Rising Temperatures

This has been a rather inactive week on the farm, at least. Certainly, the temperatures militated against moving stock, and hardly encouraged human activity either. This is not to say that a blanket of slothfulness fell over the farm, but activities had to be tailored to the weather.

In terms of productivity Monday and Tuesday shone, with more fieldwork, and on Tuesday morning at a frightening early hour the whole farm being sprayed with preparation 501.

501 needs to be sprayed early in the morning, so at 3.30am the kitchen was the scene of considerable activity. A great tub of water had to heated and the preparation then stirred into that. By 5.30 the mixture had been circulating through the flow form for the required length of time and so the spraying tank was filled, and Aélis and Florian set off to do the whole farm. All had breakfast shortly after 9.00 with a feeling of a job well done.

No new calves or lambs this week, but despite the loss of a ewe, there has been much that was positive. The foot bath treatment has meant the sheep are all walking better, the cow with an infected hoof is walking more easily, and though the flies seem have been active, so far none of the young cattle are needing treatment.

The growth of thistles in a couple of fields means topping was necessary. In two other fields there was a disappointing number of ragwort plants which had to be pulled and put on the bonfire – the bonfire which is now so large it needs to be burnt.

The task of clearing the litter bed from the barn has started, and new heaps will be established in a number of places where they will be treated with biodynamic preparations and then allowed to settle and mature for use in the future.

Our dedicated lambing caravan has now been ‘mothballed’ until the next lambing season, but not before Aélis and Florian had used an appropriate amount of elbow grease and bleach to ensure the collapsed vehicle was clean and bug free and safe to use in 2020.

Thinking of the activity the two of them were engaged in with Paul on Thursday, I think the powers that be in Lyon will be rather surprised and, hopefully, impressed by, the range of activities Aélis and Florian have carried out. And it is not just new practical skills they have acquired; both now have a much firmer grasp of what farming is like and have considerably widened their vocabulary and use of, and understanding of, spoken English.

We continue to enjoy the fruits of our vegetable garden, and probably have never eaten quite so many loganberries ever before. Lunchtimes – with the grandchildren on holiday and of most the family engaged in Ulula – are even more boisterous than normal.

Having expressed concerns about the Rural Payments Agency I must, in honour bound, share the fact that on Saturday a remittance advice from them was received covering capital costs incurred to date.

Our need for rain was met in a truly dramatic manner in the small hours of Wednesday morning when for some two hours we had torrential rain, very strong winds and continuous sheet lightning. The smell of the electrical storm was all pervasive for some time after the storm, when, with two enormous thunderclaps, it moved on. All this perhaps presaging the advent of our pseudo Wagnerian new prime minister and the pathetic collapse of the English cricket team in a test match with Ireland – redeemed I am happy to say in the fourth innings.

I am able to share with you the pleasure of watching our young swallows trying out their wings around the house on Friday morning – very satisfying indeed. Rather surprisingly a moorhen had to be rescued from the empty flow form tank. Apparently, like swans, they cannot manage vertical take offs but need a run to get airborne.

Browsing, as one does, through the ‘Agricultural Year’ first published in 1883, (though I admit it was a later edition) what leapt out were the indicated maximum temperatures we might expect for each month. In fact, reading any historical material – fiction, gossip, diaries or history, of the past, the evidence for warming is stark. Unless one totally rejects Occam’s Razor, there can only be one explanation. The other thing to stand out is how long the paradigm that said the soil was dead and inanimate, survived after the notion first came into existence in Europe.

The glory of our little world

A circular journey to the once famous Roman town of Alcester gave us the opportunity to appreciate the glory of our little world at this time of year. Hedges varying in size from barely existing to taller than a man, with the pattern of fields covering not just a range of colours but of uses; hay fields now recovering from their cut, while many other fields are golden yellow reflecting a successful cereal sowing. Even here there is variety with some having stalks little more than a foot long, while others have stalks long enough to use for thatching. 

The notion of ‘our little world’ relates of course to that much reprinted book ‘The little world of Don Camilo’ which is still a lovely read even if the politics that lay behind it are long forgotten.

Most farmers who grow short stalked varieties are combining already. It is actually impossible to know whether the short stalks result from genetic modifications or are chemically induced. As an organic farmer, it is impossible not to think of the herbicides, pesticides and tons of slug pellets that most have used.

Then there are the fields covered in the green shoots and leaves of the feed maize – happily since badgers love it, little growing that close to us. Finally, there are the fields where nature is running semi wild showing fine crops of thistle, docks, willow herb and yes, ragwort.

