As is often the case now, July was a month where meadows took precedence over the garden.The very first day of the month saw our last garden open day for 2017, with 27 people visiting us on National Meadows Day. We were one of just 120 locations opening for this now annual event to raise awareness of wildflower meadows in the UK.
Fortunately, after a very gloomy damp week leading up to this, the actual day dawned bright and was really successful.
Thereafter, weather forecast scanning took over, and we yearned for a high pressure system to build. For the last 6 weeks, this has tantalisingly been forecast, at about the “2 week hence” mark, only for this to shift ever further away, like a desert mirage, or the fast moving wispy clouds, below.Whilst there have been single sunny days, and some fabulous cloud formations, we’ve once again been forced to cut and process hay in less than optimal conditions, turn it multiple times, and get it off the meadow in a maximum weather window (i.e. no rain falling) of 48 hours. No wonder most farmers round about now cut and process grass into haylage, or silage in plastic wrap sheaths, with the consequent loss of floral and other biodiversity.
Further serious thought about this issue has seen us exploring further small scale mechanisation with a Molon hay turner/windrow maker, which works off our 2 wheel BCS power unit, which we use for cutting the hay with a scythe. Whilst not ideal, this does save a huge amount of physical work particularly with the early turnings when the grass is still very wet. This enabled us to turn the last block of hay on our top field 5 times before stuffing into 55 big bags, and getting it all safely off the field in 48 hours from cutting, before the rain returned. Fortunately Dave and Theresa helped us and removed a lot of this hay for their animals..But we’ve also worked out that we need simple hay drying sheds to enable us to store such loose packed hay under cover, with the potential for it to be dried out a few days later should the need arise. In addition the hay can then be left in the fields where it will be subsequently fed to the sheep, rather than bringing it up the hill and inside an un-ventilated damp stone barn, only for it to have to be carried out again later in the winter.
So work constructing a shed has taken much thought, time and effort through the month. This wouldn’t have been possible without the help of William, and engaging him on a regular basis to help us with work around the fields and garden, has been a significant step which we’ve taken this month for the first time ever at Gelli. We wish him well as he seeks to set up his own business providing gardening/maintenance services to others in the area. In addition he’s helped us kick off the very necessary reworking of some of the sloping-in-two-planes paths, which lead through our lower meadow copse.For the first year we also took some hay off part of our flatter, but wetter, lower meadow.By the month’s end the rainfall total of 138.3 mm wasn’t excessive, but was certainly significant, and together with the very modest PV inverter reading of 406 KWH for the month, and the fact that there were only 9 rain free days, mainly in two’s, illustrates the challenges the weather presents in this part of the world, for any dry and warm endeavour like traditional hay making.Swallow numbers have been very low this year, but at least one pair managed to get a brood reared and fledged from a nest, slung low beneath a stable rafter.And a real treat was the second Hummingbird hawk-moth, Macroglossum stellatarum, of the year (the first was seen fleetingly on shearing day in late May), which lingered on the Buddleja davidii for long enough for me to take some useful photos. This is only ever an occasional finding here.In the garden, many perennials suffered in the on-off wet conditions. Asters seem very late, but Clematis once again have performed well, and by the end of the month Hydrangeas look like they’re going to have their best ever year. Fiona’s pictorial meadows mix of annuals sown into pots looked lovely early on, but faded in the wetter days of later July. The self sown Agapanthus, amongst the cobbles at the end of the house also had their best ever year.