August on the farm (2022)

August 15th, 2022

Maize at Stuchbury

Richard Fonge writes:

We are now officially in a drought, with harvest complete all around us. The harvest this year has been by all accounts a very satisfactory one, with the biggest concern being the fear of a fire. With the ground so dry and rock hard, no cultivations will be taking place until we have had some substantial rain. Oilseed rape needs to be planted by the end of August to get it established by winter, so a major concern.

The Agriculture industry (because that’s what farming is), is very fortunate in that it is visible to all as we go about our daily lives, and it is also able through local and National shows to open out and showcase our stock and machinery. Blakesley show earlier this month was a great example of this. I have been for nearly forty years a committee member and officer of an agricultural show, where getting across to the general public the countryside message has been one of our core aims and in September a good friend of mine whom I have worked with at the show and on other voluntary initiatives will be preaching at Sulgrave harvest festival. Dr Gordon Gatward O.B.E. is not only a priest but a true practical countryman with an understanding second to none of the countryside and its rural people. Well worth a listen, when we celebrate our harvest.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder as they say, and whilst the countryside that surrounds us is not spectacular in any way, it has a beauty all of its own, especially to those who have grown up in this area. The view from Barrow Hill is a good example.

Maize or corn as it is known in the rest of the world, has three varietal types. The cobs grown for human consumption and known as sweetcorn, need sunnier climes than ours (in more normal years) to be a success commercially. The types grown here are for stock feed or as can be seen at Stuchbury for energy generation through an anaerobic digester. Here the whole plant is chopped, whereas for human use just the cobs are picked. Badger damage in the crop at Stuchbury is extensive and can be seen where they have flattened the crop with their big paws to get at the cobs. There must be an army of them feeding at night!

Finally viewing nature and wildlife in action can be both inspiring and realistic in the way of things. An example: A young leveret was seen last month on Barrow Hill in the grass but on a second glance a buzzard had swooped and taken him.

Richard Fonge.

Village Shop Newsletter for August 2022

August 4th, 2022

July on the farm (2022)

July 22nd, 2022

Harvest in Full Swing (Photo: Graham Roberts)

Richard Fonge writes:

The present weather takes me back to 1976 when we had three months of sun and high temperatures, the only difference being that we just got on with life. A drought was declared and a Minister appointed called Dennis Howell M.P, a former first class football referee. Soon after his appointment it started to rain in September and he was dealing with floods! The severe hot weather brought swarms of ladybirds looking for food as the aphids their main supply had perished in the heat.

Back to the present and harvest has started on Barrow hill with the barley. The grain here will be fed to livestock. The straw (the stalks) is a valuable commodity. It is used for bedding, but barley straw is also a good feed and especially in a year such as this as a substitute to grass as it burns up under the sun. Pour some molasses over it and you have a nutritious feed for cattle or sheep.

On the Stuchbury footpath the beans like all crops are dying off rather than ripening. The pod numbers are good but due to the lack of rain over the last month, like all other crops the seeds are small.

All the lambs in the first field have now been marketed, leaving the ewes to their own devices. 

The oilseed rape on the Moreton or gated rd has extra value this year with the shortage of sunflower oil coming from Ukraine.

Grain when stored has to be at a certain dry matter. 16% for short term. 14% for long term storage. Oilseed rape. 8%. This year all grain should be harvested at these levels if these weather conditions continue, saving money on drying costs.

Especially welcome this year with fuel at its present price.

Farms get bigger as does the machinery to run them. This is inevitable with the shortage of people wanting to work on the land. In this part of the country we have family farms, large estates and contracted farms and they all share a problem of finding staff. A concern for the future.

Believe me there is not a more rewarding job than seeing the fruits of your labours when they are harvested,  whether that be a vat full of milk each morning or a field of corn harvested or prime livestock being marketed.

Richard Fonge

Sulgrave Village Shop Newsletter for July 2022

July 20th, 2022

June on the farm. 2022

June 16th, 2022

Newly shorn sheep on Castle Hill. Support local farmers by using the fine insulating qualities of their natural wool to keep yourself warm and cut down on heating bills!

Richard Fonge writes:

Last month I said that the crops were in need of rain, and at the months end we had rain, and the difference it has made is very noticeable, especially on the oats along the concrete road, and even more so on the beans on the Stuchbury footpath. Wheat and barley have ears of corn and are both members of the grass family. Oats come out in bell to form their seed. There are two large acreages of oats, on the left as you drive to the Magpie and up the concrete road to the bridge. They will be harvested for animal feed or breakfast cereal such as muesli .

In the years of the binder when sheaves were made and stooked it was always said that the stooks should hear the church bells three Sundays in a row before carried into the barn or made a rick of.

Barley is being grown in the field by Park lane. There are two types of barley, feed and malting, with different management for both. Malting barley after the brewing process has been completed produces a mash, which can be fed back to cattle. A nutritious high energy feed used by milk producers. I used to buy 20 tonnes at a time from Carlsberg. Also when available carrots and potatoes, which could be incorporated into a balanced ration. 

