steam drove wheels and gears that operated a conveyor belt. Black smoke poured out of the chimney and a piercing steams whistle signaled farmers when it was time to start and stop work.

Teams of horses pulled the wagons loaded with bundles close to the big conveyor belt. Farmers on the threshing team climbed to the top of the pile and began pitching bundles onto the moving belt. A rotating knife cute the twine holding the bundles together. Then the stalks of oats were pitched into a series of beaters that knocked the heads from the grain (flailing). The breeze from the operation blew the stalks and chaff into a straw pile while the clean grain dropped into a waiting wagon (winnowing). When the wagon was full, the crew drove it to the barn where it was stored in a grain bin.

Farm women also worked long hours during threshing time. Whenever a crew came to a farm, it was the job of the women there to fix a huge noon meal for the men. Sometimes women from neighboring farms came in to help. The meal usually had beef, chicken or pork (sometimes all three), mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetable from the garden: pickles, bread, butter, jams and jellies, and large slices of pie and cake for dessert. Often the women set up long tables in the shade in the yard where it was cooler than the hot kitchen. The women knew that the men could not help comparing the cooking from one farm to the next, and the women worked hard to make the beast meals they could. The men on the threshing crew went back to work in the afternoon well fed.

Yard Tools to Have at the Barns


-Giant rolling magnet.

Horse hooves + metal parts = disaster.  So, a giant rolling magnet can really come in handy.  Even if you are not doing any new construction, you will always be doing repairs.  And, the earth is constantly turning over, so your horse paddocks and turnouts are constantly spitting up weird metal and dangerous things.  I know it seems weird – but the photo below shows a few things that I found in a paddock after a rain.

I ordered my magnetic roller online from a roofing supply company, and you may be able to find one at a larger hardware store.


I found all of these items in a paddock one day.  Giant vet bills, waiting to happen.


For cleaning crossties, barn aisles, cobwebs from above, the hay area, you name it.  Push brooms are great for big messes.  You can also separate the bristle end from the handle of a push broom and attach them to your stall thresholds to keep the bedding inside the stall, and not have it dragged down the barn aisle.   Regular brooms are great for small jobs!

Store your brooms with the bristle side up to preserve them, or hang them.

-Leaf rakes. 

I prefer the super light (and smaller) metal leaf rakes.  I use them to smooth out bedding, spread bedding in outside areas, and also to rake up leaves in the fall.  The larger plastic version are a bit clumsy for me to use, take up more room, and sometimes they collect so many leaves you have to stop and spend a year yanking them out.


These handy spring handle holders keep everything organized and your broom bristles off the ground.

-Giant snow shovel.

These are handy for muck tubs throughout the barn and cross ties.  You can get metal ones, or heavy duty plastic ones, your preference.  I think the heavy duty plastic ones make less noise as you scrape them along the ground….  Good for picking up piles of “stuff” that you have swept up, and also good for sweeping up manure in the cross ties and barn aisle.

-Stirrup Hoe. 

While this is a gardening tool, it has a horsey name, which makes me like it even more.  These are super for removing weeds quickly and swiftly.  Because they have a long handle, you can deal with weeds around the barn and paddocks without bending over.

Tools for Preserving Barns and Farms

The National Register of Historic Places – NH Division of Historical Resources (NHDHR), 603/271-3483

The New Hampshire State Register of Historic Places – NHDHR, 603/271-3483

The New Hampshire Barn Survey Project — NHDHR, 603/271-3483

Farms of Distinction adobe acrobat – NH Dept. of Agriculture, 603/271-3551

Grant Programs and Tax Incentives

Property Tax Incentives – property tax relief for owners of historic New Hampshire barns and other agricultural buildings, NHDHR at 603/271-3483.

Barn Assessment Grants – planning grants prior to rehabilitation projects, New Hampshire Preservation Alliance, 603/224-2281.

Land and Community Heritage Investment Program – for municipalities and non-profits, grants for preserving natural, cultural and historic resources, 603/224-4113.

