Our biodynamic approach

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

Two matters I just do not feel I can let pass without comment. Should you feel some linkage to the notion of Gaia, what a terrible revenge the world is producing – floods, drought, fires and earth movements. Nowhere seems safe any longer, and generally, to a large degree, all a testament to mankind’s greed and the population explosion.  

It was Newton I think who first drew attention to cause and effect. No doubt modern scientists see that as simplistic, but looking at matters unemotionally, much so called, and to be fair, real progress, has had sad unforeseen negative consequences.  

Which leads in nicely to the second topic I cannot leave unmentioned. As an undergraduate it was for most a necessary requirement to work during vacations, and hence earn money. One vacation I worked 12-hour days at Bournemouth West railway station – now long gone – cleaning railway carriages. The daily task I found was easily completed in four hours. Taken to one side by the foreman, who also sat as a labour councillor, the point was made that doing this as a student was quite different from doing it day in, day out until, if you were fortunate, at 65 you could retire on your state pension.  

As a student of economics, at that undeveloped age, all I derived from the experience was the feeling that this was disguised unemployment, and a reason why productivity in this country was so low. I admit that later I supported privatisation. That of course inevitably went wrong because we rushed from one extreme to the opposite. As a company, the task of Directors is to assure shareholders get the largest return on their capitol as possible – not to do any more for the workforce than keep them reasonably contented. For the country, there was the naïve assumption that all this, now redundant workforce, could find work, and hence lift productivity, but these were totally unskilled workers.  

Nationalisation of the water boards demonstrates so clearly how this crude model ensures we get the worst possible outcome. By diverting profits into dividends, directors earn bonus’s, maintenance and legal requirements are irrelevant until the public is forced to see what is happening, but then what? Most of the shares will be held by pension companies, attack them and then what… All political parties are equally at fault, and, yet again, good intentions wreak havoc while our beaches are so polluted swimming is unwise.  

Obviously, the event on the farm this week has been the return of Boots, Tabitha and Chris from what, by all accounts, was the holiday of a lifetime. As might have been expected, they returned to a grey, damp, sunshine free day, but, according to Chris, Harare was little warmer! Before they returned, we had a family birthday to which was enjoyably celebrated.  

The Farm

The only really negative event of the week was the death of one our cows. She was one of six heifers we bought some years ago in order to introduce another ‘family line’ into our herd. While for us human ancestry is related to the male line, for our traditional Hereford cattle the situation is reversed. I think once there were 13 matriarchal ‘families’, but at least two are now extinct. Previously we had animals from five, the sixth we bought in was the ‘plum’ line, one of the less common. To lose such a relatively young cow was unexpected and disconcerting. Our vet was present when she died, apparently from a heart attack. She leaves a two-month-old calf which will join the other two ‘orphans’ in the barn.   

Otherwise in general, apart from our first experiences of several sheep having been attacked, evidence suggesting by badgers, all is well, and the amount of rain we have had this week has ensured that there is grazing on the farm. We have come through this dry and hot period well, perhaps due to our biodynamic approach and general concern for our soils and, despite initial doubts, the mixed sowing of the main part of the farm also contributed.  

Tim has done a good job in holding things together and ensuring where necessary, animal movements. As importantly, he has remained of good cheer through all that has been asked of him, whether by work or family.  

As for myself, the usual problems that arise from forgetting my age have resulted merely in minor injuries – it is very hard to keep in mind that one no longer bounces which makes falling more of a problem.  

We have no woofers at the moment, but Nicki and I cobbled together a piece for that organisation to use. To date our experiences have been very positive. In this, as in so many other areas, Anne’s contribution has been central. She is currently reviewing the next date for spraying, which hopefully will be carried out by Alice and Brendan. Names that have been absent from these notes for a while. 


It seems impossible for a week to go by and there not to be more to write on methane. Any stock farmer shutting their eyes to this issue is burying their heads in the sand. No need, I think, to rehearse the different roles of CO2 and methane in climate warming, they both play a part. We had the good news from the United States that the ‘Biden Bill’ on the environment has just been signed into effect. A key element of that bill relates to methane emissions from the oil industry which is commonly regarded as making up 40% of all methane emissions. The act now requires the oil industry to manage and eventually eliminate this problem. At the same time, it appears positive steps are being achieved by scientists into methane capture.  

