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May on the Farm

NATURE 

Crazy times! And so lovely to have the time to really see the spring unfold. It’s extraordinary how quickly the leaves emerge from their tight buds like the most exquisite origami. A tree will go from bare to green almost overnight. Ravens used to be a treasured sighting. Now each family scolds me as I walk through the woods far below their nests in the trees. Maybe that’s why I’m seeing less buzzards; I think ravens enjoy buzzard eggs. I saw a House Martin come and check her nest out.  I think she was waiting for her husband to arrive from Africa to attend to their mud nest under the eaves.  

The air is clear. There is no yellow pall that hangs over Exeter, and no vapour trails in the sky.  Are the nights colder because we are not putting pollution into the sky at present? A happy result in this sad time.  

ARABLE 

We finally got the spring crops in: spring barley to replace wheat that didn’t get sown last year, fodder beet to feed the dry cows over winter, and some maize to provide feed where we didn’t get a crop in. Farming is sometimes about the least bad option. I didn’t want to grow maize again, because ploughing is hard on the soil and the ground is bare for too long. The soil needed lifting from too many arable crops and the rain meant no crops got planted anyway, and we need feed for the cows next winter.  And it’s lovely to see the new shoots emerge out of the soil, making use of the winter moisture that still remains in the soil. 

GRASS 

We passed ‘magic day’ when the grass grows faster than the cows can eat. Life on the farm goes on, grass growing, cows milking, all those ladies yearning for the bull. We’ve got all of our people back after three self-isolated: no one has come to any harm. Grass growth comes to a peak in May, and we have already been cutting the grass to stop it overwhelming the cows, and to preserve it as winter feed. We make silage, which pickles the grass in natural lactic acid bacteria, just like cheesemaking. 

 DAIRY 

We’ve just started making cheese again. We stopped last month to avoid having too much cheese in store. Restaurants and deli counters are closed. People aren’t going to events or travelling, eating as they go. Countries we export to are just as badly affected.  We are missing about half our sales. We are very grateful for all the people ordering online, which has suddenly become our biggest sale of cheese.    

It’s not just us; we and all little food producers rely on the specialist food web that has suddenly seized up. Lots of other people are turning to online to get food to you. You can make a difference to what survives this cataclysm. Support local chefs where they are producing food to go, have a party night at home with a lovely cheeseboard, have a celebration with friends and family online, sharing delicious food and good conversation remotely. Have our hard-won artisan food, a triumph of the last 30 years, come through in good shape!   

Mary Quicke 

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