April is a cruel month on farm for Andrew Charlton

In The Waste Land, poet TS Eliot wrote that “April is the cruellest month” – and I am in no position to disagree. The dry conditions I referred to in my last article have persisted and spring-drilled crops are gasping for moisture. I have also noticed aggressive feeding by pea and bean weevil much earlier than ever before – I’m sure my old entomology textbooks, which were up to date in the early 1980s, said that weevils hatch in July, but I have noticed them actively feeding in mid-March this year, which is damaging for slowly emerging clover seedlings.

A new enterprise has been added on farm this spring: a small flock of free-range chickens, using the semolina – the grade of milled grain in between bran and flour – from our grain milled at our local windmill, Denver Mill. This product was being dumped before the miller and I jointly had the brainwave to turn it into eggs for them to use in their baking.

In the event that it does ever rain again, I will soon be sowing wild bird seed mix as winter cover in two blocks as part of my Organic Entry Level Stewardship (OELS) scheme. The list of suitable species to put in this mixture is pretty narrow. I usually opt for kale, mustard, quinoa and a bit of barley as a carrier. Unfortunately, the resulting crop is usually disappointing as establishing small seeds in dry soils is hard to do and mustard usually ends up dominating.

I had a day’s shooting as a guest on a local shoot back in the winter with no stewardship and only blocks of maize as cover and the quantity of wild and game birds was amazing. I am also going to try some small blocks of maize as additional cover this winter, but this will be outside of OELS as Natural England seems to be fairly biased against it.


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