As I see it on the land – December 2022

Just as I thought the wheat crop was all set to grow through the winter without further attention, the agronomist arrives, inspects, and gives more recommendations. Due to the continued warm weather aphids have put in an appearance and have become a real danger to infecting the plants with disease. Luckily the wind dropped over the remembrance weekend and Mark managed to spray all the fields before the rains came on Monday. I have recorded 6” of rain this month already. The back drain is flowing over its banks at Ruckinge and the field is flooding.

Water logged fields have been one of the reasons for our latest purchase. We normally hire a digger, with driver, to carry out maintenance work on our ditches. It now costs £500 a day to hire. However, the man is often so busy with a list of work stretching weeks ahead, that he is difficult to get onto the farm when one wants a job done tomorrow!! He put one of his smaller diggers up for sale (one careful owner!!). Mark quickly agreed a sale and the machine was soon transported to Ruckinge and put to work in a field along the canal. Badgers, on a neighbours’ field, had excavated the dirt from their setts into the boundary ditch blocking the passage of water from about 5 acres. Mark started excavating mud and reed out of the ditch exposing the land drains. He bought two six metre pipes to put into the ditch where the badgers were burrowing so that the water could pass through on its journey to the canal, whilst the badgers could keep extending their homes. It was an expense we could have done without, but the water now flows freely and the drains will continue to do their job. The spoil, of which there is a lot, will get spread or moved when it has dried out next summer. One bonus was that we didn’t have to pay for a days’ hire, so have started to recoup some of the capital cost of the digger!

The green cover crops have excelled since the rains arrived and should provide some good feed for sheep in the near future. It will need to dry a lot before feeding or else it will get trodden in and wasted.

 Mistletoe. Last year I sold mistletoe from a board outside Rectory Close next to the rectory in Cock Lane. All proceeds will go to Cancer Research. If you purchase mistletoe early you must store it outdoors and keep it wet/moist. It does not like heat. It is expensive to buy at garden centres. We would ask for a minimum donation of £2. If you want to order for a specific date ring 732615.

Locked down, again. Last year our poultry spent a miserable winter in a small shed that was only meant to be a safe sleeping place. When I heard Avian Flu was rapidly increasing in the country, spreading across East Anglia towards The Thames and all around the coast, I thought it was time to say goodbye to the hens that were well over two years old and only laying a few eggs. I slaughtered those that I thought weren’t laying but retained the five best looking ones in the hope of getting a few more eggs.

The Government ordered all hens in the country to be kept indoors from November 7th. whether it was just one in somebodies garden, or hundreds on a poultry farm.

I put the 5 indoors and in the first week they stopped laying. No eggs in five days, so it was time to go.

I had struggled to find a new supplier of ‘point of lay’ pullets earlier in the summer, because the normal supplier had stopped keeping poultry, unable to cover their costs. I found a new source near Canterbury and ordered 15 birds instead of my normal 25. I could not face keeping too many indoors again so reduced the number so they were not crowded should avian flu come again. They now sit on their perches looking out of the window unable to understand why they cannot go out onto grass.

Lack of eggs in shops has been making news this week, with empty shelves or restricted purchasing. Tens of thousands of birds have been killed across the country to prevent the spread of the avian flu. Obviously, it will make a small dent in supply but I think there are about 40 million laying birds. Eggs are reportedly being bought from countries without the high standards of welfare required for poultry producers in the UK. It is ironic that there are government guidelines on how to improve the life of poultry.

Wheat prices have dropped dramatically from the high £300 in the spring and have settled to around £260 per tonne. Much depends on what Putin allows or disrupts. It will be interesting to see if this reduction is passed onto the bakers and food manufactures or retained to lift their profits. Milk no longer seems to be the loss leader that it once was. A pint now costs 89p although 4 pints are available for £1.65. Why such a vast disadvantage for a single person?

Firewood. I have 0.5 cubic metre builders’ bags of poplar/black beam logs for sale at £55 a bag. It has been barn stored for over two years. Dry, burns well, but quickly, with a lot of heat. Hard wood, burns slowly, at £75 a 0.5 cubic metre bag. I will deliver locally.

I was sorry to hear from two different campers that they had seen a black mink on the sewer alongside our drive. Not good news for wildlife.

Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.

Peter Sillibourne