Long ago in the 19th century there used to be a riddle going around which the village boys loved: ‘Why are the legs of oxen, swine, women, and other animals so much longer in Sussex?’ Answer: ‘Because they get stretched - being pulled out of so much mud!’ Not much has changed.
The sunshine is certainly cheering everyone up and the seasonal frosty nights are doing nothing but good, and hopefully killing off a variety of bugs.
It is tempting to think about getting out onto the fields as they dry up; with fertiliser deliveries due any day, it is seductive to plan an early top dressing, rather than allow it to sit in the barn. However, there is little point in going out too soon. We should be patient and wait until the ground warms up and the grass and crops can take better advantage of this valuable but very expensive resource.
Having attended the Hurstpierpoint and District Ploughing Match committee meeting last week, I was struck by how difficult it seems to be to find a suitable venue for this traditional annual event. The site needs to have easy access for both tractors and the public, and ideally be about 40 acres.
One of the reasons it is becoming increasingly hard to persuade farmers to host these matches is that many of us have over many years adopted minimum tillage cultivation's. In other words, we seldom plough our land. Instead we use alternative cultivation equipment which gently disturbs the upper few inches of the ground to encourage weed seeds to germinate and then desiccate with Glyphosate before drilling directly into the seed bed.
We have used this technique for nearly twenty years, and now rarely plough unless reseeding grass, or there is a particularly dirty field with lots of vegetation which needs burying. The improvement to the soil structure and soil nutrients has been quite remarkable. Also, the worm count, so important for a healthy soil, has risen dramatically which has also made a noticeable improvement to the drainage.
It is vital that Ploughing Matches continue to attract ploughs of all ages and description, with their expert ploughmen. It is wonderful to see pairs of shire horses, vintage tractors with trailed ploughs and all the different tractors and ploughs which have evolved over the years up to the very latest modern reversible ploughs and enormous caterpillar wheeled tractors.
The countryside would be so much the poorer if these occasions were lost, so it is vital that suitable sites are found and made available. It is important to encourage landowners and farmers to continue to host these special days.
I am not sure if I am becoming paranoid, it is of course possible. On Sunday there was an article in The Sunday Telegraph about the latest ‘Superfood’. This comes in the form of a cross between Brussels sprouts and kale, and apparently the flower sprout has not only become increasingly popular with British shoppers but is being exported around the world.
That is all very well and I am sure this relatively new hybrid vegetable is very healthy and delicious with all its Vitamin B6 and high dose of Vitamin C. But, what really got me going was the photograph of the people picking the stuff. They were decked out in high visibility orange waterproof suits and HARD HATS!
Are these hybrid sprouts dangerous and capable of attacking the pickers, or has health and safety gone completely mad? Goodness if picking sprouts requires hard hats and protective clothing, what on earth are apple pickers going to wear?
I doubt they would be in danger from the local tyrants or landowners insisting that growers shoot apples off the pickers’ heads with bows and arrows, like Swiss tyrant Gessler did when he made William Tell shoot the apple off his young son’s head. But perhaps an apple may fall from a branch and land on some unsuspecting pickers head.
Maybe we should indeed be grateful to the Health and Safety Executive for making us aware of such dangers, and deck out all seasonal fruit and vegetable pickers with hard hats and protective body armour. You just never know what dangers there may be lurking in our orchards and fields.
I think this is where I recommend we all call our brokers to get hold of some shares in the protective clothing industry. It is quite obviously going to go from strength to strength!
Carola Godman Irvine