Lots and lots of sunshine. The weather may break tonight, which will be a relief. Meanwhile, it is ideal hay/haylage making weather. Our neighbour was out, lickety split and had the field opposite cut in no time.
Within 2 days the whole lot bagged up for haylage.
The lad who rents the field from us wasn’t quite as fast; though he is baling for hay rather than haylage. Still, all done ahead of the potential change in weather. It’s so much easier to rent the grazing to someone else rather than chasing a contractor to cut and bale. Everyone wants the hay cut at the same time. The fields are looking quite bleached but within a fortnight they will be green again.
On a much smaller scale, the lovely OH cut the grass in front of the polytunnel with the sickle bar mower. Not for hay or haylage. I’m using the grass to earth up potatoes. I’m afraid, given the heat, I just gathered up the cut grass as fast as I could and lumped it over the potato haulms. Not very elegant but hopefully will produce a crop. I must go and investigate the earlies.We are finding that it pays to set the alarm a little earlier and get out onto the holding before the sun becomes too hot. By midday we are finished with working outdoors and retreat from the heat. In the tunnel the nasturtiums are blooming – another flower to add to the evening’s salad.
The elderflower cordial is draining fast. I’m making another batch before all the flowers disappear.
Reading this week: 60 Degrees North by Malachy Tallack
The State of Nature report 2016 will be published on the 14th of this month. I suspect the study will confirm the ongoing decline of the UK’s wildlife. So no time like the present to try and increase the biodiversity of our patch. Whilst it would be impossible to turn the new orchard from organic rye-grass grazing back to lowland meadow in one hit, we have made a start.
We’ve been given a large bag of seed from the scything of a nearby managed meadow. The lovely OH worked really hard to create a strip along the edge of the orchard. First, he cut the grass hard, raking off the cuttings and then ran the rotavator on a high setting over the strip to create bare patches. We scattered our donated seed and then trod over the area. For good measure, I also added some cuttings for our own wildflower verge.
Next spring we’ll create another strip.
Perhaps in a decade the whole orchard will be a meadow!
We don’t have any large livestock so we don’t graze the field or new orchard. This leaves us every year with the tussle of having the meadow grass cut. We have tried selling the grass as a standing crop as well as cutting for mini hay bales. Next year we will definitely look into a ‘Flying Flock’ arrangement.
However, this year the OH has arranged for an owner of horses to take the grass off. We were a bit concerned about the changeable weather but came back from a few days away to find a series of large black round bales dotted around the field.
Hurrah for haylage! Haylage is partway between silage and hay, (hence the name), with a dry content value around 60%. It is also meant to be tastier for horses than silage and it isn’t as weather dependent as hay because it doesn’t have to dry for so long. Having the bales in the field also saves lugging them into the dutch barn, (big plus).
The more I read about hay, haylage and silage making the more impressed I am. There seems to be a real art to making a good feed; if the grass is left to set seed you can get larger yields but the digestibility is lower than feed from an immature sward so the hay/haylage is better used as a maintenance feed over winter. Which is what our purchaser wants.
Happy all round!
The OH has been out with the sickle bar and cut the grass in the orchard. I raked up some of the grass clippings and created a ring of mulch around the fruit trees. These have been piled up to a depth of around 4inches to 6 inches which should help suppress the growth of grass around the trees thereby reducing the competition for nutrients and water. Whilst trees on half standard rootstock can cope with grass grown up to the trunk once mature if is preferable to remove the competition and it is essential to do this for young trees to ensure that they establish well. Commercial orchards usually have a herbicide, (glyphosphate), strip running along the rows but as we don’t spray this isn’t an option. We have gone for a combination of a mypex mat plus the mulch.
Also, long grass could hold moisture against the trunk which increases the risk of rot. MM106 rootstock can be susceptible to collar rot on heavier soils so I’ve pulled the mulch back from the trunk by about 6 inches to ensure good air circulation and sunshine at the base of the tree. The mulch will also help retain water through summer and as grass is organic its breakdown will return nitrogen back into the soil which is all to the good.
So I’m feeling most virtuous and have turned my thoughts to adding wildflowers to the orchard. I’m leaning towards introducing a mass of spring bulbs. Narcissus, snake’s head fritillary, snowdrops. Just like Sissinghurst…..
…. except for the King Alfred ones which are horrid.
Ron the fence has arrived on site. Soon the field will have stock proof fencing, which is very, very exciting. This will separate around 2 acres of grazing from the orchard, shelter belt planting and polytunnel area. Next year we can bung on some 4 legged mowers in the form of a flying flock and keep the grass down. No more haggling to get the field cut and baled – hurrah!
It is a bit rainy at the moment so what we actually have is a big pile of posts and a digger. Ron has sensibly gone off to do something else….somewhere else…..
still – a big pile of posts and a digger!
Red letter day for sure.
Reading this week: Memory Maps by Lisa St Aubin de Teran
Yes I did, courtesy of the council plus Andrea, tutor in charge of making sure we didn’t lose limbs/fingers etc. from our razor-sharp Austrian scythes.
Andrea works for Caring for God’s Acre (http://www.caringforgodsacre.org.uk) and does a marvelous job teaching all sorts of handy things like using lime mortar, scything etc.
The Austrian scythe is an amazing development in low tech grassland management. An English scythe is very much made for an individual. The Austrian scythe can be re-set so that I (5’2″) or the OH (6’2″) can wield it equally effectively (cough). Scything is very zen, and has a cool vocabulary – such as snath (the shaft), peening (cold forging) and the blade comprises a tip, heel, tang, beard, belly and knob (step forward Baldrick!)
I had a fabulous day and came back so enthused that I did a bit of scything chez nous. And I have plans for knocking up a hand driven baler.
Thing is …. we have an awful lot of grass ……which is now about as high as I am…..
I think we won’t be canceling the contractor plus tractor/baler this year.
Okay, crunch time – we need to sort out a tractor. Which is why the OH and I are on the road trip to visit a purveyor of ‘garden and estate machinery’. Very exciting. The pennies will not stretch to a new set of tractor 4 wheels and the OH says the only point of 2nd hand tractors is for people who like tinkering with tractors. So, 4 wheels good, 2 wheels better!
The 2 wheel tractor we have in mind has lots and lots of implements and accessories. Just like Barbie. One could get carried away – I am particularly covetous of the mini baler, (though not so covetous of the price). The OH will no doubt be discussing models and specs and such like. My requirements begin and end with ‘can I start it’; at my age recoil start is a no no.
We met Paul, who was very charming. He went through all the permutations, pros and cons, bits and pieces and priced it all up. It does add up. I did ask Paul whether he had ever sold one of the mini balers – and he said yes he had – apparently they are in demand by Londoners with second homes in the county who bank at Coutts.
I don’t think our crumpled tenners can compete.