A golden autumn – will it carry on? The trees colour up as the life leaves them, going down to feed the roots. The mornings are quiet, without the dawn chorus. Migrating birds have left, and our winter visitors haven’t yet got here. Everything starts to settle into a new routine. I’ve seen a lot of fat healthy badgers out at night – five the other night, young ones stretching the boundaries, perhaps? I was in the garden, tending the salads I’m growing for Quickes Farm Kitchen, and heard a squawking and flurry overheard. I saw a buzzard scrapping with a heron, and the heron was driven off. Territory, I guess, and you’d think they had such different diets they wouldn’t compete.
CROPS – the harvest is almost all in, with the maize crop just harvested. That’s all our conserved crops in and the stores are looking fuller than we’ve had for years. Fodder beet remains in the ground; we grew to feed to cows overwinter. Last winter, the animals did so well on it in the open air, and it put them in harm’s way as the fodder beet can draw badgers, well and ill. We’ll sell most of the fodder beet grown around our suspect setts to an anaerobic digester, and see if we can keep badgers off the crop elsewhere.
This month, we drill all the winter barley and wheat, to get the right balance between over-proud crops going into the winter that might get mildew, and strong enough to hold the soil against the winter cold and rain. Last month, we’ve subsoiled where we needed to break any soil that got squashed with the harvesting and tending of the crop over the last year. This month, we cultivate as lightly as possible to retain organic matter and structure in the soil. We’ve realized we do need to plough every three years, to avoid grass weeds taking over. We continuing to learn the best way the nurture the soil – our soil is our most important asset.
GRASS -The grassland is in its autumn flush, responding to the moisture and coolth. The plants are feeding their roots too, the wild drive to reproduce quieted (I know the feeling). I’m really happy with the magnificent grass and clover we’re growing behind the improved fencing we’ve being doing. The fences train the cattle now to graze well, so we get clean new growth. The clover goes crazy in the autumn, almost hiding the grass. As it grows, its roots make little nodules, which host bacteria that draw nitrogen from the air. When those break down, they feed the plants around them. What I’ve always loved about being a farmer is that sense of sitting on top of these extraordinary processes where so many creatures make the world work, and observing and intervening to have it all produce wonderful food.
CALVES – The calves gain confidence so quickly. Most of this autumn’s crop are a month or more old, and already sassy. They love the cooler weather, leaping about in their evening playtime, challenging you to state your business, and would you have any milk about you?
HEIFERS – It’s funny seeing the older heifers grazing the orchards. They can’t believe their luck, and gorge themselves on apples, getting very mellow and contented; the trees are cider apples! We’ll also feed some apple pomace, left over from Barney Butterfield of Sandford Orchards pressing apples for cider. Happy heifers!
COWS -The cows settle into milking, producing a beautiful balance on the rich pasture. I love seeing their coats gleam and their shapes round up as they gain weight, also getting ready for winter.
CHEESE – In the cheese dairy, we enjoy the cooler weather. Cheesemaking becomes a joy not a challenge. Autumn grass produces some of the finest, well balanced cheese, all the better to enjoy, thinking about last year’s lush pasture. In the stores, we’ve been noticing an interesting pattern of mould on some cheese, very geometric. We look further, and these cheeses seem to be holding a slightly higher level of moisture – you learn more about cheese all the time.
We’re sending our cheese off on its travels around the world for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year, which is very exciting. I love the milk of this valley’s grass finding its way around the world as cheese.
APPLE DAY – Sunday 19th October, 11am – 4 pm – come and celebrate wonderful Devon apples at our Shop and Kitchen. We’ll have lots of Devon apples, cheese, cookery demo, activities for children, hog roast and mulled cider, entry is free. See you there!