15,000 daffodils

15,000 daffodils

“This blog is the unfolding story of Rush Farm and an exploration of life by its philosopher farmer.”

October already, there is no doubt, time shrinks as you get older!  

The week started with strong Arctic winds, but ended on a different note. The bulb planting did highlight one issue. We have just not had enough rain. Planting bulbs at a depth of six inches found that the rain we have had, has not even penetrated that far.  

Flood or drought, and authorities anxious to move rainfall into the sea as fast as possible because greedy individuals have either built on natural flood plains or by individuals upstream hurrying the water on. Whatever, we need a wet winter to properly penetrate the topsoil. 

At the risk of sounding mercenary, the high spot of the week was learning that the bank had received the monies we have been struggling to get the RPA to release for over 12 months. The low spots included the ill ewe and weather that moved from bitterly cold winds to being dismal, grey and damp.  

The main activity on the farm continues to be sorting out infrastructure jobs. These include providing hard standing for water troughs, and at busy junctions between fields. In all cases to eliminate areas of ‘poaching’ when and should we have rain. In between whiles, animals have been checked as per normal. The death of the ewe is to be regretted, but all had been done within our powers to give her a chance to recover. Hard to believe the rams will join the ewes in a few weeks’ time and we need to chase the arrival of the second new ram before that event.  

One of the heifers we bought in some time ago to add to our collection of Herefords ‘families’, calved during the week but provided us with a new bull calf rather than a heifer. We are hoping to sell a handful of young cattle later this month, either for breeding or as ‘stores’, for both financial and number issues. We shall see.  

It is also only weeks away from the bringing in of the cattle and the new barn must be ready by then.  

We still await advice from the Soil Association as to the allowed trace element bolus to use.  

As yet there has not been a suitable day to complete our third spraying of the entire farm with preparation 500 but the matter is certainly not forgotten.  

Apples and higher education

The full box of apples went to Pershore Agricultural College for pressing on Friday morning in the pouring rain. I mention the weather because Paul had to move the large box on the forklift into his van, supported by Chris – not a great deal of fun for either. When I booked the apples in, I admit I did not have the courage to ask how matters were generally -not good I suspect. Even before the virus a number of staff were made redundant. The further education college near us did open for a few days, and then had to close again. The story from students is that they went but no teachers were there for them. This may or may not be true, but this is a very strange period.  

..and then there were three

Pupdate

The number of puppies is down to three, but they make considerably more noise than they did a week ago. Hard to believe that those little sausages are now very definitely dogs and already showing the behaviour of their genetic inheritance. If appears we are retaining two, though one of these will be with our eldest grandson. One of those we are keeping is causing quite a few problems since she manages to climb out of their pen. We did once have a cross bred terrier – Jack Russel and Highland – which had a similar ability. Of all the many dogs we have had, she was the most wilful but greatly missed when age overtook her. 

This week has seen the planting of a variety of bulbs in the verges of the drive. The planting included frittilaria, narcissus, camassia and leucojum. As some of you will know, some 25 years ago, 15,000 daffodils were planted along the drive together with horse chestnut trees. Over time, the chestnut trees are falling to the ‘bleeding canker’ disease, and the daffodils have been reduced in number as a result of flooding. Those bulbs that still remain are showing their age. Hence the current tedious and expensive business which is unlikely to show results for several years.  

In our garden it is, naturally enough, the Michaelmas daisies that are in full bloom, though some roses in sheltered spots still are also in flower despite the frost which hit us hard early Monday morning.  

Michaelmas Daisies before the rain!

Pasture-Fed discussions

A major discussion has ensued on the Pasture-Fed site following a set of proposals from the National Beef Association – now very sensibly withdrawn. Just who this group represent I know not, but surely not Organic or Pasture Fed farmers. At its worst the proposals seemed to suggest a move to the use of hormones as in the United States. Part of their case appeared to be based on the theory that cattle contribute to climate change through the omission of methane gas, another seemed to encourage intensive stock management. I believe the methane issue is a false argument, but I freely admit that this is a most contentious matter given the blame game going on over emissions and climate change.  

Matters are much obfuscated by emotions running high among scientists, activists of various kinds, and politicians, all probably spurred on by commercial interests.  

I spent the better part of a day reading a book recommended by a Pasture-Fed contributor. ‘The agricultural revolution in England 1500 to 1850’ – an economic history splendidly revisionist and immensely demanding of one’s grey cells. But I refer to it only because of one statement which I paraphrase. In the 16th century the main source of nitrogen – not that they knew the word then – was fallow land or pasture. Pasture ploughed up could provide 20 years of nitrogen for the growing of crops. Leaving land fallow was less efficient. but it was the only other source of nitrogen aside from animal dung. 

