The first half of July was warm and dry, however we had a shower on St Swithin’s day and it has rained ever since. We have been lucky here at Vine House Farm and have missed some of the heavier showers, making our July total 66.7mm or 2.6ins. Despite the cool second half of the month, July has been warmer than average, with a mean temperature of 17.5°C. The coldest July that I recorded was in 1980, when the mean average was 14.15°C and the warmest July I recorded at 20.3°C, was in 2006. Can you remember either of those two months?
We were looking at an early harvest but it has now been delayed by the wet weather.
We were, however, able to harvest 70 acres of wheat and 50 acres of peas during July. At the moment, the quality is quite good but if the changeable weather continues, the quality will deteriorate.
As far as I can remember, it is the first time we have been harvesting wheat in July, since 1976. That year we finished the wheat harvest on July 31st.
Our organic wheats are grown for seed for other organic farmers to sow on their farms. Some of our conventional wheat crops are destined for milling, to make flour for bread.
We get a premium of £25/ton for the seed crops if they can be sold for seed and a premium of up to £30/ton for milling wheat, depending on the year and the weather. Any crop is at its best when it has ripened, after that it gradually loses its goodness.
Wet weather will stop us harvesting of course, and, in extreme cases, wet weather can bring our wheat crops down to a poor quality feed wheat and then all the premiums we were hoping for vanish, so as you can imagine we don’t want wet weather at harvest time.
Most of our other wheat is grown for the animal feed market. This means that the quality criteria is less of an issue and we aim to get slightly bigger yields from these varieties.
The wet weather might have spoilt your holiday if you were holidaying in the UK, but it has ensured there will be a big potato crop. This means that prices will come down and our profits on potatoes will be slim this year.
Due to the warm spring and early summer, all of our crops are looking at being ready earlier than average. This includes our sunflowers, which didn’t want the recent rain, and as they are in flower one week earlier than usual, they wanted sunshine as every crop does when it is in flower.
The star visitors of the month to the farm were two Whinchats. I saw them on July 15th and they stayed for three days. I see a Whinchat about once every three or four years and have never seen two on the farm together. They are a small bird about the same size as a Robin and are related to a Robin. They breed in the North West of England and Scotland; they would be on their way to Africa, south of the Equator, to spend the winter.
Star bird of the area was a Caspian Tern which appeared on the nearly dry gravel pit, in Baston Fen. It stayed for most of a day but was gone the next morning. Annually, only around two Caspian Terns are seen each year in the UK, so no wonder a crowd soon gathered at the gravel pit that Saturday afternoon.
The breeding season is now over for most birds, but some pairs of Tree Sparrows will go on until the end of August. Swallows and House Martins will go on into September. They are able to feed their youngsters later than all the other insectivorous birds, because they live on the last stage of the insects life, the flying stage.
The breeding season is ending, because insects have reproduced, the adults die off and by September there aren’t enough insects around for birds to feed on. Their progeny winter as eggs or larvae and they will hatch out or wake up when the correct temperature is reached in the spring. Wood Pigeons will continue to breed as long as they have a source of grain, which they mix with water to make pigeon milk, which is regurgitated to their young.
Who would have thought 20 years ago that there would be Ravens in Deeping Fen? They have been around now for at least two years and are one of a growing band of predators we never used to have 30 years ago. On the farm this summer I have seen Ravens, which must have bred locally, whilst Marsh Harriers and Buzzards have bred on the farm. Kites are seen every day in the sky, so they will have bred locally too. Carrion Crows and Magpies are everywhere and there are plenty of Foxes and Badgers around too.
One of the main reasons this has come about is due to the pheasants that have been reared all over the country for commercial shoots. Apparently 40 million of these half sharp pheasants are released into the countryside every year. They get run over, they get ill and get wounded by shooters which provides all those predators that I mentioned with a surplus of food and any animal or bird that has a surplus of food will increase in numbers.
There is one more species that I haven’t mentioned, the Lesser Black Backed Gull, a very smart looking bird that we are seeing more and more. They have had plenty of food from all the outdoor pigs in Norfolk all through the year and also the afterbirth and dead young Common Seals that are breeding on the out marsh in the Wash. 3,000 pairs have nested on the outer bund in the Wash for the past 20 years and now they have spread inland with 40 pairs nesting at Deeping Lakes this year. They are everywhere and they require food such as carrion, live animals and birds as well, whatever they can grab. With modern agriculture being unfriendly to wildlife, every car being a fly swatter and all these predators about no wonder our farmland birds are declining.
Talks, Events & Walks
The British Birdfair Rutland Water
Friday, August 18th to Sunday, August 20th
Stand 1, Marquee 7