sugar beet

Beyond beet...

The sugar beet harvester has rolled away into the sunset and we no longer wake up to this inspirational screensaver (feel free to download):

The last sugar beet lorry left the farm a couple of weeks ago, clearing the yard for the final time.  Next year, we will be able to walk straight across the yard, siginificantly lowering the number of steps required to circumnavigate the beet heap.  Imagine what we can achieve with all that extra energy!  Without a doubt, the cows will miss their Christmas sugar beet treats, but we will not miss hauling tarpaulins, scraping the road by hand, nor the verbal abuse we, the harvesters and hauliers received whilst working day and night to keep the road clean.

Special thanks to Mr Brooks' and Mr Hogger's teams for patiently sticking with small farmers like us, we will miss their annual visits to Lower Dairy Farm.

But fear not for the future of sugar beet sans Farmer Humph, we've passed the baton to future Dorset Beet Oligarch and Chairman of the NFU Sugar Board, Oscar.  Sadly he's declined the generous offer of our Standen Rapide Tanker, Mk 2. 

Should anyone else require the perfect first harvester, do contact us otherwise Dad may be tempted to keep it forever.

Whilst the Standen wheels itself off to sugar beet fields new/in the sky, we're distracting Farmer Humph with an exciting farm re-modelling.  To ease the pressure on the old farmyard system, we have just completed the footings of a new cow barn.  Updating the farmyard unit will allow us space to work on existing buildings, mend tractors and most importantly become gloriously fat (like arable farmers) with an easier management system and no beet heaps to walk round or clamber over.  More Horkesley Pork Pie anyone?

Happy Herefords

   The calm before the storm on the farm at the moment.  Mum and Dad are busy fixing, winter-proofing, feeding, cleaning, littering and keeping the animals in the luxury to which they have become accustomed.

We await the calving of Caramel (why is there never a full moon when you need one), so watch out for a sleep-weary Farmer Humph if you're driving up Water Lane in the dark.  And we're on tenterhooks as the wait for the sugar beet harvester goes on.  Rumour has it, the beast may head our way soon...and then you'll never have met a yokel (me) so happy to be hand-scraping sugar beet mud off a it will be for the last time.

Over in the shop, it's time for Shop Local Saturday on December 7th!  Part of a campaign to encourage folks to support local traders, look out for signs across the nation, and show your support for independents of all shapes and sizes.

Forget the pre-Christmas supermarket crush, love where you live and Shop Local.#ShopLocalSaturday

A little too basic...

OK, so when I said we were going "back to basics" recently, I wasn't quite meaning this basic:

Early Woman aka Mum was thrilled to find a new penknife whilst out walking our  domesticated wolfhound.  Proof positive that an early, possibly Neolithic Farmer Humph roamed this land.

But, the 'back-to-basics' jinx struck again this week, with Mum's discovery of a hand plough hidden under several decades of brambles.  A one-furrow plough.  So at last count, we have a one furrow, a two-furrow, two three-furrow and a four-furrow;   The Evolution of the Plough, a new exhibit at Lower Dairy Farm.  Join them all together and you could take on a prairie.

 With the Massey 690s still out of action, Dad has worked very hard to complete the ploughing, cultivating and drilling with limited tractor power.  It has been a long time coming, but finally, our last sugar beet crop is in the ground.  Hurrah!Actually, last year was supposed to be the last, but our agronomist bullied Dad into signing the contract for another season.  We like him really, but if he attempts the same this year, I shall be invoicing him for 20 years of tea and cake - and even when you take into account inflation, it's good cake, so he should be very afraid.

For us, sugar beet is a lot of hassle and no longer suited to small acreages like ours.  British Sugar are laughing all the way to the bank with the price they pay, and frankly, the NFU should be ashamed to put their name to the "deals" they "negotiate".  Negotiating with a monopoly is never going to be an easy task, but as one wise farmer put it: "They must drink in the same pub..."

And so, the sugar beet drill will be put to rest.  First looked at in 1982, it had lain unused in a field for so long, sheep had eaten the electric cabling.  A year later, Dad decided to buy it, rewired it and two of the units have lasted without upgrades for thirty years.  Seen here riding off into the sunset for the last time...

Note our state-of-the-art geolocation system: a bag on a pylon.  When the satellites fail, we'll be okay.  I'm off to knap flint tools for my survivalist shelter.

The Musee de LDF

December is bustin' out all over.  Another calf, and whilst we love all of God's creatures, I have to say, this is the most attractive shot I could get of our latest arrival... Poor calf.  When I become a River Stour Pirate he will come into his own in my skull and crossbones diorama.