Conservation License Plate Program – for publicly-owned properties, grants for preservation and conservation projects, NHDHR, 603/271-3483.
How to purchase or give Moose Plates – and other FAQs.

Preservation Tax Credits – 20% federal income tax credit for the rehabilitation of income-producing structures on the National Register of Historic Places, NHDHR, 603/271-3483.

Other Resources

Barn Committee – Biennial Reports, Meeting Agendas and Meeting Minutes of the New Hampshire Historic Agricultural Structures Matching Grants Program Advisory Committee

Preserving Old Barns: Preventing the Loss of a Valuable Resource, by John C. Porter and Francis E. Gilman.

The Preservation of Historic Barns, by Michael J. Auer, Preservation Brief 20 from the National Park Service. A summary of historic barn types nationwide and technical advice for their maintenance.

Conserving the Family Farm  – a manual using plain language on conservation easements and agricultural provisions, produced by the NH Coalition for Sustaining Agriculture and UNH Cooperative Extension, (603) 679-5616. adobe acrobat

NH Stories Inc. and New Hampshire Made, Inc. – promoting the people, products and services of New Hampshire, 888/647-8674.

Scenic and Cultural Byways – increasing direct marketing opportunities, New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning, 603/271-2155.

Preservation and Agricultural Easements – please contact the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance for more information on easements, 603/224-2281.

Is Your Town Farm Friendly? – A checklist for sustaining rural character, by Gary Matteson for the NH Coalition for Sustaning Agriculture and UNH Cooperative Extension.

Preserving Rural Character: The Agriculture Connection – NHOSP Revised Technical Bulletin 6, by Lorraine Stuart Merrill. How to support local farming in land use policies and programs. adobe acrobat

Preserving Rural Character through Agriculture: A Resource Kit for Planners – A broad array of useful tools and techniques, compiled by the NH coalition for Sustaining Agriculture. adobe acrobat

Barn Again! – national clearinghouse for information, awards and grants, National Trust for Historic Preservation, 303-623-1504.

Creating an Agricultural Commission in Your Town  – Lorraine Stuart Merrill, for the NH Coalition for Sustaining Agriculture and UNH Cooperative Extension. Agricultural commissions are an effective mechanism for communities to take positive action to remain or become more farm-friendly. adobe acrobat

Who’s Who in New Hampshire Agriculture – contact information for people and programs, and a brief economic overview of agriculture in New Hampshire, published by the NH Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food.

American Farmland Trust – online library, research, technical and policy assistance for saving family farms and farmland.

National Barn Alliance – national barn preservation network.

National Agricultural Library – online library and links to agricultural topics, including extensive history and image collections.

Agriculture Online – portal and search engine for agricultural subjects and programs.

Rolfe Barn – Technical Information Sheet: Exploring the Rolfe Barn in Penacook Adobe Acrobat

Keeping tools sharp

Keeping tools sharpGardeners demand a lot of pruning tools, especially in winter when there are roses, clematis, apple trees and fruit bushes to do. There are other cutting tools in regular use, too: hedging and topiary shears, and blades you might not think of as blades like hoes and border spades, both of which need sharp edges to cut  through the earth.

Keeping your tools razor-sharp is key to efficient working. Blunt tools take more effort to use, and worse, they can tear at branches rather than cutting them cleanly, causing snags and ragged edges that invite rots and other infections to set in. Hoes and spades, too, are far more effective if they’re sharp enough to cut through obstacles rather than bludgeoning them with brute force.

You’ll find all you need to keep your tools honed to perfection in our Paston and Oundle garden centre, from sharpening stones to specialist sharpening tools for curved blades such as secateurs. To use them well and get your tools cutting cleanly, follow our top tips:

  • Work out which side has the flat cutting surface: for bypass secateurs, this is the curving blade that scissors past the ‘anvil’ one. This is the edge you need to keep sharp.
  • Work at an angle of about 30° to the blade and run the sharpening stone along the angled side – if you look at the blade sideways on you’ll find out which that is. Work from hinge to tip, always moving the stone away from you to avoid hurting yourself. Keep doing this for a few minutes and you’ll find you have a rough edge forming on the underside as tiny shards of metal shear off.
  • Use a circular motion to gently remove this burr from the other side of the blade, though working flat to the blade this time as you don’t want to take the edge off again.
  • Consider a professional tool-sharpening service for larger-bladed items like hedging shears or petrol-driven hedge trimmers. These only need doing around once a year and it’s easier to get the professionals in.

