Getting the harvest in is stressful every year. Why? Because it’s entirely weather dependent. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a big commercial farmer with thousands of acres of crops to bring in, or a small conservation farm like we are with just our wildflower hay to harvest – if the elements are against you, there’s nothing you can do. Everyone does a lot of waiting and worrying. That and checking endless weather apps in the hope that one will have a more favourable forecast to pin our hopes on! Or even accurate one…
Our hay harvest usually happens late in the season because we have to allow our wildflowers time enough to drop their seeds in order to regenerate the meadows for next year. In the past this means we’ve often been harvesting in mid August when everyone else in the area has finished harvesting their crops. This year was different though. Relentlessly heavy rain in July and early August meant the ground was too waterlogged and the hay too wet to harvest. So by mid/late August every farm in the area was scrambling to get the harvesting done at the same time. For small farmers who rely on contractors to help this meant that there was a queue of increasingly impatient folk looking at the weather clouds forming and hoping they were next on the list and that the tractors would arrive before the heavens opened again.
We work closely with Northiam Dairy to get our harvest in. The dairy is just in the next village and they harvest our wildflower hay for haylage to feed to their cows over winter. This means the milk we provide for you in your welcome pack is produced by cows fed from our meadows! The cows love it as it’s herb rich and very nutritious. And we love knowing that the milk we provide our guests has very few road miles in its production process.
The dairy doesn’t take all of our harvest, we keep one field of hay back – The Poor Field. This is our most established wildflower meadow and is most diverse in terms of plantlife. We bale the hay from this field and then use it to help seed our younger meadows that are still establishing themselves. We do this by scattering bales across the fields we want to seed and then nature does the rest. Later in the autumn we will move sheep into those fields to help the reseeding process further through grazing. We keep some of our hay to feed our own animals – the donkeys and goats enjoy it as part of their diet. And last, we give some of our hay to other conservation projects looking to create their own wildflower meadows. We’re very happy to have given some to our Parish Council this year for use in seeding a small meadow adjacent to the recreation ground.
Guests enjoy seeing the harvest being done and are endlessly patient with us as we have to reconfigure car parking in the yard to allow for the giant tractors and balers to get in and out of our rather challenging farm entrance. There’s nothing quite like watching the tractors in action – it never gets boring.
So the last of the bales are collected now and everyone’s backs are sore (osteopath’s appointments are about as seasonal as the harvest itself!), and that completes the wildflower cycle for another year.
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