Sunday, 22 October 2017

Season of Mists


Now that September is behind us the countryside has a real feel of autumn.  Some trees have lost their leaves already whilst others are changing colour and some are still green.  Fortunately we have not suffered unduly with storm force winds; we have had many sunny days, mild temperatures and most of the rain falling at night.  This has enabled us to do the cultivations necessary prior to drilling cereals; Martin's Hill has been drilled with rye, which will be harvested and carted for fuel.  Last to go in was the winter wheat, which, being a second-year wheat, does not want to go in too early.  At last we can say we are drilled up.  Now we have to check regularly for slug damage which occurs most frequently where the seed bed is not fine enough.  A pass with the heavy roller helps to break up the clods but this is not always possible when the ground conditions are too wet.

The bees are now tucked up for the winter.  The yield from the second extraction was not as good as expected, only 30 pounds, due to an earlier  spell when the bees fed on the honey already produced - an example of "don't count your chickens before they are hatched".  Come to think of it, that saying is true all too often in farming  Bird life is following the seasonal pattern.  Every morning several pheasants visit the orchard to feed on the fallen fruit.  The high winds we have had have brought the fruit down early, but I can still pick from the trees more than I can use although we only grow cookers.  GFS, the local farm shop, is selling named varieties of locally grown eating apples; what a treat.   The apples are enormous this year and the pears have ripened well; they make a delicious crumble.  I watched a buzzard  circling high above the Hoe.  It looked very large, even at that height; how can they see food from such a height?  A kestrel hovers over the Paddock; even he struggles to maintain his place in the strong winds.  In contrast the tiny wrens, which have been in abundance this year, can easily be mistaken for a falling leaf as they dart around the garden.

The recent Southwell Bramley Apple Festival was blessed with fine weather.  Southwell was heaving with visitors.  The varied programme included, among many others. cookery demonstrations, Morris Dancing, also Clog dancing, an apple pie competition, and apple themed shop window displays.  Southwell Minster was home to a festival of food and drink with thirty stands featuring the wares of local small producers and retailers. The Bookcase in  Lowdham has announced its winter programme of talks and films. Talks take place in the Methodist Chapel from 2pm - 3.30; the subject on November 3rd, entitled Wisdom of the Mountains, concerns Buddhism and all things related, as practised in Tibet, the Himalayan regions of India, Bhutan and Nepal.  We may live in a village but our interests are many and far-reaching.   Epperstone Sports and Leisure Club has booked the Village Hall for a Cheese and Wine Tasting Evening on November 18th.  Although competitive we are assured that no deep knowledge is required and a good time will be had by all!       



Friday, 22 September 2017

Now You See Them, Now You Don't.


Mid-September and the swallows have gone.  They don't make any fuss; they just disappear.  My next job is to clean up the mess beneath their nests under the pantiles, several more this year than last, and their roosting sites (above my car)!  I don't begrudge the time spent because they are such lovely birds; their return in the spring is eagerly awaited and is the welcome symbol of a new season.  We have had much entertainment from the birds during the summer.  There was the pheasant which chose to keep fit running beside the tractor during cultivations.  Each time the tractor reached  the top of the hill  the bird appeared and ran alongside to the bottom; very odd.  Then there was the blue tit.  I heard a gentle tap and thought there was someone at the door.  Went to look; nobody there.  Returned to my desk.  More tapping.  This time I looked up, just in time to see a
blue tit tapping on the glass.  I got the impression he was telling me it was a beautiful day and I should be out in the sunshine.  Needless to say, I took the hint.

There have been weeks of incredible weather with sunshine and rain alternating in equal quantities allowing farming operations to be carried out at the right time and in favourable conditions.  Cultivations are taking place in preparation to drilling the rye, hopefully next week;  Field beans, always a late crop to harvest, will soon be ready but need a dry spell.  Last to be drilled will be the winter wheat.  That should not be drilled too early but it is really difficult to hold back when the weather is right;  we have heavy land and if we take machinery onto it when it is too wet it does too much damage.

