Monday, 18 November 2013

Ooh Arr, It's Cider Making Time and Ted and Poppy Start To Settle Down

I've been up to my armpits in college assignments today. This involved a trip out to a friend's farm for me and Ted this morning. The friend was, until recently, an organic beef farmer, but, tiring of the hoops one has to jump through continually in this country to remain organic and be a viable business, he is now using direct drilling methods instead of ploughing to sow arable crops. In this way he hopes to improve the structure of his soil and its fertility and eventually reach the same stage of soil health he would have had had he remained working the land organically. Really interesting (to me, anyway). 

It was a very useful hour spent tramping across the fields looking at winter barley which had been direct drilled over last year's crop of winter wheat- the theory here is that the remnants of the previous crop lends protection and warmth to the soil (ie reducing erosion) as well as providing the worms with nutrients in the form of organic matter to gradually fold back into the soil.

He has also sown what's called a Green Manure Winter Cover Crop (a mix of tillage radish, black oats, mustard, sunflower, buckwheat and phacelia). They are increasingly being used to improve soil condition as they act as a layer of natural protection against the ravages of winter weather and then in the spring provide a nutrient-rich mulch when they're drilled through, so you shouldn't need to load the land with a heavy chemical fertiliser in order to make the soil productive. As the topsoil isn't being disturbed by ploughing, all the decomposers (fungi and bacteria) that are so vital for releasing carbon back into the soil, as well as the bacteria that fix nitrogen in it are still present and able to get on with doing their jobs as intended. Marvellous! How nice to see and hear a story of someone listening to his land and working with it to make things better.

The idea of sowing a crop to feed the land instead of harvesting it to feed people seems a novel one but it's something I am very interested in because it has huge potential benefits not only in terms of soil structure and productivity but also for our wildlife. It provides both cover and food- the mix flowers and seeds at different times, which is great news for pollinators.

The straw from last winter's wheat crop is visible in the strips with the new crop of winter barley green all around it

Last winter's straw lies flat on the earth protecting it from erosion, keeping it warm and providing nutrients for the worms to work back into the soil slowly.

Green Manure Winter Cover Crop

Tillage radish- part of the green manure crop

Organic Matter ready for the worms to take back into the soil

Direct drilling machine

These discs make slices into the earth that the seeds then drop in to. That way great big furrows that really disturb the structure of the soil are avoided.

The back of the drill has strips of metal that then nudge the earth back over the seeds

Hope you've enjoyed your Lesson In Agriculture for today. If you are one of the lovely folks who reads this outside the UK you may well be pretty familiar with these methods already- they have wide use in South America and Australia. The UK really needs to catch up. It's all good stuff in the fight against Climate Change too.

After that the day was spent mostly writing and taking Poppy out for wees every hour. She has asked each time by going to the back door and staring at it. Not bad for someone who has only been on the planet for 8 weeks. We've had no accidents at all today, and EVEN BETTER, Ted has been decidedly less grumbly with her. 

Today she has learnt that leaves in the garden make great stalking and pouncing things, that she is frightened of crows cawing as they fly overhead, and that, if next door's machinery suddenly kicks noisily and unexpectedly in to life, Ted is the person she makes a bee-line for because, despite the growls, he makes her feel safe. She's also learnt that it is Great Fun to pounce on and bite feet, all the more so if they have socks on which she can grab and run backwards with while growling. 

She's done her First Official Woof today, at Cleo of all people. Cleo just has to stare at her and Pop's skids to a halt and does a mad scramble backwards to get out of her way. Evidently she felt she should express her feelings about Cleo's unfriendliness, because once she'd got out of reach and had found the safety of dad's (M's) feet, she peeped out from behind his legs and did a small but distinct woof.

I dropped in to see my pals Mr and Mrs M en route to collect L from school this afternoon. They were busy making cider in their front drive (as you do). They couldn't have looked more like a pair of Old Country Yocals if they'd had dungarees on and a straw sticking out of their mouths.

They bought their cider press a few weeks back and have already had delicious apple juice from it (I was offered a sample but sadly declined as apples are not friends with my stomach) and some cider. M's last attempt at cider making was a complete disaster, darling (as Craig would put it- my wasn't Strictly good coming from The Home Of Ballroom on Sat?), so he'll be interested to sample some of theirs.

Here they are, happily squashing apples together. I couldn't help but feel that Mrs M had come off worst in the job-apportioning stakes as she was getting covered in spits of wet apple every time Mr M squished one by wielding the highly technical apple-splatting-log. 
She's coming round to admire her new niece tomorrow and bringing Ted's pal Oscar, so he can have some Grown Up Dog Company and go out for a Nice Mature Walk off the lead with lots of Interesting Smells, which is what dogs like Best Of All....

The apple press

Ahh, happy cider making pair
Apols for the appalling quality of the photos, I only had my mobile on me and I felt it was an occasion that required Capturing For Posterity...

I'll leave you with some better pics of Mrs Small (aka Poppy), who is currently busy savaging a giraffe at my feet...She has encountered Rain for the first time today, and was fascinated by it.



  1. Ahhhh indeed! She's the darling. Glad she's settling in.

    1. I am not getting much done in the way of work at the moment....

  2. We have farmers here too that have had to stop growing organic too. It is interesting to hear about the drilling method. We have often thought of growing green manure in our vegetable patch but have always left it too late. How clever Poppy is not to make a mistake today, glad she is settling in well and Teddy and Cleo are getting used to her. The cider making looks fun hope they produce a good vintage! Sarah x

    1. I'm immensely encouraged that direct drilling and green manure may be a way of getting healthy soil back- just hope more farmers consider it. It's a long term commitment which only works if you own your land or have a long lease, but it's a good place to start :-)

  3. I am very much of the opinion that one of the very best things in the world is witnessing a new world inhabitant, either animal or human, discover something new about the world for the very first time. A constant joy to behold! May you enjoy many more Poppy-watching moments over the next few weeks! X

    1. It certainly opens your eyes to familiar things, which I think is good for all of us from time to time.
      She is a joy to have in the household: a ray of light x

  4. Nice to know that not every farmer only cares about getting as much as possible from the land and using every last centimetre square of soil! Good luck to him when he is trying to help the land and wildlife!

    Poppy looks nice and settled! Lovely tales of cat encounters and it is so sweet that Ted makes her feel safe! Bracken still pounces on things like he is 2 months old! More Poppy and Ted photos please :) x

    1. He certainly deserves to do well given the amount of careful reading and research he's put into it all.
      You may regret asking for more photos..... x

  5. Very interesting post CT :) Good luck to the farmer!

    Glad to hear Poppy is settling in so well - she is a picture of cuteness (definitely not going to let my daughter see the pictures!!!! otherwise puppies will be back on Christmas lists :) )

    Cider making looks fun although more hard work than winemaking!!!

    1. I felt very encouraged talking to him. He's a proper custodian of the land, which was previously looked after by his mother, who was another good soul.

      I know what you mean about photos of puppies - Poppy is here largely because Mrs M started talking to me about their new one (who arrives this fri). And today at the vets one of the receptionists told me she is getting two new pups after seeing Dylan! It could stretch round the world.... :-)

  6. Great info on the farming methods and loved the cider press photos. Poppy is a little love and doing lots of puppy things but I don't think barking at the cat is a good idea-bound to get her a swift paw and claws battering on the nose!
    Ha ha, I copied this reply before trying to post it-and glad I did-my second attempt has got me signed in as SeagullSuzie.

    1. I like the fact it's an old fashioned wooden one- much prettier to look at!
      Wonder what is up with blogger? :-)


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