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Gaddesden Estate Parish News February 2024

The snowdrops are out and the daffodils are poking through.  As I write, it feels like spring is on the way, with the sunshine beginning to have some proper warmth in it.

At the end of January and the beginning of February the ground was beginning to dry up and thoughts were turning to the planting of spring corn.  The following two weeks though have put paid to any such ambitions, with a vast amount of rain arriving to take us back to square one, or in some cases probably square minus one.  We have seen water standing where it hasn’t been seen before, and even coming out the ground from long-forgotten drains which have been overflowing.  It will come right in the end, it usually does, but in the meantime any thoughts of getting an early sown spring crop in the ground are well and truly put to bed.  At this rate it feels like it will be well into March before we are able to make much progress. 

In some ways this is a good thing – a poorly sown spring crop doesn’t give you any second chances, and it’s best to get it right.  With the extremes of weather that we seem to have now, it is the conditions immediately after planting that are as important as those before it – oh to be able to predict the future!

Despite the recent wet, we have managed to apply the first dose of fertiliser to the oilseed rape, which is generally the first crop to get going in the spring, and thus the first to need feeding.  In the main this looks well, and is showing definite signs of growth.  

Our experimental planting of the oilseed rape this year though has yielded what seems to be an interesting result.  We planted it back in august with some linseed at the same time.   The linseed was a variety that is usually sown in the spring for harvest that year, whilst of course the oilseed rape is sown in august and harvested the following July.  The idea behind this was to provide greater biodiversity within the field through the autumn and winter, to aid conditioning, and to confuse the pests.  So far the latter seems to be working.  Many will know that oilseed rape is a cousin of the cabbage, and it generally spends its winter rather low to the ground.  This, combined with the palatability of its leaves makes it very attractive to the pigeons, particularly here where there are woods next to every field for the pigeons to sit in.  The linseed, though is a taller and straighter plant, at least in this context, with an upright stem.  Over the winter it has been standing up a good foot taller than the oilseed rape it has been planted with.  So far, this has proved very effective at keeping the pigeons from landing in it, as they hate having wet feathers, and as such has shielded the OSR from damage.  So far it has made for a much less stressful winter, which can often be spent in a seemingly endless round of chasing the pigeons off the crop.  I’m sure it won’t last, as the linseed is now beginning to die back, but in the meantime it has proven rather successful, and a good win for alternative farming methods, if not for the pigeons…

Back at the yard the seed and fertiliser has been arriving for the spring campaign.  We will be growing both barley and oats this year.  The barley will be a mix of conventionally grown and “Wildfarmed”, whilst the oats will be organic.  This will be the first time we have grown them this way.  It will be very interesting to see how they do, and we hope for a few bowls of organic porridge in due course!  Last years organic straw has now all gone on its journey to an organic mushroom grower in Staffordshire, and there has been much sweeping up of the yard and sheds after loading the lorries.  No matter how much care is taken, there always seems to be a bit of straw blowing around for a week or two afterwards.  
Estate work
We have been busy on winter repair and building refurbishment projects whilst the farm has been quiet, together with the usual round of maintenance jobs.  As the weather improves and this year’s external decoration projects kick off, this too will get busier.