Most of the sheep have been shorn. With wool a much under used product, and heating costs rising, perhaps it is the time to wear woollen sweaters, rather than synthetic fibres and be able to turn the thermostat down.

It has been brought to my notice the precision planting of the maize at Stuchbury. G.P S or Global Positioning System is part of the modern tractor, where a satellite guides the tractor in a straight line and can plant the seed precisely. With G.P.S fertilisers can be applied at the correct rate across a field, after a soil analysis. Precision farming is here for the benefit of all, not least the soil on which we depend to grow our food.

The rain I mentioned at the start of these notes has made the prospect of a good harvest a reality. Something in the present world circumstances we should be grateful for.

Richard Fonge


Sulgrave celebrates the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee – June 4th 2022

June 13th, 2022

Photo: Jo Powell

Plans had been made many months ahead for a village picnic on Castle Green on Sunday June 4th to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. The morning dawned cool and grey. Rain was forecast on and off for the entire day. This was not unexpected and marquees and gazebos were assembled from wherever they could be found.

Photo: Graham Roberts

In fact so much cover was provided that all of the 150 or so people who attended could have found shelter. In the event the threatened rain failed to materialise and the various events went ahead as planned.

Website Editor’s Note: As I was unavoidably absent, I am indebted to the members of the Sulgrave Camera Club for the following images:

Photo: Graham Roberts

 

 Photo: Graham Roberts

 

Photo: Graham Roberts

 

Photo: Graham Roberts

 

 

Photo: Jo Powell

 

Photo: Jo Powell

 

Photo: Jo Powell

 

Photo: Jo Powell

 

Photo: Jo Powell

 

Photo: Jo Powell

 

Photo: Jo Powell

 

Photo: Jo Powell

 

Photo: Jo Powell

 

Photo: Jo Powell

 

Photo: Jo Powell

 

Photo: Jo Powell

 

Photo: Jo Powell

 

Photo: Jo Powell

 

Photo: Jo Powell

 

Photo: Jo Powell

 

Photo: Tony Keatley

 

Photo: Tony Keatley

 

Photo: Tony Keatley

 

Photo: Tony Keatley

 

Photo: Graham Roberts

 

Photo: Graham Roberts

 

Photo: Graham Roberts

Parish Council Chairman Richard Fonge proposing the Loyal Toast. See here.

Photo: Chris Behan

Photographers set up station on the hill to record a truly remarkable image……..

 

Photo: Graham Roberts.

Click on this image twice to see everyone in more detail and then use your computer’s horizontal and vertical bars to move around the picture (or enlarge in the usual way on your mobile). Either way, you will find the detail in this picture quite stunning.

SULGRAVE VILLAGE SHOP VOLUNTEERS RECEIVE THE QUEEN’S AWARD FOR VOLUNTARY SERVICE

June 3rd, 2022

It’s particularly appropriate that on this first day of the Platinum Jubilee Bank Holiday it has been officially announced that the Sulgrave Village Shop Volunteers have just been awarded The Queens’s Award for Voluntary Service. This is the highest award a local voluntary group can receive in the UK and is equivalent to an MBE.

The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service aims to recognise outstanding work by local volunteer groups to benefit their communities. It was created in 2002 to celebrate The Queen’s Golden Jubilee. Recipients are announced each year on 2nd June, the anniversary of the Queen’s coronation.

Representatives of the Sulgrave Volunteers will receive the award crystal and certificate from the Lord Lieutenant of Northamptonshire later this summer. In addition two volunteers will attend a garden party at Buckingham Palace in May 2023 (depending on restrictions at the time) along with other recipients of the Award.

This represents a very public recognition of the dedicated work for the shop by countless numbers of volunteers over seventeen years, some no longer with us, having sadly passed on or moved away.

Since the very beginning, the shop established a reputation for reliability, which has been maintained through various crises including the pandemic, shortages of volunteers and sadly, a number of malicious break-ins. Nothing daunted, the volunteers returned to clear up the mess and re-establish their cheerful service with a minimum of delay.

 

A Personal Note

My wife Molly, seen in the above photo taken fifteen years ago, was one of the original volunteers who did so much to establish the shop at a time when many doubted the outcome of the experiment. Numbers of these veterans continue to serve but the Award is also a tribute to those who are no longer able to participate, of whom Molly is one. 

As an early (though less active) volunteer myself, I was honoured to be asked to submit the nomination of the Shop Volunteers for this Award. This involved completing a specific nomination form, giving full details of the enterprise and its importance to the community. In this I was ably supported by letters of recommendation from the Vicar, Father Leggett, the present Chairman of the Parish Council, Richard Fonge and former Barrister and long time village resident Roger Ellis. Finally, I have to acknowledge that without the drive and enthusiasm of Digby Lewis over a long period, the nomination might have foundered along the way!

However, my main contribution was the preparation of a booklet setting out a brief history of the shop, illustrated with photographs culled from the village website (which I edit), demonstrating the vital part played by the shop in the life of the village.

This was prepared for the assessment visit by the Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Northamptonshire, who presented it to the panel making the final choice of those deemed worthy of the award, as part of her recommendation.

A booklet can be viewed online here and a copy will also soon be available to be seen in the shop.

