Country Diary: Time flies when mending fences and picking up ragwort | Agriculture


Jhere is a silence on the farm this morning. The sow, her weaned litter, lies half-hidden in the shade of elderflowers, her muzzle resting on her front legs like a dog. The cattle, smooth and fat, their now sturdy calves, settled under the beeches along the river. Despite abundant rain, it remains weak and moves with the same languorous spirit. I alone am resolved, garden pitchfork in one hand, scythe in the other.

The work schedule for this time of year is always the same. It begins by harrowing the poached soil with a chain and removing the stones that have risen to the surface. The heat and humidity have brought regenerated growth, but also nettles, docks, thistles and ragworts all threatening to sow, so I work my way across the field, alternating between scythe for garnish and pitchfork to lift groundsel from its roots. Sometimes I don’t loosen enough and it breaks. I know I will shoot them again.

This landscape has quietly awakened in recent weeks. First came primroses, then primroses, followed by buttercups and birdsfoot trefoil, each blooming more boldly yellow than the last. Now white daisies flutter happily in the wind, and campion and cranesbill bring a splash of summery color. At the end of the field I find less to do than usual; the work of previous years is bearing fruit.

I go to the opposite bank. The dividing fence needs fixing – I’m adding it to the list. There are balls of brown fur on the broken wire, telltale evidence that a beast used it for a scratch. I let the thistles dry, but gather the ragwort in a heap and throw it into the wood. It has a persistent and pungent smell. A buzzard hovers overhead, having spotted something in the tall grass. It turns out to be a shriveled balloon on a streamer. He walks away, perhaps disappointed.

I reach the back gate and look at my watch; it is already late in the morning. Time has been suspended, my mind stopped, by the work and the breeze and the chirping of birds.


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