Trees, grassland & organic milk

I have no doubt that people of our age have always worried about the direction of movement of society; But Anne and I have lived through the transition between work for most being about long hours and low wages, to a time when, somehow, the vast majority of the population live like lords, know their rights, and accept no responsibilities. 

Politicians have always exaggerated – we now know we are in 2022 to live in ‘Galactic Britain’ whatever that might mean; we now know curtesy of the Leader of the Opposition that ‘trans people are among the most marginalised and abused communities’. Does it really give confidence that a sensible woman like Rachel Reeves can boast of being a member of the Labour Party since the age of 17 -so she has never contemplated other political approaches, let alone ever challenged her political thinking and how outdated to invoke political tribal loyalties in this day and age. “Labour is the party of working people” – Anne and I work, are we to be included?  

People with wealth have always flaunted it; Lady Docker had her Rolls Royce; recently a group of absurdly wealthy men spent three days in space. Drink was always a problem, especially when men saw no need to bother about the needs of wife and children. Likewise, drugs, especially tobacco were used by most. Nowadays after a Rock Festival, the pollution in nearby rivers from ‘hard drugs’ threatens wildlife. Wages were once related to age and experience – no more, and ‘binge drinking’ is one result.  

We registered yet further clashes of moral imperatives. Forget about queues of climbers on Mount Everest, we now have so many climbing Snowdon that real damage is being done.   

You wonder perhaps where the clash of imperative lies. Well, many in our generation felt it was not right for only the fortunate to see nature unspoilt. Yet how can nature remain unspoilt if everyone has access to it? So, when part of the family returns from a weekend in the Brecon Beacons and report the place is heaving with humanity it was all brought back to me.  

Some thirty years ago Anne and I left Bromsgrove rather early one morning for a week to see parts of Scotland, read, about but not seen. In due course, and before sunset we reached John of Groats. For the week we slept in the back of our estate car, cooked our meals by the side of it, and called in at hotels for a cup of coffee and ablutions. We drove all round the top of Scotland, and apart from the odd dead sheep in the road saw no other tourists. On the news the other day Anne read that this route was now so popular that sections of this route were now solid with cars, camper vans and caravans. How lucky we were to experience all that natural beauty undisturbed by others. As I said earlier my generation had this belief that beauty spots should be enjoyed by all. Little did we appreciate the eventual dire consequences of that belief.  

I am dubious about suggesting a change in norms of behaviour, since I do not think that specific to our experience, but what has changed society – perhaps more than the introduction of the printing press all those centuries ago, has been the explosion of software and products that use IT. Love it or loathe it, this has been an enormous lever for change.  

Turning inward, following on from comments last week, we now have rabbits enjoying our fallen apples!  

Rose hips

Farm News

This week the farm has at last seen rain in plentiful quantifies and it was so needed. This has not stopped work on the farm infrastructure. There is now plenty of work for the fencers to do as old fences up and down the farm have been removed. At the same time very sadly a trip round the farm mid-week showed that a number of straining posts are no longer upright. One of the many problems of farming on heavy clay – which shrinks or expands depending on the rainfall – just as our outside doors do, though that is not clay related.  

There is a little more water in our ditches, but what the fence clearance has exposed is a number of dry ditches dating back, I assume, to the drainage put in in the 1890’s when perhaps the rainfall was greater. Some new drainage was, it seems, installed in the 1980’s, but we have never found anything other than a proposed pattern which obviously was never fully acted on.  

The new topper has arrived, after trying a variety of more modern and exciting models, the new one is identical to that which worked so hard for 15 years. Once the ground is again dry enough the ‘creeping thistle’ which has invaded the field by the drive for the first time will be the first target. I should perhaps alert you to the fact that post and railing fence along the drive has to go. Sadly, the cost of replacing it with something similar is far beyond our financial capacity and the new fence look more humdrum.  


Hedge cutting has altered the look of the farm in places, but despite my reservations about the practice, I know it is necessary, and I confess looking at the trim hedges that have been planted in our time I did feel a degree of pride. What we began is now coming to fruition through the efforts of Chris.  

Last week I suggested agreement with our certifying bodies had been resolved. Sadly, this is not so. The Soil Association for some reason regard boluses as a feed product and are unable to accept them for use with our ewes more than once. I recognise the certification group have tried to accommodate us and to help but we now seem to be stuck. Chris has spoken with their backroom staff to no avail, other than sympathy and ‘rules are rules’. Our problem you will remember is that our soils contain very, very high levels of molybdenum, and this suppresses other vital trace elements including in our case cobalt, copper, iodine, selenium and zinc.  

