Wednesday, 1 August 2018

An Untypical Summer.


Farm News
...and so it goes on.  The first rain we had here, after a dry June, was on July 20th and that was a barely measurable one point two millimetres.  Farmers were having to combine the rape at night in order to get it in nearer to the  nine per cent moisture  required by the crushers in order to extract the oil.  During the day it was too dry at six per cent as it is not possible to extract the oil when the moisture content is so low.  The next job, once the rape was cleared,  was one of the least popular jobs, that of muck spreading.  The manure must be worked into the ground within twenty-four hours, but with the ground so dry incorporation is not so effective and the all-pervading smell lasts a little longer: one of the downsides of country living.

The wheat in First Hagg Lane Close has been combined and the straw cleared. Due to a combinations of circumstances the straw was very short this year.  Varieties have been bred with shorter straw in an attempt to reduce lodging (going flat) as happens when heavy rain, or even worse, hail, comes when the crop is ripening. A straw shortener can also be used:   an unnecessary cost this year, but how do you know in advance what the weather will be?  The weather affects the yield. The yield affects the price.  Do you sell some forward (before harvest) when you consider the price is right: the risk is the price and the quantity   There are so many choices to be made and then there is still an element of luck!

Nature Notes 
Going out later than usual to shut the henhouse I was pleased to see a number of bats swooping over the yard.  Having several of the original buildings there are plenty of places for them to hang out in during the day.  The date  on the threshing barn is 1849 and we have a field record book where the first recorded entry is dated 1855.  Several of the crops recorded are no longer grown, certainly not on this farm.
There is no shortage of nectar this year as plants in the herb garden have thrived in the sunshine.  Honey bees, hover flies and several species of bumble bee, are all over the marjoram;  with over 250 species of bumble bee I cannot pretend to have seen them all. They are also enjoying the teasel, another good nectar source.

The Social Side
A quick change of plan was necessary when it was discovered that the date chosen for A Quintessential English Tea, intended to raise funds for Epperstone church, clashed with Wimbledon finals and the football World Cup Final.  Disaster was averted by a last minute change to the following weekend.  Fortunately the weather continued perfect, ticket sales were good, the event was thoroughly enjoyable and a financial success, raising around £500 for much-needed funds.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Summer - Continental Style.


Farm News
June was a strange month.  After weeks of seemingly unrelenting sunshine, and no rain, at least in this area, our cereal crops are beginning to show signs of distress.  In a wet winter the plants do not need to put down long roots to find water, with the result that now, with the upper layers of soil hard and dry, they are suffering.  Our land is mainly keuper marle (clay) so holds moisture longer than the sandland nearby where cereals are already turning white and dying off.  There is no doubt that yields will be lighter everywhere this year.  Martins Hill and The Eastwood, drilled with rye in the autumn, were cut early in an attempt to get the blackgrass, with which it was infested, before the blackgrass shed seed.  The result was a very low yield across thirty-eight acres (15 hectares), but hopefully the strategy will have reduced the blackgrass which is a huge problem at the moment. Oilseed rape is the next crop to harvest. It is quite short this year and has not gone flat, as happens when there are summer storms.

 The spotted woodpecker which feeds on the peanuts, watched by it's young perched safely nearby, has now been replaced by the younger bird.  They have such pretty colouring it is a pleasure to see them.  Another welcome sight is the goldfinch family.  I could not understand why the goldfinches were ignoring the niger seed  when previously they had flocked to it.  Enquiries revealed that niger seed deteriorates over time and mine had been in stock too long.  A quick purchase of fresh seed has resulted in a rapid return of the goldfinches:  point proved.  Red kite, buzzard and kestrel are frequently seen over the farm, and especially when we were mowing for hay.  Skylarks sing above The Hoe, where they always nest.  Their song is beautiful as they fly to an incredible height.  A magpie, possibly looking for water in the yard, was mobbed by the swallows and driven off in no uncertain terms.  Magpies are well known for taking baby birds from the nest.  I do not think they would find the swallows nests under the stable roofs but the swallows were taking no chances.  Another visitor to the yard was a leveret (young hare) which, curiosity satisfied, ran off at speed when it saw me, the dog and the cat!  An unusual daytime visitor was a young hedgehog, rooting through the bark chippings under the damson tree.  Finally, a barn owl flies regularly across the garden, barn owls are seen in the lane and I hear the little owl in the evening, although it is equally active during the day.

Local News   
 Forget jam and Jerusalem.  The June meeting of the Women's Institute was held in the beautiful garden of the Programme Secretary where members enjoyed a glass (or two) of prosecco or a Pimms, had a wander round the garden and looked for a number of everyday objects, previously hidden, which certainly had no place in a garden.  The Book Festival in Lowdham could not possibly be overlooked.  The village was made colourful with bunting, and knitted rosettes.  Even the bollards. outside the Co-Op were dressed in knitted costumes



Thursday, 7 June 2018

Don't Count Your Chickens....