Letting land lie fallow is now regarded as bad practice. and others think pasture should be replaced by trees. Plants, including weeds do of course play a major role in sequestrating carbon. The relationship between the carbon and nitrogen cycles appears to be accepted by all!  

One view that I fail to understand is the belief the countryside would flourish if cattle and sheep were eliminated.  

Surely most people must have seen either in their own garden or vacant plot, the result of neglect. In nature, voids are rapidly replaced in different ways depending on soils, by overgrown hedges, brambles, nettles, bushes and stunted trees, and eventually become a wilderness.  

All complicated by the fact that in this country, perhaps for obvious reasons, predators were eliminated centuries ago. These are what kept the numbers of herbivores in check.  

I was fascinated by the film and written follow up about the all-round environmental improvements in the Yellowstone Park brought about by the reintroduction of wolves.  

But to return to keeping stock. From our perspective, and all who hold similar views, the most sustainable system from all angles including carbon change concern, is the wholly grazed animal which harvests its own feed and spreads its own dung. The carbon it gives off, as carbon dioxide is not “new” carbon but that which was removed from the atmosphere by the plants being eaten and is replaced as the pastures regrow.  

As to methane, if livestock numbers are stable, the short life of methane means that methane levels also remain stable.  

The only implications from keeping stock to climate change, come if there are greatly increased numbers – which can only come from practices, with which most people are uncomfortable, such as keeping large numbers of cattle on small lots, and feeding manufactured food containing soya and, in certain countries, hormones, to hasten growth.  

Using land for cereal production can only meet consumer demand if artificial fertilisers are used together with pesticides to deal with a variety of problems, include slugs and herbicides, to reduce the weed burden.  

For many years it was believed, and correctly, that the maximum population sustainable in this country was 5.5 million. In the period after 1750, following changes both in practice, knowledge, work on plant improvement and stock breeding, management and availability of imports falsified that figure. But it has only been since 1850, scientific knowledge, developments in engineering and crop and stock breeding and disease control that have allowed a great growth in food production, which in its turn has enabled the vast increase in the British, let alone the  world population.  

My generation welcomed with enthusiasm the so called ‘Green revolution’, it is only in recent years and faced with climate change (whether natural or manmade), we can see how mistaken we were in terms of awareness of unwanted consequences. Hindsight in almost every matter is such a wonderful thing. 

Cricket chat

I have not mentioned the women’s five match T20 series and I should have done. The truth is that it was all rather one sided with England winning easily though hardly at their best, and consequently I certainly was not sitting on the edge of my seat. I do have considerable sympathy for the visitors – very mixed weather and the last match called off because of rain. I know the IPL is currently on most days, but somehow that fails to engage my interest. Given the choice I would always go for the longer format of the game which provides, it seems to me, a greater challenge to players (and possibly spectators). 

Bernhard Haitink

There was been one programme at the start of this week which I thought outstanding. It was on BBC2 and was a 90 minute celebration and exploration of what lay behind Bernhard Haitink’s greatness as a conductor.  

He retired last year at 90 despite many wanting him to go on. He expressed interesting views about a variety of subjects but in a calm and direct way. It was particularly interesting to hear him say that Mahler, he felt, had been over exposed, and to hear of his deep appreciation of Bruckner. My late father-in-law in his later years would listen to part of a Bruckner symphony every morning. Indeed, as I wrote this, I paused so I could listen unimpeded to Bruckner’s Symphony No O played by his Dutch orchestra of many years – The Amsterdam Royal Concertgebouw – with the man himself conducting. Unless classical music does nothing for you at all, a programme to listen to using ‘catch up’ if you missed it’s showing. 

Poetry

The poem I have chosen this week comes from enjoying the fascinating cloud formations that we have had over recent days.  

The author was Samuel Hoffenstein, and the title of the poem is ‘Clouds.’  The poem has four verses, but I have only used the first two. For those of you who are not film buffs, Hoffenstein was an American script writer of no little renown. I was tempted by a better known poem by Robert Louis Stephenson but thought I would go with this one even if it feels like plagiarism from ‘A child’s garden of verse’ which was certainly in print in Hoffenstein’s lifetime in the United States.  

Clouds by Samuel Hoffenstein 

The cloud assumes fantastic shapes  
Of beasts and continents and capes;  
Of island, mountain, monolith,  
And hybrid fauna out of myth,  
I’ve seen the knights of Arthur’s court,  
Themselves among its towers disport,  
The silver griffon charge the sun  
And once a gold Napoleon.  
Alas, that her ambition leaps   
The steed that walks, the man who creep,  
And girt for conquest of the sky,  
Conspires with creatures born to die!  
The turret thins; the dream is done,  
A breeze dissolves Napoleon;  
The griffon curls his pale remains  
Round Arthur’s Court, while Arthur rains.

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