DUST FLYING! Something we haven’t seen for months and months! We have now had a week of virtually continual dry weather, albeit freezing bitter easterly winds. As predicted this has led us into a mad frenzee of activity. When you drive around the countryside at the moment fields are alive with tractors trying to make the best of an awful year. Our large conventional neighbouring farmer is frantically replanting virtually all of thier winter cereals, circa 400 acres costing him around £30K, frightening.
We have been busy spreading dung, moving and cleaning out chicken shed, hedging, fencing, ploughing, rolling, digging. We have treated our cows and opened the barn door so they can go out by day and wonder back in at night, unsuprisingly they are loving it and the barn is gathering dust. They did however come in to keep an eye on my bedding up helpers and kick up thier heels.
We have also finished the big task of pruning our 800 plus apple trees, very important and labour intensive task.
Frighteningly Easter is loaming at a pace now, which will be our next blog!
Food & Drink Devon – ‘Love the Flavour’ represents a membership of like minded businesses, dedicated to providing good quality local food & drink. As our key drivers are Local, High Quality, High Welfare, Organic produce, Love the Flavour is a good fit for us and will help us to build and expand our brand, exciting! We are looking forward to getting involved and to trying to make sense of our image and brand to include the Love the Flavour logo, anyone know a good ‘organic’ designers?
We have made it through the Christmas madness! Pre Christmas saw our busiest ever two weeks with the team putting in a lot of hours to pack and deliver our biggest ever orders, close to 30,000 lovely organic eggs going out the door on the week before Christmas. The difficulty is that the weeks after Christmas see orders virtually dry up (about the only thing that has dried up!) and our hens are creatures of habit and happily laying away despite the winter weather. So we planned the peaks and troughs to conicide with moulting (resting) one flock of hens and changing over another flock. We also organised ourselves to have minimum work to do over Christmas, however like many other farmers, animals dont do bank holidays, so Christmas has been a delicate juggle of work, family, three excited children and 13 people for Christmas dinner, school holidays and miserable weather! But on balance has been really lovely.
New Year and it stopped raining! which is a great start to 2013. Does however mean that we have got to get on with a long list of urgent ‘dry weather’ jobs
– move and clean out and move back the house with the moulting hens in occupancy
– dig out new gateway and pad to relocate hen houses in the new years field (we rotate the hen houses around the farm as ‘proper’ organic practise) plus lots of other jobs for the digger whilst on the farm
– move, clean, move to new site change over hen house
– clean out cattle shed
– pruning 1000 apple trees
– tree planting
– and so on
Long may the better weather last!
Hedges – That time of the year again when the leaves have dropped and into a winter routine, we tackle our hedges. Over the last fifteen years we have ‘remade’ most of the hedges on the farm including several hundred metres of new hedges, mainly as part of a Countryside Stewardship agreement. the agreement and scheme has long since completed however we are still keen to improve our hedges and remake / lay a stretch of old overgrown hedge each year. Well made and maintained hedges make amazing homes for wildlife and a smart tidy boundary.
Helpers – We are lucky to have a core of regular helpers at the farm but also have some less obvious help at present. We have 40 of a freinds sheep on the farm for the winter who will help to eat off late grass, tidy up field headlands and add thier homemade fertiliser. Really nice to have sheep on the farm. We are also noticing small gflocks of winter birds visiting at present busily eating grubs and insects, again really lovely to see enjoying our organic stubble fields, but could it be a worrying sign of a hard winter to come. And at weekends my children normally come to the farm with me to ‘help’. This weekend they were busy with a big bonfire of hedging which children love, especially when it can be used to toast marshmallows at tea time!
Probably our most unsung but invaluable helper this time of year are the masses of earth worms within our rich and chemical free organic soil. The worms work tirelessly to keep our soil structure light and airated which really shows at the moment as, despite the amazing levels of rainfall lately, our farm drains really quickly, i was driving across fields with tractor and trailers of woodchip for the hen houses this week virtually without marking the ground, amazing.
MUD – After what was an exceptionally wet October the few days of dry sunny weather has been a really welcome opportunity to get on with some of the list of jobs.