Although I generally follow the advice in the title and don't count my chickens before they are hatched I think I can safely predict an excellent crop of figs this year.  The fig tree evidently enjoyed the early wet weather and now, in its sheltered corner, already the fruit is plentiful  and unusually large for June.  It should ripen from mid-August on and continue into September.  Last year I put some into the deep-freezer at the end of the month  then used them as a cooked fruit during the winter.

Seasonal farm operations are up-to-date although the frequent strong winds have made it difficult to apply insecticides, fungicides and herbicides when the relevant crops are at the optimum condition for achieving maximum effect.  These products all add to the cost of production so it is in our interest to keep their use to a minimum and only to use them when necessary.  Having said that, the rye which we drilled last autumn, as it is said to reduce the appearance of blackgrass, is still on the short side and therefore not  effective at smothering out the blackgrass.  As every growing thing seems to be twice its usual height this year perhaps it will catch up before it is cut later this month.  We can only hope.

We saw a mallard duck leading her brood of six ducklings from the pond in the Stackyard Close onto the pond by the orchard.  They are down to two, now but I saw her chasing off a moorhen. They are killers of ducklings so perhaps she was not always successful.  She is a conscientious mother; I saw her sending a cock pheasant on his way.  I am  sure he had no bad intentions but she was taking no chances - very brave, I thought.  We were fortunate to see a barn owl glide across the garden the other evening.  It is always an impressive sight and we were prompted to say, as we always do, that  we must put up a nest box on the farm then wait to see if it is adopted.  Barn owls need quite a large hunting area, so there may be no room for another pair so close.

June is the season for fund-raising events.  Many villages in the area  hold Garden Festivals, Afternoon Teas, Teddy Bears Picnics, Open Gardens and of course, there is the now well-established Lowdham Book Festival which takes place from June 19th - 30th. This  covers much more than books, and offers a programme of events  appealing to a wide range of interests.


Monday, 7 May 2018

Oh, what a Beautiful Morning.


Oh, what a beautiful day!  After waking to so many wet days it is a real joy to see the sun.  Although I do not keep records I do not remember ever seeing so much rain in the first quarter of the year.  It  certainly made it difficult to start spring work on the farm as the ground became supersaturated and could not support the tractors and machinery.  We  held back as long as possible to avoid compressing the soil and making wheelings which then hold the water and cause problems with subsequent cultivations.  In addition low temperatures made everything slow to start growing.  Now the ground is warming up. The difference  that the temperature makes is plain to see.  Hedges are greening up almost overnight, as is the grass; fruit trees and ornamentals are thick with blossom; hawthorn trees and hedges will soon be a picture.  I have not yet discovered if the saying "ne'er cast a clout till may be out"  refers to may blossom (another name for hawthorn) or to the month of May.  If you know the answer to this one perhaps you would be kind enough to tell me.

Locally we have a huge new Garden Centre to visit.  Beside the "old" A46, not far from Bingham, in common with many garden centres  it sells a wide range of merchandise in addition to plants and garden goods  and has a restaurant/tearoom where the non-garden minded can while away the time. 

Now is a good time to do some bird-spotting.  While the trees are not in full leaf it is not difficult to locate the bird whose song I am trying to identify.  Many are nesting now so it is not unusual to see a blackbird with its beak full of "baby food".  They do work hard.  Oddly,  three male blackbirds seem to be determined to nest inside the farm buildings.  They are constantly sparring with each other  for supremacy.  There are more collared turtle doves here this year; the chaffinches are back from their partial migration and several robins have established their territories.  I was pleased to see moorhens back on the pond.  The mallard ducks have been spoilt for choice this year, with water where no water should be.  Brave swallows arrived on April 13th; they like to sit on the weathercock, keeping up a non-stop twittering when they are not swooping to and fro over the buildings in their search for insects.

Monday, 2 April 2018

A Little Bit of History.


There was recently some discussion concerning a tree in the churchyard.  Felled many years ago, due to it's unsafe condition, many residents are convinced that it was a yew.  There are few who remember that it was, in fact, a splendid specimen of a Cedar of Lebanon.  The proof came to light when a current resident, whose family had lived in Epperstone for many years, was going through a scrapbook compiled by her late mother and found a newspaper cutting with a picture of the tree, undeniably a cedar, with an article recounting how the felling had been necessary.  It is unfortunate that the local History Society no longer exists.  Today's current events quickly become history but are easily lost in an age when so much is consigned to computers, and scrapbooks are a thing of the past.

Anyone who had been hoping that the spring equinox would bring a change in the weather will have been disappointed.  In fact we saw widespread snow again, with drifting in a strong east wind.  My hens managed to keep the ice in their water trough broken during the day but it froze each night, so that they were unable to drink at first light.  It meant an early start to the day to thaw out the ice and provide warm water. Incidentally, I was inspired to look up the meaning of equinox.  My dictionary tells me that it is the time when the sun crosses the equator, making the night equal in length to the day.  It occurs about March 21st and September 23rd.  Shall I remember that, come September?

The hazards of rural life:  the congregation at the Easter Sunday Service in Epperstone church was larger than usual.  The reason?  Wellington boots would have been needed to access  neighbouring  Gonalston church as the path was completely water-logged, causing the vicar to take the unusual step, possibly for the first time, of cancelling the service.