The use of licks or supplements in the water has here, at least, two major disadvantages. The first is related to badgers and TB, the second is that licks will be used by the dominant animals and putting trace elements in water ignores the reality that ewes drink significantly less than cattle. So, we remain at a loss – perhaps we should abandon raising sheep.  

I suppose that there is a chance, given the Soil Association are now taking the soil rather more seriously, their paper “Mother Earth” is, after all, about ‘thinking and doing with soils’, that they will come to accept certain soils cannot be farmed organically unless their rules are able to be adjusted as those soils require.  

I have been following a conversation on the Pasture-Fed site concerning the ‘rides’ that should be left between planted trees, especially when the aim is to allow cattle to graze the fields. Following the conversation as I wrote, but not over engaged, until I came across an issue that really caught my attention. An individual had experienced problems with trees that had been planted in grassland and solved the matter by pouring raw organic milk around each tree. My first inclination was as you might guess, but a later writer said that she also found this approach to work.  

Thinking of the work done at Laverstoke on soil bacteria, I hunted around to see if I could find any research papers. This turned out to be no problem, though some papers were quite beyond an individual who failed his chemistry ‘O’ level (just). One paper I did understand was one that contrasted the bacteria in woodland soil with that in grassland. The difference was quite staggering in terms of the levels of opportunist bacteria – medical journals go into some detail about the meaning of ‘opportunist’ in this context, but a comparison that helped me was the notion of antagonistic mineral trace elements like molybdenum.   Woodland soils have a very much lower level of these opportunist bacteria

The elms

Or to sum it up, if planting trees in grassland, it is necessary to act to counter these opportunist bacteria since they can kill newly planted trees. Quite how seemed unclear but use of mycorrhizas, in our experience. might help. 

In passing, I also found that research has shown that manure from animals given antibiotics routinely, when spread, induced in ‘opportunist bacteria’ increased antibiotic resistance, which of course would be picked up by whatever was then planted. Yet another reason for supporting organic farming and horticulture.  

Thinking of which, our roses continue to flower, and thinking back to previous paragraphs I admit the roses planted last year in ground previously occupied by roses for many years have only now come into flower. As of course we knew when we planted them, we were breaking a rule that all gardeners swear by. 

No reading glasses 

With still no reading glasses I feel cut off from a most important part of my life. Fortunately, I can read this tablet and my iPad, but somehow it is not the same. More positively I have listened over the last few days to a lot of music, and in particular the music of Carl Maria von Weber. What I have not listened to are any of his opera’s, for which he is apparently particularly highly regarded, though I have listened to his overture to Jebel, in which the tune of the National Anthem appears. Remarkably, given the English tradition of having sovereigns from other countries, although authorship of the tune is definitely debated, there seems no doubt it was composed by an Englishman. 

Next week I intend to explore the question as to whether or not we should give so much to space exploration when we seem to know so little about our own planet. What I will say now is walking over a cold lava field is an experience never forgotten.  

I end with a poem which both includes the example of onomatopoeia that lingers in my memory from my school days, and additionally celebrates a tree – the elm – no longer really with us. The poet is by Tennyson and the poem I admit not well known to me. “The charge of the Light Brigade” is/was one of his best-known poems though not necessarily his best. As a poet today he suffers from the change in custom which makes his best poems turn people off by their length and melancholy!  

The Princess: Come down, O Maid

Come down, O maid, from yonder mountain height: 
What pleasure lives in height (the shepherd sang) 
In height and cold, the splendour of the hills? 
But cease to move so near the Heavens, and cease 
To glide a sunbeam by the blasted Pine, 
To sit a star upon the sparkling spire; 
And come, for Love is of the valley, come, 
For Love is of the valley, come thou down 
And find him; by the happy threshold, he, 
Or hand in hand with Plenty in the maize, 
Or red with spirted purple of the vats, 
Or foxlike in the vine; nor cares to walk 
With Death and Morning on the silver horns, 
Nor wilt thou snare him in the white ravine, 
Nor find him dropt upon the firths of ice, 
That huddling slant in furrow-cloven falls 
To roll the torrent out of dusky doors: 
But follow; let the torrent dance thee down 
To find him in the valley; let the wild 
Lean-headed Eagles yelp alone, and leave 
The monstrous ledges there to slope, and spill 
Their thousand wreaths of dangling water-smoke, 
That like a broken purpose waste in air: 
So waste not thou; but come; for all the vales 
Await thee; azure pillars of the hearth 
Arise to thee; the children call, and I 
Thy shepherd pipe, and sweet is every sound, 
Sweeter thy voice, but every sound is sweet; 
Myriads of rivulets hurrying thro’ the lawn, 
The moan of doves in immemorial elms, 
And murmuring of innumerable bees. “

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