MUCK – Today has been all about poo!. We have moved one of our hen houses, with 500 girls in residence, clear out and move the 24 tonnes of chicken litter and put the house back, reassemble and working all before the girls bedtime, which is pretty early this time of year. We added the litter to our dung heaps and took the opportunity to turn them at the same time and was amazed at the quantity of worms, hundreds in each scoop. We have about 250 tonnes of well rotted dung ready for the spring, brilliant stuff. The poultry litter is an amazing fertiliser, cattle dung is super soil improver and worms are the real heros of soil structure and much more.
MISHAPS – Whilst we were busy sliding around we were looking across the valley and watching our large conventional neighbours 12 tonne forage harvester with 12 tonne trailer on the back in a ‘gently undulating’ Devon field, slid back down across the maize field before ending up jack knifed on the wrong side of a fence. Some hearts were pounding, but they got away with it, dragged it out and drashed on into the night. Modern farming is big gear, big costs, big pressure and big risks only lacking big rewards.
Rare Sunny October Saturday …. Ideal afternoon to take a gang of children to the farm for some outdoors fun! Mad few hours of them picking their own body weight of blackberries (one of the only decent crops on the farm this year!), collecting eggs, hunting for nuts and apples, saying hi to the cows, going on jeep safari, falling down holes in the straw rick, rolling down the woodchip mountain, splashing around in the mud (very wet spell!), bbq hot dog and toasting marshmallows and delivering home looking like mud wrestling scarecrows. Fascinating to observe how different children get into outdoor fun however even the most ‘sterile’ of them get stuck in and go home with shiny new willies properly christened.
On a serious note, we think it is important to try and get children in touch with farming, food and organic and do try and do so on a regular basis. But sometimes it is difficult to justify the time and cost and there is a fine line between free fun and health and safety. Still all made it home tired but in one bit and having had a whale of a time!
Exciting week, after several years without any ruminants of our own on the farm (just poultry, crops and apples) we have taken delivery of our first small step back into stock farming, four lovely cows. We have bought four organic South Devon cows from a neighbour. The girls are due to calve in the spring and hopefully be the start of a small herd of suckler cows. Tomorrow they go out to start eating some of the tonnes of autumn grass we have on the farm.
We are also frantically picking the last of our apples amongst the showers. We picked half a tonne of Russets today, one of the few good quality and quantity varieties in the orchards this year, poor year for English organic apples…. which may go some way to explain an unexpected call from Emma this afternoon who explained she had had the police on the phone. After immediately thinking what have we done, turns out they were letting us know about a theft form one of our neighbours. Turns out owners of a neighbouring orchard (who live elsewhere) turned up today to find a whole crop of apples, 100 plus trees, gone, stolen. There is a big shortage of UK apples and demand but even so, takes some dedication and organisation to pick, transport and sell that many apples. Today we had six people with two tractors and stacks of boxes picking and we cleared about 20 trees and 400kg in an hour, so 100 trees would be a big undertaking and alot of work. We are just about finished now for this year, Kelly and Kirsty are off on well deserved holiday next week so things will calm down for a bit now, hopefully!
Children are back at school, summer holidays gone amazingly quickly, and we are falling back into some sort of routine. Typically as soon as the children went back, summer has arrived and we are enjoying a lovely spell of warm sunny days which is perfect for ripening and picking apples and keeping spirits up.
Our neighbour / contractor came this week and direct drilled grass and clover seed into our corn stuble, lovely simple but effective bit of kit (see photo) which, for us is a really effective way of getting grass seed to grow without aid of fertiliser and in dry soil. Feel free to contact us for more info. Long may the indian summer last!
At last the weather man is predicting a prolonged spell of dry weather! We have finally started apple picking today, which is several weeks later than normal due to lack of summer, though we are a few weeks earlier than most it would seem. Started with Discovery this week which are a crisp and tasty early eater Problem is that the crop appears pretty poor, small and poor quality sample with no shortage bugs and insects. Walking through our new trees this week and noticed a few stripped of leaves. Exploring further found a massive green caterpillar on each tree, something we have never seen before, apparently some sort of Hawk Moth… great!