Blackberries a plenty

Blackberries a plenty

I think that this week we have seen exactly how pleasant early autumn weather can be. Chilly nights and our first ground frosts of the year, but sunny and warm days. We had a little rain at the start of the week but that was all.

Looking back, at first sight not a great deal took place, but reviewing the week on Friday dispelled that thought. For Tim and Theo there has been the daily need of both checking stock, and then meeting the needs of sick animals, the daily round of ragwort pulling, moving animals onto new grass and dealing with the remnants of the old fencing. Additionally, the field by the drive has been topped; not an easy or enjoyable task given the prominent ridge and furrow. Moreover, the three fields that were prepared last week have now been drilled.

In terms therefore of Stewardship, we have completed the re-seeding of all but three fields, and so are well on track to complete the requirements set on us for work to be done in year one. Of the three remaining fields, two pose a new problem. For all the other fields, seeding was at 15 kilograms per hectare – a fairly usual rate – but for these two, the rate is only one kilogram a hectare. This particular mix is quite different from the others in being made up entirely of native organic wildflowers, and so very expensive! Current thinking is to mix the seed with sand. A practice which many gardeners use when sowing small seeds to reduce the need for thinning.

We have two years in which to complete fencing and hedgerow improvements, and the plan is to concentrate on this later in the year when we have our last woofers of the year, one from America and one from France. The area that is going to cause most work is our field across the brook which is currently unsafe to place cattle in because it is not stock proof – despite the fact that the fence on all four sides is deeply buried by the expansion of blackthorn and the accompanying tangle of brambles. For the individual out picking blackberries, the only real challenge is avoiding the thorns. For sheep these bramble patches are a real danger in that animals can get entrapped by thorns caught in the fleece.

Although blackthorn and hawthorn are both members of the rose family, blackthorn is a variety of prunus, and so expands through suckers rising out of its roots. This is why it spreads into fields so readily. Like the hawthorn, it produces fruit – the sloe – which have been used by generations to flavour gin. The fruit of the hawthorn known as ‘haws’ are like the fruit of the ordinary rose the ‘hips’ in that they are a source of valuable nutrients. For birds and mammals, it is those berries which are turned to first – sloes will be eaten but are low in the list of favoured berries but become more palatable after frosts and if other berries cease to be available.

While the sheep have caused little concern this week and have required no more than to be moved onto a different field, this has not been the case with some of the cattle. After yet more animals showed signs of eye infections the vets decided that the problem is actually something commonly known as ‘New Forest Eye’, and so derogation has had to be obtained to treat both herds against this ailment. If you, like me, hate having anything done to your eyes, the thought of daily squirting liquid into the eyes of the bull is uncomfortable!

At the same time, one of the cows developed what is known as timber or wood tongue. This is where a scratch or cut on the tongue gets infected and if untreated can cause the tongue to disintegrate. Caught early enough the problem can be treated and our animal is recovering well. A consequence of a cow having a damaged tongue is their inability to eat since rather than ‘nibble’ they curl their tongue round a clump of grass and pull it into their mouth for transmission to their four stomachs. So, feeding this cow for several days requires Theo three times a day to give the cow a pile of freshly and finely cut grass. Now healing, means it can start eating hay. What a palaver, but an illustration of the importance of the daily routines of checking stock.

The issue of when or if calves should be taken from their mothers for weaning is still a live issue with quite polarised views on the matter. While I have followed the recent discussion with interest on Pasture Fed, I think we will maintain our current policy of separating the calves at between seven and eight months. By this time the calves are largely independent of their mothers, and the mothers are ready for the break. Wean too early and you suffer days of vocal complaint from both calf and mother, wean too late and the cow is not properly fit for her next calf.

We do have some equipment problems – the topper continues to cause concern, the hedge cutter has a nasty oil leak, the ‘grab’ has lost a tine (tooth) and the sheep race definitely needs remedial attention. For the moment it is the hedge cutter that needs to be fixed as soon as possible if, as I wrote earlier, we are to carry out in full, the renewal of our fences.

Biodynamic Farming

Biodynamic farming differs from conventional organic farming in a number of ways. Homeopathy is recommended by both systems, but where the two systems differ most profoundly is in the belief that the cow is central to farming practice, and in the belief that the movements of the moon and stars have a real impact on the growth of plants, the time for using the preparations and the time for harvesting. There are any number of books going into this in detail and the Floris bookshop is a good first port of call. We, like most biodynamic farmers in both the northern and Southern Hemispheres use the Maria Thun calendar, now after her death, maintained by her son Mathias. All this is of course regarded sceptically by the scientific community, but such scientists should bear in mind that farmers are, by and large, driven by results. So, while it really is no surprise that in the sub-continent, much of this is regarded as obviously true, doubters might care to note that Biodynamics in Australia flourishes!

Farm walks at the moment are slightly ‘boring’ as wildlife rather keeps to itself. Even the birds are less evident both in terms of sound and sight. All this means, probably, aside from seeing cattle and sheep, the only sounds to hear are the swish of your feet through the grass and the sound of crickets. As a compensation there are many ripe blackberries to enjoy.

Woofers

Concern is already being expressed at the thought that in only a few weeks’ time Theo is to leave us. He came to us with expertise in many areas, but not farming. His going will leave us with a real gap in the team. Moreover, despite his doubts, his use of English has improved greatly. As previously mentioned, he will not be our last woofer of the year, and we will welcome Ryan and Clement over the next couple of months. In the meantime, next week our first woofer of the year is coming to stay with us for a few weeks – not as a woofer but as a friend, though I suspect she and others will look to involve her in various things!

