Monday, 15 July 2013

'Dancing the Triumphs of the Hay'

After eleven years of Countryside Stewardship and Higher Level Scheme management our twenty five odd acres of hayfields are gradually becoming hay meadows, though obviously not "ancient".

Four of the fields were laid down in the 1980's with a commercial ryegrass and white clover mix, the two larger fields were laid down in 2002 with a ryegrass and clover free Countryside Stewardship mix, under the terms of Arable Reversion. Now, all the areas are fairly mixed with ryegrass-I should think Kent Perennial and Wild White Clover-endemic to this part of Kent. I need to brush up my identification skills regarding the other grass species.

It took around eight years, but eventually Spotted Orchids made their appearance:not very frequent this year, but here they are:

Not very large, either;they are taller in the stewardship margins at home. A couple of years later, I discovered Yellow Rattle in both the old commercial grass and in the Arable Reversion:

I was very excited at this, and amused, as my mother told me that as a young girl after the first world war she helped her father rogue Yellow Rattle from his seed crops of Wild White and Kent Perennial.

These fields have, perhaps, been farmed too much to become classic hay meadows, but the comparatively short period of chemical free management has encouraged the growth of more floriferous species, with the hoped for benefit for pollinators and farmland birds. Later this summer we will be adding strips of native wildflower seeds to  add more diversity still.

By doing this, I'm trying to prove to myself, and to other farmers, that it is possible to farm sensitively,meeting the needs of both the wider environment and the consuming public:the hay from these fields, and the autumn grass will be used by our Sussex Cattle. Walkers can cross the footpath leading back to Biddenden, and experience this attempt to mitigate past practice.


Saturday, 20 April 2013

...and all I was, in ashes.

Most days this winter I've gone down to our little ash platt, across a ditch from the body of the farm, checking on a feeder for the wild birds.Now, in late April, it is coming into its own, wood anemones,early bluebells and the occasional orchid.
However, this sense of melancholy is caused by the worry of the Chalara virus that is poised to devastate our ash trees, and alter the biodiversity of woods like this. It is only about one acre, so I could conceivably replant with oak and maple, but in the meantime, light levels would change, brambles encroach, and the fence to fence sheet of bluebells, shortly to burst into indescribable flower, would vanish.

An early bluebell, among the anemones.

Ashes, bluebells and anemones. I coppiced this wood about 15-20 years ago, and ideally, the thinner stems should be taken out now, but I'm worried that the resultant new growth would be most at risk from the virus.

The ground is still too wet to turn the cattle out, but perhaps another dry week.... For once, the nursery is fairly floriferous, and we are off to a fair at Godinton tomorrow. Rumour has it that people are actually thinking about going into their gardens!


Tuesday, 19 February 2013

'...and long purples, that liberal shepards give a grosser name.'

I found this rosette of Early Purple Orchids in a shave that I've been coppicing along the lane below the farmyard. I hadn't seen them there before,so I'll be keeping an eye on them in the weeks to come. The clash between the indescribable blue of  bluebells, and the corporeal purple of the orchid is one of the sights of spring.

We've had a few dry days now, thankfully, but the fields are still saturated and a long way off workable. We took the covers off the setting out beds yesterday,letting some welcome sunlight onto the overwintered nursery stock.
On Sunday we hope to be taking some plants to Goodnestone Park, over in East Kent for the Hardy Plant Society's first event of the year, their snowdrop and hellebore extravaganza, not that we have any of these to sell! It's usually an encouraging day, buoyed up by keen gardeners eager to get outside after the long winter. Let's hope the wind isn't in the East.