Thursday, 1 November 2012

Woolly Bears, Dog and House Martins

 We are renewing some of our hen equipment with two new houses and new feeders, There are a plethora of feeders on the market, we have bought one of these Emperor feeders which so far seem robust and despite having constantly open feeders they seem to produce very little waste. Another advantage is that the feed constantly visible the chickens are more interested and take in more feed.

 The Tomatoes are out of the tunnels now ready for planting Spinach, Spring green and Salads.
 While clearing the tunnel we noticed an infestation of these woolly bear caterpillars they have been around for a couple of years in the tunnels but only this year have they been causing appreciable damage. They seen to live off anything from Nettles, Tomatoes to brassica and Nasturtium. We picked up these above from about 1m2 after the Tomatoes were removed. I have no idea what species they are but do know they develop into a small moth with red wings.
 Tomatoes picked for ripening in the greenhouse before sale on the market.
 Following the loss of my dog Millie we have bought an older trained dog to do the work. This picture is when she first arrived looking very nervous. She is much brighter now and is working sheep well. More on her later.
An image from August of the House Martins getting ready for their trip to Africa. in years gone by there would have been ten times this number but we have seen a steady decline over the past ten years. I fear the time is not long away when there may be none at all arriving in spring.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Future of food production and climate change

The year has been and still is one of the most challenging in living memory. Harvests almost without exception have been reduced and many arable farmers are struggling with sowing winter crops.
How can we secure our food supply with the rapidly changing and unpredictable climate? Every sector of Agriculture pushes itself forward as the answer to all our future unknown problems.

The large monolithic corporations claim their chemical and genetically modified systems will solve all our problems. Yet the production loss due to drought in the USA this year has not been alleviated one jot by GM crops or pesticides.
The wet year in the UK has proved difficult for both the conventional and organic sectors. Organic wheat growers are concerned about disease implications for seed raised in the wet summer while conventional farmers are struggling to harvest and sow crops with heavy machinery on wet ground.

In an unpredictable and changing world we cannot know what methods of production will succeed. One thing seems certain, a small number of widespread and uniform production methods puts us at serious risk of food shortages. The monopolistic nature of the big agribusinesses and their blanket approach to production surely risks catastrophic crop failure at the point of radical climate change.

So where is the solution, what should our food production system look like? The answer lies in diversity. The wider the range of production methods and scales the better. It would be naive to believe that we can do away with industrial production methods overnight or even in the medium term. It is equally foolish to put all our eggs in the agri corporations basket if we want to avoid the risk of acute food shortages.

Diversity is the key in our food supply network. The wider the range of methods of  production and distribution the wider the range of solutions we will have to future food crisis. Governments are always looking for the silver bullet that one solution that will solve all our food issues, the bad news for them is that life is way more complicated than that.

We need large farms, small farms, mixed farms, Community Supported Farms, Farms Shops Bio-dynamic Farms, Organic Farms, Permaculture Farms. A wide ranging and complex industry for food production and retail will provide us the best opportunity for solutions in an unpredictable future

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Autumn so far

The summer as has been documented was one of the worst growing seasons in living memory. Most crops have been between three and four weeks late right through the season. In my experience most crops catch up by mid summer but this year crops stayed behind for the whole season which effectively meant three weeks lost from the season.
Surprising for me was the fact that Leeks that need lots of daylight were early compared to last year, nothing is straight forward with organic growing. Most of our various crops are or have been harvested but production is generally much lower than previous years.

The Ram is in with the ewes and has done his job on 3/4 of them. We are looking at lambing from the end of March onwards. At the Hill Radnor show and sale I sold all the ewe lambs except one and they fetched a reasonable price. This year will see the last of the other breeds of sheep on our farm and we will concentrate on Hill Radnors.

Following the loss of my sheep dog Millie we bought a trained dog which we've called Shiv. A mature dog who initially was very shy and nervous, she was unsure of everything so was 'sticky'  when working and hesitant taking instructions. Now after four weeks of back to basics training she is starting to show what she is capable of.  

