The lockdown diaries on the farm
The shut down of the country in March has meant that all of our lives have been somewhat different.
This unprecedented time was new territory and only time would tell what it would all mean to each of us individually.
As a family we had to take stock of what would be the consequences for us firstly as a small family, then the farm and the business. As with everybody things moved very quickly indeed and lots of things including what you would normally consider small, suddenly became important. As much as you could, you needed to order things but also to take a look at things as a whole. I feel normally relatively far removed from the real world and I am comfortable with how things are. I am sure I am not alone in thinking there is a lot of mind clutter (in normal times anyway) that can fill your head and I normally try and keep it to a minimum.
As the the lockdown took hold a torrent of negative information was across all the media sources. I felt it was important for me to sift out as much as you could to sort out which was relevant to me. This was no mean feat as there was snippets of potential good news but more often than not it was negative. Then as time went on even more negative news appeared with riots and the estimations of the long lasting effects that this virus will have on the future. The world was changing and it was how we were going to fit in to this new world and what part we would be able to play.
The farm shop had to close on 20th March and one by one over the next 3 months our food shows were all cancelled.
We were however lucky enough to get a grant for the cider business which was a huge relief as our income was going to inevitably going to change. I cannot thank the powers that be enough to recognise that this would greatly help business's like ours to carry on.
My time available to spend on the farm initially disappeared with home schooling but only for a few days until my wife was furloughed. So the new broadbrush plan was to do alternate days doing childcare and farm stuff and then also have family weekends. This enabled us to spend lots of time with our boy as well as get on with other things too.
I am fully aware that we as a family we have been relatively lucky in the short term at least and not everyone has had a pleasant time but we are all having to make the best of the circumstances.
Spring then suddenly took hold and the days not only got slowly longer but a lot warmer too and the countryside began to slowly come alive. Over the last 3 months I was 'on site' to really soak it up and spend significantly longer days outside. No school pick ups, no afterschool clubs (which would have been the normal routine) and I could do both long days on the farm and long days at home.
I was regularly able to 12 hour days and get on quicker with farm jobs then ever before and I intended to seize the moment and cross a good number of jobs off the list...
With the new normal of me spending more time on the farm as time went on and I was slowly working through my list of jobs it occurred to me that not only was all of this physical work was healthy for me but it was aslo doing my mind a world of good. The satisfaction of completing jobs, enjoying what spring can bring as well as spending more time with my family.
I love spending time on the farm anyway and it just reinforced that if you look after the countryside that it will in return look after you!
So below is a diary of what I have been up to..!
Early June 2020 - Cider bottling
We ran out of our dry sparkling cider towards the end of last year and were planning to wait for the spring of this year for a rebottling. Then Covid of course struck and we were unsure of how sales were going to be so we continued to hold off. Then both online as well as retail sales began to pick up and we started to run low on our medium sparkling as well so decided to go for it and get the 2 types bottled up. Thankfully despite the bottling factory being very busy they were good enough to bottle it quite quickly for us. But it meant shifting a lot of cider down to the bottling plant and then of course back to the farm once it was bottled. Quite a mission but I managed to do it and it was just in time! SO we have now over 6 tons of bottled cider which is ready to go!
|7 pallets of bottled cider ready to go!|
One of the last of the many fencing jobs of spring was to fence off a field in front of the house where we live. The reason being is that it will enable me to manage it more effectively.
We have had Barn Owls on the farm for many years and it was thought they had always nested in one particular Oak Tree. We also installed a barn owl box in an old dead oak tree in a 6 acre field which has been enormously successful.
|Barn Owl Box in old Oak tree|
This Barn Owl box was installed in 2016 and for most years there have been Barn Owls nesting in the box and the one year they seemed to have been pushed out (back to the Oak Tree) it materialised that a Kestrel had muscled in and managed to succesfully hatch some young!
The box can be seen from my mancave/office window which is located in the garden and the 'hunting field' is right in front of my house. I must admit that I do get an enormous thrill of being able to see a Barn Owl swoop around at Dusk.
