Spring seems to have turned into summer

As rapidly as it finally arrived, spring seems to have already turned into summer. Trees, hedges and verges show this only too clearly. Strange weather we have as well, warm but grey and with winds from a northerly direction. The Azores high seems to have been replaced by a high centred over Iceland and Greenland. We may have been fortunate to escape the recent various torrential downpours but were very happy to have some rain overnight on Thursday, but more rain is needed to assist rapid growth in the cut and topped fields.

Another new heifer calf! 

Another good week on the cattle front. We have another new heifer calf, and all seems well. Typically, the cow that calved was not the one my data bank predicted. The calf will be tagged and registered on Monday. The suckler herd will be moved next week – as per the plan we adopted last year – while to young stock were moved according to the same plan. Since the move only required them moving some 50 yards there were no excitements. On Friday we recognised that hooves would need trimming later in the year. Talking to Colin one of our neighbours who keeps a continental breed of beef cattle reminded us of how wise we were in going for Traditional Hereford’s. They may be smaller, they may be ready for market earlier but when it comes to managing the needs of a new born calf it can just be done in the field rather than needing to introduce extensive safety procedures.

The sheep and their lambs continue to thrive but needed to be moved, and this was done on Saturday. Those of the family who were mobile turned out to assist Chris and the dogs, who worked hard – as the photo of Milly suggests! This was a long move since they have been on our one field on the other side of the Bow Brook and had to travel all the way to the field at the north east side of the farm.

We have not yet had any response from our shearer, so they will need to be chased since they will certainly need shearing in early July.

Spraying begins

Once the bales are in, the tractor can be used for muck spreading, chain harrowing and rolling. At our weekly farm meeting on Friday morning, we agreed provisional days for spraying 500 starting in the week beginning the 18th. Provisional because of course of the weather!

News has just reached us of the death of Peter Proctor who was one of the great proponents of biodynamics in India, Australia and New Zealand. We were privileged to be taken under his wing and in the first decade of this century he visited several times, to run workshops as well as direct advice to ourselves. A great loss and a man to remember with both affection and respect. We send our sympathy and love to Rachel his companion to the end.

The barn still has to be cleared and given an estimate of 70 to 80 trailer loads, deciding where to put it took some time, not least because cross-compliance lays down very reasonable rules for where such loads are placed

Haylage making

I have talked about hay making but, in the event, we made haylage. This year our cut of three fields was three weeks earlier than in 2017. This means there is plenty of time for a second cut and this will be necessary for we need to at least double the number of bales we have ready for the winter currently. Key decisions that we clearly are now working on is which fields we leave for cutting given that we have two herds of cattle and very soon two flocks of sheep who will need to have pastures on which to graze! Two or three fields look certain with yet another to possibly cut in September.

Decision making on this small farm may appear straightforward, but the reality is that as I have often said, the weather is both a key and unpredictable factor both locally and nationally. Depending on the autumn we have, will determine when the cattle need to be taken off the land. Every week we can keep them out of the barn saves us over seventeen bales of hay and a smaller number of bales of straw. Every week that the sheep do not need feed because the pastures provide feed, equally has consequences on the total amount of feed we will require. The more we have to buy in, the tougher for our budget. And the reality is if we leave buying in too late costs may double! Uncertainty is a fact of life both for us as individuals and for businesses but even more so for the organic farmer.

Moving forward with Higher Tier Stewardship Scheme 

Planning for 2019 and 2020 will be even more challenging should we be accepted as signed up membership of the higher tier stewardship scheme. Leaving to one side capital works, we are committing eleven fields to the programme. For all of these, major cultivation activities are required which must be completed very early in the ten-year life of the scheme. Accordingly, even at this early stage we are talking to Colin our trusted contractor of choice to ensure he will deliver what needs to be done at the most opportune time for us in terms of stock requirements.

Our first physical task is to take numerous soil samples from each of the eleven named fields using a ‘corer’ so ending with some eleven kg’s of soil, each to be placed in its own box and then sent off for sampling. This is the key job for Wednesday and then on Thursday we expect to see a once very familiar face from the past to collect our samples. That hopefully will also, time allowing, enable us to raise some early questions.

Next time if I have the nervous energy I will attempt to share with you the governments proposed replacement for the common agricultural policy called Environmental Land Management or ELM which is inevitably how it will be referred to in the media.

Cuckoo calls

I wrote last week about the cuckoo and how the call sounds better in the distance than close up. Later I remembered how much we loved the sound of the Scandinavian thrush nightingale whether it was feet away or tens of yards away. This was a bird we heard every year in the spring; the true nightingale we have not heard here in England since the late nineteen eighties. At least we have the blackbird, even if we have lost the thrush. The evening song of the blackbird is a joy we can all enjoy.

I also realise it is a while since I referred to our resident buzzards. One warm afternoon this week, thermals, which enriched a ballooning event at Radley House, not only resulted in a balloon landing on one of our fields (generating the invariable gift of a bottle of wine) but also allowed us to watch four buzzards rising in a thermal over the house until they were out of sight having reached a great height.

