The summer is slowly cranking up – we are past the longest day.
The mad rush of spring catching up on lost time after our extended winter - everything from March to June happening at once - has quieted. Now we want the sedate and orderly progression of seasons. As farmers, we are so reliant on the weather happening at the right time in the right order. We sit on top of natural processes, imagining we control them. The weather gave us a little slap to remind us who’s boss.
Last month, we had a lovely Open Farm Sunday. Thanks to everyone who came, we all enjoyed showing off what we do on the farm. The highlight was when three children told Hamish they wanted to be farmers when they grew up: made it all worth it, as he said. It’s a huge privilege for us to grow delicious food in a lovely place, with the endless fascination of working with those natural processes.
I saw a big dog fox ranging the long grass of the cow pastures: he looked round at me to see if I posed any risk, then went on his way. On the other side of the copse, moments later, I saw a half grown fox cub skittering around in dust and sunbeams. He saw me & dashed into the bushes. I had a watched feeling as I went past, as if he were in there, learning where to put me: threat, fun or food.
We are looking at the hangover from the difficult weather. All the winter and early spring sown crops look mangy, gaps where there should be crop, fields ranging from almost OK, to gappy, to one field with almost total crop failure. It doesn’t help that we’ve counted more deer than we’ve ever seen, 200 red deer in one field at the top of the farm – a lot of extra mouths for the farm to feed. Yields will be down – what gives yield is all the ears looking regular and orderly, the field looking replete and full. We’ve also sown spring barley where we couldn't get the winter wheat in, and the shorter growing period gives a lower yield. The rest of Europe sounds like the crops are doing well, so prices have dipped too – hey ho, no-one said it was easy.
The maize is the bright spark – fields looking even, a beautiful carpet of pale green against the soil, gradually filling in the gaps till there is a forest you can sit under, broad leaves almost visibly and audibly growing. It reassures us that we can get things to grow – it knocks your confidence in yourself when try as you might, it doesn't work.
The grass is growing, and we’re hoping the lack of a peak for growth in May will give us longer spring-like growth to refill our silage stores. The first cut of silage normally fills several bays – this year, it was a little sparse, so we will look to harvest a second cut this month. Our plans for the future are to grow more grass on the same area and stock more tightly with more dairy heifers (breeding less beef animals from our dairy cows). So we are slowly improving our fencing and sharpening up our grass management to take us forward.
The dairy heifers are catching up from their lacklustre growth over the last year. We are weighing them to be sure: they all have shiny coats, a good sign, but it’s good to cross check with what is actually happening.
We weighed the cows, too and discovered the spring herd is a little lighter than we thought they were – partly the late spring, but largely we have bred them a little smaller over the years to be happy with grazing early and late in the season. Smaller cows are hardier, and lighter cows put less pressure on the ground at muddy times of year. We had a visit from some dairy farmers from Pembrokeshire, where they know about cows and grass, and they praised how our cows looked. Again, good to have that affirmation when it’s been a tricky year. The cows are carrying on milking well – like the grass, a lower peak, but more persistent.
We've done some work on our milk to handle it more gently, pumping it more evenly out of the parlour and bottom filling the milk tank rather than dropping it from the top. The milk doesn't foam up, which was a sign that the fat particles are getting damaged. The milk is making well into cheese, so I’m looking forward to tasting the cheese when it comes through – I will look for greater roundness and balance in the flavour at the end of the flavour.
Janine Watkins www.webakelove.com
, food writer and great cook from Worcester gave me this recipe – I love the way she gives you hints and tips as well as the recipe.
Cheese and Herb Scones
- 350g of Plain flour
- 100g of Self RaisingR flour
- 1 teaspoon of baking powder
- 60g Quickes butter, cold, cubed
- 50g of grated vintage Quickes cheddar
- 1 spring onion chopped
- 1 tablespoon of seasonal herbs- parsley, wild garlic, chives, thyme or sage would all work well
- 150ml milk, plus extra for milk washing
Rub the butter into the flour until resembling breadcrumbs.
Add the baking powder and mix.
Add the cheese, onion and herbs and mix.
Add the milk until the mixture just comes together, then tip out onto a floured surface and form a rectangle by pushing the mixture together. Cut into regular squares by cutting in half lengthways then horizontally into equal size squares.
Pop on a lined baking sheet, brush with milk and bake at 200ºc for 12-15 minutes until golden brown.
Yum, best enjoyed fresh from the oven with butter and ham. Or can be kept till the next day. A quick 7 seconds in the microwave will freshen them up.
Tip with scones: The less you handle them the better, if you overwork them they may become heavy and pastry like. You want all the lovely air bubbles created from the baking powder reacting with the milk to stay in the mixture and to create air pockets with baked, creating light, fluffy scones.