The weather over the last two weeks has been pleasantly autumnal , apart from a very hot spell of three days in the middle, when I recorded a high of 27.9C. There has been just a sprinkling of rain and a few misty mornings, but here on Manor Farm conditions underfoot are quite dry. This is a real contrast to last season when we were pulling our hair out trying to cultivate and plant all our autumn crops. However on a trip to North Devon, I arrived in sandals wishing I had brought a pair of wellington boots with me. There were many fields of cut grass waiting to be made into haylage or silage, but continual sessions of rain had meant the grass was spoiling and couldn’t be picked up.

Everyone has been very busy on both Manor and Chiverlins Farm, as all this season’s crops have been harvested and we are busily preparing the ground to plant the next ones. Preparing the ground involves a number of processes determined by the state of the soil. For example the water content, if there is compaction and the type of soil. Is it heavy clay, lighter sand or maybe a good loam? There may be weed and shed cereal seeds about to germinate or maybe there is straw debris left on the surface following harvest which may need burying and will add valuable organic matter, but could harbour a number of diseases. Therefore preparing the fields for planting there are many things to consider. If there is manure ,straw or a short term grass ley to bury it may mean that the field will probably need to be ploughed . Many farmers these days employ a method of cultivation known as minimum tillage. It is becoming more of a favoured way of preparing fields for future crops as it has benefits for both growing crops and the environment . It is also more cost effective as the number of passes over a field are reduced. On Manor Farm our soil is mainly brash, but we have patches of sandy soils and a little clay. We usually plough a field or two each year, but now tend to err towards using more min-till which is done using our cultivator with tynes, rollers and discs. If we have a large or injurious weed population, Ian will sometimes use a herbicide as well as mechanical cultivation. This year Ian has ploughed two fields; one was a short term rye grass ley, which had reached the end of it’s productive life, the other was our environmental focus area consisting of a clover mix. On Chiverlins Farm Kevin has also been busy preparing fields for planting, but he is only using the min - till.

At the beginning of the last week our forage maize crop was ready to harvest. Ian called a contractor who has a self- propelled forage maize harvester. When the contractor arrived Ian stood next to the standing crop with his arm stretched upward. Bear in mind, Ian is 6ft 5ins tall and could not reach the tip of the plants! I don’t think I have ever seen such a tall crop of maize. The maize harvester is a piece of equipment that has an insatiable appetite and in less than two hours the 20 acre field had been cut. Three trailers were used to haul the chopped maize to the storage area in one of our barns. The field being cut was next door to the barn, which made transporting the maize very easy, with no need to go on a road and the ground was dry - very different to last year! The person putting the forage into a wedge - shape was almost struggling to build the wedge fast enough and hopefully it will have been compacted enough to expel the air. At the time of harvesting an inoculant of lactic acid bacteria was added to boost the number of bacteria found naturally in the crop. This will help fermentation to go in the right direction, hopefully producing a high quality, stable silage.

On my recent walks around the farm , I have noticed the hedges are laden with an assortment of berries . There the black/ purple sloes , red haws and rose-hips, small black dangling elderberries and still some blackberries, just to name a few. Maybe, after the lovely weather we have had, the winter may not be so kind!