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CAMPSITE

The brilliant weather during the last week or so has brought a lot of people to the campsite, and it was full this last weekend with one couple celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary and his 60th. They were joined by their children, their partners and grandchildren and they took over the end of the campsite (1). During the last month we have seen a couple celebrate their first anniversary and another celebrate their 51th with someone else having 30th birthday celebrations. Many children have been around and this family enjoyed playing cards, especially Uno. (2)

FARM AND GEESE

Himalayan Balsam continues to threaten to take over from the wild flowers, especially along river banks, where it spreads the fastest. This new bank, only created last winter, was covered with it and should all be pulled up before the seeds go pop (3). Recently I had a cow with a calf in the field next to the campsite. As there is a footpath leading to the Monmouth Way straight through this field it was necessary to put up signs to ask hikers to detour around an adjoining field. People have actually been killed walking through fields with protective cows, and calves. It is especially dangerous when there is a dog as well. (4). Copsing is ongoing. All my fields with ditches need cutting on the sides of hedges, in the ditches and on the bank into the field, otherwise you end up with two adjacent hedges (5,6). The geese cause dust storms every morning and evening in the very dry weather. They are the best gaggle of geese I have ever had, with very little bullying. (7) Tiger, the ginger tom, has taken to spending sunny afternoons on the poly tunnel roof (8).

The silage season as usual is a very busy time. The baler has to be checked over since being in the barn since last year (9). First the grass has to be mown (10) then turned and raked into big swaths (11). The baler comes along and rakes the silage/haylage into the machine (12) which will process it into a large round bale which is released when it is securely tied (13). The wrapping machine then scoops up the bale and wraps it with black plastic and then discharges it onto the ground (14,15). If these wrapped bales are left out in the field for any length of time it will be necessary to put a mechanized bird scarer in the field to stop the birds from pecking the plastic on the bales and allowing the air and rain to get in. We load the bales onto a trailer with the matbro tractor and grab (16). As it is not possible to get into the yard with the long trailer the bales have to be taken off the other end from the road (17) the same way and put in a huge stack near the covered yard ready for winter feeding (18)

BEES

We have had quite a few swarms this year. The saying goes that a swarm in May is worth a load of hay, a swarm in June is worth a silver spoon, but a swarm in July isn’t worth a fly . The latter means that the bees won’t have time before the winter to establish a strong colony and may not survive until the spring. (19)

GARDEN

We usually have several Great Mullein plants that have self seeded in the polytunnel every year. (20) They are among the oldest known medicinal plants, with the flowers, leaves, roots and seeds all being used. The flowers can be used to make a bright yellow dye which can be used on hair or cloth. A custom which dates back to at least Roman time has the mullein stems dipped in tallow to make torches. The torches were reported to be either used by witches or used to repel them as the plant was widely held as being able to ward off curses and evil spirits. It was grown in monastery gardens to keep out the devil. Feverfew self seeds so we always seem to have plenty of this around. (21) This is a member of the daisy family and can be used for the prevention of migraines, headaches, arthritis, fevers, muscle tension and pain. It can also be used to lower blood pressure, lessen stomach irritation, stimulate the appetite and improve digestion and kidney function. This year both our Lavatera shrubs (tree mallow) have done very well. (22) The last time I had such a show of flowers the shrub died the following winter, so I hope this burst of bloom is not its swan song.

I have quite a few loganberry plants, mainly because they are so easy to propagate. The fruit came into being because of an accidental cross between a raspberry and a blackberry and is named after it creator James Logan. (23) I am allowing the birds to eat most of my loganberries this year because it is so dry. The birds have also eaten most of my black currents too.

LOCAL EVENTS

A local resident in the village (24) won first prize in the Dorset Wildlife Trust Gardening for Wildlife Competition (large garden section) in 2013. The criteria for this award were bird and bat boxes, compost heaps, a pond, (25) wild areas/uncultivated and left permanently, a log stack and minimal use of pesticides. The two acre site has grasses (26) which include jointed rush and crested dog’s tail. Wild flowers include corky fruited water dropwort, ragged robin and common spotted orchard. Butterflies, amongst others, seen in the garden are orange tip, tortoiseshell, red admiral, painted lady and occasionally a silver washed fritillary. It was a lovely experience to walk around this haven for wildlife.

A recent event held at a local farm house, garden and field was a cream tea with a difference (27), in that it was a fete as well, with a tombola (28), cake stall (29), sand pit (30) and even Tuppa Ware (31) [which now has to be bought from Ireland and is making a comeback]. Hundreds of people attended on a beautifully sunny afternoon and there was something for everyone. A great attraction for farmers from near and far was a tour around the robotic milking unit. The proceeds from this event went to Whitchurch Church and the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance.

Broadoak, a small hamlet about two miles from Bluntshay held a children’s fun horse and pony show for 18 year olds and under. The event started at 9.30 am and continued all day. Classes included Best Turned out, Veteran, Lead Rein, Coloured, Ridden Walk and Trot, Prettiest Mare, Thickest Tail and Fancy Dress. (32). There were also jumping classes from 1 foot 6 inches to 2 feet 6 inches high. I never realised that it was so difficult to photograph a horse actually flying over a jump but did eventually manage two in the 2 foot 3 inches class (33, 34).

FARMING FROM THE PAST

We are fortunate in West Dorset to have a local thatcher who still harvests his wheat with a reaper binder. (35) These were invented in 1872 and used wire to tie the bundles (although the knotter was invented in 1858) and were originally horse drawn. The wire caused a lot of problems so it was soon superseded by twine. The definition of a reaper binder is – an implement for harvesting standing corn or other tall crops grown in rows comprising a cutter and a device for packing and tying the stalks into bundles. The corn is cut with a reel and sickle bar. The cut stems fall onto a canvas, which conveys the crop to the binding mechanism. This mechanism bundles the stems of grain and tie a piece of twine around the bundle. Once tied, the sheaf is discharged from the side of the binder (36). The sails help to push the stalks over the cutter bar onto the canvas. (37) There is a requirement that a 2 metre margin is not cultivated around the field and left for wildlife (38). Once there are sheaves on the ground gangs come along and put 8 sheaves into a stook (39) The gang I met preferred to work individually rather than together.

A field of stooked sheaves is something to behold (40). Later they will be stored under cover until they are threshed sometime in October. The reaper binder is a McCormick International. It was purchased by the thatcher in 2013 (his previous one had worn out completely) The last time this machine was used prior to 2014 was on 9 August 1949. It had been parked in a shed ever since. The reaper binder was lovingly restored last winter and has cut 49 acres of wheat this season.

The thatcher is much sought after to do reaper binder contracting and travels as far as Blandford, Yeovil, Sherborne, the Somerset Levels and Taunton to use his unique skill.

ARCHAEOLOGY

On the road coming into Winterbourne Abbas, near Dorchester can be seen strip lynchets (stepped terraces) on the hillside (41). It is thought that these were constructed when the farming community was suffering from a very pressing land hunger. Some think that they may date back to Roman times. Others think that they are Saxon, but the most probable date of the origin of the lynchets would be the 13th century. It seems that during this time there were extreme fluctuations between very wet weather and drought. There was a rapidly increasing population at the time so there would have been no alternative but to put the hillsides under the plough. The vales in the area would, in the extreme weather conditions, be very difficult to cultivate to get a good crop.

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