Projects and Improvements

by Robert Cooper

Chapter 5

I still don't have any ideas for me yet. I need another project to get started before I have to get involved with degree studies. Or do I ? I could get stuck into degree work straight away. If I apply myself I could get done in three years instead of four. With Open University one can work at one's own speed.

Sheldon came back within the week with plans and maps showing which crops are planted now and what he would replace them with. These plans had to be churning in his head for some time to produce such a complex scheme in so short of time. He wanted to plant mustard in two fields and alfalfa in two others immediately after harvest next month, plough it under in spring then leave them fallow for a season. Two other fields he wanted to sow 'catch crops' for spring harvest then sow late maturing oats as a main. He foresaw that climate change would delay the bad weather long enough to harvest the oats. He also wanted to try a field of brassicas to see what sort of yield he could get. He obviously had it all worked out so we agreed his plans and gave him his head. If it all went wrong we could afford a bad year or two but Geoff. said that he seemed so sure of his expectations that we should be safe.

Next we asked to see Steven to see what plans he had for the kitchen gardens and greenhouses. He came in next day clutching plans and catalogues. He also brought the head gardener with him to back up his plans. He explained that they had remodelled the layout to allow 'no tread' beds. These were narrow enough to be worked from the paths either side. They had worked out a crop rotation plan to give not only different crops yearly but avoid soil borne diseases such as clubroot and onion neck rot. He also wanted to interplant garlic and carrots to avoid carrot fly which can ruin a whole crop of carrots. They had worked out a scheme of cropping for the greenhouses to give a longer supply of vegetables and fruits. He also urged that we look at our freezer capacity so that if we had a sudden glut of anything it could be safely stored. No matter how careful, you are always liable to have crops not performing to expectations. The head gardener said that any stable waste could be used in the gardens, and also any kitchen vegetable waste. It could all be composted to be used instead of chemicals. He was not against chemicals but we were an organic farm and he would prefer to use natural materials for fertiliser. He was also advocating biological pest control in the greenhouses. Natural predators were very efficient pest controllers and had no harmful side effects. He had noticed Patches and his little cart which would just fit nicely between his rows. (Ask Freddy.) He thought that a tarpaulin could be tailored to fit the cart so it stayed clean. Ideal for moving the manure from the stables. He could establish compost silos downwind of the Manor and keep the stable area free of manure heaps. He also wanted to get the cultivator working on a couple of beds, heavily manure them then leave them until spring for a new crop. Some vegetables enjoyed freshly manured soil while others were better in soil which had been manured the previous year. It was all on Steven's plans. Did we have a spare shed where he could put these plans on a wall for reference and keep seeds and stuff. His cultivator was kept in the machine store but somewhere to put all the hand tools would be handy. I said we would give it some thought as it needed to be conveniently close to the gardens. Perhaps we could meet him out at the gardens in about 30 minutes?

We met up at the gardens and wandered around. I suggested a long narrow shed with two doors. As their heavy machinery was kept in the machine store they did not need a square shed? So perhaps 20/25 feet long by about 8 feet wide? Bench on one side and hooks and clips on the other wall. Each end with shelves for seeds and plant trays etc. There was a stretch of old garden wall on one side the the area. Did this seem O.K. They looked and paced it out. It looked about 30 feet long and was in good condition. If the back wall of the shed was anchored to this wall it would add strength to the building. There was about 10 feet clear in front of the wall. If they assembled the shed with the ribs on the back wall to the outside then they would have a large flat surface to put their plans and charts on. Did that make sense? If I arranged delivery would they be willing to assemble it? They agreed that it was a good place and they would be good for assembly. It might be two 15 foot units which they could join. They might have a couple of spare ends which they could use the timber for shelves. I told them that once it was in position they could deal with the bench and shelves themselves. Just order it in what they needed from the timber yard. Mr. Watson would tell them who we used, just give him all the delivery notes etc. I asked them to find a tape rule and measure the wall and let me know later today. The Gardener, Mr. Jones said there was a surveyor's tape in the machine shed so he trotted off to get it. On his return they measured the wall at 32 feet, Ideal!

