October 2016 on farm
I saw a tawny owl as I was driving home across the farm. He stood stock still, I braked sharply and he rose majestically and unhurriedly. A few hundred yards later, I saw a badger diving across the road and further down my lane, a couple of rabbits and the next night a toad jumping across the gravel, in the night. I’m happy that we have lots of wildlife and it all looks in good shape (especially since I braked in time for the owl). The ravens and buzzards compete in their different aerial displays, and we see the odd fallow deer, few enough to enjoy, not so many for me to resent their presence.
ORCHARDS - There is a lovely end of season richness in October: everything is as fat and replete as it can be, the feast before the thin times. Right now, the hedgerows and orchards are full of food. Wasps lazily harvest the apples as they come ripe in the orchard. The best way to know whether an apple is ripe is whether you can see the tell-tale nibbles on apples on the tree. Just check to see if you are sharing the apple with a stroppy insect, wasps go into survival mode, saving the queen and breeding a few males while everyone else dies off. What people do is extend the season, so we can eat whether food is sitting in the fields and orchards or not, time shifting plenty to the lean times.
CROPS – all harvested. We crushed the field beans and mixed them into the maize silage last month, an innovation for this year, to produce more of our food on the farm. The other crops are all at our co-operative grain store, ready to be sold to feed millers to sell back to farmers like us. Our feed silos are full, and we have barely started using the silages. We’ve no need as the autumn flush of grass, released from summer heat and dryness, bounces back, the grassland taking on a luminescent emerald colour as new leaves grow by the billion.
We take thought now for next year’s harvest, to feed us through the winter after next. We sow the barley and the wheat. We aim to disturb the soil as little as possible, to cultivate only the little area where each seed sits. Sometimes we need to do more, if there are too many weeds or we need to attend to soil structure. Then we get the seed in, and in the warmth still in the soil, the new growth springs through the ground in a few days, creating the most glorious shot-silk look to the landscape, the red or brown soil taking on a shimmer of lime-green.
It’s very thrilling that we are drilling the fields around our new parlour into grassland. It is so much better for soil to grow grass: it develops soil organic matter, which holds nutrients and moisture, and bless it, takes all that carbon dioxide out of the air and puts it productively into the soil in that organic matter to grow food for us. Grass seed is smaller than wheat grains, so you have to roll the soil down tighter or the little seeds can’t keep safe and moist. We sow it with clover, which will provide nitrogen to keep the soil structure good (by feeding all that organic matter that makes the structure work). We are also trying out some interesting plants like salad burnet, plantain and clover to bring minerals up from depth so they cultivate the soil just by growing.
COWS - We move the spring cows into their new parlour at the end of this month or early next month. The cows will live largely outside, and even the parlour has got just a little bike-shed of a roof to keep the worst of the weather off. Now all the cows are spread more thinly across the farm, and can feed largely off the grass that grows on the pasture, avoiding hauling crops across the farm and from outside to feed them. It takes the same number of acres to feed them from our own resources as before, just it’ll largely be growing grass here, which is good for them, the soil, the cheese, us and the planet.
PACKING - We are packing lots of cheese off for holidays and Christmas across the world. It takes up to eight weeks to get to the West Coast of America or Australia on the boats, so it has to leave us now.