We’ve had a summer-like spring and it looks like a spring-like summer, changeable and cool. We’ve had enough rain to slake the spring drought. Everything still looks a little weary from that early drought, moving already into late summer clothes.
The house martens swoop and dive, keeping our house clear of flies. I wonder if they are as faithful to a particular place in Africa as they are to our house?
The deer are enjoying more of our wheat than we’d like, growing sleek and shiny on nibbled ears. They look up, surprised to see you approach, and leap away in a stiff-legged prance that alerts their friends that predators are near. The does have kids hidden in the bracken that they go back to and feed.
Rooks gather noisily, a raucous party in the sky. Like house martens, they mate for life, and live in a sociable village, chattering away, and play acrobatically, weaving in and out of each others’ path. A buzzard circles warily above them riding the thermal currents, keeping clear of the rooks who mob them if they get too close.
The wheat relies on summer showers to fill the grain: will the grains be shrivelled or fat? Harvest will let us know the end of this month or soon after, and for now, the gentle aroma of ripening wheat gives a comforting sense that harvest is near. The spring barley grew well through the spring, and harvest will be a bit later.
Clover comes into its own now, red clover and white, for harvesting and grazing. When the grass yellows, the clover carries on, deeper rooting and making its own nutrient. Clover flowers scent the air, with a faint echo coming through in the summer milk.
The calves are out, close by, where there is shelter. The larger heifers graze near the woods, in the folding hills and valleys away from the buildings. They see almost no-one in a day. When you do show up, they gather around, curious to find out who you are and if you have anything good to eat. A lick and a sniff and a quick consultation with their friends, and they decide the grass is more interesting!
The cows graze a procession of fields on the farm. The spring cows are exploring wider to find grazing a little further afield. We feed them a little of the precious winter stores to cover the dry time when the grass went to sleep last month. We want to keep grass ahead of them, so top up the grazing to allow the grass to grow on a little. The autumn cows are now all furloughed, in their late pregnancy holiday, no work permitted, grazing and hanging out with herd mates.
COVID-19 AND OUR CHEESE
Farming processes and the natural world carry on regardless of COVID-19, with a beautiful normality. Our cheese carries on maturing, the rinds flowering in the mould garden of the stores. The flavours develop: we’ve worked out how to do a socially distanced grading, tasting each vat of cheese we’ve made 3 months ago and a year ago.
We stopped making cheese at the height of COVID-19, to keep people safe and to avoid making cheese we couldn’t sell. Now we need a 20:20 crystal ball to know what people will buy in the months ahead. Any milk we don’t make into cheese goes to the large dairy at North Tawton, a few miles away, to make a respectable block cheese along with many of our neighbours’ milk. The particular quality of our milk is lost, and we are happy our milk is going somewhere.
We watch anxiously to see which customers are selling cheese, which customers have opened up, which customers are stalled or stopped. We’ve been so grateful to everyone who has bought cheese online, from us, and others. Those sales have kept us ticking over, and your appreciation buoys us up, it’s lovely to know we’ve been part of your lockdown arrangements. Deli counters re-open, and it will be a while before restaurants come back to full steam. There are so many great chefs, I know they will develop extraordinary and creative ways to sell the food we love. Customers abroad have started to order. Whatever the future holds for all of us, tasty treats will be part of it!