May 2003

The View from the Hill May 2003

Rain in May fills the barn with corn and hay, or so they say.

If there is no appreciable rain pretty soon, there will barely be enough corn or hay to cover the floor of the barn, let alone fill it!

Farmers are completely preoccupied with the weather, understandable really, as it dominates our lives on a day-to-day basis, and directly determines whether we will make a profit or a loss every year.  Sometimes when discussing weather, as most people seem to when they first meet, farmers are looked to as a source of some kind of weather wisdom, we are expected to be in touch with some super-extra-terrestrial weather forecasting service.  I invariably disappoint by explaining that my weather forecasts are generally derived from what is observed beyond the bedroom curtains, and the occasional glance at a barometer.

I began this piece last month with unusual praise for the weather, but I regret that I need to revert to type this month, less than half an inch of rain over six weeks of spring is unheard of.  Most crops have not suffered seriously yet, the winter crops will be putting down good root systems looking for moisture, but the spring sown crops have a much shorter growing season in which to do this, and are much more vulnerable to spring or summer droughts.  The spring rape has yet to emerge in any quantity at all because the seedbeds are so dry.  This is a worry, but on the other hand may be better than germinating only to die of drought two weeks later.  What is surprising is that the linseed, which was planted a few days later, came up quite quickly, and is now looking great, if in need of a drink.  These small seeded crops are always a worry, if you plant them too early, the weather can go cold, they come up slowly, and fall prey to insect attack, flea beetles can decimate spring rape and linseed, especially if the seed is not specially treated with an insecticide.  If you sow too late (in a normal year), you risk missing much of the rain, and the plants don’t get good roots down in time before drier summer weather sets in.

A drought can of course have its good side, as long as it affects the rest of Europe as well, and preferably North and South America, Australia and the Ukraine for good measure, so that a bit of a world wide shortage might force the price of grain upwards for a change.  Other advantages closer to home might include more time spent lying in the garden in the sun, and doubly so, because the lawn won’t need mowing, as the grass isn’t growing!

An interesting form of fly tipping seems to be affecting the area lately, chickens and cockerels are now a regular appearance.  People who want to reduce the population in their chicken run, think it’s a good idea to dump them around here, leaving the poor birds to the mercy of the fox, or the surprisingly aggressive territorial behaviour of the local poultry.

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