We have some unmistakable signs of spring:
birds pairing off,
geese on the move – flying overhead in their V formations,
grass, weeds and clover growing in the pastures,
sap rising in the hedges and some are almost budding.
What a contrast to last year, and far too early as it is only mid-Feb and winter could easily return. Here’s hoping for a long mild spring, which could lead to a good strong crop of young calves and lambs and even potentially a good harvest.
a lifelong ambition achieved
It may be an old cliché but sometimes it is truly the simplest things in life that give most pleasure. Jethro has achieved one of his lifelong ambitions – to grow good cauliflowers in the garden at home.
They look good and taste good, and we have had so many that despite eating lots, and giving some away, for the first time we have tried freezing them. Lots of blanching took place yesterday and we will see in the winter if it paid off.
The success of these cauliflowers has actually given him more satisfaction than the two thousand tonnes of arable crops that he has grown at the same time. It was also a lot less stressful.
Jethro recommends black matting for weed prevention, and netting to keep the pigeons off. Nature and one application of an insecticide for caterpillars in July did the rest. We try to be as organic as possible in the vegetable garden but find the Brassicas always have to have one treatment to prevent annihilation from cabbage whites.
Since 6th August, when we set up the new rain gauge, we have had five and a half inches of rain and everything has had a good soaking and there will be no residues left on the vegetables. The dry spell is over.
On the farm and in the veg garden we now have grass and weeds almost up to our knees. What a difference the summer rain makes! As our annual rainfall is only in the region of 23 inches it is remarkable to get almost 20% of the annual total in what is normally the driest month.
There is no telling what the autumn and winter will be like, but we are no longer short of grass for forage and Jethro has bought in hay, at a good price, to compensate for what we could not make. Like all past winters it will get over and I have to say at my stage of life the years seem to pass quicker and quicker I can hardly believe we are heading towards the last night of the Proms again….
I have a question: why do summers seem to pass so fast and winters go so slowly?
An inch of rain overnight, and even more rain today, has brought the 2010 harvest to an abrupt halt, and ceased the previous worries of winter grass stocks, although forage stocks will remain short. Since it started raining a couple of weeks ago the grass in the fields has gone mad, and as no-one has time to cut the farmhouse lawns, they look as if they need grazing by 20 sheep right now!
Undaunted by last week’s experiences, I am venturing off to view 4 more ponies tomorrow, and hoping for dry weather or else it could become a bit steamy in the car. At least two changes of clothing will be required, and a toothbrush, just in case, we accidentally get flooded somewhere although I do hope to be home again by nightfall.
Then back to work sorting of the fat lambs on Wednesday and hopefully off to market to sell them the old-fashioned way on Thursday.
I have only heard of one farm which has made a similar quantity of hay to last year. Every other farmer we have spoken to is down by an average of 50% yield. We are down on silage by the same despite being inventive with what and where to cut. As yet we have no hay made as our Stewardship agreements do not allow cutting before 15th July and since that date we have been making silage and combining the oil seed rape.
This dire set of circumstances, on top of the continued lack of summer grazing, is potentially catastrophic, not just for farmers, but for the horse industry too. Small bale hay is already up to £7.00 per bale in some parts, what might the price next February, especially if the weather was bad? Animal welfare could become quite an issue for anyone not prepared to plan ahead and if need be pay up to ensure enough stocks. Last winter my horse ate one whole bale a day through the worst weather and even I need to stock up again. What hay we make here isn’t always good enough quality for horses and even I have to buy from another farmer. Jethro now owes me 31 good bales of best horse hay. I bought them at £3.00 per bale and the same bales from the same farm are now £6.00 per bale. It is not the money I want but the exact replacement of my goods. Could this be contentious issue, I do hope not!
Jethro is planning to ammonia treat all his straw from the arable crops to feed the cattle and bulk up what hay and silage we do have.
A lot now depends on what kind of autumn the whole country has, how much rain, and whether we get a prolonged flush of autumn grass.
Rain dance anyone? Yes please, but not until after the wheat is harvested!
Once again the days seem to have have flown and I have a gap in my regular blogging. This is partly due to the workload here and also from a much needed few days away from the farm.