But luck was on our side.  Whilst waiting for his unfriendly mother to calve, we were joined by a ferocious stoat.  This stoat has a reputation as a performance artist and will hold up the traffic on Water Lane whilst he/she (stoat sexing not my forte) drags the latest kill down the centre of the road.  Show-off; but pretty amazing to watch.

And speaking of artistic performances, Christo and Jeanne-Claude may have wrapped The Reichstag, but life is a conceptual art piece here at LDF.  Introducing, for a limited time only: "Sugar Beet Heap, Wrapped".

Performed at night, preferably in driving rain.  I'm pretty sure Christo and team of helpers didn't complete their wrapping with a personal head-to-toe mud pack and multiple bruises - whilst sliding down the heap may seem the most efficient way to get to the ground, high altitude sickness can make a wrapper forget a heap of beet makes for a lumpy descent.

But anything to protect those precious sugar beet from the December frosts.  British Sugar, take note; everything I do, I do it for you.

The 5 Days of Horkesley

On the first day of December, a lovely heifer calf for the herd.

On the second day of December a trip to Mersea gave to me, three marvellous piglets.

On the third day of December, I drew the short straw when Dad said "So, you get in the muck spreader..." and wandered off to find tools.  Ever wanted to know what the inside of a muck spreader looks like? Well now you know.

On the fourth day of December, what's that coming o'er the hill?  Yes!  It's the sugar beet harvester. At long last.

On the fifth day of December, 'Lord Sugar-beet' himself (Mr Brooks), had promised to send a smaller tractor to reduce the risk of barn-tractor collisions.  Fitting Twenty First Century equipment into our "bijou" yard is, as so diplomatically put by the traumatized-looking youth driving the tractor, "quite hard work".  Cue another 8 point turn.

And whilst I would have been most grateful for this, the harvester mined the sugar in record time and they'll be back at a later date for our other field...which requires drier conditions.

Clearly, this is shaping up to be a month of excitements.  Perhaps by the 31st we'll have a new gutter and my definition of rain (water falling from the sky) and that of the Met Office will match up?  Oh, we can live in hope...but too much excitement before Christmas is bad for a farmer.

The Golden Beet Club

A mound of sugar beet at last! Plus about half has already been collected in a rapid and ultra-efficient operation courtesy of some excellent timing by the teams at Brooks' and Hogger's.  I have recovered myself from the foetal position, the broken result of shovelling and sweeping the road by hand to help keep road users safe.  It's interesting, I didn't realise my "Caution - Mud on Road" signs actually said "Accelerate NOW! Then test your brakes".    Fortunately, the stretch of road was not too long and was navigated far more skilfully than I could have managed in a machine half the size.  And the result, a glowing mound of beet safely in and on it's way to the British Sugar factory at Bury St Edmunds(fingers crossed) before too much frost or the factory breaking down.

   If the weather suits, you have to cover the heap with tarpaulins.  I recently realised that for years, my benchmark for new clothing is whether I could clamber up a heap of icy sugar beet dragging a tarpaulin whilst maintaining a degree of modesty.  Fortunately, the sugar beet growers of Essex aren't known for their racy outfits on the farm and stilettoes do crush the beet so.

Without deterioration each sugar beet apparently yields around 3 teaspoons of sugar.  This fact may go down well with Humbug and the sweet-toothed cows, but it massively depressed chief grower Humph and resulted in severe but thank goodness temporary sugar rationing (Silver Spoon of course) in the Taylor household.

But, there are benefits to growing sugar beet including membership of "The Golden Beet Club".  "The what?" I hear you ask.  Well, I have no clue.  Membership is, of course, exclusive (like the Bullingdon of beet growers) and requires the wearing of a miniature golden beet-shaped lapel badge that arrived one day in the post and was the pride and joy of my badge collection as a child.  Here's hoping I haven't broken some secret Masonic code in revealing this club to the world.

  However, in the absence of any communication in the past decade (I don't think they can revoke membership...), we'll have to stick to celebrating our annual finding of the red beet contest.  Located from the heap of beet by Andrew Copsey and beautifully modelled here by Humph, I can reveal it does indeed taste like proper beetroot - if a little sweeter and somewhat gritty.  Golden Beet Club eat your heart out!

For now however, the big machinery has left, and tomorrow we're clearing a path through the remaining heap to get the bullocks into their winter housing.  Bullocks are far more nimble than I am heading up and over a beet heap, so I'm hoping for best behaviour.

Finally and most importantly, CONGRATULATIONS to the lovely James and Louise, Dorset's newest farm tenants!  A very wise decision by the council and an excellent addition to Dorset society (although I'd watch out for the Rogers - dreadful bores).  We wish you all the best in setting up your new farm and discovering what is inside "the unsurveyed room"...