Let us (s)pray that nothing goes wrong…

Posted By on 20th July 2016

Something you might think I would have learned by now is that almost every initiative I try to take on running this place has some unintended consequence.

For example, the long-awaited launch of my bee-keeping project a few months ago was accompanied by a diligent observance of the instruction manual’s advice to leave the bees in peace and give them a chance to settle in.

I did precisely that, and I’m pleased to report that the bees have indeed settled in and are thriving. The unintended consequence was that leaving the bees in peace meant that the grass in the orchard – along with stinging nettles, docks and giant hogweed – grew so tall that they all towered over me. And then the lawnmower broke down anyway and so the reclamation of the orchard went to the bottom of my to-do list.

Last week, with lawnmower repaired, I encountered another unintended consequence. Would I be able to cut the grass right up to the bee hive? Would the bees get angry, and would I need to suit-up with face mask and gauntlets? On this point the bee-keeping manual was no help, and the internet is swamped with conflicting advice.

A few years ago the government actually urged us to make less of an effort to cut our grass, on the grounds that clovers and other wild flowers help bees in their quest for pollen. This presented me with a serious dilemma: should I follow my natural instincts to be as lazy as possible? Or should I, almost on principle, disregard government advice on the grounds that no sensible person could ever believe a word they say?

In the end I compromised – combining my inclination to ignore government advice with my innate laziness, and so set about cutting the grass but without bothering to wear protective clothing (it was at the end of hot sunny day and the bees appeared to have gone to bed.)

Everything went according to plan until I accidentally bumped into the hive with the lawnmower. Suddenly the air was thick with angry bees. I retreated, unstung, and there is a small patch of the orchard which still has long grass, nettles, docks and giant hog weed.

This afternoon I plan to have another go, along with a few patches in the corners of the meadow where the stinging nettles have advanced several yards.

Sometimes I survey the scale of my small, amateurish agricultural venture and wonder how anyone would ever have the time to be a proper farmer, with hundreds of acres, and potentially more aggressive livestock, to worry about.

On the radio right now is the news that the European Commission (remember them?) is to continue licensing glysophate, the all-conquering weedkiller, and that farmers will be free to carry on spraying. This is despite (or maybe because of) expert scientific advice saying it is a bad thing (or is it a good thing?) and very dangerous (or is it safe?)
I am comforted (I think) by the idea that “proper farmers” actually face precisely the same dilemmas as I do, having constantly to juggle conflicting advice and priorities. Let us hope that the industrial scale application of chemicals to crops has no unintended consequences.