Issue 158 July 2021
News From The Farm
Your regular update from Nicholas
‘The varying temperatures take their toll on breeding birds - too cold means no insects and too hot means no water. We must provide for their needs’Nicholas Watts

I am thinking what a shocking June we have had, but our average temperature was 1°C warmer than normal, here in South Lincolnshire. The first two weeks were brilliant, but we hardly saw the sun during the second two weeks. With the 37mm or 1.5ins of rain that fell on June 18th, the rainfall totals added up to 56mm or 2.2ins, just a bit above normal.

What's HappeningOn the farm
Our new Farm Shop & Café

We opened our new Farm Shop & Café on Thursday 10th June, and we’re pleased to say it has been busy every day. We’re open from 8am until 5pm Monday to Saturday, and 9am until 4pm on a Sunday. Those of you who come a long way, or make a diversion, to pick up bird seed can now have refreshments whilst you are here. We have an outdoor terrace which overlooks the pond and garden area, where it was very pleasant to be for the first week, but not so pleasant since, due to our miserable June weather!

Our ancestors told us that a cold, wet May means plenty of corn and hay. The grass fields have plenty of lush grass in them, but making a good crop of hay these last two weeks has not been possible; we need sunshine to make a good crop of hay and a good crop of corn. All our crops are looking very well, because of the adequate rain we have had.

It is not all about how much rain we have, it is also how much evaporation we get. For instance, since we had 37mm on 18th June, there has been no sunshine and it has rained or drizzled on most days. If the sun had been shining and the wind blowing for the past week, we would have been saying we shall soon be needing another rain. All our crops now need sunshine to yield well. The energy from the sun is received by the plants, filling the ears of the wheat, and the pods of the peas and beans. No sunshine and the ears and pods only get half filled.
Potatoes do not need the sunshine that our grain crops do. Their roots don’t go as deep and so they like rain on a more regular basis; that is why when you see irrigation in progress, it is usually on potatoes.

We are growing another crop of quinoa on our organic land this year. As yet, we’ve not been sent any of our own grown from last year to sell in our shop. It didn’t break any records last year, but it is worth another go.

In all of our crops, it is a constant battle against weeds. Our agronomist comes and tells us what chemicals to apply, which makes the job of killing the weeds quite easy if we follow his instructions. I haven’t seen or heard of an agronomist for organic farming yet, as he cannot sell us any chemicals, so we have to tend to the organic land ourselves. Cultivations and a good rotation are our usual tools of weed control, as well as rogueing, which means walking through the crops and pulling up those unwanted plants species that can make a big yield difference, such as wild oats. It is quite possible to eliminate wild oats by rogueing them every year. No rogueing for four or five years and we would soon have a field full of wild oats. Most of our organic cereal crops are grown for seed – for other organic farmers to sow, for which we get a premium of about £25 /tonne, if there were wild oats in a sample of wheat or barley, we would not get that premium.

Green Sandpiper

The Vine House Farm garden has been very busy, live mealworms have been the star attraction; I feed them in a cage which only lets the smaller birds in. We have Sparrows, the Tit family, Robins, a Wren, a Dunnock and Chaffinches feasting on them this year. Blackbirds and Starlings have to make do with suet pellets and soaked sultanas. It is more than make-do, they are doing very well on them. They are also fed in a cage so that the Wood Pigeons and Jackdaws can’t get at the suet and sultanas.

I find that the feeding area is so much better without those bigger birds. When it comes to feeding, the smaller birds just have to move out of the way when the bigger birds arrive.
Tree Sparrows were not doing very well in May, quite simply because of the cool, wet weather. They only had broods of two or three. In the good weather, during the first half of June, broods of five and six were common, but now they’re back down to three or four because of the terrible June weather. Quite simply, during cold weather birds need to eat more food. When our central heating clicks in, it is bad news for nestlings.

On our wetland, Autumn migration has already begun. A Green Sandpiper was present on June 25th, no doubt one that failed to breed, so it thought it would head south. Redshanks have done well, I have seen several youngsters. I have also seen a few young Lapwings but no young ducks more than about a week old, they are easy prey for Herons, Marsh Harriers and Lesser Black Backed Gulls. Young Lapwings are good at hiding when danger appears, as are Redshanks, but whilst ducklings can dive under water, their hiding skills aren’t good.
About 8 years ago, a pair of Lesser Black Backed Gulls bred amongst the Black Headed Gulls and Common Terns at Deeping Lakes, which is a nature reserve near Deeping St James. Over four or five years, their numbers have built up to more than 50 pairs and there are now only two pairs of Terns and a few pairs of Black Headed Gulls nesting with them, which are not expected to be successful. We see Lesser Black Backed Gulls over our wetland, where they have been seen flying away with an egg and over our reservoir where we have a colony of Black Headed Gulls and Common Terns. Their presence is not good news!

Barn Owls are breeding; about half of them are on eggs and half of them have young. Vole numbers must be low, as those pairs still on eggs delayed breeding. More about the Barn Owls next month.

Birds of prey are doing well in the UK as we are feeding them, not usually intentionally though. There is plenty of food at the free range chicken fields, where they pick up eggs. There are also millions of game birds reared annually, which make an easy meal for birds of prey as well as foxes, badgers, stoats, pine martens and mink. We also serve the crow family breakfast on the roads with them.


Farm Walks at Vine House Farm
We’re pleased to announce that we will be offering a few Farm Walks this year.
Saturday 24th July
Saturday 7th August
Saturday 14th August
Tickets are £14 per person & will include a voucher for our new cafe. Tickets & more information available on our website or by calling
01775 630208

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