We left behind 6 months of the wettest weather ever and last week the ground was baked dry after all the amazing recent sunshine we have had. One extreme to the other!
Some of our wheat on the heavier clay drowned and died, but there isn't much we can do about that now; just nurture the surviving crops in the best way we can. Those who follow my news will know what a torrid time Richard was having with cabbage stem flea beetle attack on our oil seed rape. I can now show you the effect that a cabbage stem flea beetle infestation has on a rape crop!
Our rape field after an attack
January Farm News is still dominated by the wet weather and the impact 4 months of continuous rain has had on our crops.
Sian's Dad records the daily rainfall and December '19 was the wettest in 34 years of recording. As you can see 25.23" fell from September to December; it's no wonder our crops are drowning! More...
It was a harvest of two halves. A dry spell, followed by three weeks of rain and then the sun came out again. Those three weeks of continuous rain were not happy weeks for farmers and our nerves were shredded as we waited to see what impact the bad weather would have on our crops.
However, we were not as badly affected as other areas of the UK, especially Yorkshire, where one poor farmer had his whole farmyard washed away by torrents of water. More...
We were expecting June to be a scorching month but it’s been surprisingly damp! We can’t complain because it’s kept our crops happy and healthy. So, what’s been going happening on the farm this month?
Mud Glorious Mud at The Cereals Event
On the 17th June Richard headed off to the annual 'Cereals Event' at Boothby Graffoe, just south of Lincoln. This is the main technical event of the year for arable farmers, and the best opportunity to learn about advances in arable farming. More...
Richard finished spring planting yesterday, with the red millet going in well. The canary seed was planted about a month ago but has been struggling in the dry soil conditions.
The beans are looking strong, but they too need a good drink. Richard planted them deeper this year to help the roots find the moisture.
Planting the millet in these very dry conditions is a risk - the seeds need to be deep enough to find moisture, but not too deep or they won't grow at all! More...
The Wheels are Turning Again!
After a few Winter months of inactivity on the land, the extra-ordinary February weather heralded the start of the farming year and the wheels started turning in earnest. Sian's dad has been weather recording for 34 years, and this February he recorded the warmest maximum temperature since his records began; a sultry 21 degrees C on the 26th February. Needless to say, farmers all over Hampshire were hard at work making the most of the beautiful days.
The first job for Richard was to drill our spring beans. This year he is using a variety called 'Lynx' (I do often wonder about the people who market the names for seeds!). To me, Lynx is either a men's deodorant or an elusive, scarce feline. Here's hoping the beans are not that elusive or scarce this year! They had a terrible time last year with flooding and then drought, so we are hopeful growing conditions will be much better this year.
Richard chose Lynx seed because it is deemed to be the highest yielding, which also has good resistance to downy mildew and a reasonable length of straw which will hopefully stand up until harvest - making it easier to combine.
This is the first time he has drilled into a cover crop and his main concern was that our tine drill would get bunged up with the cover crop, but it coped fantastically well and the beans went in without complication. You can see the remains of the cover crop in the photos here; lots of organic material stabilising and nourishing the soil. This is a very different approach from the old traditional one of cultivating the land or indeed ploughing.
He is now just waiting for the next window of good weather to start planting our spring barley. Thereafter, weather permitting, our canary seed will go in towards the end of March/beginning of April, followed by our millets when the warmer weather arrives in mid-May. So lots to do to keep your birds well fed next year!
Wrens tend to be quite solitary birds, but do you know what the Collective Noun for a group of Wrens is?
Here is a clue: doorbells can do this!
The answer will be on my next newsletter...........
Enjoy your birds and thank you for your business.
NEWS FROM THE FARM
The last few days have been extremely cold on the farm with harsh over-night frosts. At this time of year farm work is very quiet; predictably, the tractors are in shed. But we have been busy doing other things - like improvements and repairs!
This shed is destined to be our new pallet store. As our business grows, space continues to be a major challenge for us. This shed used to house grain storage bins, but we have removed them to create a useable and much-needed pallet store.
A cold January day isn't really the best time to be laying concrete, but a new forklift ramp will allow easy access to the new store. It's just going to take longer to set!
As for the repairs... well this poor fence has taken a pulverising over the last few years. As the size of the lorries that come in to us get ever larger and the ability of some of the drivers to use their wing mirrors can be very hit-and-miss (literally as well as metaphorically), we have modified the angle to give a more spacious reversing arc - and installed a 'heavy-duty deterrent' on point. Wonder how long it will last?
TOP TIPS FOR FEEDING BIRDS DURING COLD WINTER MONTHS
In last month's newsletter, I suggested some simple switches you can make to your bird feeding to really give your garden birds the energy boost they need at this time of year. You can find that information in my blog on the website. Here is a short summary of key points.
"Those of us who sadly have to watch our weight, will know only too well the expression 'make simple switches to healthier options' - which invariably means less tasty options! However just as you can switch to reduce calories, you can also switch to increase calorie content and food quality, which is so important when the weather turns cold, wet and miserable for out garden birds. Here are a few top tips to switch food choices for your birds:"
- Offer Peanuts with the highest oil content = more calories = more heat
- Offer Fatballs with the highest fat content = more calories = more heat
- Offer softer suet during hard frosts = easier digestibility
- Offer water in more locations = less competition = better thermo-regulation
- Offer high energy food in more locations and especially at dawn and dusk = better survival
- offer shelter - nest pouches and pockets are a great way to offer warmth
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NEWS FROM THE FARM
As I write this, there have been snow flurries here in the south and the temperature has certainly dropped by a few degrees.
October was a lovely month for us; dry and warm, which meant our cover crops grew really well. Our buckwheat flowered for a long time providing some very welcome late nectar for the bees. However buckwheat doesn't like cold weather and it has started to fall over now. The linseed was somewhat slower to flower so didn't provide much late-season help for the bees.
This was Richard's first home produced cover crop and he is very pleased with the mix ratios of the various plants that he put together. This particular cover crop contained the following: oats, phacelia, linseed, buckwheat and sunflowers. Each element with a specific function, contributing to improved soil quality and stability.
- Oats have a deep fine root which hold nitrogen and potash in the soil, and when the plant dies off it provides lots of organic matter for worms, so we see huge numbers of worm casts everywhere :)
- The phacelia will flower for the bees and it also has a shallow, fibrous root which gives a nice tilth for the soil.
- Linseed will flower and its deep root really helps with soil drainage.
- Buckwheat offers a late pollen source for bees and is a good phosphate recoverer. All clever stuff!
This is the first year Richard has direct-drilled his wheat and it is also looking really good. He had previous problems with soil compaction, so this time he ran a sub-soiler with new 'low-disturbance' legs to minimise soil compaction and the wheat looks really well as a result.