July 2020

View from the Hill                                                           14th   July 2020

Our piggy friends (breed: Oxford sandy and black) are now approaching 18 weeks old, they have become more and more boisterous as they get older, the noise at feeding time is deafening, the grunts are ok but the squealing is not so funny.  They spend their days rooting around in the scrub at the top of their paddock, and on the rare days it rains, they rip into the old turf of the paddock, looking for worms and tender roots.  They are getting just over a kilo per day of pig nuts, and are putting on weight steadily.  One of them was a bit under the weather a week or two ago, with a temperature of 41 C, normal for a pig is around 39, so we called the vet, who prescribed a short course of penicillin, and an anti-inflammatory, metacam, many owners of ageing dogs will be familiar with this drug.  The treatment turned him around within 24 hours, and he was soon squealing and fighting for his grub again.  Some days they bite each other’s ears when having a bit of a scrap, but a good deal of time is spent snoozing in the dust, I expect they would prefer mud.

Oh yes, and they can climb trees……

Our two groups of cows, with their calves, and each group accompanied by a handsome Angus bull, have been rotating around the new herbal pastures and up and down the Sutcombe valley between Durweston and Folly.  Here they are tucking into the mixture in Wynchard field, where the plants have been growing well in spite of the predominantly dry weather.  There have been many pretty flowers in the mix, until the cows ate them, including clovers, sainfoin, birdsfoot trefoil and vetches.  One of the benefits of a mixture like this is that because of the nitrogen fixing legumes in it, we do not need to apply any artificial nitrogen, the legumes supply nitrogen to the grasses.  The cows browse on what they fancy, and after they have been in a paddock for 5 or 6 days we move them on to the next.  If you remove too much top growth, the root mass will diminish.  The idea is to leave enough plant bulk to rejuvenate the pasture quickly, with vigorous roots and a multi-level sward which can photosynthesise at different heights.  Over the years of intensive grazing we have got used to tidy looking short-cropped fields, which sheep are very good at, but how are the plants supposed to collect the sun’s energy efficiently if we constantly allow the animals to chew off all the leaves?

Sainfoin is an ancient leguminous plant, long favoured for its nutritional value and sweet taste in hay, which is enjoying a bit of a resurgence in popularity in recent years, and we find it makes a very useful constituent in situations like this, where we want to reduce our reliance on boring grass/clover mixtures, and fertiliser.

Not only useful for the farm animals, the pretty flowers are very popular with bees and other airborne insects in search of nectar.

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We have had to make the tricky decision whether to spray off some of our oilseed rape with glyphosate this year, the crops are uneven due to cabbage stem weevil attack, and a dose of glyphosate during late ripening can help to even up the crop before harvest, it also kills off any weed growth in the crop, and there is plenty of that in some of the fields. 

It seems to be the sheep grazed fields which are uneven on a macro scale, the positions of the electric fences in the winter still show up from the air, with unevenness related to how early/late in the winter it was grazed, and on a micro scale, the ungrazed fields show unevenness between plants, depending on how hard they were hit by the flea beetle. It is still important to find out which trial treatment gives the best yield.  Not long now till harvest and the trial yields will be known. 

The timing of glyphosate pre-harvest is crucial, too early and you could restrict yield, too late and the crop ripens before the 2 week harvest interval is completed and seed is lost from shatter.  The colour of the seed gives the clue to optimum timing.  Pick 20 pods randomly from the crop in the field, and open each one, examine the seeds. When at least two thirds of the seeds have changed from green to brown in at least 15 of the pods, the earliest stage for spraying has been reached.

Ripening rapeseed pods

Today we have spent time with the sales team from Smart Ag services, who are making sure we are up to speed with our new combine and all that it can do.  By the time you read this I hope we will have made a start to the 2020 harvest, and will have cut our winter barley. We are hoping to give it a try this week, but today’s rain has put that off for a little longer.  When I asked how we calibrate the yield meter on the combine, and will it require a trip to a local weighbridge to check the weighing system, I was met with barely stifled laugh – “it calibrates itself”.  What next I hear you ask? 

Tom and Geoff from Smart Ag hard at work last summer, cleaning up the demo combine before taking it off to another farm. This is the machine we subsequently purchased.