W hen I get back into the office I shall get Edward to order two 15 x8 foot pent roof sheds with windows only on the front side and preferably doors in the centre of the front side. They could organise the interior to suit themselves. Guttering and down pipes into water tanks to save rain water for summer use.

I must say that I am looking forward to eating all organic veg. rather than a mix of home grown and bought in stuff. I noticed that Mrs. Lang already had bins for compostable waste at the veg prep. area in the kitchen and Steven has a small 4 wheel barrow to collect the bins every day. He sure is organised that boy! I also saw Freddy busy with a tarpaulin and a sack needle making a liner for his cart ready to start moving manure. Mr. Lang will be pleased to have all the accumulated manure moved away. With the extra horses he wants the heaps will get even bigger. Its all good stuff,already mixed with straw and hay. Stack it close and tight, let the temperature rise to kill off any seeds mixed in and in 6 months it will be good useful fertiliser for the vegetable beds. I think Sheldon will want some, there is too much for Steven's operation. Sheldon will send a tractor and trailer and collect direct from the stables. Sheldon has a grant for a new stable building and is working with Mr. Lang on siting it. No doubt they will inform me when they have a decision. Sheldon tells me that the leased land has been fallow for two seasons already so it is ready for the grass cover to be ploughed in, he says he will mow it first then use discs rather than deep ploughing which can damage the soil structure and lead to erosion by the winter rains. He intends to turn the soil in all of them soon and in the spring plant a catch crop in two of the fields and leave the other two to rest until summer/autumn when he will plant all four with over wintering crops to harvest early the year after. He will hire in a big tractor and disc plough from the Mutual, that way his staff are not tied down for too long. Depending on the utility of the kit and the extra land he now has the use of, he may put together a scheme to purchase or lease but that is for the future.

He wants to try some brassicas, potatoes and root crops. The estate has never grown any as far as he can establish. That young man has certainly taken us at our word and run with his dream. He is keeping a diary/log of all his decisions and the results. Geoff. and I will be interested in seeing how it all works. It certainly draws the estate away from cereal only. As Sheldon says,"We only need a serious attack of corn or oat disease and we will lose a whole year's income because we have no back up. By diversifying we are not dependent on one source of income. Geoff. and I agree with him. He will present his planting programme soon so we can see what he intends. Now he realises that he is not bound by Mr. Field's restrictions he is really getting going.

I must attend to Steven's education. With a little organisation he could attend the Manor School. I must have words with Mr. Timms about it, otherwise Mrs. Sloan will be on my back. Now that his broken arm is healed we have no excuse to keep him out of school. He would still be able to work his garden after school and at weekends. He also has a gardener and staff to carry out his plans.

Freddy manages to keep up with his school work so there is no reason for Steven not to. Transport to school is no problem. All of Mr. Wilkins associates are in custody so he is not in danger.

One of Mr. Lang's horses has thrown a shoe so the farrier is calling in on Monday, we shall get Patches hooves inspected at the same time.

The estate is starting harvest next week so the farm will be busy. The weather forecast looks good for the next month or so. Looking at the fields it should be a good one but I take heed of Sheldon's warning about diversification.

Miss Lacy has recruited three staff already, two from the University and one of her colleagues from her previous position. Geoff. has put them all through the recruiting process and taken references including C.R.B. checks as they will be working with children and young people. She is also working on membership fees and her budget. The building is now secure so filling the pool has started. The tennis courts have been set out and graded ready for surfacing. Pitch and putt area is being constructed. We look to be on target for public opening at the New Year. I heard on the 'grapevine' that the Mayor has decided to employ a new secretary. His previous one having been caught out with her lack of diary management and a string of complaints about her behaviour. I shall review my decision to invite him to the Leisure Centre opening in the New Year.

Sheldon sent his guys over to the stables with a digger and a tractor and trailer to collect most of the horse manure. He left a little heap of the older stuff for Steven. Mr. Lang is most pleased, the manure heap was becoming a problem. Sheldon is planning to park one of his older,smaller trailers at the stables so Mr. Lang can put all the manure straight in it and Sheldon's man will collect it as it fills.

