15th October 2018

Farm Notes

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One of the subjects that I received quite a lot of feedback about was the reference to rainfall in the July issue so here is the latest update. I mentioned previously that the annual rainfall in Bentworth averages about 975 mm and the current figure to 30th September is 877 mm so not a lot lower and far above a Jan to Dec year of only 729 mm in 2011. The

current 877 figure of course hides the wet spring and wonderful summer that we have all enjoyed. May was 69 mm, June 6 mm, July 36 mm, August 25 mm and September 51 mm. All of these figures are much lower than the corresponding months in 2017 – 494 mm vs 2018 at 187 mm.

Nature has reacted wonderfully to the dry and warm conditions with huge numbers of berries in the hedgerows, lots of insects, butterflies and the birds enjoying feasting upon them. In the fields below the Sun pub there is a small sheltered area with poor soil that we leave as grass for insects, birds and often deer. There are not any footpaths nearby so it is very peaceful and this year a doe (female deer) has reared twins there. Now that the fawns are bigger they can sometimes be seen grazing the fields with their mother but they mostly live in the grassed sanctuary that I mentioned. This is an example of nature hiding itself but thriving if left undisturbed especially by dogs.

Other examples of the natural world that are on our doorstep are the Red Kites which used to be very rare but are now common in Southern England. When we are cultivating the soils worms are disturbed and often end up on the surface which is why seagulls appear at this time of year – a fresh source of high protein meat is quickly associated with the tractors that are working the fields to prepare the ground and sowing next year’s crops. These days the Red Kites also join in the hunt for worms but the gulls do keep a safe distance from these intruders. The Kites do not associate tractors with humans or even danger so will sometimes be very close to the operations – maybe as close as 10 feet which is a magnificent sight – but unfortunately as soon as I attempt to take photos they move away a little and because of their brown colouring do not stand out clearly from the soil. A few months ago I mentioned that the shoots help the local wildlife by providing grain for pheasants which is also eaten by songbirds, deer etc. and helps them survive in the winter. At this time of year the shoots have many young pheasant poults on the ground and the Kites and Buzzards do catch the poults which keeps them fed. This hunting of easy targets also trains any young birds of prey about hunting on these easy to catch victims so that when conditions are harsher or the pheasants have grown larger the Kites can still source food. The number of poults killed is not large but they do help the natural world thrive. Rob counted 15 Kites in one field when he was cultivating last week – an “expert” in the Daily Telegraph a few weeks ago stated that there are only about 2000 in the whole country in an article about barren farmland – don’t believe all that you read (elsewhere).

Some research work has shown that sowing a companion crop with oilseed rape in August or September can reduce the damage caused by cabbage stem flea beetle (CSFB). This little beetle is black and shiny and grazes on emerging oilseed plants with the grazing often severe enough to completely kill the crop which is obviously a total financial loss (and of resources). The CSFB can be seen in daytime, especially in the afternoon when warm and jumps quickly from one plant to another. I sowed white mustard 24 to 36 hours before the oilseed crop. The theory was that the mustard would start germinating quickly and so emerge before the oilseed crop. The mustard would either attract the CSFB thus leaving the oilseed plants unscathed. Alternatively the mustard would be so unpleasant to the CSFB that they would leave the field completely again leaving the oilseed plants untouched. I sowed one field without the mustard on purpose to act as a control. This not very scientific trial ended up with the crop in the field without mustard being written off and the field had to be resown with oilseed (including white mustard this time). There is a danger that the mustard will smother the oilseed crop and so it has to be killed by a herbicide spray within about 4 weeks of being sown. At present the oilseed crops look pretty good and the mustard has been mostly killed out of the crop. The next problem will be to stop pigeons grazing the crop during the winter especially when the weather is cold.

Julian Lewis

[Please note that this message is not posted on behalf of Bentworth Parish Council and does not necessarily reflect the Parish Council’s policy]

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