Monday, 19 September 2011
We’re into the last month of summer now and farmers are finishing the combining of the crops (just out of interest, the hop plant is grown in a ‘bine’, which uses a stout, hairy stem to help it climb, unlike ‘vines’, which use tendrils).
The combine harvester is so called because it ‘combines’ the three actions of reaping the crop, threshing the grain from the heads of corn and winnowing the chaff from the seed and then expelling the waste straw into rows. This can be chopped and incorporated into the soil to increase the fibrous content (a bit like the gardener adding compost), or, particularly in livestock areas, it is baled and saved to be used as feed and bedding. This year, livestock farmers are going to be desperate for silage/hay and straw because of the previous weather conditions, which has meant many are already using this years crop, instead of being able to save it for the winter.
The dry weather over the last couple of months has meant that trees have also been suffering from the lack of meaningful amounts of rain. Ash trees, in particular, have reacted to this stress by shedding branches in an effort to survive- at least we have firewood for the winter!
Occasionally the land is left as stubble over the winter and this provides feeding grounds for birds, such as the partridge and pheasant, or it is prepared for the next years crop. The ground needs to be broken up to enable the weeds to grow, so that you can then plough them under. This is done with a chisel plough and is one way of cutting down on the need for sprays. It also allows the weather to attack the ground and make it easier for working.
Wandering around our harvested fields at this time of year, you are likely to see the red berries of the woody nightshade and the black berries of the black nightshade, both of which are highly poisonous! You’ll also see the woolly, grey ’beards’ of travellers joy streaming over the hedges and this, along with the flowering ivy, attracts birds and insects.
The sheep sales start this month and we will be in the market for some new tups (rams), as ours have been used enough times now and we don’t want to use them on their daughters. The tups and bulls are half of the value of our youngstock, so we cannot skimp on the quality of them. Our ewes will be checked for the condition of their udders and feet and mouths, getting rid of any that don’t meet our standard (having weaned their lambs off them last month).
It has been a pleasure getting round the summer shows and seeing the prize specimens put forward, whether in serious competition or for a bit of fun. I can recommend you visit them, especially the smaller ones, if you want a good day out in the Great British countryside or look out for the ploughing matches which are starting soon!
Angela Sargent, www.baldfields-farm.co.uk