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September on the Farm


Rich golden autumn days cling on to summer warmth like an imminent parting from a dear friend: yearned for, knowing it will end. Warmth seeps into apples in the orchard, ripening each one in turn. Pick them fresh off the tree. They are ripe when they come off with half a turn. Another way to tell if they are ripe is when the wasps start nibbling them, little sawmarks in the flesh. It’s not so good to take a bite from an apple and realise you are sharing it with a wasp. Leave till hurricane driven gales hit our shores and the apples lie, a cidery ruin, trampled underfoot.


Just the maize is left to be harvested. This will be perhaps the last time we grow this remarkable energy-rich crop. It grows from seed in April or May, knee-high by the 4th of July, flowers in August and fills its cobs in September. The problem for us is that it needs ploughing, stirring up the soil which volatilises organic matter, and even if we plant a crop after harvest, the soil is bare for some of the vulnerable times of the year. We’d rather work the soil less hard, and grow and feed the cows on red clover which stays in the ground longer and fixes nitrogen from the air and leaves organic matter in the soil.


Last month’s deluges restored the grass growth. Now we aren’t battling the grass’s desire to set seed. It’s back to leaf growing until next summer.

We take advantage of the seasonal lift in leafy growth to feed the fresh-calved cows. They had their summer holidays when grass growth reduced for the summer. After they calve, they need to eat more to produce milk, and there it is with the autumn flush. That’s the theory, anyway. Like all natural systems, we rely on seasonal predictability. Weather extremes disturb the orderly dance. The excess carbon dioxide in the air that is causing the problems with climate comes in part from volatilising organic matter from the soil. That’s why we as farmers are starting to realise we must tuck as much organic matter, back into the soil where it belongs. Helpfully that makes the soil work better and hold more moisture.  Grass, as a perennial crop, puts organic matter back in the soil.


It’s healthy for cows to calve out in the field, where sunshine provides sterilising services. When each cow’s time comes, she chooses a secure nook, behind a tree or at the edge of the field, and get on with her business undisturbed. As long as things are progressing normally, it’s better to leave her alone. Our vigorous little cross-bred calves show their liveliness even before they are born and usually have their feet and heads pointed in the right direction (like a diver) so they come out without assistance. You’ll find them standing up and suckling before anyone knew they were there.   


We’ve put a viewing window into the cheese dairy so you can see in without the palaver of getting hairnetted, suited and booted. That means more people will be able to get an insight into what it takes to make cheese. We will also be running our first Academy of Cheese Level 1 course between the farm and the event room at Hanlons, the second craft brewery in the parish. This course gives a good grounding in how cheese is made and how it tastes. It’s based on tasting 25 cheeses, each illustrating a different aspect of cheese making, as well as being some of the most delicious cheese on the planet. If you are interested, you can find out more here.

 M A R Y  Q U I C K E

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