24 July 2013

On bale

What a contrast the weather has been this year compared to last for haymaking.
A wet summer really hampered the 'haysling' last year, whereas this year a run of fine, dry weather has allowed the process to go relatively smoothly with our hay harvest from the meadows safely cut, baled and stored by the end of last week. My thanks to the great team who worked so hard to make it all happen.
There was even time to step back and admire our hard work and I could not resist this picture of Ellie, triumphant on bales at Martins' meadows  or to put it another way - she is 'out on bale for good behaviour!'

18 July 2013

Docks (or Rumex) often go unnoticed as a component of meadow flora. Some species like curled dock (Rumex crispus) and broad-leaved dock (Rumex obtusifolius) are considered undesirable in all but the edge of meadows as they can be indicators of poor sward condition and less than ideal management – they readily colonise areas of bare ground created by over-grazing or compaction and reduce the quality of hay.

Wood dock (Rumex sanguineus) as the name suggests, can often be found at the edge of meadows growing in the shade of hedgerows

Common sorrel (Rumex acetosa) is the most typical meadow dock and is very much part of the open hay sward. Its diminutive cousin, sheep’s sorrel (Rumex acetosella) occurs on drought prone grasslands and heathlands.

At first glance, docks are rather too green or brown to readily catch the eye, but at certain times of year and when looked at in close-up, they really are quite fascinating.

As the seeds ripen they slowly flush from green to red to a rich burnt umber – almost giving the appearance of going rusty. The ‘red seed ’phase is particularly obvious in common sorrel and sheep’s sorrel, both of which can turn a meadow or heathland scarlet in early summer. The seeds of common sorrel are almost translucent hanging like strings of lanterns amongst the grass.

Each species of dock has unique shape and form of fruit. When looked at closely through a lens the ‘architecture’ of the fruit is astonishingly intricate. Some resemble shield bugs or trilobites whilst others look like a green and red fried egg on a string!

So next time you see a dock - take a moment to 'ruminate' on Rumex!


2 July 2013

Rattling around

Yellow rattle or hay rattle - Rhinanthus minor is one of the most intriguing plants of hay meadows. It is semi-parasitic on the roots of grasses and where it is abundant it can appreciably suppress grass growth. For this reason, in the past when productivity of hay meadows was so important, yellow rattle was not favoured as it reduced hay yield.

Unusually for a grassland plant, it is an annual – totally dependent on setting seed each year to survive. It quickly sets masses of seed in June – seemingly perfectly timed to precede the hay cut! 

The seed is held in the ‘balloon’ like sepals and as these dry out and the seed ripens, so the cases ‘rattle’ and the seed is shaken out in the breeze.  Hay-turning also helps scatter and spread the seed. 

Yellow rattle’s life style is well adapted to the hay meadow yearly cycle – so conserving hay meadows is key to this plant’s survival.