When it comes to cultivations, Mrs P is decidedly old-school. It’s not that she thinks I should be out with the plough and Unipress at every opportunity and ditching min-till. In point of fact, Mrs P wouldn’t know what the Unipress is.
The only press she would know about is the hot-press and that’s absolutely fine with me. Each to their own, I say.
But when it comes to cultivations in the garden Mrs P has no time for minimal disturbance of the soil or, next generation, no-dig gardening.
I’ve tried to explain the benefits of reduced cultivations such as less weed seed germination and increased earthworm activity and reduced carbon loss from the soil but my cries have fallen on deaf ears.
No-till and min-till fields seldom look pretty and conventionally ploughed and pressed fields win the pretty picture award all the time
I’ve suggested she would half her gardening time but to no avail. Mrs P’s beds have to be properly hoed and dug and the soil dutifully disturbed to remove each flush of weeds.
Now, it has to said, the flowerbeds and garden look the better for it and this too equates to mainstream tillage farming. No-till and min-till fields seldom look pretty and conventionally ploughed and pressed fields win the pretty picture award all the time. But certainly, within the fields, it’s not about creating pretty pictures but about reducing cost and caring for the soil. All are values which are perhaps at odds with Mrs P’s tidy, conventional gardening.
To my mind, it is anathema and I prefer the intrinsic beauty of agriculture with serenely grazing cattle or cultivated fields
But beauty in nature is in the eye of the beholder. A substantial portion of the 1,500ac Dunsany Castle estate near Trim is currently undergoing a process of rewilding. In essence, all commercial farming operations are withdrawn with a largely non-interventionist policy while the land falls fully and firmly into the grip of nature. To my mind, it is anathema and I prefer the intrinsic beauty of agriculture with serenely grazing cattle or cultivated fields.
Even though I’ve told you before about my re-wilded hectare, of which I’m quite proud, I’m not a fan of large-scale re-wilding projects, of which there are an increasing number. The Knepp Castle estate of 3,500ac, 40-odd miles from London, was formerly under dairy and tillage farming. In the year 2000, the long process of re-wilding began and continues apace with the introduction of very extensive herds of fallow and red deer, Exmoor ponies, longhorn cattle and Tamworth pigs.
Plants, birds, insects and animals not seen on farmland in any number – if at all – over the past 50 years have all increased exponentially
Beavers, lynx and wolves may be next but the huge and aggressive auroch-like Heck cattle – sometimes known as Hitler’s cattle – have been ruled out on the grounds of safety to walkers.
Now it has to be said, in the interests of balance, biodiversity has greatly increased at Knepp and also, to a lesser degree, at Dunsany, which is only a few years into its new regime. Plants, birds, insects and animals not seen on farmland in any number – if at all – over the past 50 years have all increased exponentially.
It also has to be said, it appears that once nature is given a chance, it has an extraordinary ability to recolonise.
Nonetheless, it grates with me to see the best of farmland revert to what I would call scrub. I worry that this could become the new norm and the focus of blinkered policymakers. Food production for a hungry world has to be the primary focus for farmers and landowners.
But perhaps there is some room for a few pioneers to actively indulge in their rewilding projects. It may even let the rest us who are “tidy” old-school conventional farmers (and Mrs P) off the environmental hook, to some degree. If you want to see creatures like a purple emperor or steely blue beetle, then away you go to Dunsany. You won’t find them here – yet.