Thistles and nettles here, there and everywhere!

Monday morning before dawn broke, the BD spraying team were up and about to start actually spraying the prep 501 after it had experienced an hour in the flow form. By 5.30am the tractor was at work and some 3 hours later the whole estate had been sprayed! The intention is to spray again with the prep 500 next week and, also to make our own cpp. The cow horns filled last autumn, having been dug up, have now been emptied and their contents can be used.


We are hiring in a digger to tidy up the compost heaps in the windrows, both to turn in weeds and, to allow for the other six preparations to be used. The winter’s bedding from the barn will in due course be moved onto the fields to be spread – but this will be next year, after it has properly rotted down.

It is often said that fiction frequently mirrors reality. So, it was with some amusement that we heard recently that a character in the Archers (early episodes of which were intimately involved with Rush Farm) was apparently setting up as a seller of organic baby food!

All seems well on the business park both in terms of appearance, occupancy rates and tenant satisfaction. Obviously, we await with some nervousness the switch over of the heating system to an air conditioning role and wish Openreach would get on with linking us to the Inkberrow glass fibre. Worry achieves little so no more will be said.

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Activities on the farm this week, aside from the day to day checking of stock – particularly the sheep – have rather been concentrated on – largely by hand – reducing the area of pasture occupied by thistles and nettles (this is to say, the area of the pastures where the animals graze, not along the hedgerows). Docks, at the moment, are not the issue of this year. Thistles, as is well known, pose different problems depending on the type.

Creeping Thistle

The most difficult to manage is the creeping thistle which spreads in the same way as weeds such as bindweed and couch grass. What is out of the question is attempting to solve the problem by digging. Probably the best we can rely on is constant mowing of the growth in the hopes of weakening the life forces (similarly to mowing your lawn), and of course, experiencing the strange reality that growth of each weed truly varies year by year according to some rhythm beyond our understanding. This year we intend to try techniques promoted by experimenters in Biodynamic’s such as making creeping thistle tea.

The other thistles are much easier to manage, either by digging or topping though the topping has to be done just before buds burst to be most effective! Spear and sow thistles are rather fine plants and much beloved of pollen seeking insects and so are encouraged around the perimeters of the pastures.

Nettles pose an easier challenge and also, like comfrey, can be used as a natural fertiliser when soaked in water – something we practice every year. We have yet to witness an occasion where nettles become the lunch of choice by the livestock, but they are tremendously good at grazing all around them!


This week has seen the appearance of men and children in shorts and hopefully will also see the acceleration of pasture growth – neighbours are already making hay; we are nowhere near that point yet. The forecast of torrential rain at the end of the weekend is good news – the grass needs it!

Aside from enjoying the fact that the ducks seem to have taken up residence in and around the barn, it is wonderful to hear the cuckoo through the day. The owls are hunting rather later at night at the moment, and sadly, the moorhen chicks which have been such a regular feature of the pond area have not been seen this year. As there are no feral cats or mink on the farm the assumption must be either crows or foxes have got them. It is possible that a lesser spotted woodpecker was seen this week – the caution is simply that we are told there are only 2,000 pairs in the country and I have a bad track record for over optimistic identifications!

The flies are back and continue to be a curse for the animals. I often comment on the effect of flystrike on our sheep; the cattle also suffer but in a different way. Their problem is the way flies cluster around their noses and eyes and there is no obvious way for us to relieve them of this burdensome and painful irritation – suggestions that we put horse masks on them have been considered but… Perhaps the best relief for the cattle comes from the swallows who follow the animals around the field swooping around their legs and over their backs but while I have seen birds perched on the back of sheep I have never seen that with cattle.


Of course, the multitude of flying insects is welcomed by the bats which are very much a feature of the farm once hibernation ends.

I am delighted to say my week has been disrupted by the need to watch the one day cricket internationals, but I still have managed to rather ‘flip flop’ on my feelings about the music of Mahler. Having listened to symphony no 7 at the start of the week, I was clear this was not music I could relate to. Then later in the week listening to symphony no 9 conducted by Haitink left me thinking I was listening to the work of a genius. Was it my mood, the conductor, the orchestra? Who knows. I did at least surprise my son by a CD he found me listening to after a meeting which we had both attended – I suspect he felt Kari Bronmes was not appropriate listening for my age group!

‘In our time’ continues to be a ‘must listen to’ radio programme and, despite my contempt for many technological developments, there is one that ensures there can be no excuse for not listening to any radio programme… Whether using television, computer or iPad it is now possible to listen to programmes at times to suite one’s own lifestyle.

I am not suggesting all of the weekly shows are of interest to all listeners, but it takes little effort to identify the ones you might find interesting. This week it was a history of the idea of purgatory. It was the development of this idea which in due course led to the sale of ‘Indulgences’, which led to the steps taken by Martin Luther, which led to the development of Protestantism within the Christin faith. How many non-theologians like myself knew that the practice of burning heretics rested on a passage from 1 Corinthians later elaborated and built on considerably by, inevitably, a rather famous pope and then, even later, bolstered by a vision recorded by the Venerable Bede!

Whether you call this the law of unintended consequences matters not, what matters is that what happens in the past almost always has consequences for the future and ignoring history, or its interpretation – though this is in no way supporting the false notion of “historicism’ – is madness.

Amazingly, time continues to fly, and the grandchildren are on holiday again. The planned adventure for the coming week is to camp for a night or so in the wood. This weekend was a ‘dummy run’, the tent set up in our mini orchard and two children and a father spent the night there. Whether any of them slept ‘well’ is unclear – certainly when Flash and I went for her late-night evening walk on my return I heard a rather tired father exhorting the need ‘to go to sleep’!

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