Fortunately, we also pass patches of woodland; in the main it is not managed but left as a refuge for birds and wildlife and there are also little patches where bushes and small trees grow uncontrolled. No wonder life of all kinds thrives in our area despite agri-business.

Then and now

Anne is currently reading the latest and most authoritative biography of Isabella and Ferdinand. I confess that, aside from reading some sixty years ago books approving of how these joint monarchs drove the Muslims out, and made Spain a true Catholic country, this is a period I am not over familiar with. Then, despite Catholicism being at that time viewed askance, there was no suggestion that indicated that there was another side of the story. We now know almost too much about the horror of the expulsion of Muslims and Jews, the setting up of the inquisition and all the awfulness associated with that.

The first instinct is to feel repelled and see little difference between behaviour then and ‘terrorists’ behaviour these days. But thinking of the current movement to tear down statues of heroes of the past, one surely has to take breath and review the situation sensibly. Does one undo history by those actions? Did these characters act knowing what they did would, in due course, be judged wrong? The answer is surely obvious and perhaps we all need to grow up a bit. Take empire for example; can one think of any period, including today, when empires did not exist, or any period when there were not tyrants? I don’t hold to the belief that we are born evil and can only find salvation in a particular way. Neither do I believe that we are born inherently good. As I see it, much of societal thinking is based on totally unrealistic notions of human behaviour and hence psychology – no doubt because facing the facts is too uncomfortable and depressing. We had a good example of human perviousness at the weekend when complaints about the heat rapidly switched to complaints about the chill! 

Smetana and Janacek

Listening to Smetana’s Ma Vlast, which to my untutored ears had some rather dull bits, I remembered that Bohemia, until sometime at the end of the first decades of the 17th century, was one of Europe’s most tolerant societies. We/I know  a little about Bohemia firstly because of a marriage to Richard II in the 14th century and then because at the start of the 17th century James VI/I married a daughter off to the King(?) of Bohemia – the short reigned ‘Winter Queen’ John Huss, one of the early and key figures in church reform is known to us because of his links to the thought of Wycliffe. (No doubt I may be in shaky ground here since it is some time since I read Diamaid MacCulloch).  Indeed, his subsequent followers, the Hussites, seem to have predated the Protestants.  I was also reminded how the horrific ethnic cleaning at the end of WWII showed how long grievances can be nurtured and the terrible consequences when these grievances can be acted upon.

Every day my ignorance is exposed. The first night of the proms featured the Glagolitic Mass by Janacek which I had previously heard several times without bothering to find out what Glagolitic meant. This led me into quite unknown territory including the ups and downs of the Bulgarians over many centuries and discovering that St Cyril, he of the Cyrillic text, was the creator of the Glagolitic script. It would be remiss of me not to record that I enjoyed the performance far more than some performances I have listened to.

The slowest growing fruit ever

Finally, something to really ‘knock you over’, the family shared a rather desiccated orange from one of my citrus trees – what a triumph, one fruit in 45 years!


For something dated but which goes along with a swing and can easily be related to life today, the ditty below was probably written somewhere around the 1930’s judging by the comment on the fall in the price of wheat. Aside from his humour, I warm to Leacock as a professional economist who wrote “I think the whole science is a wreck and has got to be built up again” – sadly never done!

Steven Leacock – Born in Swanmore, Hampshire 1869 – died in Toronto, Canada 1944

“I know a very tiresome Man 
Who keeps on saying, “Social Plan.” 
At every Dinner, every Talk 
Where Men foregather, eat or walk, 
No matter where, — this Awful Man 
Brings on his goddam Social Plan. 
The Fall in Wheat, the Rise in Bread, 
The social Breakers dead ahead, 
The Economic Paradox 
That drives the Nation on the rocks, 
The Wheels that false Abundance clogs — 
And frightens us from raising Hogs, — 
This dreary field, the Gloomy Man 
Surveys and hiccoughs, Social Plan. 
Till simpler Men begin to find 
His croaking aggravates their mind, 
And makes them anxious to avoid 
All mention of the Unemployed, 
And leads them even to abhor 
The People called Deserving Poor. 
For me, my sympathies now pass 
To the poor Plutocratic Class. 
The Crowd that now appeals to me 
Is what he calls the Bourgeoisie. 
So I have got a Social Plan 
To take him by the Neck, 
And lock him in a Luggage van 
And tie on it a check, 
Now, how’s that for a Social Plan

Perhaps this quote shows his humour better: “Advertising may be described as the science of arresting the human intelligence long enough to get money from it.”

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