Harvest may be in full swing, but last weekend the green woodworking courses, which included pole lathe turning, occurred. Mark Allery had driven up from his abode in the south of England to do the pole lathing.
Saturday’s pole lathe course was for beginners- they learnt the basic skills of selecting and cleaving good billets that could then be axed and spoke-shaved into a reasonable round shape ready for the pole lathe. The wood we had selected for them was sycamore- very white and easy to turn on the pole lathe; being fresh that morning it also was quite wet, so it produced long streamers of shavings.
All four men spent the whole day under the watchful eye of Mark, making small treen items like rolling pins, rounders bats, dibbers etc. As for the rake making course, I did not have any takers and so I entertained the public at Home Farm with the ‘have a go’ lathe. Children can get rather obsessed with pole lathe turning, more so then their parents, I suppose it’s to do with the fact that they can actually have a go on something that looks quite difficult, but once you’re shown how… off come streamers of shavings and the wood can be made into many shapes quite quickly. Most children are doers rather than watchers, I suppose they are exploring their new world and developing hand/eye co-ordination skills which are a fundamental requirement for the rest of their lives. The day finished on a high note for the wood turners, but for me it was off to Eversden to deal with some sheep that had been struck by flies. Humid weather means that you have to keep a watchful eye out for sheep that may have got fly strike. The sheep tend to get twitchy and irritated and that combined with a damp spot on the fleece means that you have to collect them all up, treat any with maggots in their fleeces and spray the rest with a chemical to help prevent further attacks. Mark came to help round-up the 8 ram hoggets. Two hours and quite a bit of swearing later, we had managed to get them all … sort of. Spent quarter of an hour inside a hedge spraying ecofly on four of the hoggets’ fleeces much to Marks amusement. Why do I keep sheep?!!!!!!!!!!
Sunday was the intermediate course where the students develop more skills and build on what they learnt the day before. Mark had also set up his bowl lathe so that they could try out bowl turning. Trickier and you use totally different tools. Some of the Wimpole lathers turned up to add to the atmosphere in front of the Great Barn much to the public’s enjoyment. Even the Turkish spindle whorl came out- I tried it for the first time and didn’t do too badly, almost everyone else had a go too.
The revet wheat, einkorn, khorasan, emmer and white oats still have to be harvested (and the april bearded & squarehead master wheat). On Monday Jim helped me reap the einkorn, khorasan (kumut) and revet. I had thought I was getting pretty good with the sickle until a quick measurement of the revet plot revealed that I had done one tenth of what women did when they reaped with a sickle. It appears that a quarter of an acre cut with a sickle was deemed very good and was probably done in a ten-hour day. I did one tenth in an hour, so I suspect it would take me a little longer than ten hours- that’s hard work.
The next day we stooked all the wheat and, as in the good old days, we used the orange drag rake to collect any wheat left lying on the floor- ‘waste not, want not’. Once the farmer had cleared the fields it was the turn of the gleaners to hand-pick the stubble for any ears of corn left behind.
In some counties and villages it was traditional to ring a bell, or do something similar, so that the poor could go and glean the harvested fields and take home anything they found- it was mostly the women and children who did this and it could mean that the family had enough corn to feed themselves for quite a while. As you can see – Shane is gleaning, poor old soul; apparently I don’t pay him enough… well actually, nothing… he volunteers. Don’t nick the corn in the sheaves or the farmer will be after you!
For a short while we have put the sheaves in the grain barn as the rodents and pigeons were having a field day. Hopefully they will ripen enough so that we can thrash them later as the grain barn will be full of organic barley and wheat within a fortnight. Must get the moisture content down to about 14% or it’ll spoil.
On the commercial farm at Cambridge Road Farm they have harvested the winter barley. Now we can see the mammals and birds- this little covey of french partridge were making the most of any barley left behind. Soon this land will be ploughed and turned into a clover ley as the whole farm is going organic.
The grain barn at Cambridge Road Farm is now storing the winter barley. The moisture content of the grains was 14% and below but you still have to get an air flow through the grain. Shortly this will be sold and taken away so that the barn can then take the wheat harvest.
Back to the hayfield and getting more wild flower seed into it. We are now mowing the rest of the Victoria Avenue so that we can transport the flower and herb-rich grass to the meadow behind Cobbs Wood Farm
First we mow the richer flowery sections avoiding the grass under the oak trees as there are too many wood dock there- no point cutting that or we’ll get it coming up in the host meadow. Then we load up the freshly mown grass and flowers into the trailer and off it goes to Cobbs Wood Farm meadow. We then drive along casting out the flowers and grass, spreading it out as far as possible.
While mowing near the oak trees I came across (well to be truthful I had mown them down) a couple of fungi. One was a Boletus and it has perplexed me as to its identity -I was sure it was the Lurid boletus but now I’m not so sure, it may have been the Scarletina boletus , the literature is quite confusing. Anyway, I bought a new book on British boletus: 80 species apparently. There are a few more boletus about the Estate and one lot could be quite rare: Satans boletus, WONDER IF THAT’S POISONOUS? YEP IT IS!!!!!!! The other fungus was a Russula- I took a little while to identify it but it doesn’t have an English name. This one likes damp, chalky grassland. There was another fungus belonging to the Milkcaps: Lactarius spp. These bleed milk which can help you identify them ( in this case it was fiery hot), still no idea what it was though. If I had mown the grass on a tractor I would never have seen these fungi, hiding as they do, deep in the vegetation.
We’ve found another way of spreading wild flower seed (we like to be imaginative)- we used the Garden’s (not in use) leaf picking up attachment. It works extremely well picking up heavy wild flower seed. Unfortunately, if the seed is too light it tends to blow back out so we don’t get so many yellow rattle seeds.
This time the seed collecting was up by the Folly- no intention of mowing this as it would take a week or so; instead a quick whizz ’round with the leaf picker upper attachment and we had plenty to put down at the Cobbs Wood Farm meadow. Actually this attachment is excellent at gathering hoary plantain.
One great thing about collecting seed this way is that you see an enormous amount of insect life. Even some shrews and mice turn up!!!!!!
There are plenty of weevils which generally like the seeds, and pollen beetles; but those insects that are quick on the wing do get away. Even though we see loads of butterflies, damselflies and dragonflies, seldom do we catch any.
One of the star attractions, and one that was very rare until about 10 or so years ago, is the Roesel’s cricket. It likes flower-rich grassland that grows well into August. Roadside verges were its best refuge but, with more environmentally friendly farming schemes, it has increased and spread rapidly northwards.
Seeds, beetles and Roesel’s cricket were cast out to find a new home – how harsh can you get? Another job that I had thought would be reasonably productive was to gather the white clover seed-
these seeds are very small and golden. White clover was once a very valuable crop for farmers to grow for seed and part of the old arable rotation system. This photo shows just a sample and weighed about 100 grams- I thought it would be worth quite a bit but, on searching the web, to my dismay I found out that organic white clover seed sells for around £12/kg- wow that’s cheap! How do they do that?
Last but not least, remember the charcoal kiln and the burn we did for the ITV crew? Well, we opened it up to find an almost perfect burn- just two areas had burnt too much and left a hole. Oddly , these were where the chimneys that were smoking had been, probably the wind had caused a change in the airflow dynamics. All the same we will get about 250kg maybe even 300- a good result.