Crop and estate management
With temperatures rising, the soil drying (what a contrast to last year) and the crops beginning to lift off, the first nitrogen applications were made in early March onto the oilseed rape and some of the wheat fields. Nitrogen fertiliser was held back on the lusher wheat fields. This was to thin out some of the tillers that were unlikely to add much to the yield and, by competing with the earlier formed tillers, may have resulted in poorer quality and a lower total yield.
Mid March saw the first of the fungicide treatments. Additional nitrogen and fungicide then went on in April. It is likely that a third fungicide treatment will be applied to the wheat in May. The aim of this is to keep the upper leaves and the ears of the wheat free from disease, protecting them with a fungicide as they emerge through the course of the spring.
In order to assess what numbers and range of spring germinating weeds we have in our seed bank, part of our weed assessment plots were cultivated in late March. This shallow cultivation should kill off the existing weed growth from the autumn flush and bring to the surface a new 'crop' of weed seeds, some of which would be triggered to germinate.
We wanted dry weather to allow this cultivation to take place but a little rainfall would have been nice to assist germination. As it turned out the exceptionally dry weather meant that little had germinated by the end of April.
Birds and biodiversity
The feeding of wheat and rapeseed ceased at the end of April. It was only in the last two weeks of our seven month feeding programme that we saw linnets feeding on the rapeseed that we had provided. Linnets behave much like summer visitors to the farm, having been absent for most of the winter.
Singing skylark numbers rose to 28 in March but this peak has not been repeated suggesting that some migrants were included. Our initial estimate of territory numbers, at the end of April, is that there are 15 to 20 singing males, a similar number to last year.
A contrast to last year has been how early some of the skylarks have started nesting - three nests were started at the end of March, all successfully fledging chicks in mid-April. By the end of April, there were 9 more nests on the go with eggs or chicks. We put up some starling nestboxes around the farmyard in the late winter. Within weeks, starlings were showing an interest in them and now there are six nests with a total of 24 young.
Spring came with bumblebees at the beginning of March and chiffchaff and an assortment of butterflies at the end of this month: brimstone, small tortoiseshell and peacock. They emerged at the beginning of almost four weeks of dry and warm weather.
Our first swallow was on the 9th April and the first cuckoo on the 18th. The emergence of the first blackgrass flower heads on the 23rd April was a sign of spring that is not appreciated. This is one weed that we do not want to foster. It is highly competitive with the crop, produces lots of seeds that are not fed on by birds and is developing resistance to a number of weedkillers.
A long-eared bat crash landed onto the lawn late one morning in March. After a day in care feeding up on mealworms it flew off, hopefully to return to its roost. Apparently, it is not unusual for bats to come out of hibernation at this time of year very weak, hungry and dehydrated.