Easter has come and gone, and so have the best of the daffodils.
They’d started to wilt by Easter Sunday, hastened by a few night frosts. But tulips in the garden are flowering in glorious technicolor and primroses around the farm are still thriving. There seem to be more clumps of them in ditches and on banks than ever before. And cowslips are just coming into bloom alongside them. Hedges turned from brown to green in two or three days and trees are budding up ready to come into leaf at any moment. Some of the flowering varieties are already full of blossom.
Pigeons and collared doves have started nesting in the trees and bushes around the farmyard, and pheasants have paired up. Some of the females have begun laying, while the cocks wander the fields alone. Song birds, too, are getting ready to lay their eggs and I’ve seen several collecting materials for nest building. The RSPB counted 53 species of wild birds on this farm a year or two ago so we have plenty to watch. And from these observations I estimate spring is three to four weeks earlier than usual this year.
In case you’re wondering if this column has turned into “Gardener’s Guide” or “Twitcher’s Twitter” I assure you it has not. I take notice of the state of the crops as well. More on them in a moment. But I never tire of the miracle of nature as plants and woodlands burst into life when temperatures rise and the countryside comes alive again after winter – and I see no reason not to mention the fact. Indeed, it’s almost compulsory in these days of cross compliance and the Campaign for the Farmed Environment. And perhaps it proves there’s a warm heart beating beneath this grizzled breast.
It also confirms, I suppose, that spring is my favourite season – even this year, despite the drought, the hosepipe ban and the forecast of another dry summer. But we had 23mm of rain the week before Easter, a further 6mm over the holiday weekend and unsettled days since. Of course, that’s not enough to correct the cumulative deficit and the subsoil is still dry, leaving crops to survive on topsoil moisture. But so far, April has brought showers and longer periods of rain, as it is supposed to and it’s difficult to be too pessimistic.
Our wheats and winter barleys had their second top dressing just before the Easter rain, which must have been washed down to the roots. We also applied a dose of fungicide to control early rust and it appears to be working. The early drilled sugar beet are up like soldiers along the rows, giving them the chance of a longer than usual growing season. We often don’t finish drilling them until early April and they’d emerged by then this year. So, yield prospects should be good.
Across East Anglia, winter-sown oilseed rape has never looked better. Crop establishment last autumn was early and virtually perfect and pigeon damage has been minimal, mainly because there was so much alternative food for them to eat through the winter, but also because full plant stands left nowhere for the birds to land. And here we are, the week after Easter and the crop is in full flower.
Spring work is all up to date. As I write it’s trying to rain again. And the farms around here look OK. Who knows what future weeks will bring? But we’re in respectable order at present.
David Richardson farms about 400ha (1,000 acres) of arable land near Norwich in Norfolk in partnership with his wife, Lorna. His son, Rob, is farm manager.