On the social side we can report that the Pudding and Quiz Night, held in the Village Hall, was, as always, well attended, making a substantial contribution to funds for the Hall.  A novel addition to the evening was the Brave Shave endured by a  courageous member of the Women's Institute, providing much hilarity and, importantly, upwards of £600 for Macmillans Cancer Research.  It is also the season for Ploughing Matches, always popular in the Autumn calendar.  I am disappointed not to be able to attend the Southwell Ploughing Match Match on September 30th but may manage the Flintham one.  Looking ahead make a diary note:  October 21st sees Southwell celebrating all things apple at the Apple Festival.  The Minster will be filled with a variety of food stalls and the Women's Institute competitions for the best Bramley Apple pies will be held in The Bramley Centre; not an occasion to be missed .

Friday, 18 August 2017

Not a Summer Holiday


The summer months always seem to be the busiest, both on the farm and in the area, which leads to a distinct reluctance to sit at my desk and produce a newsletter.  However, a dull day is the perfect opportunity to do just that, so please forgive the long silence and I will endeavour to update you with all that has happened since I last posted.

First the farm:  we had the rare experience of cutting, tedding (turning) baling and carting the hay during an unbroken spell of dry weather way back in June.  It is important not to bale the hay before it is sufficiently dry as this can cause the hay to overheat and develop mould or, worse still, to catch fire.  We make our hay into the traditional small bales as these, being easier to handle, are popular with owners of horses.  Another job, for the benefit of horse-owners, has been the forking-out of ragwort before it goes to seed.  This job is made relatively easy by the use of a specially designed fork which lifts out the plant. by the root.  Any root left in the ground will produce another plant next year.  Horses will not touch ragwort while it is growing but if it gets into the hay they do not recognise it and it becomes poisonous.  It would seem that, Councils, strapped for cash, are ignoring the obligation to remove ragwort from roadside verges; or is it that this is not considered to be a livestock area and therefore removal is not a priority?  I should be interested to have more information on this subject.
We grew a crop of rye for the first time this year.  It was harvested and removed by a local company which uses it as an energy fuel.  It has the benefit, for us,of being another tool in the fight against blackgrass, which is becoming increasingly hard to eradicate. The oilseed rape is now safely out of the way; it was ready for combining a week earlier than usual yet produced the best yield ever.   With the wheat finished yesterday that is harvest over for another year. The days are long gone when the farm celebrated with a Harvest Supper.  Now we are straight in to preparing next year's crops!

Summer events have gone ahead without rain:  in fact it was so hot on the day of  the Epperstone Festival that it was almost a disincentive to attend.  However, the teas were well patronised and the event raised over £9,000 to be divided between Epperstone Holy Cross Church, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire Air Ambulance and Haywood House Hospice.  Another popular event, the Safari Supper, took place again. The recently-opened Epperstone Tea Rooms  continues to thrive, partly due, I am sure, to the delicious homemade cakes.

Wildlife (perhaps I should say "nature") has provided a few changes this year.  Though sparrows are said to be in decline we counted forty on the lawn recently.  I struggle to see if I can identify tree sparrows, which mix readily with the house sparrow.  They have a smaller black bib than the house sparrow, a white neckband and black ear spot.  In theory this should make them easy to identify but, surprisingly, they are very timid and fly off so fast that it is difficult to study them.  Another visitor to the birdfeeder is the starling.  Also said to be in decline they breed in a small beech spinney behind the farm   The young birds come down to peck at the fat balls and mixed seed when wild food is in short supply.  There are more swallows nests than usual this year.   Clearly they have raised two or three broods successfully  It is easy to spot the nests due to the mess beneath them!  It will all be washed away once the birds migrate for the winter.  Another job.



Monday, 5 June 2017

A Busy Month....