The bees have produced about a quarter of last years crop which in itself was poor. The main concern though is how well the colonies will winter. The poor summer will have meant patchy mating of queens  which could result in high losses during winter due to queen failure. There is little we can do to influence this we just have to wait and see.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

I just lost my best mate

 At just three years old we have lost Millie our working sheepdog, and companion. We had Millie as a pup and spent two years training her and she has been my constant companion in almost anything I have done for the past three and a half years.
She would do anything for me ,always was keen to please and never let me down.

Millie was gathering sheep with her usual enthusiasm and style. When and rounded a bush out of sight and must have ran into a sharp branch or similar, she damaged her skull and the vet thinks she had a brain haemorrhage. She some how managed to get back to me but collapsed at my feet. She never stood again. Millie died in my arms on the way to the vet.
We are left with a huge Millie shaped hole in our lives. Some say you only get one really good dog  in your life, if that's the case I've just had mine.

Monday, 27 August 2012

We still have four sheep from last year waiting for the Farmers Markets. These are Badger Face with one Wiltshire Horn cross, looking good with particularly neat hair or fleece style all hand finished.

Working the dog with Badger Face is different from Hill Radnors our usual breed. Badger Face will take off at the slightest approach from the dog. Seen below Millie has got them to a standstill but she has to work well back, any closer and they will bolt and they can really shift - the only sheep I've seen move quicker are the primitive sheep like Hebridean and Soay.

Late late swarms

 This year is the biggest years for swarms I've seen. 
 We just had what looked like a prime swarm land on our property in the second week of August. 

Then the next day another was spotted flying past, but they obviously had somewhere else in mind
 Once I had boxed the swarm I knew the queen was in as the workers started fanning to attract stragglers,
 You can see the Nasonov gland exposed as the bees stick their abdomens in the air and propel the  pheromone by fanning their wings. Within the hour all the bees were safely sitting in the box.

Monday, 6 August 2012

The vegetable plot

For the first time this season we are seeing a good growth rate on the vegetable plot, brassicas are moving ahead well and we should see  a  reasonable crop. The leeks are coming on, not so sure if they have enough time but we are due some warmer weather towards the end of the week.

The wet weather has been ideal for couch grass which we generally have a problem wit. These beds had to be abandoned and will be rotovated at the first opportunity during dry weath

This years lambs

Millie about to round up the lambs for a quick inspection
This years crop of lambs looking good so far, I am hoping to sell the ewe lambs at the annual Radnor sheep sales while the males will be fattened and sold as mutton

The bees have had another poor couple of weeks, I was hoping that the warm spell would continue for two or even three weeks but the weather closed in again and the bees were put back to maintaining honey levels rather than adding to any crop.
The remainder of the season now will be focused on getting the bees into the winter disease free and with ample stores.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Good, bad and lessons learned

This is the strangest season I've known  we are by my reckoning four weeks behind what we have come to regard as normal. By far the most demanding of years as almost everything has been negatively affected.
The vegetables such as carrots parsnips leeks and beetroot have been slowed down but should hopefully produce a crop they require relativity low growing temperatures. All the most marginal crops however have effectively lost a month of their growing season. While we may get some tomatoes, courgettes, fine beans and squash the shorter growing season will  dramatically reduce the harvest.

The bees have had it rough I've not lost any colonies but have had to feed once in June. The swarming this year has been phenomenal. In one apiary I had all 14 colonies swarming in July and even had a swarm issue in the last week of July.      

The sheep have enjoyed the good grass growth and we have one the best crop of lambs. The hay though still has not been cut as our contractor was away during our only (so far) good week. We're sweating on three or four consecutive rain free days, none in sight so far.

