Posted on 27 September, 2018Comments (0)

Farm Diary

Farm Diary

The wonderful mostly dry and sunny weather is continuing which means that it is ideal for insects, birds and in fact most of the natural world locally. Pleasingly the one species that will not thrive in these conditions are slugs – I have never worked out what good a slug does so do not miss them this year. The ground is harder than usual so wearing surfaces on cultivators are disappearing quickly. We now use tungsten faced points which do last longer but of course are double the price of standard items. The flints in the soil in this area tend to cut into the steel and tungsten so that nothing lasts long – in the days when we ploughed a set of plough points might need replacing after 2 days work. The term “Hampshire diamond” obviously refers to the hardness of our local stone – a shame it is not worth as much as jewellery diamonds. When I worked in the Cotswolds the soil and stone was much softer and a set of points could last a whole season or more.

I am growing some oilseed crops this year which is the first time for about 4 years to give an alternative break crop to the beans that we have bean growing. It is important to grow crops that restore the soils fertility – unfortunately they are all less profitable and more challenging than growing wheat. The wheat planting will have started about the 20th of September with the hope of finishing all planting by mid-October when the rains usually make the ground wet and crop establishment difficult if not impossible. After the dry summer of 1976 when the rain began it did not stop. Many farmers were unable to plant winter crops because the ground was too dry which quickly became too wet – hopefully that will not happen this year. My memory is that after the rain the weather turned very cold for most of that winter with lots of snow – will that be repeated?

We are sometimes asked to host surveys of various sorts on the farms. 3 years ago a PhD student spent many hours finding and counting bumble bees and deciding which species they were. Pleasingly we have a lot of bumble bees and of varied species. Following on from that project another student began work this summer looking again at the bumble bees but also the wild flowers on which they feed. Are the different bee species found near to particular flower species – what are their preferences? Armed with that information we could then start planting the preferred flower species to encourage bees and hopefully boost their numbers. The flower survey was not of the whole farm but the same transect line used for the bumble bee survey so it may be that we have more species than were actually found. The transect line runs from Colliers Wood through the valley to Tinkers Lane with a few extra bits added.

The student identified 48 species of flower on the line which is about 1000 metres long. None had been planted specially – they are just naturally occurring flowers on a typical modern arable farm in 2018 which rather contradicts the media depiction of the countryside being a desert apart from the farmer’s crops.

Some of the species have wonderful common names such as Black Horehound, Red Bryony, Fireweed, Smooth Hawksbeard, Hoary Willowherb, Herb Robert, Stinking Willie, Adders Meat, Wood Sanicle, Yellow Archangel and Enchanters Nightshade. The work must now be done to link the bee’s location to the flower species location and to see if there is any correlation.

Julian Lewis

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