Growing grapevines

Growing grapevinesOf all the fruit you can grow in the garden, a grapevine is among the most productive and beautiful. All you need is a sunny wall, fence or pergola for it to scramble up and it’ll cheerfully cover the whole thing with big elegant leaves turning brilliant colours in autumn, and of course fat clusters of fruit dripping with sweetness.

There are dozens of varieties of grapevine and we’ve got a great selection in our Paston and Oundle garden centre. For sweet fruit for the table, go for a dessert variety: ‘Brandt’ has small but very sweet dark-skinned grapes (and spectacular autumn colour) while ‘Phoenix’ is a reliable modern variety good for both eating and winemaking.

If it’s a vineyard you’re after, there’s an even wider choice. ‘Seyval’ makes a light, fruity wine; while ‘Pinot Noir’ ripens well in a good summer for a classic deep red claret.

Here are our top tips for growing successful grapevines:

  • Choose a sunny site, ideally a south- or southwest facing wall and sheltered from the wind. Vines do best in free-draining soil like sand or chalk: if you’re gardening on clay dig in a barrowload of grit before planting.
  • Add well-rotted farmyard manure (found in our garden centre) to improve soil before planting, as grapevines are in the ground a long time.
  • Add a handful of slow-release fertiliser like pelleted chicken manure or bonemeal to keep your plant happy all season.
  • Plant when vines are dormant – from late autumn till early spring, as long as the ground isn’t waterlogged or frozen.
  • Put up a sturdy training system before you plant: stretch wires 30cm apart up a fence, or attach trellis. You’ll find all you need in our garden centre.
  • Water thoroughly in dry weather: if grapevines get parched at the roots they’re more likely to suffer from mildew, ruining your crop.
  • Prune each winter once the vine has dropped all its leaves and is completely dormant to remove some of the year’s vigorous growth and keep the plant productive and healthy.

Seed sowing success

Seed sowing successIt’s one of the most exciting moments in a gardener’s year: you go into your greenhouse or peek at your windowsill to find the seeds you sowed a week ago shyly poking out little green sprouts.

Seed-sowing is hugely satisfying and an economic way to fill your garden in Paston and Oundle with colourful annuals, herbs and vegetables. Just choose what you want from the many packets you’ll find in our garden centre.

To make sure you get those little plants off to the best start, follow our tips for seed-sowing success.

Sowing direct:

  • Hold off till it’s warm enough as seed sown in chilly soil sulks and rots. A constant soil temperature of about 7°C is a green light for most hardy varieties.
  • Prepare the ground well so seedlings can get their heads out easily. Remove weeds and stones, and rake soil into the texture of breadcrumbs.
  • Sow sparingly to save the trouble of thinning out, and to avoid diseases spreading among overcrowded seedlings.
  • Don’t sow too deep – about 1/2 cm is enough for tiny seeds; larger seeds can go in at 1cm deep. Sink really large seeds like broad beans to twice their depth.
  • Sow in lines and then when your seedlings come up you’ll recognise them. Weed seedlings growing between the lines are easily removed.

Sowing under cover:

  • Use specialist seed compost as it’s sterilised and fine-textured: soil-based John Innes seed compost, available in our garden centre, is ideal.
  • Sow in modules to avoid root disturbance and you can transplant seedlings without checking growth. Sow one or two seeds to each module and pot on once the roots fill the space.
  • Water from the bottom to avoid disturbing the seed: half fill a tray with water and stand the seed tray in it till the surface turns damp.
  • Use tap water rather than saved rainwater as many fungal diseases are water-borne: tap water is relatively clean, keeping seedlings safer.
  • Keep them cosy especially if they’re tender: bring indoors at night, or heat your greenhouse to about three degrees above zero.