Attendance was also up at the Annual General Meeting of the Women's Institute.  Meetings are held on the second Tuesday of the month and guests are always welcome.  The programme of speakers and activities is varied and interesting so it is no surprise that, in three year's time the local branch will be celebrating one hundred years in existence.

                                      Bollywood Dancing; the W.I. under instruction.

A last word on life outdoors.  Songbirds are pairing up for the breeding season.  The colours of the male birds are noticeably brighter and their songs more insistent as they seek to attract the females.  Blackbirds chase each other around the lawn, robins claim their territories, a thrush sings lustily from the top of the cedar tree and the pheasant struts around the orchard in a very possessive fashion.  Overhead buzzards, once a rare sight round here, are now to be seen and heard, wheeling  and mewing over the paddock.      


Saturday, 10 March 2018

February Fill Dyke

Well, what a month we have had.  The wet weather of February is but a distant memory, blotted out by the snow and the incredibly cold east wind we experienced earlier this month. On the farm it was a battle to get water to the horses; the hens water supply froze nightly and had to be thawed out each morning; not a pleasant task.  As an egg contains a high percentage of water I anticipated a drop in egg production but the hens, clearly finding they were better off inside than out, managed to keep on laying.   The extreme cold then gave way to a quick thaw which inevitably, in spite of having taken preventative measures against the cold, lead to burst water pipes.  However, we must be thankful that, for now at least, temperatures are back to normal for the time of year and we hope that we shall not see a  return of the snow which is still affecting other parts of the country.

As the breeding season approaches many birds are singing lustily.  Perhaps they are making up for lost time.  The feeders need replenishing daily.  A group of long-tailed tits visits regularly, there is an increase in the number of chaffinches and a pair of bullfinches has also been seen.  It would be good if their numbers increased.  The barn owls which nest locally must have had difficulty finding food as they rely, for a large part, on small mammals, such as voles, which would have been hidden under the snow.  A heron was seen inspecting the pond; it flew off unsatisfied, the fish being well down in winter.  March is the month for Toadwatch, of course, when Beanford Lane is closed to protect the toads crossing the road to spawn in the lakes.  Additionally there will be toad signs in Blind Lane, in Oxton, warning drivers to take care as toads will be crossing.  Local residents, who will be patrolling as usual, will be happy for any support given. 

The Bookcase, in Lowdham, has published the First Friday programme of talks, all of which involve subjects of local interest.  The talks take place in the Methodist Chapel, in Lowdham on the first Friday of the month. If all are of the calibre of the Pitman's Story they are definitely not to be missed.  Fans of Gilbert and Sullivan operas can also enjoy the cabaret and film night in Lowdham Village Hall on March 30th.  Anyone who enjoys a social evening plus talks on a range of subjects of rural interest may be interested in the Country Link organisation. The next talk, to take place at The Gleaners, in Calverton, will be about the British Equestrian Federation.  Non-members, for whom there is a small charge, are, of course, welcome.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

February Brings the Rain.....


More rain.  Not much different from January, really.  Are those who live in the country more conscious of the weather?  It certainly dominates the conversation at the moment.  I felt quite pleased to see it was the subject of an article published by a regular contributor to the parish magazine, The Dover Beck, and to see that I am not the only one to feel that January is a hard month to deal with.  Admittedly we only had a dusting of snow in the south of the county but there have been some bitter winds.

The garden birds have made the most of the birdfeeder, which is filled daily. On several  occasions we have  hosted a group of long-tailed tits; a heron was spotted, inspecting the pond for fish, but flew off disappointed.  A  thrush has joined the chorus of birds tuning up for spring.  He is easy to spot as he sits on the topmost branch of the Lebanon cedar on the lawn in front of the farmhouse.  I hope it is a song thrush, not a mistle thrush as there are fewer of  them but I need a few more clues before I can be certain.  From time to time a horde of starlings also descends to feed.  They nest in a small spinney of beech trees behind the farm.  It shows on old maps as quite an extensive wood which probably accounts for the name of the farm being Eastwood.

Lowdham Bookcase First Friday talks in the Methodist Chapel kicked off with
A Nottinghamshire Pitman's Story, a book commemorating the ending of an industry which was once a way of life.  The  author, David Coleman, a former pitman, held his audience spellbound with his many authentic stories, anecdotes and poems, the while dressed in full miner's working kit.  It seems regrettable that an industry which employed so many men has no mining museum in Nottinghamshire.  Steam railways have their volunteer enthusiasts; perhaps it is something that could be considered by those who feel that mining was a major industry  in the county and a part of our heritage and should not be forgotten.

Life on the farm, at this time of year, is concentrated mainly on maintenance, tidying, apple and pear tree pruning (by the end of the month) in fact all the jobs which need tackling but for which there is rarely time  in the spring or summer.  Talking about the farm got us wondering about the meaning of the word "Hagg" as in the address, Hagg Lane.  I once read that it was an old Norse word, meaning a ravine.  I like that explanation as the lane, fifty years ago, really was deep and steep, with a high bank on either side.  If anyone has an alternative suggestion do, please, pass it on to me.  I would be really interested.