It's been a busy month, the weather having got into summer mode at last and nature leaping into action. Several pairs of wagtails have made a welcome return, to be seen in the garden and around the farm buildings, walking with their characteristic jerky gait.  Great tits and blue tits nest in a nearby hawthorn tree.  They empty the birdfeeders as quickly as I can fill them, pecking off the nuts to take back to feed their young.  I tried feeding live mealworms for the first time.  Ground-feeding birds certainly wolfed them down but I think that is an item that will have to remain on the special treat menu.  It is worth remembering that many small birds rear two broods in a season, so if you are tidying up in the garden look out for late nests and take care not to harm or reveal them, predators have sharp eyes.

Local events in the month have included the Nottingham Concert Band, performing in Woodborough to raise funds for Saint Swithun's Church.  The Footpath Sunday walks in Epperstone were as popular as ever.  Good weather, plus the prospect of a delicious tea, prepared by the ladies of the Women's Institute, are doubtless an incentive.  Who can resist the temptation of well-filled sandwiches, scones and jam and an assortment of delicious cakes?  Now all thoughts turn to the forthcoming Summer Festival where there will be gardens to visit, flower arrangements to admire, Vintage vehicles, Granny's Attic and many other stalls.  If none of that appeals you can always sit down to one of our famous home-made teas.

Yet to come is the Lowdham Book Festival, from June 16th - 24th, a week's programme so varied it would be hard to single out any of the events; I would recommend looking at the full programme which may be found on the Bookcase website  

As I said in an earlier blog, the bees would have a good season when the oilseed rape was in flower.  There were may good flying days during the flowering period, with the result that we have extracted seventy-four pounds of far,  Honey from oilseed rape sets quickly in the comb so it is necessary to extract it as soon as it is ready in order to avoid damaging the comb.  Hopefully there will be more to extract later in the summer, but that, as usual, is dependent on the weather.

And finally, there is a first for everything, as they say.  A family member, having gone outside for a late night cigarette, became aware of heavy breathing, coming towards him across the garden.  Understandingly alarmed he shone the torch on his (ever present) mobile phone in the direction of the sound and was amazed to find a deer, a stag complete with antlers, almost within touching distance.  Although there are several varieties of deer in Britain this would appear to be a roe deer, as they shed their antlers in November/December, the new antlers being fully grown by April or May.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Spring, the Sweet Spring

Spring, the sweet spring, is the year's pleasant king - so said the poet, Thomas Nashe, and I have to agree with him.  We are so fortunate to be out in the country to make the most of sunny days, whether they occur on a working weekday or at the weekend.  The swallows are back. flying in and out of the stables, where they build their nests every year.  The trees and hedges are greening up and we wonder, as always, if it is true that "oak before ash, in for a splash; ash before oak, in for a soak".  Certainly there has been little rain in this area for the last few weeks and the farm is crying out for it to get the later drillings into growth.

There seem to be less fish in the pond.  Probably the local heron has found them though it may be that, until the water warms up a little, they will not readily leave the bottom,where they spend the winter.  The hedgehogs, of which there is a subsantial number on the farm, have come out of hibernation and are seen regularly at night foraging around the livestock sheds for slugs, snails and other goodies.  They are welcome visitors in the garden also where they provide an excellent biological control of the aforementioned garden nasties.  As Hedgehog Awareness week starts on April 30th the British Hedgehog Preservation Society has several sugestions to encourage the presence of these prickly pest controllers in the garden.

Not long now until the show season kicks off with the Nottinghamshire County Show on the Newark showground on May 13th and 14th.  With classes for livestock, floral art, vintage and classic cars and many more this really is a "something for everyone" Show so the date is definitely one for the diary.  It could be a busy weekend if you also want to join the Footpath Sunday walks at 2pm outside Church of the Holy Cross, Epperstone.  A choice of walks, eight in total, of different lengths, followed by tea in the Village Hall; it is a popular, traditional annual event. 
                                                      Choosing the walk


Sunday, 2 April 2017

A Short Catch-Up.