Sadly, while thinking of emissions directly or indirectly man made, little progress has been made on emissions from landfill sites. It is not as if this problem is unknown. Our closest landfill site boasts a pipe designed to release the methane.  

The favourite target however for many remains agriculture and in particular the cow. DEFRA now seems to recognise the main issue arises when cattle are kept inside, and research work is going on to see if what is fed to the cattle is related to the level of emission. A preliminary finding seems to be that the addition of seaweed helps matters! What does now seem to be recognised is that pastures sown with a mix of grasses, herbs and wildflowers, do have a similar effect. You will recall that the bulk of our pastures are exactly of that type.  

Helpfully, as this news came out, an entirely separate study has demonstrated that productivity is always greatly enhanced when mixed sowing is the norm, as I refer to in an earlier paragraph together with strong hedges and, in field, trees.  

Also fairly obviously, swampy wetlands, while excellent for the environment and wildlife in so many ways, and which do a great job in mopping up CO2, are also a major source of methane emissions since it is rotting vegetation that produces that gas. Nothing is straightforward and this is a real reason to be cautious about simplistic solutions promoted in the media.  

Given all these variables, modelling becomes all but impossible. How is the warming of the world’s permafrost, and subsequent release of methane, to be calculated and added in. Something even more difficult to determine is at what point the vast amount of methane, currently locked into the ocean beds, estimated to be one sixth of all the methane on the planet, might be released if waters warm too much, though how much is not known!  

Recent studies appear to show that some 115,000 years ago sea water temperatures did rise high enough, and this did happen. Throw into the mix the movements of the world’s tectonic plates and volcanic activity. Add all this together and there is reason for at least a level of doom and gloom unless we do actually reduce the levels produced by human activity.  

Late Summer already

A lot has been written in recent days about trees looking autumnal and little wonder. In this part of England, it seems to be Horse Chestnut trees that most obviously look unhappy. Whether this is due to lack of rain or some kind of blight I could not tell. Certainly, along the drive here they are a sorry sight. On the other hand, our drive looks all the better for the verges having been strimmed. Otherwise, all appears well in the neighbourhood, with the fields a patchwork of green and straw. Today on an outing we saw a surprising number of small raptors, and of all things a police car in the village, a real first over recent years.  

Agricultural revolution

As we now know, the real agricultural revolution dates from the 1860’s. I have been attempting to identify which significant events have happened since. In the 1860’s the dramatic increase in productivity came from the introduction of steam power, and the implements that could then be used. On smaller farms and on smaller fields, the horse, which had largely replaced oxen by the mid-19th century, retained their role until WW2 when tractors took over. Old Pathe films show the excitement which greeted their arrival of these new machines.  

So, what has happened since the mid-19th century? I suppose one obvious answer has to be the involvement of science.  

The German chemical industry, the most advanced in the world at that time, allowed artificial manures to replace natural ones, indeed by the 1920’s the soils in Silesia had become so degraded, biodynamics came into being.   

In due course came new chemicals able to kill unwanted insects and plants; ever more powerful agricultural vehicles and machinery; tinkering, replaced by scientific experiment, with and manipulation of the genetics of stock and crops.  

Sometimes successful, but not invariably, some promised much but delivered little – remember the green revolution.   

As doctoring of humans improved, so did that of animals, and concern over welfare in some parts of the world at least, though not actually reflected worldwide – think of lots in the United States holding 15,000 cattle, the excessive use of antibiotics, and the feeding of food to cattle for which their stomachs were not designed for; refrigeration which brought to an end the transportation of live animals across the oceans.  

Remember ‘Sheep’ by W.H. Davies  

When I was once in Baltimore  
A man came up to me and cried,  
” Come, I have eighteen hundred sheep,  
And we will sail on Tuesday’s tide.   
” If you will sail with me, young man,  
I’ll pay you fifty shillings down;  
These eighteen hundred sheep I take  
From Baltimore to Glasgow town. ”   
He paid me fifty shillings down,  
I sailed with eighteen hundred sheep;  
We soon had cleared the harbour’s mouth, We soon were in the salt sea deep.   
The first night we were out at sea  
Those sheep were quiet in their mind;  
The second night they cried with fear — They smelt no pastures in the wind.   
They sniffed, poor things, for their green fields, They cried so loud I could not sleep:   
For fifty thousand shillings down  
I would not sail again with sheep.  

