Friday 4 December 2020

Farmer's Glory

Not quite agriculture but our grapes did well
Can you remember the days when 24/7 was only known as a division sum? (24 divided by 7 = 3.428571 recurring. Or, if you are old enough, 24 shillings and 7 pence) 
Strangely, I can recall the very first time I heard the expression, 24/7. It was used by one of those knowing colleagues who could be relied upon to have the latest jargon. This was in the 1990s when I was still working in education and can recollect one staffroom where the teachers had covered a whole wall with acronyms current in education at the time

This is a rather long-winded way of saying that the constant barrage of daily news means that often if you blink you'll miss it

Part of the famed Butter Mountain - 50kg barrels
there was no an actual wine lake!
Think back over the week; what were the headlines? Understandably, our awareness has been seized by the good news of the Covid-19 vaccine approval and proposed roll-out. Then there was the end of lockdown 2.0 - not that it feels any different hereabouts in that we, along with the rest of the Black Country are in Tier 3. And we get get the odd bit of news from the States (do they have two Presidents at the moment?). And then, today, dire warnings about the Brexit precipice

Amid all this, the news on Monday was about the Government's plans for farming. Now also forgotten outside the farming fraternity. Well, you might say, farming is not exactly gardening - so, why mention it here? Two reasons: (1) Your old Garden Codger is, in the words of the lady who knows him best, 'a mine of useless information which on a occasion might be useful' and (2) both gardeners and farmers grow on the same soil, breathe the same air and live in the same natural environment - even when we seem miles apart

George Eustice, the Minister heading up
Agriculture. His family have farmed in
Cornwall for no less than six generations

A new acronym: ATP

Apart from many other good reasons, the UK needs an Agriculture Farming Plan because of our departure from the European Union. CAP is dead (the EU's Common Agricultural policy). Perhaps you remember the endless stories of wine lakes and butter mountains

That is now a thing of the past as we enter the brave new world of the ATP and adopt whole new vocabulary. For example, there's the Sustainable Farming Initiative (SFI). This promises worthwhile improvements like funding for soil improvement and hedgerow reinstatement and many other things

Don't worry we are not about to delve into the detail (but you can check out the footnotes below if you are interested). However, I do want to note that there seems to be a genuine determination, on the part of Government, to repair the damage of previous policies

Although I am not competent to judge the various aspects of the plan, it is great to see the emphasis on sustainability and care for the natural world. Who would not rejoice to see 
a reversal in the decline of bee populations, for example?

This attractive new edition of Farmer's Glory is
published by Little Toller Books

Farming nostalgia

These things are in old Codger's mind as he is currently rereading a book he first encountered 60 years ago - Farmer's Glory by AG Street. The author witnessed, first hand, the damage done to the soil through over-cropping during the war (WW1, that is!) and the disastrous decline in farming during the 1930s. It may surprise you to learn that the book was a huge best-seller at the time. Street has a lovely warm-hearted style. He paints word pictures of rural life and introduces us to a forgotten generation of farm labourers. Later, AGS became a familiar voice on the BBC Home Service

His book was newly reprinted in 2017. It is beautifully produced and includes the original woodcut drawings. Anyone wanting a feel for rural living as it used to be would enjoy this book - and might learn some lessons for the future, too

Bring back the hedgerows!

A couple of months ago, Codger's attention was grabbed by a deafening clatter from the bottom of the garden. It was the annual flail! We have a hawthorn hedge marking our boundary with the school behind our property. The hedge belongs to the school and conceals a chain-link fence

That's the way to do it!
Once or twice a year the ground's maintenance people give the hedge a haircut by means of a mechanised hedge-hacker - a brutal act. Such treatment results in a hedge that is full of gaps and looks ugly. Why? Well, a hawthorn hedge is basically a line of bushes aspiring to be trees - the lower growth naturally dies off unless the right action is taken. And the right action? Hedge laying, done will. At all costs don't flail the poor thing!

Properly cutting back a hedge in this way is, in essence, a form of coppicing. New growth is encouraged both from the ground and along the length of the laid stem. The whole thing becomes rejuvenated - just as you can see in the hedge on the left, here. You get a great hedge and loads of wildlife

Now, why not make a cup of tea? And then, sit back and enjoy this 10-minute video - you'll see how it's done

Should this topic grab your interest, you can find many more similar clips on YouTube - see this week's footnotes. Many of videos are recent indicating that there is plenty of interest around - and, it seems, a growing number of practitioners keen that the craft should not die out but indeed, to flourish! One of the videos tells us that there are 40 different styles around the country!

Deceptive appearances - the hedge looks great!
But only because I planted ivy to green it up.
Otherwise it would be more gap than hedge

Codger's contribution

This will sound a little pretentious, no doubt. But should the Minister seek my advice about the new schemes for agriculture, a idea would be ready at hand. Train more hedge layers! This would fit well with the Government's plans for apprenticeships, be good for the environment and match many of the good intentions of the ATP such the intention to improve training both in agriculture and horticulture

A properly laid hedge is as effective as any fence. It looks better and is a haven for wildlife. Incidentally, since I first started thinking about this I have noticed no end of neglected hedges in even in our local built-up environment. The favourite dodge of councils is to make good a neglected hedge by erecting a fence along side. Waste of money! Lay the hedge, instead. Now you have read this, have a look as you travel around - I can guarantee you will see hedges that you never knew existed 

[If you inspect the photo you will see that our neighbour has a leylandii hedge to hide the school's hawthorn hedge. This is common practice in our street - nicely proving Codger's point: hedges should be properly laid!]