With winter now firmly behind us April seems a good time to start up the blog again.  Of course, life has not been at a standstill but there is a tendency to follow the example of much of wildlife and to hibernate during the winter.  Nevertheless, we are fortunate to have a good pub in Epperstone, The Cross Keys, where ladies of Epperstone and beyond enjoyed a Pamper Evening.  Natural skincare products and cosmetics were demonstrated, enhanced no doubt by the wine and canapes on offer.  

Further afield the more energetic of us visited the snowdrops at Hodsock Priory.  If you missed seeing them you might like to make a note of the bluebell days, at the same venue, at the end of April and into early May.   Next up is the Epperstone Art Fair, held over Easter weekend then don't forget to look out for Footpath Sunday, on May 14th this year, when tradition dictates that the  Parish footpaths are walked to ensure that they are kept open for another year.

Nature is waking up now and life on the farm becomes more active.  The oilseed rape crop, drilled in the autumn, is growing fast.  Wood pigeons love it and would strip the plants to the stalk if left undisturbed. Both the pollen and the nectar from the  flower is of value to bees.  As the farm is surrounded by many acres, at several different stages of development, we can expect our bees to be busy for several weeks to come with a good crop of honey at the end.  However, as usual, so much depends on the weather. If a wet spell  prevents the bees from flying they will consume the honey already in the comb, with the resultant reduction in honey for extraction.

A farm walk at this time of year brings many little pleasures. On a recent walk I was happy to see a pair of skylarks take to the wing.  I was less happy to see a magpie searching the hedge (unsuccessfully, this time) for blackbird nests with eggs in.  I get the impression that magpies are more numerous this year.  I know that it is normal for them to prey on nestlings and eggs but it is still sad to see when they are successful. To return to a happy note - though the number of brown hares is said to be in decline that is not the case on Eastwood Farm.  It is not unusual to see a pair "boxing" at this time of year.  It is a common belief that it is a pair of males boxing for supremacy.  However, the truth is that it is the female, fending off the over-amorous attentions of a male! 

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

A Brief Update.

Things have gone quiet on the farm at the moment and our thoughts turn to maintenance.  This involves getting out the list of reminders, drawn up over the summer and autumn months, then wondering where to start.  Probably the most urgent job is to prune the apple and pear trees, a job to be carried out during the winter when the leaves are off and the sap is down.  "Pruning" is really too grand a word; it would be more accurate to say that there are several overgrown branches to be removed for the safety of anyone working beneath the trees in summer.  The trees produce far more fruit than we can possibly use but it makes a welcome supply of food for the birds and lasts for many weeks when left on the ground.

It must have been a good summer for many birds: there are more collared doves around and starlings - supposedly down in number - I counted thirty-six on the ground and many more flew off before I could count them; their plumage is a lot more colourful in winter.  The green woodpecker, often heard but seldom seen, also flew across the orchard and it is rare that I do not disturb several pheasants, again, feeding on the apples.

Still on the great outdoors I must mention that I had the pleasure of cutting and cooking the last globe artichoke which had somehow survived into late November.  It was delicious and reminded me that I should protect the plants against the frost, another job!

Socially the Epperstone branch of the Women's Institute celebrated its 96th birthday party in November with an excellent dinner provided by the committee.  This was followed by a short drama, again put on by member thespians.  If Britain's got talent Epperstone W.I. certainly contributes a large part of it.  Ever active, later in the month the committee  held a fund-raising Fashion Show.  Brave members modelled the clothes which were then displayed to be tried on by those present; a very practical way to find something new for the party/winter season.

The Dover Beck, the parish newsletter, which covers the parishes of Epperstone, Oxton and Gonalston, came out just in time for the first weekend in December.  It is a useful source of information for what goes on in the villages.  Reports on past events plus details of coming events, make it an invaluable source of information for all three parishes.