As I type, the sky is the colour of cold dishwater, the fine Devon mizzle blurring the stippled outlines of the woods across the valley. January is full of days like this, and then, very occasionally, we are rewarded with a completely weather-free day, to appreciate the slightest warmth from the sun and soak up the blueness of the sky. From under the murky layers of mid-winter, the colours of our organic land stand out against the fallow landscape – fresh, green and full of life.
Our lambs from last year, or hoggets as we call them, could have told us this even before the sun came out – with less nutritious grass in the winter fields, we ‘fold’ them on delicious fresh kale and turnips which they love. We sowed these root crops in late August in a field that just last summer was a shimmering golden sea of barley as part of our 5-10 year organic rotation.
We farm regeneratively; one of our aims is to maximise soil health – and in as natural a way as possible. Around 95% of food production relies on soil and healthy topsoil is vital to our existence - it’s a scary fact that half the world’s topsoil has been lost in the last 150 years!
The turnips and kale are in a cereal sandwich – the field will be tilled with its second, and final, barley crop when the sheep have had their winter fill. Back in the present though, the manure of the lambs fertilizes the soil and the kale provides cover and a feeding ground for hundreds of birds battling against the harshness of the British winter. This is farming at its holistic best, working for the benefit of wildlife, people and the earth itself without the need for unnatural additives.
The final part of the organic rotation will see the field sown to grass in the autumn this year, and it will remain as pasture for 3-5 years, naturally building fertility and organic matter as it is gently grazed by our South Devon cattle and Lleyn sheep. By farming organically, using regenerative methods, we are building organic matter into the precious soil which will store carbon and help in the battle against climate change.
In the meantime though I’ll continue to shuffle a never-ending pile of damp coats and gloves around the warmspots in the kitchen, very glad that 2021 has arrived at last and looking forward to all the new life that the coming months on the farm will bring. Happy New Year everyone!
PS a while ago we asked you to send us pictures of your foody triumphs to help us celebrate our 35th anniversary of farming at Higher Hacknell - thank you to everyone who sent one in. Buried as we are in the depths of mid-winter and with lots of people at home, now seems like the perfect time to remind ourselves of the simple joy of food. So here is a montage of some of your delicious creations - including a picture of Coelia's short rib of beef stew and whose name was first out of the hat in our draw and is the winner of some delicious Higher Hacknell goodies!