This what you need - flint chick grit
The manufacturers also make what they
call Growers Grit - but I can't source it

A bit about grit

Enough of bees in Codger's bonnet. Well, not quite. I return to the bit that celebrity gardeners never tell you about. Viewers are frequently told to 'add plenty of grit'. They fail to mention that grit is hard to come by in the needed quantities and is expensive, very expensive

At the moment, I am getting through lots of the stuff in order to make up a really good mix suitable for bulbs. As you know, I recommend buying chick grit as it is far cheaper than horticultural grit - but, I will confess to having slipped up twice. So, a bit of grit advice

Don't buy ordinary poultry grit. It contains calcium in the form of crushed seashells. This will change the acid/alkaline balance of the compost (known as pH). Also, and after my most recent mistake, don't get hen grit - the grains are two big. What you need is flint chick grit - perfect for the job! (Mine comes via Amazon at £13.44 for 25kg)

Plant corner: cyclamen

The cyclamen at the back is persicum
The two at the front are coum. Note the rounded leaves
I guess you will be disappointed if we do not find some space for plants in today's edition. So, may I  return to the subject of cyclamens? Partly, because it is a popular time of year to buy them and partly because I like them so much. And, I suppose, because they are often misunderstood (not their fault, of course!)

It was pleasing to see in B&Q this week that some of their cyclamens are now being labelled 'cool room'. Hopefully, this will mean that these specimens will be reprieved - and not put next to a radiator after purchase. A windowsill is fine - but best not in full sun. These cyclamen are the persicum type, as I have mentioned before. The other main type is hederifolium. These will take frost and are best outdoors. You should find that they naturalise provided they get some shade - they like to be under trees. They can look great at the feet of a camellia - they like similar conditions

You can support BCM Toylink by ordering a pot of bulbs
The larger size has three layers, the small two
(Please excuse the makeshift photo studio -
rather wet outside today!)
I have not previously mentioned another type: cyclamen coum. These also flower at this time of year and have lovely delicate blooms. You can identify this type by looking at the leaves. See the photo here. I have included a persicum for contrast - you can immediately spot the difference. Coum are distinguished by their leaf-shape - they are distinctly rounded 

Credit: pinclipart

Toylink: final call

Suddenly, I've got extra pots. So you can still order a bulb lasagna as mentioned last week. Some lovely tulips will grow from the bottom, preceded by various Spring bulbs in February and March. Remember, all donations go to BCM Toylink at the moment but, for obvious reasons, time is short

 Thanks to those who have made donations recently - both online and cash. We have almost hit the target - see here

Salutary tale

I hope you have not minded the agricultural twist this week. In fact, I owe a debt to at least one farmer (actually, two, but that will do for another week). I do not know his name but Mr Brown will do

Although my father was a village lad, I was brought up a townie. Except that my dad often too me wooding - fields were only five minutes away by bike - fifteen minutes walking. Growing up after the war on a diet of war films and Hopalong Cassidy, boys were on the lookout for adventure. Out with a group of lads from our street we discovered a newly built haystack, or so we called it. The bales of straw (not hay, of course) were great for barricades and we had a fine old time ...

That was until a Land Rover pulled up and we were ordered in by Mr Brown. It had an open back and were almost bounced out as he drove, at speed, across the field, 'Where we going, Mister?' the braver ones asked. I felt distinctly uneasy, especially as we left the lanes and entered the town. I knew where the police station was, but had never previously entered the premises

Remember PC 49? Even before Dixon of Dock Green

Looks, and then words, passed between the farmer and the sergeant. Our names (and school!) were studiously noted down - spelling checked: S-M-I-T-H

Then: "Now listen 'ere you lads. I 'ope you are cognizant that a crime 'as been committed 'ere. Hand, may hi add, it his han hextremely Serious Ho-fence." This went on, culminating in, "Hov course, you realise than hi will 'ave to contact your parents ..."

This was a terrifying prospect. There was a pause whilst glances were again exchanged. Mr Brown spoke, sensing our trepidation. "Having listened to the boys, officer, I am impressed by their contrition. 
Perhaps in this case, I will prefer not to press charges. On one condition, mind. They must swear never to cause damage on my farm again." 

It was like a scene from Just William. With trembling lips we all solemnly swore an oath of non-trespass - and then listened whilst the Station Sergeant impressed upon us what a narrow escape we had had. So, we were released - never, ever to transgress again

Thank you, Farmer Brown. You helped turn a contrite schoolboy into a wiser man

That's all for now ...

... from the Garden Codger


We have wandered far and wide today. In case you wish to follow up on any of the topics, here are some links (simply click on the emboldened word in each case)

DEFRA - the Agricultural Transition Plan - there are two downloadable documents

Bee conservation - and there are plenty more - lots, in fact

Farmer's_Glory is obtainable from Blackwells - free P&P

Laying a hedgerow - a quick video but there are loads and loads - can become addictive! But it is certainly worth researching the benefits

You can find out more about cyclamen from the Cyclamen Society - makes sense!

BCM Toylink - if you haven't so far - watch this now!

PC_49 - also on Wiki but this link gives you the signature tune, as well. It goes like this: domp-de-diddley- dom-de-dom (rpt) / domp-de-dee-dah domp-de-dee-dah / and so forth

And, just in case you have not had enough flower photographs here are a few primulas - photos not taken in ideal conditions

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