So what have we learned this year?
We have an urgent need to build diversity into our systems. the climate now can produce drought or flood, poor light levels or searing heat. To produce economic crops in these variable conditions there has to be a range of crops able to cope with these extremes.
The poor growing conditions have highlighted a fertility problem here. When there are low temperatures and poor light, fertility needs to be high in order to take advantage of  what warmth there is. Our green manure system will be incorporated with the animals (hens and sheep) to boost nitrogen and phosphate levels.   

Keeping the bees with young queens is vital in poor years, to loose half your bees and the stores to a swarm can spell disaster for the honey crop. This year has been the worst for swarming by an order of magnitude Next year we will be raising queens for all the colonies from the earliest possible date regardless of the
 age of the queen. We are aiming for each colony to have a queen of the current year and a partner nucleus hive with a young queen.

The sheep this year have done well, lambs are looking good with no signs of the fly and worm problem of last year. We have developed a comprehensive health plan with the vet and so far it seems to have produced the desired results.

We may have to look into our own hay making equipment this year, the opportunity to make good hay can have a  tiny window that small hay producers like us need to be able to respond quickly before the chance is gone. 

Thursday, 2 August 2012

New arthropod

Her is the latest in the unusual insects found in Hopesay. This one is a Pseudoscorpion, not the actual one nor I suspect the same species but pretty similar. Ours was about 3mm long and very active bombing up and down Adams'  arm with those little pincers going ten to the dozen.

The previous mystery arthropod was a snake fly, never seen by me before bur apparantly not that unusual.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Lambs weaned today

At last I ahve weaned the lambs today, a couple weeks later than planned but I should be able to put the tup in with the ewes a bit earlier this year as the ewes are in much better condition than last year. So a week or so on poor pasture before moving onto good grass should get them in condition to take the tup in late September. I may have to resort to some additional feeding if they are looking a bit thin.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Veggie progress

 They say you need a lot of water for runner beans. It all started so well with beans germinated under a cloche they seemed to be ahead of a "normal" season. Now they look battered and water logged some flower but no beans and poor lank growth.
 Since this picture was taken the weather has improved beyond recognition with temperatures above 20C every day since the weekend. So we get get some beans but not a heavy crop.
 Peas and broad beans have done better but the pollination of the broad beans has proved patchy in the later stages of the crops development, they are at the moment about or 4 weeks late.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

What is it?

 An insect found in Hopesay, not seen this one before, it can articulate its neck and seems to have a large ovipositor. Click on the image to see the detail more clearly.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Rearing Laying Hens

 We have long since raised our laying hens from day old chicks, there is a scarcity of point of lay organic hens and when they are available the cost can be prohibitive. 
One of of main problems when bringing laying hens into the flock was their susceptibility to predators such as Goshawk and Carrion Crows. They seem to be relatively safe after about 20 weeks. So to take the chicks from the small pens they share with their surrogate mothers to the open paddock we have bought at great expense this fancy new house and run. 
Once settled the broody will be returned to the flock and these 6week old pullets will fend for themselves in the front garden. Initially locked in the pen then roaming free in the garden using the pen as a night shelter.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Hand shearing, progress made

 So far all the sheep here in Hopesay are done. See here some examples of my work.
Speed is  (slowly) increasing and the amount of collatoral damage seen as small dots of blue spray are reducing.
The whole process is strangely empowering as although the time taken and cost are far in excess of contractor shearing, we now have control of timing and are not reliant on the availability of busy contractors.  
Summer and un-sheared sheep have always been a time of worry for me as a small flock keeper with the spectre of fly strike at the back of my mind. So far we have only had a single fly strike incident. One of the few benefits of this cold wet season is that the fly population like every other insect is significantly reduced. Every cloud......  