So Barn Owls hunt for small rodents and I try and create an environment for mice and voles in the field which involves a thick base layer of grass which enables them to make little tunnels to move around in (relative) safety. This field grows grass rapidly and once the grass becomes too long it can hinder the potential food source.
In the past I would either just top (mow) it about 3 times a year. This is chopping up the grass effectively and you can set the mower to a specific height. This means I can cut over the top of the thick layer of grass at a height of a few cm and cause minimal disturbance to the base layer whilst still cutting the excessive grass length. These cuttings then drop back onto the ground to further build up the base layer. to keep on top of the grass or it would go for haymaking. This technique is good but the timings for the grass length has to be thought out well and of course it is time consuming.
The other method is to make hay from the field however the weeds were becoming a pain for haymaking as well as when the hay is cut this is done low to the ground and effectively strips the grass to a very low level and until regrowth occurs the field is again a potential empty larder for the barn owls. So a new plan had to be made.
Anyway a new fence and 2 gates were installed. The plan was to allow sheep into the field, were in the field next door anyway, and to graze it. This would take the bulk of the grass down but then the sheep were taken off to avoid the disturbance of the base layer. This then exposed the weeds which then I could spot spray in an effort to control them.
So everything listed above was put into action and it all went quite well.
Then after a couple of weeks after the sheep had been scooted out I saw the Barn Owl swooping about above the field!
|Barn Owl flying in front of the house (taken 2019).|
Entertaining our little boy..
Of course childcare is very much part of my routine during the week and I have been thinking of exciting things to do with our 7 year old boy.
One of the projects we undertook was doing a study on some of the old oak trees that we are lucky enough to have on the farm This involved a walk and identifying each tree we were going to study. Then we got a tape measure and measured the girth of the tree to come up with a measurement. Then we were able to roughly calculate the age of each tree. This was interesting for both of us and we managed to do 12 of our oldest trees. All of the trees that we measured were between 340 and 420 years old!
|This Oak Tree is approximately 362 years old!|
I would like to at some stage do a more detailed study for the records and measure the height of each tree too. Yes it can be done very easily by hovering the drone around the top of the tree and this will measure the exact height!
Another project was stream exploring. We have 3 little streams on the farm and as they are in woodland I do not really have the need to visit much. When you are looking for things to do with a young child sometimes you open your mind up to different things. I cleared a little fallen wood and brash from a section of the stream so we could pop some wellies on and walk up the stream as an adventure!
This was a great success and part of it was that even though it is a small stream it must appear huge if you are only 7 years old. Out little boy is so loolking forward to be able to show it to his freinds when they can come over.
The Ancient Spring
Interestingly the source of this stream is actually a natural spring. These are relatively common in the area as we are on the side of a hill but springs in the past were always enormously appreciated by anything in the countryside. It was almost a magical source of clean drinking water for both humans and animals that just 'appeared' from the ground. Usually wells were the main source of water other than streams and rivers for drinking but during dry spells streams can dry up. We have never known this particular well ever dry up even in the driest of summers. They are even identified on Ordnance survey maps and are marked as 'issues'. This terminology means that the ground 'issues' water.
Springs are usually only a trickle so there needs to be some sort of largish receptacle to be able to collect and hold the water to be able to use it.
Anyway as I was working my way up this stream clearing the fallen bits of wood and the odd bramble I eventually came up to the old spring. So I decided to clear it from the undergrowth and see the area once again. It has been a while since I had been this far up and it was nice to tidy the area up a bit.
So the spring was then revealed in all of its glory once again and not only was the spring now visible but 2 other interesting items once more saw the light of day too!
