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Farm Diary June 2020 30 Jun 2020 (Farming with Nature) Sainfoin the miracle crop, blackbird and evening primrose... latest from Robert Crocker

June started as hot and dry as May ended - the spring flush of grass did not materialise. As the ground gave up its last drop of moisture, large cracks appeared on the heavy land… whilst on the lighter fields both grass and cereals are dying back. I make the decision to cut our modest crop of red clover and ryegrass, along with the sainfoin. There is so little moisture in the crop that rather than leaving it to wilt for a day or two (as would be the norm) it is baled and wrapped the following morning. If the weather does not break soon, these bales (destined to be winter feed) may have to be fed back to the cows imminently, in order to supplement the lack of grass.

Wrapping the bales in plastic (recycled after use) allows anaerobic fermentation to take place, after a few weeks the bales, when opened, smell sweet and appetising. Red clover and sainfoin are rotated around the arable acreage. Both are legumes, absorbing atmospheric nitrogen and fixing it by means of root nodules… thus making free nitrogen fertiliser, the companion grasses utilise the nitrogen. Red clover likes the heavier land, whilst the deep rooting sainfoin draws moisture, minerals and trace elements from the lighter soils. Despite the drought, the sainfoin is still waist height.

Sainfoin was once a popular crop across the Cotswolds (pre ammonium nitrate). It is now the wonder crop for organic farmers. You may have seen it growing as you walk along the coffin path between Church Hanborough and Long Hanborough, past Pinsley Wood. This tall pink flowering plant attracts many insects, particularly bumble bees. Made in to hay or haylage, it is a high protein feed with the added bonus of having anthelmintic properties (a natural wormer) Since growing the crop, I have used no synthetic wormers, supplementary minerals, nor do I need to feed cereals to the cows or calves. When ploughed up after three or four years, the subsequent crop of cereals benefits from the improved soil structure and fertility.

After only one week with the cows, one of the bulls is lame, almost certainly due to the rock-hard ground conditions. He takes himself off to a shaded part of the field to recuperate.

In the tithe barn, the swallow fledglings practise their flying between the beams; there are too many to count and there will be other clutches to come.

The weather has changed from the searing heat but, still no real rain, just the odd shower. On 17 June at 3pm, it started and rained all the next day, at least an inch in total! The smell of rain on the parched ground is wonderful. The swallows fly low, under the bellies of the cows, as they feast on insects. It is too late for the fortunes of the cereal crops but, if the temperature stays moderate, the grass will start to re-grow and, perhaps, we can make hay in July.

The blackbird wakes at just after 4am and serenades us with his last song at almost 10pm, just as the evening primrose unfurls its nocturnal flowers. Philadelphus scent fills the air and a calf calls to its mum. The emergence of the pipistrelle bats mark the end of a long, perfect, June day.


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Eynsham NewsGarden Village - have your sayEynsham Image ArchiveLocal Covid Response