Synchronicity is a wonderful thing! This week the program titled ‘Classified Britain’ in a sense updated my comments about the effect of the India act on trade between the UK and India. A trade which depended on the exports of raw materials to this country and their subsequent sale back to India as finished products.

This week we were in Dundee with the front page of a paper published in November 1922. Dundee then was the capital of the jute industry but by 1922 the end of this industry was in sight as depression struck, and unwanted machinery and ‘laid off’ skilled workers were being sought all over the world but in particular from the country which until then had only been a source of the raw material – India!  Dundee is now once again a thriving community despite the end of the weaving industry.

This story gives me the chance, even if not as obvious as I first thought, to share a poem which I have often turned to at ‘down points’ in life with its perhaps simplistic but supportive philosophy.

Swings and Roundabouts by P.R.Chalmers

It was early last September nigh to Framlin’am-on-Sea,
An’ ’twas Fair-day come to-morrow, an’ the time was after tea,
An’ I met a painted caravan adown a dusty lane,
A Pharaoh with his waggons comin’ jolt an’ creak an’ strain;
A cheery cove an’ sunburnt, bold o’ eye and wrinkled up,
An’ beside him on the splashboard sat a brindled tarrier pup,
An’ a lurcher wise as Solomon an’ lean as fiddle-strings
Was joggin’ in the dust along ‘is roundabouts and swings.

“Goo’-day,” said ‘e; “Goo’-day,” said I; “an’ ‘ow d’you find things go,
An’ what’s the chance o’ millions when you runs a travellin’ show?”
“I find,” said ‘e, “things very much as ‘ow I’ve always found,
For mostly they goes up and down or else goes round and round.”
Said ‘e, “The job’s the very spit o’ what it always were,
It’s bread and bacon mostly when the dog don’t catch a ‘are;
But lookin’ at it broad, an’ while it ain’t no merchant king’s,
What’s lost upon the roundabouts we pulls up on the swings!”

“Goo’ luck,” said ‘e; “Goo’ luck,” said I; “you’ve put it past a doubt;
An’ keep that lurcher on the road, the gamekeepers is out.”
‘E thumped upon the footboard an’ ‘e lumbered on again
To meet a gold-dust sunset down the owl-light in the lane;
An’ the moon she climbed the ‘azels, while a night-jar seemed to spin
That Pharaoh’s wisdom o’er again, ‘is sooth of lose-and-win;
For “up an’ down an’ round,” said ‘e, “goes all appointed things,
An’ losses on the roundabouts means profits on the swings’

(In passing I confess I had to find out what jute was – I now discover in the 21st century it is coming back into favour again. Again, I wholeheartedly recommend you listening to this programme since I have only picked up on one of the many interesting issues shared.)

Should we be saddened by the loss of Salon/Light Music now really only heard in full orchestral mode at the traditional New Year’s Day concert in Vienna? Recently the Australian ‘Eloquence’ label has re-issued a series of violin concertos played by an artist of supreme quality who only died in 1991 – known as Campoli.  One of the few ‘greats’ I was able to hear playing live. His career covered the decade before the war and he was still drawing huge crowds four decades earlier.

Reading the CD notes I found that he, as Alfredo Campoli, like many others, made his living in the 1930’s leading his own Group and band and also playing with a host of other Salon groups. The ASV label, now sadly long defunct, specialised in re-mastering LP’s of such light music and for a few £’s I bought one of their discs starring Alfredo Campoli playing ‘Salon Music of the Thirties’.

Nostalgia may play a part but, to me, what seems to be a basic truth ignored by classical music experts, is that our brains are not ‘tuned in’ or for that matter ‘turned on’ by what may be applauded by themselves such as very technical music or music designed to show off virtuosity.

There is much evidence to show that the first ‘violins’ were designed to mimic human vocal sounds. At its best a violin played with emotion surely sounds all but human. Campoli playing Bruch or Mendelssohn is overwhelming but for myself, I could happily miss the cadenza’s inserted by composers, to show off technical brilliance such as are found in all concertos and in so many arias. Salon and light music normally dispensed with such ‘frills’ and for me that is a real plus. But that is a different argument! I am certainly not suggesting salon and light music is anything more than it pretends to be – something in the right mood to dip into and no more. The days of Max Jaffa are long gone – they met a need and gave great pleasure but…

As to the debate as to which came first, speech or music, this is still alive and I doubt whether any certain answer will or indeed can emerge.

With the weather we are experiencing I thought of this poem:

Cloudy June – (the first two verses) by Edmund Blunden

Above the hedge the spearman thistle towers

And thinks himself the God of all he sees;

But nettles jostle fearless where he glowers,

Like old and stained and sullen tapestries;

And elbowing hemlocks almost turn to trees,

Proud as the sweet briar with her bubble flowers,

Where puff green spider cowers

To trap the toiling bees.

Here joy shall muse what melancholy tells,

And melancholy smile because of joy,

Whether the poppy breathe Arabian spells

To make them friends, or whistling gipsy-boy

Sound them a truth the nothing comes to cloy.

No sunray burns through this slow cloud, nor swells

Noise save the browsing – bells,

Half sorrow and half joy. 

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