Nothing beats a bit of “slow farming”. We’ve done weeks of rushing round like mad things with high-speed drills and even faster 24m sprayers (yes, I know that’s small these days, but we’re still old-fashioned round here; we’ve only just heard Mafeking has been relieved).
But we’ve just had the perfect opportunity to go all Caramel Bunny, and take things a bit easier.
See also: Read more from Charlie Flindt
What you need is 70 acres of permanent pasture that is now free from any scheme.
(Why no Mid Tier? Something to do with the email that said, yes, we’d have to stick to the restrictive management rules for the months leading up to a decision on our application – which could well be “no”. Madness.)
It’s pasture that is going to be free of livestock for a season, and have a “clean-up” cut of hay or silage off it. So it has also had a proper dose of fertiliser and a good scarify.
Then the slow stuff really starts. Round the back of the barn is the 3m slitter, which gets mounted on the front linkage and is weighted down with some water – although the soft ground didn’t really need it.
Now it’s time for some real history. Parked up in the corner of the biggest pasture is the 8ft, 3½ ton heavy roller. It’s been here as long as I remember, and the shaft’s play in the bearings testifies to its age.
You tow it with a special narrow pin in the lower link bar, and the concrete-in-iron sections clonk ominously as you trundle cross the field.
The acres pass slowly beneath at three-and-a-bit mph (and even then I could hear ghostly voice shouting: “Slow down, boy!”), but you become accustomed to the pace.
Back in the day…
You feel as though you’re checking every square inch of the field; you spot fallen trees, drunken fence posts, weeping troughs. How do the 10,000-acre farmers do that?
You mull the ridges and furrows, still showing from ploughs of old. Were they Second World War, as Dad always said?
But they seem to go through the Victorian Jubilee plantations, so must pre-date them. Might they link to the 1616 open-field map of Kilmeston I stumbled upon while internetting the other day. Who knows?
Hazel and I agreed to work shifts to minimise the tedium, and I drew the early Saturday morning slot, by which time we’d got into the little valley where the grass is best for hay.
North for five minutes, lift the slitter, wide turn, then lower the slitter, and head south – but remember the roller is 8ft, not 10.
It’s worth jumping out for a back stretch every hour, not least to close your eyes and slide your feet from rolled to unrolled to see if it’s working.
Could I feel any difference? Yup. With a smile I climbed back in to the tractor and switched on some music.
The Joe Bonamassa CD seemed a bit inappropriate, so I flicked to Classic FM, just in time to catch Bach’s St Matthew Passion. As Wir setzen uns mit Tranen nieder thundered majestically from the three-way Alpine speakers, the April sun fought its way through the mist.
It lit up Hinton Ampner House at the top of the hill, surveying the hay field like the benevolent private landlord we once knew. A golden farming moment.
Finally, the old roller was hitched off, to continue its lonely vigil in the nettles under the trees, watching the world go by, awaiting – perhaps – news of Baden-Powell’s safe return.
Fast agriculture beckoned again – big booms, high speed. I’ll miss my Caramel Bunny farming.