Leaves are all out. The very last, the beech, take their time. It always astonishes me how fast the leaves unfurl from their buds. They must all be grown in the bud, made already packed in a tight origami, to release so fast, little sails peeping from buds in all possible shades of green. All those greens light up the landscape, they glow yellow and green, along with olive, bronzes and pinks.
Rooks, crows and ravens noisily defend their nests, while greedily raiding other birds’. The buzzards ride the thermals created by the intensifying sun. They scan the landscape to feed their brood. Your family, my meal.
We’ve had the richest spring flowers in my memory, courtesy of last year’s sun. I hope the fruit will be as rich this autumn. The hawthorn flowers carry on in May where the blackthorn left off.
Our crops grow apace with enough moisture and sun, and now large enough leaf area to harvest more sunshine. It’s a daily miracle in plain sight, how green plants use sunlight to turn carbon dioxide and water into the oxygen that keeps us alive and the food that nourishes us.
The wheat and barley plants grow their leaves and roots, and cherish the delicate embryo ear that will feed us.
With the grass, we want leaf, not stalk and ear, for the cows to graze, so the cows keep on top of eating the stems. The grass is growing at its fastest now. We harvest for winter feed the grass the cows won’t get to before it goes too stalky. I’m so happy to see our empty silage pits fill up. Of course grazed grass is the best, and we need to keep the cows fed over winter, when the grass grows very slowly. So out comes the silage kit, mowing meadows, picking grass up, chopping it into bite-sized and fermentable lengths, and covering it. It’s like sauerkraut: out of the air, the grass ferments in its own sugars to preserve it for the winter.
Young calves enjoy the sunshine and warmth, growing well with the rich grass. The fifteen-month heifers, teenagers in human terms, now get the bull they’ve been asking for, some for months.
For the earliest to go to the bull, we are using sexed semen. With dairy cows, you are mainly interested in females. The bull calves leave us as soon as we can find someone to buy them. So we want as many females born as possible. They can now sort the semen so only heifers get born. We have been trying it out, and it seems to be working.
The spring-calved cows are also keen to meet Mr Bull, and practice hard on each other. To begin with, we use stored semen, from the bulls and breeds we want, to make hardy, fertile cows producing exactly the right milk for our cheese. We need to catch the cows just the day they are most ready, ‘standing heat’. Put your hand on her back, and she’ll stand still and receptive. Before then, she is frisky and wants to ride other cows. After that, she is just not interested.
The cows are producing lots of milk from the fast-growing grass. It’s lovely to see the vats of warm milk, grass made into food by the generosity of cows. In the dairy, we carry out that age-old process of concentrating the sun’s gift of grass into golden cheese. Our English cheeses all can age, to take that bounty deep into the winter. Like silage and sauerkraut, it’s another fermentation arising from people’s ingenious way of nurturing bugs for our benefit.
This month, Chris Lewis of Bellow harvests elderflowers and dries them quickly (the trick to retain their flavour and aroma) for us to add to curd to make our elderflower cheese. It makes a lovely, aromatic cheese. You can’t tell where the elderflower aroma ends and the butteriness of the cheese begins.