The second version is a real tearjerker.  

Over the period, the percentage of people working on the land has fallen dramatically, as have the number of farms, while at the same time populations have rocketed; international trade in food products has grown, meaning the season does not determine what we eat, but also periodically, there is understanding of the dangers of this though sadly briefly.  

But returning to my theme, despite all these improvements, it is only now that it has been realised that the soil itself is not inanimate, and is a key factor in successful farming and, that care and concern must be taken of it which has brought with it a realisation that going back to the old ways of farming is not the answer, and at the same time, taking on board that farming as practiced today is a dead end, unless there is a political will to face up to realities.  

The modern farmer needs to incorporate knowledge as it evolves, into the best of traditional farming, and at the same time, get adequate payment for providing good food and the best environment possible.  

S.G. Maclean 

Turning to other thoughts, sadly, my sister and I never had the opportunity to know our mother as adults, and speaking for myself, my memories of her are very blurred by the long illness that eventually killed her. We have photographs of course, but not in the quantity that one would have today, nor in colour. The two physical reminders of her I have are her upright German piano, imported I assume after WW1, and a very large stack of sheet music. She was clearly a more than competent piano player since my own playing never reached the standard required to play her music. Included in the pile are a hard cover book of folk songs and rounds, and another of carols. Though my father was no more practically musical than me, and my sister was quite young, I do remember us all singing rounds, carols and folk songs. Of these, the one that really sticks out in my memory is the Skye song and that is my lead in to my next topic.  

I have before today written very positively about the writings of the Scottish historian S. G. Maclean. She is the author of two series of books, one set in the final years of Cromwell’s rule, and the second set in Scotland and set in the Jacobite period. Her latest book is called “The Bookseller of Inverness”.  The period six years after the battle of Culloden.  

The story is told through one person, a survivor of the battle, and still at heart a devout Jacobite, though attempting to forget the past. The writer’s listed research literature is as good as you can get if, naturally, seeing the period through Scottish eyes.  

I was struck by a whole range of emotions and thoughts. First, how like a Greek drama it all was. Secondly, just how little I had understood of the emotions of the people involved. I had thought myself well read and knowledgeable about the period, but now I had to accept the gulf between the thinking of the Jacobite’s and the majority of English and Scottish people. The political decision to offer the throne to Mary and William seemed so obvious, it was after all called “The Glorious Revolution”. But it upset a range of factions, from the Tories to the Roman Catholics, many Irish and a number of the Clan Chiefs of the Highlands in Scotland, with one of the first consequences being the Battle of the Boyne in 1699.  

Over the next nearly fifty years came a number of uprisings, some significant enough to make school history books but most not seen as being of account.  

Thus, it was not a simple matter of the Scots versus the English, the Jacobite’s were made up of both peoples just as were the Hanoverian forces. It is also too simplistic to see it as just a religious battle. It covered a period when the English were engaged in major continental actions, as well as colonial power wars. For the French and Spanish this situation was clearly one to exploit and they did indeed try to do so but to little advantage.  

I now understand that it was a period of tribulation from which emerged few heroes, many weak and deceitful characters, and from the orders of the ‘Butcher’ Cumberland, levels of brutality that were shameful, no matter he was fed false information on how the Jacobite would fight.   

And what did it achieve but false romantic notions, including the Skye song – Bonny Prince Charles being anything but that – deceit, betrayal, the settling of old scores, actions by clan heads that later brought what Scotland knows as the ‘clearings’, a deep negativity to the English, and a demonstration of the awful power of ‘unthinking loyalty’ so similar to that we see still all round the world, and not just in the United States.  

The positives are limited: an eventual mass emigration from Scotland, a pension for the last Stuart Henry, the Roman Catholic Cardinal, and the creation of the Ordinance Survey, sold off this in the last century by some ignorant ideological politician, one of the cartographic marvels of the world.  

