The riot of summer hedgerows turns to barren ruin. We cut some of the hedgerows each year in the autumn to keep them bushy. On the others, the rich growth becomes a mess, blackberries a brown splodge, rosehips a few papery skins - the sweet flesh gone long ago and hawthorn berries just dropped. The dark evenings encourage wildlife out: people are driving wildlife to be more nocturnal. You can see a badger, a roe deer, a rabbit and a fox out in the woods. The tawny owls are partying to pair up, ladies ‘ke-wick’-ing and gentlemen ‘tu whit to whoo’-ing.
We’ve picked apples to send off to Sandford Orchards to be made into cider, and we bring the apple pomace back to feed cows. They have a particularly mellow look when they are feasting on the fermenting apple pomace. Any apples not picked are mostly fermenting underfoot, adding to the rich aroma of autumn. Go through oak woodland, and acorns drop on your head. Nature heads underground, chasing the sun into the dark.
No sooner do we tuck up for winter, than growth starts again. We’ve sown crops and they are coming up. This year, we used a ‘no-till’ drill which makes a slit with the tiniest amount of cultivation to nestle the seed in. You leave all the chaff and straw residue on the top of the soil. This keeps more organic matter in the soil, the soil structure undamaged by cultivation. There are some who worry about soil compaction: soil needs to be around a quarter air and a quarter of water to work well. We will keep checking it out: a spade is a useful farmer’s tool to see how that most important of resources, the soil, is working. So far the crops are thriving, the new shoots are poking above the ground, a beautiful velvet promise of harvest next year.
The animals are grazing the grass for the last time: the cows eat each pasture down in turn. The first we shut up for winter will be the first who go to graze in the spring. Where the grass is eaten down, it will be fresh, young and healthy leaves that go through the winter. They will be able to cope with frost: leaves completely crisp defrost, look verdantly green, shake themselves down and start growing. Old and damaged leaves give up the ghost and become a slimy mess.
The calves come in first, out of the harsh weather. They chase around the barn spreading the new straw. Girls, don’t you know how precious that is with the drought we’ve had this summer? We’re short of feed and straw so will keep any animals that are happy to stay out grazing as long as the soil will hold them. We keep them in as tight paddocks as we can so if there is heavy rain, they only damage a small area, and go onto a clean pasture soon. Ideally, we’d like to move them every day, like we do with the cows, and that needs water and fencing in every little sub paddock to make the best use of grass. A job we’ll do over time.
The autumn cows are coming in at night, the cubicles house warm, dry and busy with the herd either feeding, flirting or sitting down. Cows sleep maybe for half an hour a day, and sit down around half the time, digesting, chatting with their friends, and making milk. These autumn cows are also keen now to get in calf, as soon as we let them. They been aching for Mr Bull almost since they calved in late August and September, and now in late November, we think they have restored themselves enough to be ready for the next pregnancy. They do tell us what they want, flirting, riding and being ridden by other girls. We tried out some semen that has been sorted so the cows only get the semen that will produce females (taking advantage that it has a slightly different electrical charge to semen that will produce males and having them swim one way or the other). That means more heifer calves get born; we are only interested in rearing the future cows plus a few of the males for beef for the farm shop. We sell the bull calves we don’t need when they are young to other people who want them.
The milk is still in part grass fed, supported by the silage we are feeding as the grass grows less fast and less nutritious. The cheese dairy is now pleasantly warm, after the hot summer when it was too hot. We no longer have to use a fan to cool the salted curd to put it away in the cloth-lined moulds. We are now selling some fresh curd to outlets in London: it’s one of those lovely foods beloved of Canadians and Mid Western Americans, which the Brits are just catching on to.
We’re sending cheese off for Christmas around the world; it mostly goes overseas by boat, so the cheese for Australia & Asia goes in September, to America in October then to Britain and Europe in November. It feels so exotic to see our cheese being wrapped up ready to go and seek its fortune out in the world. Let me know how it behaves once it gets there. Send pictures of it on its travels!
Skye Gyngell who runs her restaurant Spring at Somerset House gave me this recipe for pork chops with cheesy apple sauce.
Grill your pork chop as normal. Peel and core some cooking apples. Cook them in a little water and sugar over a medium heat. Grate some Quicke’s Mature Cheddar (including rind) into the apple sauce just as it is losing its texture. Melt the cheese in. It adds a broad umami note to the sweet and sour of the apple sauce, that really complements the pork chop.
M A R Y Q U I C K E