The grass and crops are growing well and the sheep start lambing this week. We’ve had 2 calves born so far, and more due very soon. The greenhouse and conservatory are very full of plants waiting for the milder weather to plant out. 500 onion setts await immediate planting [ they only arrived last week by post] but since it has rained all over the weekend I have caught up with transplanting tomato and cucumber seedlings and sowing the sweetcorn, courgette, pumpkin and squash seeds under cover of glass instead.
We are also deep into planning for Open Farm Sunday and LEAF have sent us many packets of seeds to distribute to the children when they visit the farm. These seed packets are provided by DEFRA and in our large batch seem to be predominantly red pepper seeds. There is also Rocket, Cress and Basil but as a seasoned gardener and grower of veg from seed I am very surprised by the choice of seeds since these packets are meant to encourage children to grow things. How many children actually like Rocket and how many will have the patience to try to grow peppers?
The day itself is not until 7th June, and that to my mind is late in the season for growing peppers. I have some grown from seed planted earlier this year that are ready to finally pot on now and I have planted the Defra pepper and basil seeds which arrived this week in the hope that we will at least have plants on display. Nearer the time I shall sow cress and rocket for the BIG DAY. I now have even more seed packets coming from another source, quick growing lettuce this time. If we don’t use them all I shall send them in to the local schools so they will be used up. I expect the numbers of visitors we will get on the day will depend almost entirely on the weather.
There is so much to think about for this big open day from First Aid cover to portaloos to catering and just what will interest our visitors and most worryingly will we have enough helpers? We will all be adding events management to our CV’s and do seem to be managing all this quite well without having a degree in the subject. Between us we just have several lifetimes of experience, an understanding of Health and Safety and buckets of common sense!
The cattle can clearly smell the grass growing and know spring is almost here. This morning they are running about in their open sided sheds kicking their heels in the bright, warm sunshine. Tomorrow we will weigh them and calculate their daily liveweight gain over the winter and for the oldest beef animals estimate their time of dispatch. Our wonderfully patient beef customers are getting a little restless and I promised them an update on when their beef boxes will be ready.
In the meantime I have just weighed and selected another eight lambs to send this week and this afternoon we will be checking on the progress of the fattening pigs, however I am sure they will be a few weeks off yet. Our fattening lambs are almost gone for another year and come mid April we will be delivering the new crop.
Progress on the arable front is good too with the drilling almost done and the fertiliser application on the wheat making good progress.
In the meantime the hired boar has arrived and is firmly in quarantine. This is not our first experience of hiring boars and we are frequently dismayed to find that some rare breed pigs are apparently kept in indifferent conditions. We are not sure he is even fit for the purpose he came for. Personally this morning I think he still looks poor, and we are debating whether to even try him or just send him back. He was dosed with Dectomax, an anti parasite injection, before we even took him off the trailer as he has arrived with what looks to us rather like both mange and worms, still his appetite is good and that is always a good thing with pigs. Pigs who are not eating is usually a sign of something terminal. Keeping these rare breeds going is not at all easy but we are determined to get it right and make a really good job of it, I just wish every other rare breed pig keeper tried to do the same.
In the meantime we’ve found a boar of the same line as our sterile one and can fetch him very soon. This will be good because we really prefer to have a closed herd, which makes us much less vulnerable to outbreaks of parasites and disease. It also means we are totally responsible for the pigs’ management and we prefer to do that too.
I have bad news and good news: First the bad news – I clearly spoke too soon on the drilling front as the very clever little box of ‘chips’ which calculates the correct seed rate has gone on the blink and is causing MAJOR problems for Jethro. The original seed drill was so much simpler.
Now the good news is I just walked past the hired boar’s box and he is shouting for his tea already.
The good news is at last the source of the permanently flooding cellar is finally found and has been dealt with. The bad news is that a good proportion of the cellar ceiling has been taken down and the resulting mess is really terrible AGAIN. The row following the mess was also terrible.
Leaking heating pipes under the kitchen cupboards was the eventual diagnosis, and of course it was intermittent, only leaking when the pipes were cold and contracted.
The constant bitter cold has been a reminder that this is how winters always used to be and we all have, of late, got used to much milder ones. Since our trip to Wales, Jethro is much less worried about the grass lasting out as we appear to have a lot longer sward, if you can call it that at this time of the year, than we saw over there.
Now I am off to light the fire and put a beef stew on for supper. Inner warmth is essential when working outdoors in cold weather.