Summer Farm Report
Since my last Farm Report the weather has been very changeable. Spring was late and cool, and the grass hardly grew but then it warmed up in late May and the grass raced away. This enabled us to make some good silage at Brookthorpe. Since then the rain has been on and off making it impossible to make any hay. However, the grass is long and ready now so all we need is the next spell of warm weather and we will be mowing hay on both farms.
Lambing went OK this year, the weather was good enough that most ewes lambed outside. The very last ewe to lamb had triplets and then got a large hernia and unfortunately had to be put down. This left us with three bottle lambs to raise. It is a lot of extra work but it does mean that we had some friendly lambs for children to stroke.
As I write it we have a litter of new born piglets that were born early Friday morning [on 24th of June – red.]. You are all welcome to visit them in the big barn at Brookthorpe. I have decided to reduce to just one sow on the farm. Our old sow Tansy was not managing her litters very well, she had mastitis (an inflammation of breast tissue) the last 2 litters and both her and the piglets suffered. And we have recently had a few more pigs than we needed and sold them instead of using them ourselves.
Another reason is that it costs us a lot to buy pig feed and having just one sow will mean we can use more veg scraps and brewers grains and thus reduce our feed bills. On our biodynamic farm we try to be as self sufficient as possible and buying pig feed is not ideal, but we will continue to produce a wide range of pork and bacon.
We have also recently said good bye to one of our cows, Kettle. She was nearly 17 years old and had a good and productive life. It is rare that a cow gets to this age nowadays, and it is wonderful to have these long lived animals. Cows are resistant to most parasites and ailments in their environment and know how to look after their offspring without any assistance! Our Kettle will be missed dearly. We are considering buying our own bull this year. We have usually borrowed one from a farm in Herefordshire, however two cows failed to conceive this year and with the start of the micro dairy next door at Hawkwood (see note below) there will be enough work to keep a bull year round.
Farmer Sam Hardiman
News from the Veggie Fields
As ever, the weather dominates our farming lives and thoughts at this time of year, more so than at other times. We had a very cool and late spring with very slow growth, but that all turned round later in May when we had very good growing conditions. As a result, most of the vegetables have caught up and are actually beginning to crop a week or two earlier than last year (beans and courgettes in the polytunnels especially). That said, as I write this in mid June it has been a bit wet which has meant that it's been awkward to get onto the fields to weed and continue with planting. All of the root crops have been sown, and all of the sweetcorn, brussel sprouts and squashes planted out, but the leeks are still waiting in their seeds trays! We buy in many of the main Brassica (cabbage family) plants from a nursery in Lincolnshire, produced to organic standards. These will arrive early in July. Hopefully the soil will have dried enough by then that we can plant them up.
We have erected a small polytunnel against a wall in the walled garden at Brookthorpe. This lean-to tunnel replaces a rather out-of-shape glasshouse that was falling apart, and creates some good space available to raise seedlings.
We are just coming out of that lean time of the year when we don’t have many vegetables for the share. There is a wide range of Brassica vegetables beginning to mature in the field, at Hawkwood so it won't be long until you see them in your share! These include broccoli, cabbage, kale and cauliflower, and spinach.
We are growing more early courgettes in one of the polytunnels. Last year we had terrible trouble with aphids on the courgettes and cucumbers in the polytunnels, so much so that almost half of the plants were killed. This year the aphids have returned, but for the moment at least, not in such high numbers. We have introduced a tiny wasp into the tunnel which will parasitize the aphids. These wasps are delivered in the post as larvae in mummified aphids, 1000 of them (not that I have counted), mixed with woodchip in a small container and packed in a polystyrene box with an iceblock to keep them cool. We then scatter them amongst the leaves of the courgette plants where the adults hatch out and begin laying eggs on the aphid nymphs (young aphids living under the courgette leaves). The larvae hatch out of the eggs, burrow into the aphid nymph and eat it from the inside. Of course, all the while, the ladybirds and ladybird nymphs are eating the aphids from the outside. It’s pretty gruesome stuff in the courgette tunnel but don’t feel too sorry for the aphids, they can produce huge numbers of offspring in a short time and do a lot of damage sucking sap from the plants.
The lettuces that you have in your share so far this season have either been grown in one of the polytunnels, in the walled garden or the field at Hawkwood. But soon we will be getting them from the starter farm next door on the new land at what is now called Oakbrook. Sylvie and Clare will be growing all of our lettuces, the first of their crops, throughout the summer. These crops won’t be certified biodynamic or organic, as the land is in the first year of conversion to organic (they are inspected by Demeter though, our certification body). However, there have been no chemicals applied to the land since 2014, so we have been fortunate in that respect. Any vegetables in your share produced on the starter farm will be clearly labelled.
We hope that you enjoy your vegetables, wherever they have been grown.