28 July 2014

One good turn deserves another

With the recent spell of hot weather  - hay making has been in full swing.
Good hay generally takes about a week to make - so we are very dependent on a settled spell.
For example, Martins' Meadows were cut on a Monday , then turned three times (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday) to dry and make the hay and then on Friday it was all hands on deck -  rowing up, baling and carting the hay to get it all safely stored in the barn at Foxburrow Farm. This process is of course delayed if there is any rain. We all spent the week with our fingers crossed that it stayed fine and looking anxiously up at any looming cloud.

This year, I was given a lesson in turning the hay and was very pleased to spend two afternoons driving the tractor up and down with the 'Hay Zip'  (Turner or Tedder) which fluffs up and dries the hay. The picture on the right shows a 'Turner's eye view'.

The 'Hay Zip' is also used for rowing up the hay in preparation for the baler. A clever alteration of the tines from turning to rowing position, leaves the hay in rows that the baler can then go up and down.
By using a hay sledge behind the baler, bales are delivered on to the field in groups of eight which can then be collected by the bale grab and loaded on to a trailer. The picture below shows rowing up and the hay baler and sledge in action.

Hay cutting machinery is notoriously sensitive and many things can go wrong along the way so it is really satisfying when things go to plan and we end up with a sweetly- scented hay stack in the barn.

I am extremely grateful to all those who help make the hay cuts on the meadows happen each year. Tasks range from everything from servicing the machinery, getting machinery to site, operating and  mending the machinery, making sure the barn is swept out and clean for receiving the hay, knowing how to build a hay stack and unloading the bales. Invariably, the weather is sunny and warm, making the whole process a hot and generally sweaty experience and a far cry from 'one man went to mow, went to mow a meadow' - it takes a few more than that!  - So a big thank you to you all.

17 June 2014

Tall 'tails' from the meadows

The month of June sees the hay meadow grasses all racing into bloom. Walks through the meadows are accompanied by clouds of pollen being carried on the breeze. My dog  Ellie's face is lightly dusted pink and yellow with  pollen and grass anthers and we both frequently sneeze.

Many of  grasses have English names that reflect both their habitat and appearance . 'Hay' grasses often include 'meadow' in the name such as meadow barley, smooth meadow grass and  meadow fescue. Sweet vernal grass, reflects it early flowering and the sweet taste and scent it contributes to hay. Some  reflect their resemblance to other farm crops and farm animals  such as false oat grass, yellow oat grass and cock's foot (right). Yellow oat grass catches the light 'illuminating' parts of the meadow just as gold-leaf illuminates manuscripts.

Other grass are named after tails various. Meadow foxtail  (below left) acquires the two tone rusty colour and white tip of a fox's tail as it flowers.

Small cat's tail (right) does indeed look like a cat's tail  - though whether small
 refers to the size of the cat, tail or grass is open to debate!

Crested dog's tail (below centre) resembles the tail of a dog, but again I'm not sure which is crested - the dog or the grass? Ellie's tail is much closer in appearance to the meadow foxtail and if she ever goes exploring in  this grass her her tail is well camouflaged.

7 June 2014

A ragged rascal

When I was a child my granny taught me the tongue twister  -
'A round the rugged rocks the ragged rascal ran' and I am always reminded of this when the 'ragged robin' flowers in the meadows -  its  flowers almost appearing to be  'running' through the meadows.

Found in the damper areas of  meadows, marshes and fens, this distinct flower is a member of the Caryophyllaceae (Campion) family which includes red and white campion, the catchflies , the chickweeds and the stitchworts. It is the only one on the family that has these raggerty deep cut petals and is unmistakable when in bloom. Flowering at the same time as the meadow buttercup, its spiky pink  flowers contrast  dramatically with yellow haze of  buttercups -  so can be easily spotted, almost appearing to  be suspended above the meadow on its very delicate stems.

A taste of honey

It is well known that our bees are in trouble and in decline - so I was delighted to be contacted by a local beekeeper about having beehives at one of our meadows. Our herb-rich meadows are a vital source of pollen and nectar for bees so having bee hives seemed an obvious way to help and encourage bees.

For the first season the hives remained unoccupied - but then it was a very wet summer. However, last year the beekeeper introduced a swarm to one hive and this was quickly followed by the other hive being adopted unaided - so we have full occupation.

It is a joy to see the hives in action and there is no doubt there is plenty of flowers for the bees to visit and this year we were rewarded by being given the first fresh honeycomb by the beekeeper. I have not yet started my honey but I am sure it will be suffused with buttercups, green-winged orchids and red clover.

We are very grateful to Neil Page who is the beekeeper -  both for the honey, but more importantly for establishing bees at the meadows and regularly visiting to make sure they are still doing well. Having bees at the meadows seems somehow to make the meadows complete and is a great reward and motivation for maintaining the meadows in good condition for wildlife.

24 April 2014

'Pearing up'

In the last week or so, we have been experiencing some glorious spring weather, with clear blue skies providing a striking back-drop to emerging blossom and leaves.

The clouds of white flowers on the orchard pear trees at Martins' Meadows really caught my eye -  particularly when pictured close-up.

Even now, at this early stage in the year you can already see  the immature pears taking shape behind the blousy flowers.
Not possible to show on a blog - but when I visited, the blooms were alive with the sound of bees - so hopefully there will be  good pollination and the promise of a good harvest if the sharp night frosts didn't catch the trees.

6 January 2014

Midsummer in Midwinter

Over Christmas and New Year, I have been helping out with checking the Suffolk Wildlife Trust livestock.

With the grass no longer growing, it is necessary to supplement the grazing with hay. Most of the hay we are feeding was harvested from the  SWT hay meadow reserves back in July.

On a cold and frosty or wet and windy morning in December - the warm sunny days of hay-making are  rather a faded memory - but as you cut open the bales into the in the hayracks, it is like cutting into a slice of midsummer in the midwinter. The scent of the hay and the  many flowers and grasses clearly visible momentarily  recapture July. Knapweed, clover, yellow rattle, sweet vernal grass, meadow barley and crested dog's tail are all easily discernible - the plants of summer immortalised in a bale, providing a welcome hay feast.

2 December 2013

Winter colour

During the short days of November and December when the skies are often wood pigeon grey - it hardly seems to get light. Low light levels seem to make the world a rather drab place and it becomes harder to find inspiration and solace. However, look closely and both can still be found - all but on a subtler scale than during the blousy, carefree days of summer.

Vibrant lime-green mosses seem to almost shine in the grass, re-hydrated and easier to see in the shorter aftermath grazed sward. The bare branches of shrubs and trees are more clearly visible now the leaves have fallen and mosses and lichens are much more apparent.

Micro-carpets of mosses are almost like velvet on tree branches and lichens appear like splashes of yellow ochre or flaking Verdi-gris - all providing winter colour on a micro-scale.