A noisy week, but at least we survived the heat!

As I write this, having survived last week’s excessive heat, we now struggle to cope with the hay fever associated with haymaking! That said, this week has been not too bad, though rain is sorely needed.

While it is true that we have lost an ewe and a couple of lambs, four chickens and one guinea fowl, none of these losses were related to the heat – which was a serious concern on Wednesday.

The seed that was sown a couple of weeks ago now shows as a green sheen despite the ground being dry and cracked, while there is grass on all the uncut fields. Five fields were cut on Friday and on Saturday put into rows by the swath turner (tedding) and baled by late evening. A quick count on Sunday morning suggested a second cut later in the year will be necessary. Counting the number of bales could almost be called a country sport since getting agreement on the number is impossible until they are actually brought in! One set of fields has unperformed but had already been designated for aeration and compost spreading.

cutting for haylage.jpg

Some of you will be aware that ‘mob-grazing’ is very much the ‘in thing’ at the moment. For a number of obviously good reasons, we have not gone down that particular path but are currently thinking we shall attempt a policy which means stock are not on any field for longer than a week at a time. All this is based on our own recent observations, and a useful conversation with our friend and fellow organic farmer Simon Cutter of Model Farm.

The farm has been rather noisy this last week, in part from the noise of farm machinery, and in part the sound as the animals move fields. The entire flock has been moved onto the field by the drive so all their noise comes from the one source, but at least visitors have plenty to look at as they drive in.

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With strimming and topping done last week it has been possible to carry on with mending fences and other everyday tasks. The trailer caravan that we use at lambing time is still up because there are still a handful of lambs getting supplementary bottle feeding. It’s has not yet been possible to clean out half the barn because all the cattle were in last week to be treated for lice and fly prevention. The estimated 50 trailer loads of muck still to be cleared out will be stacked on field 13 for spreading in due course.

Tasks for the next week certainly include bringing in the haylage bales, hopefully entertaining shearers, and once the bales are in, compost spreading the main fields that have just been cut. There will also be a lot of fruit picking and garden work to be done so we are very grateful for the timely arrival of the four French woofers we shall be entertaining from Monday; they will have plenty to help us with!

haylage being cut

Tiernan who has completed his 5th form exams is once more finding time to support us and is already booked in to take the tops off the thistles which have regrown since topping two weeks ago. Our aim, as always, is to weaken the root systems by topping or mowing just before flowers have opened when the plants have expended maximum resources on flower production.

For some reason, there is a flock of black headed gulls on the farm and it seems they are keeping the wood pigeons away – rather a bonus with new growth showing in the re-seeded field! Yesterday, out on the farm with Chris, we enjoyed watching a couple of large hares showing considerable curiosity in our movements. Red kites have been seen in the neighbourhood. Should they come onto the farm I wonder how our pair of resident buzzards will appreciate them.

The verges and hedgerows in and around the farm are full of meadow sweet following on from the cow parsley which previously dominated. Wild flowers are present in some fields and look very pretty, while at a higher level in the hedges the blackberry flowers have replace those of the dog roses. It also seems a very good year for elderflowers.

blackberry crop looking hopeful.jpg

Hilary Mantel in this week’s Reith lecture was bemoaning the way in which so many writers of historical fiction not only use hindsight but also apply ideas of current political correctness to an inappropriate degree. She additionally made the very valid point that very often little account is taken of the climate of the time written about or, even more basically, pay no attention to what the size of the overall population was and how small most towns were. This last point really hit home with me as I was reminded of discovering on the ground how small were the original centres of towns like Ravenna or Dubrovnik. In our own country, how hard it is to remember that the population even of London only expanded relatively recently.

Talking of political correctness, am I alone in finding ’emotional correctness’ even more disturbing?

On other matters, ‘In our time’ this week was about the Russian poet Pushkin and his best-known novel – Eugene Onegin. Two matters caught my attention. In talking about the wide range of authors Pushkin read in early years, I was struck by how most were authors that were expected reading – from novels to works of philosophy and economics –  for an undergraduate of my age group. Admittedly Pushkin read them in French but that hardly affects the point.

Passing over thoughts of a society where most people were owned as serfs and sold when and if a property was sold, an absolute monarchy and a world in which a lesser aristocrat could fight 29 duels, my second personal response was how little I knew of Russian literature, and indeed the only authors that came at once to mind were Boris Akunin and a book called “Boris the Bear Hunter” written by one Frederick J. Whishaw.

Appalled by this I thought about it more carefully and realised that though I may never have read Pushkin, I have seen Tchaikovsky’s opera of the novel, struggled through Dostoyevsky novels as an undergraduate, spending a month in a ‘tinker tent’ during a long vacation somewhere in Brittany, have certainly watched most of the plays written by Checkov, read Solzhenitsyn novels avidly, may not have seen that notorious film starring Marlon Brando and based on a novel by Nabrakov or seen War and Peace by Tolstoy, but have seen assorted fragments of the film Dr Zhivago by yet another Boris – Pasternak.

Recommendations as to other Russian authors I ought to try will be welcomed – but not suggestions relating to biographies of Catherine the Great or Peter and the building of St Petersburg or texts on the amazing class hierarchy of Tsarist Russia. On these matters, my book shelves are full, and all, of course, read!

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