View from the Hill 11th September 2018
The county show at Dorchester provided a great day out, the weather was kind, the brand new Fabulous Food and Farming area was busy and popular, and there were camels playing polo in the main ring. What more could you want ? Well, there was chariot racing (scurry racing carts are like mini chariots), a fabulous grand parade of all the winning farm animals from the competitions, and a great deal more to occupy the family for the day. Our own slice of excitement came with the presenting of a Long Service award to Gary, who has worked at Travellers Rest for the 40 years since he left school, mastering most jobs, and currently in charge of primary cultivations as senior tractor driver. He tells of his first day at work, during the sheep shearing season of 1978, where he was amazed to find that the cider barrel was cracked open at 10.00 and was dipped into at regular intervals throughout the day, in order to numb the pain of shearing, he was assured.
It would be nice to think that since harvest finished unusually early, more than a month ago, we would have had plenty of time for relaxation. It’s a good theory, but in practice it hasn’t quite been the case. We have been cultivating stubbles to create stale seedbeds, sowing cover crops to soak up any residual nutrients left by the previous crops before winter, and turnips to fatten the lambs on, and just last week we sowed the oilseed rape for next season, it will be in the ground for nearly 11 months before it is ready for harvest, the longest of any of our crops. Having applied a pre-emergence weed killer, we are now awaiting emergence, hoping there is enough moisture in the dry soils to allow the seeds to germinate and get the little plants up and away as quickly as possible to stay ahead of attack from flea beetles and slugs. In some parts of the country the flea beetle is so numerous that rape has become almost impossible to grow, they devour the tiny leaves before they have barely opened. We are keeping fingers crossed that emergence will be swift. The insecticide seed dressings known as neonicotinoids, which were banned by the EU 2 years ago, used to keep this little pest at bay, so now we have very little left to treat it with. Cypermethrin applied as a spray is ineffective on 60% of the flea beetle population these days due to resistance, so we just have to sit and watch and hope, having done our best to sow the seeds in good conditions into a quality seedbed. A drop of rain would help a lot.
After the months of dry weather, it has been a struggle to find enough fodder on the farm to get our animals through the winter. Here we are rowing up silage with an 8 metre rake, which pulls the mown grass into rows for the baler. After last week’s silaging session, we have just about got enough bales, and will be hoping that winter is not the long drawn out and wet affair that it was last time. We had to feed hay to the cows for at least 6 weeks during the driest weather, when most of the grass turned brown, and the cows spent all day hanging around the feeders waiting for fresh bales. This has inevitably made a bit of a mess in the corners of the grass fields where we fed them. Brendan tidied this up today, and we are going to sprinkle a bit of grass seed onto the bare patches to make good.
One evening in August we were invited to a steam-up very near the original site of the first Steam Fair 50 years ago, at Bushes Road, by Mark and Mandy Farwell, whose family are now committed steam enthusiasts themselves. There was a wonderful collection of 30 or 40 engines, all under steam as the sun went down, puffing away quietly around the yard, the smell of the coal and steam, and the hissing and popping of the engines created a marvellous atmosphere. Three engines had come over from New Zealand for the steam fair season. This might seem an extravagant endeavor, to return the engines to the country of their birth. However it is not as wildly expensive as you might think, all three fitted into a single container once wheels and chimney had been removed.
Our contractors are planning to come at the weekend to cut our 3 fields of maize for silage for a local digester. We have had to build a suitable hard standing to make the silage heap, we chose the site of our former muck heap, and have built it up with chalk and rolled it down firmly.
Beachy Head marks the eastern most end of the South Downs national park. A recent visit to these parts discovered not only the spectacular Seven Sisters cliffs, but the beautiful valley of the River Cuckmere, which due to the low flow at the moment appears to flow up hill every time the tide comes in, and the river doubles in width.