Spring’s coming into bloom
An overcast, drizzly start to the week has given way to some drier, sunnier days, although the wind coming from a northerly direction is rather chilly.
The line being drawn on our barograph has been following a higher pressure than we have been seeing in recent weeks, now rising slowly higher.
Spring does seem to be well on its way, with an array of colourful spring flowers and buds bursting forth on many of the trees. The white blossom on the blackthorn, a thorny shrub that grows along scrub woodland and in hedges, is looking very picturesque. This prickly shrub provides protection for many nesting birds and plants, which grow under its branches. The blue-black fruits of the blackthorn are known as sloes, which can be used to make jam, wine and to flavour gin.
Another colourful sight at this time of year is the fields of winter rape, now coming well into flower. This crop can be damaged by the pollen beetle, which migrate to winter oilseed from mid-March and throughout April.
The crop is susceptible when the green-yellow buds appear in dry, warm weather. The beetles bite into the buds at this stage, killing them.
Once the flowers open, damage to the buds declines, although the beetles lay their eggs in the buds and flowers throughout May, where the larvae hatch before dropping to the soil to pupate.
Pollen beetles are, however, useful pollinators and so their numbers on the plants are carefully monitored, and we only spray the crop if the control threshold is exceeded.
The winter oilseed rape being grown on Manor Farm is being carefully monitored by our agronomist,as there is currently a pollen beetle population on the developing flower heads.
A great deal of field work is still being undertaken both here and on Stowell Farm. Here Richard and Ian have been ploughing the fields to be planted with maize. The wet areas in some of these fields continue to cause a problem preparing the seed bed, as the furrows turned over by the plough are going to need breaking up a little before the power harrow can be used.
It was decided that a rigid tine cultivator may be the best machine to use, so Richard is trying it out at the moment. On Stowell Farm, Kevin has applied a dressing of nitrogen fertiliser to his crops of wheat and grass. He has also managed to plant his peas, which will be used to feed the sheep next winter and the surplus sold to process into mushy peas, when harvested in the autumn.
Kevin has also sprayed the fields planted with a pre-emergent herbicide, to prevent the germinating peas having to cope with the weeds that will grow.
The milking cows were turned out onto fresh spring grass for the first time five days ago. There is always great excitement when the cows feel grass under their hooves after a winter under cover, so available family members and staff are called on to ensure they remain behind the electric fences, while they are kicking their heels in the air.
For a few days the cows will only go out during the day, as a sudden change in their diet is not good. David, our nutritionist, called in during the week to make adjustments to the diet we feed them overnight.
David, our student, has spent some time during the week mucking out one of the covered yards used to house the older heifers and calving cows during the winter.
During the week Richard and I were fortunate to have been invited to see The Prince Consort Dairy in Windsor Park, which followed a visit to the gardens and farm at Highgrove a few days earlier. Both visits were extremely interesting and much enjoyed by all those who attended. I will tell you a little more about what we saw next week.