As I see it on the land – September 2023

I was fully expecting to give a roundup of harvest news this month. Mother nature had a different idea with cloudy, damp weather holding us back from combining until well into August. The combine eventually got to Woodchurch to do our winter wheat which had been the first to ripen. Mark was disappointed with the quantity as it was much lower than expectations. He is reviewing the variety of wheat to grow next year after a crop of oats, in order to reduce the amount of fertiliser required. The tractor drivers had to take their laden trailers through Orlestone forest due to the main road being shut at Hamstreet. It made for a stressful journey, meeting so much extra traffic on a minor road. It is a long journey from Woodchurch to the grain store at Ivychurch.

The combine moved to Hamstreet starting adjacent to the main road and worked its way across the block of wheat towards the farm buildings. There was a sigh of relief when doing the marsh fields as the yield was much improved. We had committed a large tonnage to our grain sellers and it did not look as if we would be able to fulfil our estimate.

The combine cut some headlands so that it could be brought to the farm for safety at night. On Friday evening, I received a phone call to say some cattle had been spooked on the canal bank, jumping over the fence and out onto the road, and they had gone into the bean fields adjacent to Ruckinge canal bridge. The animals refused to be ushered back home and they were left in Harry James field along the canal track to calm down for the night. I cycled across to check the poor gates that were there, because the field had been abandoned to farming and left to grow wild. I met the owner who said they were going to be loaded on a trailer in the morning. Fine, I thought.

Saturday morning just after 10am the combine was heading out for the day cutting another swath as it went. My phone rang. ‘Shut all the gates’, I am instructed. ‘Cattle are coming through the wheat towards the farm’. Panic. Some gates were reluctant to close with grass restricting movement.

I went out into the wheat field and couldn’t see any animals. Where had they gone? I checked they were not in the caravan field. A quad bike arrived looking for them. They were huddled under a tree in the corner, but very nervous of anybody or movement. They just stepped over the fence and made off across the standing wheat field, only hours before it was due to be harvested. Unbelievable!

They came out of that field, through the next lot of wheat, jumped the sewer and headed down my drive towards Bilsington. To shorten a long story, after hours of trying to get them back to Ruckinge, they jumped the hedge at Stonebridge junction into a ditch. One failed to get out and remained there for several hours. Eventually two went up Marsh Road and straight back into the beans. One went missing and could only have fallen into another ditch whilst one headed back over the bridge and home. At 2 o’clock I headed home for a late dinner.

In the afternoon, with Sandra as my carer, we walked over two miles of ditch banks searching for two unaccounted animals. The reeds were tall, dense, and difficult to part. Nothing found. Meanwhile the animals in the ditches had been rescued and taken home. We abandoned for the day returning home just before 7pm.

Whilst eating tea the phone rang ‘you have sheep in your linseed at the Scout Hut’. Great! What a way to end the day. Off Clare and I go with me barely able to walk. When we got to opposite Noakes we found they had been driven out of the crop by my nephew, through a gap alongside a stile where dog walkers had made a large hole to enable their dogs to pass. Stephen was blocking the hole. We returned at the end of an exhausting day.

Monday morning a message on my phone said ‘all the animals have returned home on their own. They had followed the FP to Bilsington and spent the night in the grass field on the north bank’. A happy ending to a stressful episode.

Please could I remind dog owners to keep their pets under control around livestock.

Every month we have to read the water metres around the farm. We are served by a private water pipe a mile in length starting from the end of the mains on Marsh Road outside Munn Cottage. This time the dial was spinning around. We had a leak somewhere. We were losing £25 worth of water a day, which was close to a normal months’ worth.

No surface water was visible along the route. It was going to be difficult to find. The pressure was not affected at the farm. Friday morning two of us started prodding the ground every few inches. By the time we had covered the length of the drive it started raining. Sandra, my helper, had to leave for an appointment so I continued on my own along the roadside until 11.30 by which time I was wet. I walked home for a complete change of clothing. The rain ceased and we restarted at 3.30pm. After just a short while I found a small area of softer soil. I went into the adjacent field where a ditch follows along the road hedge. It was full of brambles. Having made space enough to get into the ditch I found water seeping straight out of the bank and into the ditch creating a steady flow of water. A lucky find as we could have been hours doing the whole length of road to the metre.

Mark was contacted and he stopped his work. He got the digger out of the shed. It was already loaded on a trailer, which he took to the leak. Once unloaded, within an hour he had dug a trench, found the leak, cut the pipe in half, and had applied a joiner. A very wet hole was filled with the digger, leaving the unskilled of us to try to leave the site in reasonable order and fill the hole in the hedge and repair the fence. Worried that a vehicle might come off the road onto the verge and would sink, I left two posts on the verge as markers. Job done.

Friday night, 18th, we had nearly an inch of rain which has softened the ground. Mark is currently drilling green cover crops. We have got to wait for our oats to ripen, as well as the linseed, before continuing combining.

The early test results look as if the wheat may just make milling standard, or with a small price deduction. It is likely the millers may reduce their specification since the indication is that the quality across the country is not good.

Wasps have been a real problem this year. We have had three nests under the eaves of the bungalow. All successfully dealt with. The raspberries and plums are being attacked by others flying in from afar.

Harvest news next time?

Peter Sillibourne