Issue 183 August 2023
News From The Farm
Your regular update from Nicholas
‘During warm weather, bird baths are a great way to give garden birds a place to cool down & hydrate’Nicholas Watts

What a month here at Vine House Farm, was June warmer than July? No, if you remember the first nine days in June, the temperature only rose to 17°C. It turns out that July had an average temperature of 17°C, which is the 50 year average, but it was of course wetter than average, with 73mm of rain. There was an average of 48.1mm of rain on 16 of those days but spare a thought for the farmers and holiday makers in 2007 when we had rain on 20 days in July totalling 118 mm. May and June were also very wet with 110mm of rain in both months, a classical washout summer!

What's HappeningOn the farm
Harvest 23

July has been a frustrating month with the rape and winter barley being ready to harvest. We only had half a day here and there when we could get the combine out. I can’t remember a more frustrating July, but on looking back at my weather records, July 2007 was far worse. More rainy days and twice as much rain! The problem is that it rained on St Swithin’s day, 15th July meaning 40 days of unsettled weather. The plus side of this is that the winter barley and rape are yielding well, they had sunshine when they were flowering. President Putin has again shown us what a terrible man he is, and by bombing Odessa, he has elevated the world price of grains.

Wheat was ready for harvesting at the end of July – it never used to be. Scientists are breeding new varieties of wheat for early harvest as well as higher yield. Average temperatures have also risen which means they will ripen earlier. I remember a particularly cool summer in 1978, when the average July temperature was only 15.1°C, so we only had one field of wheat harvested by September 1st of that year.

We are hoping to grow an increased acreage of winter cover crops this Autumn, which will be sown in various fields as soon as they have been harvested. We choose a mixture containing oil radish, which has a deep tap root, and phacelia which crumbles the top inch or two of the soil. Ideal for drilling the next crop without disturbing the soil too much.

The last of the 2022 potatoes were delivered to McCains chip factory on July 18th; three of our men loaded 1,000 tonnes of potatoes in five days and nobody went home feeling tired. 60 years ago, it would have taken five men 75 days to do the same job and losing quite a bit of sweat in the process, because of the hard work involved.

Irrigating potatoes came to a halt on July 10th which meant there was more time to do some much-needed maintenance jobs. We may not like the cool July weather, but potatoes and other vegetables will be enjoying it; they can keep growing 24 hours a day. Last year was too hot for our crops, they would’ve stopped growing on at least 20 of those hot sunny days and consequently did not produce a good yield.

Weed control in our organic crops has not been very successful this spring as, when we were doing the weeding in April, it was too wet – we simply moved the weeds from one place to another and they continued growing. This year we are growing oats organically, for porridge and for oat milk, so there might well be some organic English porridge oats on sale in the Farm Shop later this year.

Peacock Butterfly

Barn Owls are having a very poor year, the worst year since 2015. Usually, a very good year is followed by a bad year. A very good year is when half of the pairs have a second brood and they have this second brood because there are plenty of voles around. The young are quite content to stop around until food gets short, then they disperse looking for somewhere that has more voles. You wouldn’t think it was possible for nearly all the voles to be eaten up in the dykes and rough grass margins, but it seems that it is.

There are others that eat voles such as weasels, stoats, Kestrels and Buzzards. All can turn to eat other things more so than Barn Owls, which are just limited to small rodents and a bird if they can catch one. Small rodents include mice in buildings which they would go for on wet and windy nights. Once the vole population has been severely depleted it takes a long dry spell for their population to recover.

Voles do not breed well in wet weather, so those Owls that are trying to feed young this month will be struggling. In an average year, we would have between 12 and 15 occupied boxes but, as I write this, we have just five boxes with eggs or young, two with eggs and three with just one young and it is possible that one or two of those young will not survive. Slightly better than 2015 however when not one pair of Barn Owls reared a chick in Deeping Fen, because of the huge amount of young reared in 2014. Despite this setback, there is no need to worry yet about Barn Owl populations, the future of voles in our countryside is good as they live on young grass shoots.

If you have a supply of water in your garden, you may well find that the bird of the month could be the Wood Pigeon. Now that there is plenty of grain available, they need to keep drinking water to make pigeon milk and if you notice them on the side of the road, they will be looking for spilt grains of wheat and barley. The pigeon family are unique in that their digestive system makes the moist food that they then can feed to their young.

Every bird has to take their young moist food as they cannot take them water and that moist food is usually insects. We are of course running short of insects and that is why several species of birds are declining. The Wood Pigeons source of food to feed to their young is guaranteed, as we are a grain producing nation and they can find a good source of water in this country, even if they have to fly two or three miles.

It is a good year for some species of butterfly; Peacocks especially but not for Tortoiseshells, they both lay their eggs on stinging nettles but must have different lifestyles thereafter. We also have plenty of butterflies in and around the Café Wildlife Garden; during the last week in July there must have been 300 butterflies on site of 12 different species. To have a variety of butterflies, we all need some diversity in our gardens, as each species of butterfly needs a specific plant to lay its eggs. Several species of butterflies lay their eggs on grasses such as Yorkshire Fog, Cocksfoot, Meadow Fescue and Tufted Hair Grass which the caterpillars feed on and we seldom see. The butterflies that brighten up our summer days then use the honey in the flowers to complete their life cycle.

Back to Advice