I have been asked in the past what we do in the winter months. People comment, saying “Surely as an arable farmer, you plant the crops in the autumn, go away on holiday and come back the following summer ready to harvest them?” Nice thought, but I’m afraid the reality is a little different.
Admittedly, on an arable farm, where we only grow crops and do not have any livestock to look after, the winter months are quiet and it can be an opportunity to relax on a holiday if you wish. However, I have always found it the time of year for research, planning and projects, of which we have done many over the years. Back around the millennium, I remember spending many winter months researching the viability of creating a cold pressed rapeseed oil business on our farm, as a diversification project on something I found very interesting and to hopefully bring a little extra income to the family business. Looking back, I think this was time very well spent.
Of course winter is an ideal time for us to service all the farm machinery in preparation for the coming spring and summer months when we will want it to work long and hard without too many breakdowns. We have done many building projects over the years, both for new machinery ideas and for buildings on the farm. Some examples have been building a new trailer, or creating a water bowser. In the past, when I was a young boy and even before I was born, my Father and Grandfather were at their happiest creating new weird and wonderful machines in the farm workshop. Two of the most extravagant examples included a six-wheel drive tractor, converted from a World War II army fire engine. I remember going across the fields with them on this machine, before it finally over heated and was retired in the nettles. Their most famous project was when they took two normal tractors, replaced the standard engines with more powerful versions, before removing the front axils off both tractors and joining them together to make an articulated four-wheel drive machine, driven by one person from the back tractor. This was certainly cutting-edge engineering in its day, that was later copied and refined by machinery manufacturers in future years.
We have restored our beautiful traditional barns and converted them from redundant old farm buildings into offices, including our farm office today. New modern grain stores have been designed and built to cope with storing and drying the grain at the speed the modern combine harvester brings the crops in. Over the years, we have built all of the factory and some of the machinery inside it for Farrington Oils. Some of these projects seem to start as winter job ideas, but tend to stretch through other months of the year and before long take on a whole life of their own. The most recent being the latest expansion of Farrington Oils to create a new toilet and changing facilities, as well as extra space to mix our salad dressings and store ingredients. We have even made a little development kitchen in which Eli is currently very busy with her trusted jam jar creating some possible exciting new dressing recipes. This whole project started in April last year, we had a few weeks break for harvest to take place, before finally finishing the project just before Christmas.
The other main type of project we have done during winter over the years is planting trees and hedges. We have literally planted thousands of trees and several kilometres of hedges since 1987 when my Father planted the first couple of spinneys on the farm. They are now well established, adding beauty and wildlife habitats to the landscape. This year we have been at it again. Marvin spent the time before Christmas with the chainsaw, thinning out dead wood from a copse area and old hedge, in readiness to replant with new young saplings in the first weeks of January. He has now created a few hundred more metres of hedgerow – Father and I have helped him with the spade to get some of the 2,000 hedge and tree plants put into the soil. We will have to weed around the young saplings for the first two years, after that they will hopefully grow and thrive, adding more beauty and wildlife habitat for many years to come. Additionally, we have a pile of wood ready to cut up for the fire to keep us warm at home next year.
Although winter on Bottom Farm may not be spent on a combine harvester or tractor, it certainly is far from quiet!