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Sheep shearing

We normally have a local guy do our shearing but this year he's retired so now we are resorting to hand shearing. With the purchase of some fancy shears we've already tackled the three tups, and will start on the ewes tomorrow.
Will post some images in the next couple of days. The Tups are done, not pretty but done and protected from fly strike for the time being.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Summer weather

Just finished laying the last bio film ready for planting, late finish as rain is closing in. This is a late year our onions and leeks not planted yet, courgettes, Marrows and squash are all in but have hardly moved in the last two weeks. We have only had two days of over 20 C during June but unlike last year we have had plenty of rain.
The weather forecast shows no hot weather for a couple of weeks and we need at least two weeks of good sunshine and plus 22 C if we are to get any reasonable honey harvest. I've bought in a number of Nucleus hives from a commercial beekeeper to see if they will produce more under these difficult conditions, time will tell.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Laying Bio Plastic for planting

After a wet April where we were unable to get on the ground there is at last an opportunity to get on the land and start laying the bio plastic mulch in readiness for planting.
Following a couple of false starts due to hydraulic problems we got off to a good start and the plastics have gone down well.
For the first time this year we are rolling the beds after they have been laid to prevent the problem of random air pockets under the mulch, so far it seems to be working well.

Millie checking the depth of the coulters and tension of the mulch

Bees in June

The season so far has proved quite promising, the hot May has starting to fill the first supers. So far we haven't had any swarms although I've had more swarms landing in my spare equipment than for years.

View from between the frames showing brace comb and reasonable bee numbers.

Supers stacked ready for the inspection

The inspection complete supers on ready for the flow and the intended extracting date of mid June

Sheep Dog Trials

Millie enjoying her trip to her first sheep dog trial
The weather was damp, rained all day with a cold wind but better fort trials as the dogs get less stressed than in the heat.
So it came to our turn. How did it go?

Well the good thing was ... nobody died, but the story goes down hill from there.

I sent her out and she doubled back to where she had seen sheep taken to the holding pen. So I sacrificed any possible points and walked her halfway up the course where the sheep were being held. Couldn't find them so I sent her on the other flank and after crossing twice she spotted the she and ran straight at them , ran round them and started pushing them the wrong way.
To cut a long painful story short we ended up with sheep scattered across the field and a stunned silence from the other competitors when I brought the run to an ignominious end.

The end I suspect of our short trialing career.

To err is human to to make a really big cock up you need an excitable collie and a handler who knows less than he thought he did

Friday, 1 June 2012

Sheep update, Hill Radnor Lambing and local Abbatoir

Lambing finished over 7 weeks ago now, the last ewe lambed a full 7 weeks after the fist. Next year we are looking to get the breeding ewes in season at the same time. The dry cold summer of last year reduced both the quality and quantity of the grass so the ewes were not in such good condition as I would have liked. The plan for this year id to reduce the flock and keep a much closer eye on the quality of feed, we will give a  supplementary feed to bring the condition score of the ewes up.

The young ewe that was very ill (previous post) has made a full recovery to my surprise. She was so ill that we left here in the back garden with no fences and she stayed put for a week or so anyway. Now she is a round as a barrel and showing a healthy interest in the Ram, she definitely needs fencing in now.

We lost just the two lambs twins still born to an unwell ewe otherwise all our breeding ewes lambed although a lot more singles than last year. Our percentage lambing was 120%  compared with 140% last year, we are hoping for better this year with the new grazing regime.

The worst news regarding the sheep enterprise this year was the local abbatoir closing at a weeks notice. It was a community based business  started 18 months ago with local farmers buying shares but it looks like we have all lost our money. More important is the loss of yet another small welfare friendly abbatoir. There is some hope that a new facility may rise from the ashes of Daysdrove.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Bees and spring

The bees so far have come through winter as a mixed bunch, we have about 33% loss this year I think through Nosema, About 33% have come through weak or under par and the other third have come through very strong in some cases more than 10 frames of bees by the beginning of march

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Hill Radnor Lambing

The lambing continuing slowly we now have four lambs, three ewes and one ram, the last two have been singles and are huge compared to last year.

All well so far with the last lamb and mother turned out in the orchard with the other lambs. Looking forward to small gangs of lambs bombing round the field.