I definitely can’t say yet that Spring has Sprung, but we are just starting, as I type this, to get back onto the fields. The first job of spring is always to begin applying fertiliser onto our oilseed rape. We want to wait until the plants have started to wake up and grow again, otherwise they cannot use the fertiliser, and there is a risk that too much rain will wash it away – wasting our money and also possibly causing problems further along in the water system. Although it was frosty this morning, the weather has generally been warm, and the forecast is good for next week. As always, it is a bit of a balance, because we need a certain amount of rain – about 5mm – to wash the fertiliser into the soil, but we don’t want so much that it all disappears. Hopefully all will go well, and the plants can start to grow quickly, which they will need to do to protect themselves from pigeon damage, and also to mitigate the effects of the flea beetle larvae that they all have growing in their stems.
The next job will be to start on fertiliser for the wheat, although here we only apply around a third of the total to begin with, compared with just under half with the oilseed rape. At a similar time we will be thinking about applying half the required fertiliser to our spring oat fields, and shortly after that we would like to drill the seed. By applying the fertiliser before the seed there is a nice amount of nutrition sitting in the ground, ready for the oats to use straight away. This is fairly critical for spring crops, which have a much shorter growing season, and so must hit the ground running and grow as fast as possible.
Thankfully the rabbits, which I complained about last month, seemed to have eased off a bit, and the wheat they had damaged is recovering nicely. In general the crops are looking fairly decent at the moment, although there is a long, long way to harvest – and much that can still go wrong (or right?).
Almost more of a problem has been the wind, which has made it very difficult to spray the fields after drilling, something which is very time critical in our system. This is because we do not kill off the plants already in the field, either with cultivations or chemicals, before we drill the wheat into them. This means that it is essential that we can do this before the new wheat seedlings emerge out of the ground, or else it will be too late, and the crop will be ruined. Luckily we have just about managed to find the times and places to make it work, so are about up-to-date with what needs doing.
Elsewhere on the farm the oilseed rape continues to grow, having been held back by the very dry September. Unfortunately, although it has mostly established well, we are already starting to find the larvae of flea beetle infesting some of the plants, which could spell big trouble next spring and summer. The cover crops we have planted this year are some of the worst I have ever seen, due largely to the incredible amount of wheat seeds that have germinated in the fields with them – seeds that were knocked out of last year’s crops by high winds in August. These compete strongly with any other plants, meaning that the money spent on cover crop seeds has been largely wasted.
The forecast for the next couple of weeks looks pretty good, so I am hopeful we can get the rest of the wheat in soon, and then finally the beans at the end of October. And on the bright side, the rivers and ground water have been so low, this rain really is needed. Let’s just wait until November until there is too much more, please.