Sheldon has two fields harvested already and will use his 'muck spreader' to distribute the manure so it will be ready for when the soil is turned after harvest is finished. Looks like he is going to try one of the brassica family in spring. He will inform me when he is ready. I want to talk to him about University courses and such.

With my 'trusted councillor' hat, one of my male staff (age 16) is being blackmailed because he is gay. He is desperate because he thinks his parents would throw him out of they knew. He came to see me for advice. I told him that as staff he could have a room here with meals at any time so he did not need to worry about being on the street. I asked if he knew who was threatening him.

He said an ex school friend with whom he had a brief liaison at school. He was demanding £500 for his silence. I said " Tell me his name. You know if you pay him he will come back for more?" He said that he did not even have enough to pay him now. He was desperate. I said that I could deal with this but he might have to face his parents. It would be better if he told them himself rather than hear it from others. He may even be surprised at their acceptance. I would ask them to come to the Manor where I could tell them that you were being blackmailed. When they asked why, you could tell them. There is an old saying 'Tell the truth and shame the devil.' Even if they then reject you, you will have some place to live and know that you told them your truth. Meantime I would get somebody to scare the pants off your abuser and if necessary have him dealt with legally. Then HE would have to tell his parents with a police caution hanging over him.

He burst into tears. He was so relieved to know there was a way through this mess and that somebody would help him. If he gives me their address I will write formally asking them to come to the Manor. I would see them in my estate office and we would take it from there. He could meanwhile stay at the manor for a day or so until this was all sorted out. Is that O.K.? When he agreed I sent him off to find Standish to organise a room for him.

His people lived on the estate so it was no problem to write a letter and have Edward deliver it. Within an hour of delivery Edward had a call from the boy's father. Edward would not discuss why they needed to come, just to set a time. They were worried enough to ask for the same afternoon. They had been worried about their son. He was very quiet and withdrawn and jumped at every loud noise. Edward booked them in for 4.00 p.m.

At exactly 4.00 they arrived. They were shown up to the estate office. (Their son was in the bathroom)

I asked them to sit. I introduced myself. I told them that it was my duty to act as trusted councillor for my staff.

They nodded.

I asked them if their son had shown any signs of stress.

They said "yes, he has been jumpy and nervous all week".

I asked them " Did you know he is being blackmailed?"

They looked utterly shocked. "What has he done? He must know that we would support him whatever he has done. He is our son."

"Perhaps he has fear of rejection,?"

They both burst out " NEVER"

Father said "Whatever he has done, whatever he is we will be with him"

Mother said " He is gay, isn't he. Poor dear is too frightened to tell us."

Father said "He is behind that door isn't he? Tell him to come in to his family. We will NEVER reject him." His voice raised so the boy can hear him.

The door opened and the boy ran in.

"Oh Mum and Dad, I thought that you would throw me out if you knew."

He hugged both. I had to take a tissue to my eyes.

"Dear Boy, Your mother and I made you in love, we raised you in love. How could we stop loving you because of your choice of partners?. When you bring him home we will welcome him as another son."

Suddenly Mother looked up. " What's this about blackmail?."

I jumped in at this point. " I will deal with that side of things.

Believe me, that boy will wish he never set eyes on your son.

He may have to give a statement but I shall maintain his privacy

Leave it with me.

They all left together. I called down to Standish to say that the situation had been resolved and the room was not needed.

Now to call Mr. Johns.

I told him how I wanted this handled if he could do it legally. I wanted the boy interviewed with his parents and verbally shaken so his teeth rattled. Threaten them with a police caution if it will help but I want him to regret even thinking about demanding money from another person.

He said he thought he could deal with it. What if the parents would not co-operate?

Then call the police and have him arrested for blackmail and demanding money with menaces. I have a statement from the injured party. He has the support of his parents and he is willing to give a statement to the police if necessary.

Thank you Mr. Johns, please let me know how it goes.

I just have time for a walk to calm down before dinner.

I will go watch Freddy working with Patches that's always calming.

I was a lot calmer when I sat down for dinner. I told Geoff. the bare bones of the matter and how I had dealt with it. He said that I was wise to get Mr. Johns involved. That way I kept the blackmailer at arms length. So another day ends.

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