Issue 172 September 2022
News From The Farm
Your regular update from Nicholas
‘Keep feeding during the Autumn months - there may be plenty of food on the hedgerows, but your garden birds still need supplementary food’ Nicholas Watts

As luck would have it, we were able to benefit from the rains around the middle of the month, we had 42mm here. Between Spalding and Boston, one or two places recorded 168mm which is over 6.6ins.

Strangely enough July was not the warmest we’ve had – the average temperature was 19.5°C. 2018 averaged out at 19.8°C and 2006 averaged out at 20.3°C. Can any of you remember those two years? I can’t, but I do remember that we started picking sweetcorn early in July 2006.

August of course has been another very warm month, with an average of 19.15°C equalling 1975 and 1995 but well behind 1997 when we had 18 consecutive days when the temperature rose to 27°C or above. This August we only had eight consecutive days when the temperature rose to 27 °C or above. We had another 12mm of rain on Thursday 25th, which brings our rainfall in August to 54mm, which is the average for the month.

What's HappeningOn the farm
Red Clover

We finished harvesting wheat on August 11th. We could have finished a day earlier, but the men were given Sunday 7th off, as they had worked the two previous Sundays. The spring bean harvest followed soon after, they were a bit below average, but the wheat had been an above average yield. After the beans came the canary seed, which leaves us with six crops still to harvest. One is organic red clover – one of only three crops in the country. The seed is sold to a merchant who sells it on to other organic farmers, to sow as fertility crops. The other five crops to harvest are red millet, white millet, sunflowers, potatoes, and sugar beet. We are expecting to harvest the sunflowers in September this year, due to their early blooming. Normally it is the middle of October.

We have slipped in another crop this year – a crop of poppies. We have 30 acres in a Countryside Stewardship scheme, divided into three parts. One section has had a crop of wheat or barley on it, which will regenerate next year from the stubbles. In August of the second year, it will be sprayed off and an oil radish mixture will be drilled. During March of the 3rd year, it will be mown down to make the field bare for Lapwings. This year, plants started to grow, and we had a field of poppies which we harvested with our ordinary combine. We then cleaned the seed up in our dresser and ended up with 330kg of poppy seed. The seed is so small there are about 3,400 seeds per gram.

Quite naturally this year there is a lot of talk about climate change and how it might affect farmers, but I can’t see that we will alter our cropping in the next 30 years as in northern France they grow wheat, barley, sugar beet and potatoes, sunflowers and millet are grown in central France.

The dry hot summer has not suited the potatoes and sugar beet, the sugar beet is grown on contract at a fixed price and probably the 3rd year when we will make a loss on it so we are wondering whether to grow it again. Some of the potatoes are grown on contract at a fixed price, but about half are grown without a contract so we are hoping to enjoy a higher price than we have had during the last two years.

Wood Pigeon

Tree Sparrows finished breeding around the middle of the month, the earliest they have done so in the last 10 years. I expect this would be because insects were in short supply. It is very difficult to monitor insects, except butterflies, but knowing what the Tree Sparrows are doing gives me a good idea of what is happening to our insect population. Generally the wetter the climate, the more insects there are, so in this dry summer that would explain why they finished nesting earlier than normal.

The main visitor to my garden during August has been the Wood Pigeon, there are often 10 or 12 at our water feature, or around the pond at any one time. When I visit wooded areas on the farm, there is a chorus of singing Wood Pigeons as they are still busy nesting. It is quite common to see half of a white eggshell on the ground meaning that Wood Pigeons are still hatching. I also see Wood Pigeons carrying nesting material, so they are going to be nesting for all of September and into October.

The Pigeon family are different to most species in that they don’t have insects or meat in their diet, both of which have enough moisture to sustain a young bird in the nest. Instead, Pigeons feed their chicks grain which, at this time of year, is quite often dry, so they also have to drink a lot of water to let their digestive system mix it up to make pigeon milk. This is then regurgitated to their young.

They only lay two eggs because their digestive system can only work fast enough to provision one chick: two adults and so two chicks. They lay a white egg because they will keep sitting on it – they don’t need to lay a camouflaged egg as it takes more energy to make a coloured egg than a white egg. The second egg is laid the next day, so were you to go to a Pigeon’s nest containing young, one youngster will be a bit larger than the other.

Normally in September there are only four species of birds that are nesting on or near to our farm, Wood Pigeon, Stock Dove , Swallows and House Martins, we have a fifth species, the Barn Owl, which will be nesting in September and October if there are enough voles around. This is one of those years when there are plenty of voles around and we have at least seven pairs of the 17 pairs that we have nesting in the boxes that we have on the farm, or on neighbouring farms, that are having a second brood.

Stock Doves are a cousin to the Wood Pigeon, they are both Doves. The Wood Pigeons other name is a Ring Dove, so Stock Doves will also be nesting into October.

Swallows and House Martins usually nest well into September but all the Swallows I know of this year have now finished nesting because the plants and insects are two weeks early.

Back to Advice