No Mow May

The drive verge

No Mow May is all about providing a space for nature to flourish. Countryfile tell us that “We’ve lost 97% of our wildflower meadows in the past 70 years in the UK, and insects are in worrying decline with butterflies down by about 50% since 1976, and 13 species of bee now extinct.”

Not mowing creates a mini jungle for beetles and other small creatures; sparrows and goldfinches can come to feed on the seeds and wildflowers such as clover, lady’s bedstraw (which smells delicious) and selfheal can bloom and provide nectar.  Plantlife campaign research has revealed that mowing your lawn less frequently can provide enough nectar sugar for ten times the number of bees, butterflies, moths, beetles and other pollinators. Dandelions are a particular superfood for bees and butterflies, producing 37% of a lawn’s nectar sugar. Field 7 can feel proud of itself!

As you know, we have left part of our lawn and verges unmown from May through the summer for several years and it has been amazing to see the colour and profusion of flowers.

Along the edges of the driveway, with a slight hope that the drivers will notice it is not for driving on, we are leaving a strip mowed. This means the loss of some of the lady’s bedstraw, but we hope will be worth it. Seeing tyre tracks across first the crocus, and then the lady’s smock and camassia is always, as you can imagine, rather disheartening!

For the lawns, a hard lesson learnt last year was twofold – when left un-mowed for too long here in the countryside, the ant hills arrive in force, and for those of us with hayfever, we seemed to suffer even more, so this year, we have a balance of both.

The wet spring clearly helped the wild plants along the drive, and across the farm but we are wholly puzzled by most of the lady’s smock seemingly leaping across the drive and into Field 8 along the driveway. What a show that field has so far been for us – lady’s smock, and now buttercups rising above the ridge and furrow. Useless for nutritious pasture grass, but very pretty to look at!

The weather this last fortnight has been astonishing. Warm in the sun, cool in the lazy wind, but to have the blue skies above us once more has been a help.

At times the wind has meant requiring a coat and scarf, but they are quickly removed at the barn where there is no wind at all, and one feels only the warmth! Each part of the farm, each field even, has its own microclimate. This is an area that may be warmer or colder, drier, or wetter due to its situation in the landscape. Elevation also plays a part. The farm is mostly flat (hopeless for sledging), but even on a gently sloping field, the difference between the higher parts and the lower can feel considerable. A survey was carried out a few years ago to see if there is enough wind to site a wind turbine on the farm. The field identified was a total surprise, because at ground level it is one of the least windy!

Wind means nothing when the days are getting longer and the air is warmer – the hedgerows are weighed down in the best way by the hawthorn flowers, joining the cow parsley from the verges – added to which, the horse chestnut flowers along the drive are the best for some years. The greens of the new leaves are still fresh and spring like, and all together remind us that May really is the most beautiful month to be in nature.

We have been able to take our first cut of a neighbouring farmer’s organic pasture for silage, and this is already now in the barn, plus we have hopes for at least one field being cut for hay here in due course. With this in mind, and having around and about us, several neighbours who have been experiencing bee’s swarming, it led us to find this old saying:

“A swarm of bees in May
Is worth a load of hay;
A swarm of bees in June
Is worth a silver spoon;
A swarm of bees in July
Is not worth a fly.”

All meals at the farmhouse kitchen table inevitably turn into ‘farm meetings’ as what else is there to talk about! However, our weekly, official farm meetings continue to steer our thoughts and our work for the week ahead and of course beyond.

For the animals, when the week has not been long enough, the weekends have seen the lambs vaccinated against clostridial diseases. The sheep and lambs were ably rounded up by Dot and Milly and brought into the barn. Rather like a human vaccination, it is a quick needle injection, then they are returned to the field. The lambs are all looking good, for which we are grateful. Dot, just like Flash, has to find water as soon as the work is done – sometimes the scrape, or the brook if close enough, but if not, a water trough will do, right up to her chin!

The cows were moved onto to new grass, and they seemed happy, enjoying a good gallop, kicking up their heels! We are rotating the animals and fields ever 7-10 days to ensure that the pasture is not eaten down too low.

Tim has managed to clear half of the barn of the winter’s thick layers of bedding. There is now a huge compost heap in Field 2, and we are hoping to be able to borrow a muck spreader soon from a neighbouring farmer, so that we can spread last year’s heap onto a field.

The cow horns which we filled with manure and buried last Autumn have been dug up and emptied out ready for spraying as 500 on the grass that has been eaten down, first by the cattle, and then by the sheep, who prefer to graze on shorter grass. Seamlessly, it feels, the farm’s work flows from spring, on into summer.

After our eulogies on the splendour of this month, perhaps it is only right that we fell across this little bit of good cheer!

May by Christina Rossetti

I cannot tell you how it was,
But this I know: it came to pass
Upon a bright and sunny day
When May was young; ah, pleasant May!
As yet the poppies were not born
Between the blades of tender corn;
The last egg had not hatched as yet,
Nor any bird foregone its mate.
I cannot tell you what it was,
But this I know: it did but pass.
It passed away with sunny May,
Like all sweet things it passed away,
And left me old, and cold, and gray.

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