It soon seems to come around - after the busy autumn period we are now back spreading fertiliser and spraying. It is a sign of getting older that the years seem to come round more quickly.

The winter has been fairly benign with very few frosts, almost no snow but generally windy. The soil has remained continuously wet since last October. Wildlife, especially birds, have benefited from this and it is pleasing to see the flocks of birds, especially Linnets and Goldfinches, coming onto the wild bird seed plots and feeders.

The partridges that were released last summer remained in a large covey for most of the winter but are now pairing up. There are nests in all the usual locations, plus many I have not yet found. The pair of Mallard have returned to the pond and are nesting too. So far this winter we have fed about 100kg broken wheat, 80 kg broken maize, 100kg mixed millets, niger, etc, 100kg sunflower hearts and 80kg peanuts at several feeding points for 'small birds'. There are bin type feeders containing whole wheat at various locations for other 'larger' birds such as pheasants and partridges.

One of the 'small bird' feeders. Lots of Sparrows! Snowdrops

Early March was dry and gave a good opportunity to sow some spring barley. About 16 ha was sown and rolled in almost perfect conditions. Some land, which was late ploughed, because of some drain repairs, was left as it had no had the weather to break it down.

Over the last 6 or so years, we have been going on to crops earlier and earlier, to no apparent yield advantage. This year I have decided to go back to not applying any fertilser until the end of March. 250kg/ha (69 units/ac) of ammonium nitrate was applied to all second wheats, winter barley and OSR on 27th March.

I am still selling the remnants of last year's crop - all the winter barley is sold with around 150 tonnes to lift, and when the sold wheat goes, there should be about 60 tonnes left to sell. I was quite lucky to sell a large percentage when the price 'spiked' and subsequently fell. The winter barley price was disappointing and was mainly sold for export from the Tyne with a small premium. OSR was sold on a 'pool' basis and the price achieved was good for the year, but poor with regard to growing costs.

The season for DEFRA paperwork is also upon us. Apparently the 'new' computer system is a typical, expensive government IT project and basically is not fit for purpose. Paper forms are being sent out to all farmers to fill everything in manually - and of course there is a strict deadline for submitting forms, with financial penalties for late delivery.

Sowing spring barley. A blocked drain Result of the blocked drains

During the winter a field which is almost pure clay and badly drained was investigated and one of the problems was silted up drains. Clay particles are so small that they can easily be carried into drain pipes where they accumulate and after 120 years or so completely block the drain. As an experiment, new perforated plastic drain was laid, deeper than the original, and backfilled with coarse gravel. If this makes a difference to the small area drained, more extensive work will be carried out in future. This year the soil has been so wet that the crops are growing better on the line of drains. The excess water is being carried away allowing the plants to flourish.

The sprayer was given it's annual 'big' service and a couple of sticky electric valves required repair. A diode across a microswitch starts to fail giving irregular operation. I find it best to replace both the microswitch and diode. The pump was completely overhauled last year but was also checked out.

Mole catching has been occupying a lot of time as well, with dozens being caught. I have never seen moles re-invade a territory so quickly as they have this year. It is quite an enjoyable walk around the fields each morning with the dogs, but I have no idea why they will not pick up a mole.

Drains showing in OSR Planimeter phone GPS Sprayer electric valve repair.

I have found a very useful 'app' for my Android phone named 'Planimeter'. This makes it very easy to mark points such as drains or broken fences or to mark and measure an area. The results can be displayed on 'GoogleEarth'. It is much more accurate than I was expecting from a phone GPS with a return accuracy of less than 2 metres.

Finally, all work ground to a halt on March 20th while we watched the Solar eclipse. We are not far enough North to see the total eclipse but around 95%. Nevertheless it was spectacular and the change in temperature and light level could be observed.

The Solar eclipse 20/03/2015