Remarkably, and this must say something about the character of the English as a group, how many remember that Charles the First, at the Battle of Worcester, led 15,000 Scots, or that in 1745, Bonny Prince Charles led a Scottish army in an invasion of England, or indeed the situation in the borderlands, and the many invasions by the Scots earlier on in history.  


After the slaughter of the English test team at the end of last week, about which the pundits found much to say, my mind was set off in a range of directions.  

That their performance in the second test was so very different changes, does not change my thoughts, and Robert Key recognised some of my concerns… Starting from the premise that the shorter forms of the game must in part explain matters – I can say that now having watched a new version of the game called ‘The Hundred’, which you will not expect me to praise. I then went on to consider the effects of professionalism and safety gear.  

The gap between amateur and professional cricket is now so wide as to be unbridgeable. Before going up to university, playing cricket had been one of my greatest joys. Suddenly I found that cricket was no longer a game which allowed what was called a dilettante approach. Rather, like rowing, you either did it wholeheartedly or not at all. It was only later in my working life that I found social cricket remained an option and I clung into this into my mid-fifties when failing reactions saw me suffering cracked ribs – and at that age they do not heal rapidly.  

Today I watch cricket played on immaculate curated, and rain protected pitches, and cannot help remembering playing club cricket on a pitch near Brockenhurst, competing with ponies, donkeys, and cows. As a wicket keeper and batsman, handling fiercely fast but totally erratic bowlers on a pitch that was lethal, or as a batsman facing a leg spinner on a sodden pitch which enabled fantastic grip and turn.  

Of course, in those days, aside from pads, gloves and a box, no batsman had any other protection. They also knew on Monday morning work would call. As a matter of curiosity, I looked at deaths listed since cricket was really recognised.

Being hit by the ball killed few, heart attacks were the main danger. Of course, with no head, thigh or chest protection, you batted accordingly – in any case neither frightening, nor hurting people was the key aim. It happened sometimes, and if it did all rushed to give aid and utter regrets – perhaps a slightly rosy picture, but I never played in the Lancashire league. As an effete southern I have no doubt we were softer than our northern brethren.  

This weeks music! 

I listened to two programmes on the television on Sunday night. The first presented by David Owen Morris sharing playing by great pianists recorded on television over the years was a delight. The second, a prom conducted by Marion Alsop, I found another matter entirely. In large part this was down to the presenting team whose absurd language and enthusiasm I found nauseous. The music was little better. Indeed, how the Bartok can be described as music completely defeats me. The Prokofiev piano concert, compared to some of his other works should be consigned to a dark cupboard. By the time the Dvorak came round my interest was lost. I think the ‘emperor with no clothes’ syndrome has now infected both art and music – or is it just part of being woke and politically correct to admire nothingness and noise!  Age, it will be said, explains that view, rubbish!   

Even sadder, listening to a CD of the Brendel father and son playing Beethoven’s sonatas for piano and cello, I realised that I was tired of listening to Beethoven. Shocking I know but I assume it’s the result, to a degree, in my case at least, of over exposure over too many years.  

Given my character assassination of Bonny Prince Charles, I thought it reasonable to be reminded of the romantic view on which we were all brought up.   Contrary to expectation the Skye Boat Song was neither written by a Scottish author nor written in the 18th century but that it has emotional power cannot be doubted.  

‘Loud the winds howl, loud the waves roar, 
Thunderclaps rend the air; 
Baffled, our foes stand by the shore, 
Follow they will not dare.  

Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing, 
Onward! the sailors cry; 
Carry the lad that’s born to be king 
Over the sea to Skye.  

Many’s the lad, fought on that day 
Well the claymore did wield; 
When the night came, silently lay 
Dead on Culloden’s field.  

Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing, 
Onward! the sailors cry; 
Carry the lad that’s born to be king 
Over the sea to Skye.  

Though the waves leap, soft shall ye sleep, 
Ocean’s a royal bed. 
Rocked in the deep, Flora will keep 
Watch by your weary head.  

Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing, 
Onward! the sailors cry; 
Carry the lad that’s born to be king 
Over the sea to Skye.  

Burned are their homes, exile and death 
Scatter the loyal men; 
Yet ere the sword cool in the sheath 
Charlie will come again’.  

Sir Harold Edwin Boulton was also the songwriter who wrote ‘All through the night’  

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