These boilers were as the name suggested were mounted usually in a permanent brick or stone surround/structure which had sufficient space to light a small fire underneath. You would put a quantity of water in the boiler and once the fire was up to heat you have your hot water. These were commonly found in old kitchens or out houses.
|Old cast iron boiler next to spring.|
|Photo of what the boiler would look like if recovered|
Then a few steps away from the boiler there is the remains of an old bath! So what with the boiler a few sticks and something you can light a fire with you could maybe have even sorted out a nice hot bath! That concept aside the bath which again is very old would have been a bigger receptacle which was probably used as a trough for the animals. There would have probably at some stage been some sort of pipework that led from the spring to be able to fill up the bath which has since long gone. I think it is unlikely that the boiler would have been used to fill up the bath as the boiler is heavy enough to lift when empty let alone with any water in! So I think the boiler was the first water receptacle and then when a bath became available it was moved down to the site (no mean feat) to use as a more permanent trough for the animals.
It find it quite interesting to try and work out the history with some evidence and imagine what went on here many years ago.
Capturing the spring on record.
With the farm shop closed and no food shows I relished in the extra time that I had on the farm. Not only with being able to get on with lots of jobs but it I managed to find some time regarding photography and also using the drone in the beautiful weather we have had this spring. I enjoy the opportunity to be able to share my photography with other people on this blog, facebook and occaisionally instagram when I have the time. I am hoping to move into creating a few short films soon to show you all more aspects of the farm. Drones are great fun and I have a great playground to use it in!
This particular spring I think for me has been the best spring to be on the farm that I can remember. The weather has been absolutely stunning. Working outside and embracing the countryside as the 2020 spring takes hold was amazing! My background noise has been bird song and the sound of bees.
|Drone photo of the farm|
When I did some orchard work in March I was pleased with how the orchard was looking but one 'feature' was not only redundant but was looking an eyesore. This was the fence that surrounded the original orchard. So it was time for the fence to go which was no mean feat. There was a lot of weed growth especially brambles which made it difficult to pull the fence up.
|Old fence line|
It was very satisfying to see the results of the pruning that I had done in March with the trees in full blossom and also the fenceline was removed. A real improvement!
Another lovely part of spring is the new life that starts. Lots of bird nests too on the farm with parent birds shooting around feeding their squawking youngsters. We have over the years put up several bird boxes for the smaller birds and even 2 Barn Owl boxes so it is always nice to them being used. Oak trees, hedges barns, my workshop and even tractors have been little homes for the birds.
|Blue Tit nesting|
|Nuthatch in an Old Oak Tree|
|Fresh out of the nest fledgling. (Blackbird?)|
Spring really has taken hold and fencing work continues. The Bluebells in spring looked stunning as always. A relatively short season and the time of day and light is quite important to get the glorious effect .
|The Bluebell Wood|
Cider sales online started to pick up not long after the lockdown was announced. As the shop was now closed to the public this extra business was of course welcome. We do well on repeat orders and we started to get some new customers too. This then encouraged me to think a bit more about online sales and I started to do some small improvements on the website. This involved increasing the range of ciders that we normally offer online and now include some of our flavoured range.
I made a good start on orchard work and March is an ideal time for this. I started with pruning the young apple trees and general tidying up. We also have several old apple trees which have died and fallen over and I have been reluctant to clear them up as these were the trees that first provided us with apples when we started 20 years ago. The time had come however as a fallen tree quickly takes up space which nettles and thistles thrive and I decided they had to go.
|Dead fallen tree|
March is also the time for coppicing and wood collection. All the wood that we use on the farm is from either fallen trees, any wood generated from any hedge work but mainly coppicing. Coppicing is essentially very hard pruning down to just above ground level. We have an abundance of suitable trees including Ash, Hazel, and Alder on the farm. Coppicing is work I really enjoy doing in the late winter as it is a harvest for us and it is actually benefiting the tree as well. Once a tree has been coppiced there is a burst of regrowth and fast forward 7 years later it can be done all over again.
|Collecting coppiced Alder.|
Late February 2020
First fencing job completed. Over 130 metres of fencing completely replaced. This fence was bordering the drive to the farm and was important to replace as mentioned in the last Blog. The weather started to dry up a little and the new posts went in well. Removing the old fence took longer than planned but you need to prepare the ground for the new fence line.
Overall the project went well and it now looks a lot better and now much stronger as a barrier now it has been replaced.