men, boys + drought
The drought continues, the reservoirs drop and we start to get nervous. Our lighter, easily worked sandy and chalky soils are the first to suffer as their water capacity (ability to hold water) is inherently low and quickly exhausted. These properties, leading to them being known as “boy’s land”, make these soils valuable for early crops because they are the first ones we can cultivate in the spring. Heavy clays (“man’s land”) have the ability to swell and absorb large amounts of water and then hang onto it, acting as a reservoir until roots prise it from them. This makes them harder and more expensive to work (they can be like putty in the morning and baked out like bricks by the afternoon) but potentially more productive, especially in a year like this when the boys are seriously suffering.
So far the only serious casualties have been a small number of bolting lettuce and some spring sown grass-clover reseeds which have failed to germinate. We moved our plantings from boy’s to man’s land earlier than intended and are now greatly relieved that we did. It’s not all bad: with low humidity there will be no botrytis in the strawberries, blight in the potatoes, chocolate spot in the beans or mildew in the lettuce. Provided that the plants are not stressed by drought, the high light levels are giving us some great quality spinach, chard and lettuce. The first strawberries are not always the best in flavour, but after a week of picking and plenty of sun they are improving fast.
I have never seen the farm so free of weeds. In places, where we have the water, we are even irrigating to coax them into action and subsequently dispatch them before sowing our more weed-sensitive crops. This age old practice is known as getting a stale seed-bed. We work the soil into fine firm beds, ideal for germination of small seeds like our chick weeds, fat hen, cleavers, redshank and lamb’s tongue. Using a simple machine we have developed known as the “cheese wire”, we run a tensile wire an inch under the surface to kill the weeds without bringing more seeds to the surface. By repeating at weekly intervals before sowing the crop we can sometimes remove the need for weeding completely.