February is such a difficult month for the gardener, and it’s very easy to get caught on the hop when a sunny day persuades you to get sowing in the vegetable plot, followed a few days later by a hard and frosty day that nips all your seedlings in the bud. However, I for one cannot resist the call of spring, and during the last week of February in went my rows of carrots, peas, parsnips and beetroot. Ever hopeful! The greenhouse (ours is unheated, but a bit of bubble wrap helps our more tender shoots) comes into its own at this time too, and is now stuffed with pots and trays of seedlings: cabbages, tomatoes, broad beans, onions, and lots of different herbs. Fingers crossed!
February is the month that we have our ewes pregnancy scanned, and as the news of Schmallenberg Disease was breaking, we were justifiably anxious about what the results might be – at the time, little if anything was known about the disease, except that it might cause foetal re-absorption, abortion and deformed lambs.
As it turned out, we’re very pleased with our scanning results this year, at 179% our flock is 2% up on last year, with a 19% improvement on 2010. It’s a good indicator that this aspect of our ‘flock improvement’ measures is working. So, for the record, we’re expecting one set of triplets, 10 sets of twins, and 3 singles – a fact that is graphically displayed by a series of spray-paint dots on the ewes’ sides!
Interesting Agricultural Fact of the Month!
For those of you who like to discuss interesting farming facts in your local pub of an evening, I’ve decided to add a little postscript to the monthly farm diary to provide you with some provocative subject matter! So, for March, here’s a bit of interesting info about ‘Peak Phosphorous’.
Phosphorous, as all good gardeners will know, is one of the essential elements for all plant growth – it’s the ‘P’ in the N:P:K tests that you should be doing on your garden soil, so that you can correct any nutritional imbalances or deficiencies. In mammals, it’s essential for bone development, muscle function, and energy production. So, when you buy your bag of fertiliser (and remember, farmers worldwide buy millions of tonnes of the stuff each year), where does the phosphorous bit come from?
About 90% of the world’s reserves are to be found in phosphate-bearing rock in just five countries: the Western Sahara, Jordan, South Africa, China and the USA, and it’s been estimated that we have about 30-40 years’ worth left. Of course, there may be other deposits that we have yet to exploit (the sea-bed may provide a rich source), but on the other hand, our demand is growing as populations around the world westernise their diets to include more meat, which means more plant growth to feed the animals. China, apparently, have been buying mountains (literally) in various parts of the world with the intention of extracting the essential elements required for agriculture.
Before you ask, no, there is no artificial substitute for phosphorus. But we could attempt to recycle it. Currently, literally tonnes of the stuff is flushed away annually, unfortunately, in our chemical-ridden age, much human waste also contains other less welcome chemicals (antibiotics and hormones for starters) that if applied directly to the crops we eat could eventually contribute to antibiotic-resistance and who-knows-what trans-gender problems.