There are 3 weigh cells in the grain tank, which actually weigh the grain.  It has to empty and refill 5 times before it will give you a yield reading for the field, but once it has done this for each crop, you are good to go.  I will believe it when I see it, though it sounds promising.  Previous combine ‘weighers’ relied on sensors measuring the volume of grain going into the tank and then used grain density to calculate the actual weight, it never worked very well, and caused plenty of debate over the farm radio as to who had got the yield right, combine driver or grain drier operator.  Never truly resolved until all the grain has left the farm 10 months later, we have usually forgotten about it long before. 

Once a field is completed, the combine uploads the data to the ‘Myjohndeere’ website in the cloud, then we can call up the yield map on the computer or on the phone app. Fancy or what?

The usual old bits and pieces inside the combine, which cut and thrash the crops, are much the same as in previous models, it’s the flashy tricks and gizmos which attract the most attention, like a camera in the clean grain elevator which takes a picture every few seconds, so you can see at a glance how the sample is looking.  There is even a camera on the end of the spout which shows the trailer filling, most combine drivers I know find it easier simply to look out of the window! The trouble is there is so much distracting information that you can display on the screen, it could be hard to remember to keep an eye on where you are actually driving, but the combine steers itself so does that really matter?

SPUD NEWS. Readers may recall that with some excitement, not so long ago, we embarked, as keen amateurs, on growing field scale potatoes. We sowed half an acre or so on May 4th, and eleven weeks later we have just started digging them, just 11 weeks later, with no pesticides, no fertiliser, and no watering, and this is what we got from just 3 plants:

And this is what they looked like a few hours later on their way to my dinner plate:

I know this is no big deal for keen gardeners or farmers who grow spuds every year, but they are so different to the modern cereal farming that we are used to, we have really enjoyed playing with them. We now have to make sure they are used, so we are offering the opportunity for readers to come and enjoy the spoils. Send me a message, or give me a call to arrange a suitable time to visit, bring a fork, or borrow ours, and suitable containers, and freshly dug Maris Pipers can be yours, for the price of a small donation of your choice. If anyone knows of a small potato digger for sale or loan, please let me know.

****** STOP PRESS ******

On Wednesday afternoon, 15th July we started harvest in the first field of Maris Otter barley, the first few loads needed drying, but by later on on Thursday after a bit of lovely sunshine, the grain moisture was down below the magic level of 14.5%, and most of what we cut after that has not needed drying.

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8 thoughts on “July 2020

  1. Dear George,
    Thank you for yet another interesting edition, Tree climbing pigs, knowing the magic in the air at Travelers Rest, maybe next they will fly!!.
    I await with interest the result of the rape experiment the proof of the pudding is now in the combine. With all the organic practices on the farm, you soon should have mushrooms. Tell me when you have fed the hoards on the farm.. Regards Jim

  2. Also very good read. With all the new innovative ideas you soon will be able to wear a suit to work. I love the idea of the potatoes the nearest I have come to this is a 5 x 5 raised bed made of pallets and have had lettuce all summer. Keep writing keep well and would love to have som tatty

  3. Let us hope that something conclusive comes out of that sheep/oilseed rape/cabbage stem flea beetle idea. The banning of neonicitnoids whether right or wrong has devastated the ability of European farmers, particularly British farmers, to grow a vegetable oil crop which means even more rainforest will be cut down to produce soya.
    Banning glyphosate (Roundup) on questionable scientific evidence will increase the amount of fuel used by machinery and hence move the elusive ‘carbon neutral’ goal much further into the future.
    People and Governments who ban things have to look at consequences.

  4. I am sure your potatoes will taste great but next year, when you have more time, why not try growing more interesting varieties that you don’t find in supermarkets: Pink Fir Apple for main and Nandine or Charlotte for salad earlies maybe grow those last two where those pigs have been rooting about!

  5. Interesting that you’re growing sainfoin. I tried a few acres of it in the 1980s and although it didn’t persist very well on acid Wealden soil it certainly earned its keep while it lasted as it kept going in long dry spells when everything else had stopped.

  6. Hello from sunny N Yorkshire! Great to read the blog. Have you got a plan to dig the rest of the spuds? Phil Rymer managed to find a digger from Dan Tanner for the Cranborne tates.

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