Colin Wootton

SKY DIVING RONNIE RAISES MORE THAN £4000 FOR KATHERINE HOUSE HOSPICE

May 29th, 2022

After an earlier abortive attempt, Ronnie Langdon-Gray finally achieved her ambition of undertaking a sky dive to celebrate her 80th birthday, on May Day Bank Holiday Monday. Ronnie has been a volunteer at Katherine House Hospice for many years and has taken part in other fund raising events but this must surely be the most exciting!

Ronnie also volunteers for the village shop and can be seem most Mondays and Wednesdays behind the Post Office Counter.

Ronnie with her 1959 Austin Healey Sprite.

Katharine House Hospice provides specialist palliative care for adults with life-limiting conditions. This amazing team supports both the patient and their loved ones too, in warm, comforting, environment, ensuring that every moment matters. Your donation will mean more people can receive this care

To make your own contribution to this amazing charity, go to:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ronnieat80

Click here for more details.

 

May on the Farm (2022)

May 24th, 2022

Buttercups in Madam’s Close

Richard Fonge writes:

We are having some welcome rain. Welcome in the fact that the crops and grassland are in dire need of it, as can be seen with the beans on the Stuchbury path, and oats along the concrete road. The situation in the Ukraine has highlighted the need for us, a country with the soils and expertise to grow most crops and rear livestock, to be as self sufficient as possible. The balance between growing food and environmental schemes has never been more important.

The buttercups in Madam’s Close are an attractive sight. Many associate buttercups with contented milking cows grazing amongst them as they did a long time ago. The days of cows being called Buttercup, Daisy or Marigold have long gone. Sixty years back a good Friesian cow would give 4,500 litres in a lactation. A lactation being 305 days. Today due to better genetics and nutrition that yield has more than doubled to 9,000 litres, with most of our milk being produced in the western side of the country where rainfall is higher, and grass can grow better.

The cattle out in the fields near Sulgrave are steers, (If you follow All Creatures Great and Small they are stirks). These are castrated males. Remember cows lactate and then only after giving birth. All very confusing but terminology is important.

Our countryside looks at its best I think in May, with the May blossom out and the fresh greens of the hedgerows and trees. Take a walk on the many footpaths we have around our Parish and savour. The bird song up the gated road in the morning is worth a walk to hear on its own.

The eight sheep on the Castle mound are a rare breed. They are Lonks, a breed native to the Pennines, with a strong body and thick fleece, essential for the climate of the region. Their meat is of good quality and my research tells me it claimed first prize in best hotpot competition. There are many rare breeds of sheep, cattle and pigs and the best way to ensure their survival is to breed them for meat. The rare breeds survival trust stress this in their literature.

Richard Fonge

April on the Farm (2022)

April 23rd, 2022

Romney sheep on the footpath to Greatworth

Richard Fonge writes:

We are enjoying a warm sunny spell of weather as I write these notes, and with the blackthorn beginning to go over the air should feel warmer. The adage that we are in a blackthorn winter is a very true one, especially when it first comes out as in this year we had very wintry conditions followed by cold easterly winds, although the sun shone. I saw the first two swallows on the 10th April by the stream on the gated road. After their long migration they usually stay around a water course to feed for a week or so before beginning to nest.

The crops around the Parish are starting to grow with the oil seed rape now coming into flower up the gated or Moreton Road. Notice the variable flowering stages, this is because the pigeons have grazed it during the winter, so stunting the plant and therefore it flowers later and ripens later making harvesting time often a compromise. This year it has become a premium crop with the Ukrainian War, as most of our sunflower oil is imported from the Ukraine and Russia, as are our fertilisers. The conflict certainly brings food security to the fore!

A crop looking exceptionally healthy are the oats up the concrete road. Planted in mid November, small areas have suffered from wet, but as a percentage of the total acreage of all the field very insignificant.

The Romney breed of sheep on the footpath behind Weymss Farm are now lambing and are having singles (although I have noticed a set of twins). These sheep are part of a larger flock and were scanned to singles. Scanning at around seventy-five days of the 145 day gestation period enables the shepherd to manage his flock accordingly.

I mentioned in my January notes how important the pig was to the villager’s living until relatively recently. Other regular or seasonal foods from the farm were bislings or cherricurds, the first rich milk from a freshly calved cow. It was cooked and eaten like a baked custard. Sweet meats or calves testicles were another delicacy. Today we are inclined to look in amazement at what was eaten back in the past. However, it was a healthy diet of home grown vegetables and local delicacies of this kind, including pigeon and rabbit. The harder physical work of the time necessitated such food.

The electric fence to control livestock first came about around 1940, I believe and here are two true stories. My father was on Home Guard duty one night when two of the platoon, panicking in true Cpl Jones style, announced that they had heard a bomb ticking behind a certain hedge and that the end was nigh. It was, of course, an electric fence unit ticking. The second occasion happened at Stuchbury Manor where we had moved just after the war and Reg the cowman concluded that this bit of single wire was useless to keep cattle in, so he touched it with hob nailed boots on, leapt in the air and respected the darn thing forever more!

Richard Fonge


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