Prospect magazine

Prospect magazine this month had two articles that I found very interesting – incidentally can I suggest, whatever your age, you consider reading the ‘Oldie’. I say this all the more earnestly since recently flipping through a copy of OK magazine in a waiting room!

There is no doubt that what we have been experiencing in politics recently has been at the very least unsettling. Part of this has been the result of allowing referenda to be used in this country since they do not sit easily alongside what we have, which in the 1920’s became a representative democracy. Or to put it another way, we may vote a politician in as a representative of a political party, but thereafter the politician is expected to look to the interests of all in the constituency not just those who voted for her or him.

In practice, of course, voting is normally along party lines, but rebellion is a regular feature of life. So long as a government has a strong majority, rebel voting can be accepted without great excitement. In the present circumstances where we have a minority government, carrying all your colleagues with you, is crucial.

But if you introduce referenda into the pot, the question arises which set of decisions has primacy – the outcome of the referendum, or the views of parliament. In some ways this is the crux of the current situation. Suppose in the not too distant past when polling showed 80% of the population wanted the return of the death penalty a referendum had been held!!

Apologies – I allowed myself to drift off track. In recent weeks at low moments I have wondered if we were drifting towards the fate that ended the Weimar Republic. In brighter moments, I discounted this possibility, particularly since scholars understanding of the period 1919 to 1934 in Germany, was summed up by one as: “the flight from reality into an emotional and mystical ideology”. My belief in the strength we have from a so-called unwritten constitution remains strong.  My concerns seemed unshared by others but an article in Prospect magazine addresses the matter head on and comes up with a more down to earth reason why, at least for the moment, this is a fear we can discard.

Under the constitution of the Weimar Republic the President was enabled to claim emergency powers and take all power into his own hands. The checks and balances we have and also, to a lesser extent, the Americans have, should make it impossible for that to happen here.

We have now reached a totally farcical situation, but how reassuring it is that our constitution has weathered the storm despite the doom-sayers who foresaw its imminent failure. (Here I suspect I should make clear the view of Prospect Magazine is that we should have a written constitution is not one I share).

The events of this week have been truly amazing. Firstly, the Prime Minister fails to get any of his proposals passed, and then the Scottish Supreme Court ruled that the prorogation of Parliament was based on lies and should be overturned. We shall have to wait until next Tuesday to see whether the UK Supreme Court upholds this decision. As I would hate to see the judiciary have the same power in this country as in the United States, I have very mixed feelings about the courts getting involved in this way.

In the meantime, the ‘Yellowhammer papers’ have been released, and the Labour Party is in total disarray. More a Jacobean farce than anything else.

Philosophy 

The ‘philosophy’ I studied at Oxford I found sterile and irrelevant. The second article in Prospect Magazine which caught my eye explored how it was that philosophy in Cambridge and Oxford became dominated by the beliefs of Gilbert Ryle. This meant developments in philosophy on the continent were considered not worth consideration. How this came about, it is suggested, was because of the relatively early death of a man called R G Collingwood, who had both the influence and breadth of thinking to challenge this descent into analytic philosophy. I confess it was a joy to read a view so close to my own!

So, what was the fuss about? Well very crudely, the continental notion of philosophy was that it was closer to poetry than science. It was I think Heidegger who stated this so baldly. Unfortunately, I confess my view of Heidegger is still influenced by the negative view held of him by Karl Popper.

I quote: ‘for decades it was possible to do a degree in philosophy at a major university in the UK or the USA without encountering the thoughts of any continental philosopher’. To add to the mix, a recent review of Jonathan Rees latest work on philosophy came to the conclusion that: ‘for the English, philosophy is viewed in the same light as that Henry Ford took of history – bunk!’

A cricket catch up 

But, on a much more positive note, Australian and England drew the Ashes series as England managed to win the last match. For once Steve Smith was dismissed relatively cheaply in the first innings, and very cheaply in the second. He has to be seen now as the best batsman in the world. And we still have one last match to watch this coming Saturday. What a summer it has been for the sport!!

Ballads

Until the early 1900’s, the ballad retained great popularity with both the general public and poets of all levels of significance. I assume its popularity faded because of a coming together of antagonistic developments. The idea of memorising chunks of poetry or prose both for pleasure and recitation died. Time became more precious and of course the idea of home entertainment, allied to the diminishing attention span of individuals probably sealed its fate. The word remains in use, and in fairness the songs now described as ballads are closer to the original romantic songs of the troubadours – even if they bear no relation to the ballads of later generations.

When I use the word ‘ballad’ I am thinking of the Ingoldsby Legends, or the works by Rudyard Kipling, Robert Service or ‘Banjo’ Peterson. Entertainments in their own right, sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic, sometimes making criticism of society, such as Barham’s “The jackdaw of Rheims”. The first poets I mention opened up to us worlds now long gone, whether it be the Australian Outback, the gold rush in the Yukon or the life of the ordinary soldier in India.

Sadly, all are far too long for inclusion in these notes, but I can use give a taster of this genre. The words below are the preface from ‘Banjo’ Peterson to a collection of his works:

I have gathered these stories afar
In the wind and the rain,
In the land where the cattle- camps are, On the edge of the plain.
On the overland routes of the west,
When the watches were long,
I have fashioned in earnest and jest
These fragments of song.
 
They are just the rude stories one hear’s In sadness and mirth, The records of wandering years – And scant is their worth.
Though their merits indeed are but slight, I shall not refine If they give you one moment’s delight, Old comrades of mine.

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