Soil – What can you do now?


This photograph shows a healthy soil sample taken by digging a small pit in a field, demonstrating a relatively good soil structure. The grass roots can be seen growing at least four inches below the surface (surface on the right of the photo); there is little obvious compaction; worms are in evidence and the soil is a good colour – it also smelt good and fresh and not stale. Deep grass roots enable the sward to access water, and can source more trace elements and minerals, helping it cope in times of drought and indeed when the ground is saturated, making it stronger and more durable. Aerating is a key task in helping to achieve this.

Getting soil analysed every three years or so is an excellent way to keep a tab of what’s going on, but in between lab tests, keeping on top of any deficiencies can be as simple digging a hole with a spade and looking to see what is in there – lots of lovely worms helping breakdown organic matter? Is the soil sweet smelling and crumbly, or hard, foul smelling and probably anaerobic?

If so, your soil will probably need some help. Help in the form of applying soil conditioners to help its structure and trace elements, harrowing, rolling if absolutely necessary, and scheduling in some aerating to simulate grass root growth and the all important anaerobic digestion of organic materials.

Don’t forget – soil is a living organism!

Sweet Chestnut

07-04-2016 16-42-32Beautiful trees and unbeatable fencing materials

Sweet Chestnut, that most beautiful of trees, is grown commercially in Southern Britain, where it is coppiced and used to make excellent quality fencing materials. The trees respond very well to coppicing and produce a good crop of tannin-rich wood every 15 to 30 years, depending on local growth rate and what its intended end-use is – it might be used for fencing, roof timbers, or made into barrels for ageing things such as balsamic vinegar.
The naturally occurring tannins in the wood make it very durable and an excellent fencing material, suitable for gateposts, rails and stakes or fence posts. The wood when first cut is light or pale in colour, and is very hard and very strong.
And because it is naturally high in tannins, it requires no treating with harsh, man-made chemical preservatives. Fences are put up without the need for nails or screws as the stakes or posts are mortised and the rails simply slip into them, and it also has the distinct advantage of lasting a very long time – 25, 30 or even 40 years is not uncommon. Compare that to ‘modern’ treated, soft-wood fencing!

The Woodland Trust have some further information here

If you would like to discuss putting up some Castanea sativa (Sweet Chestnut) fencing give us a call – 01984 667697

The Big Farm Bird Count

Yellowhammer in foliageThe Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust is carrying out its annual Big Farm Bird Count again this February – starting tomorrow! Submit your results online and you could win binoculars worth £1,310! Once you’ve completed your count simply submit your results online here.

Why are we counting?

This important initiative offers a simple means of recording the effect of any conservation schemes currently being initiated by farmers and gamekeepers on their land such as supplementary feeding or growing wild bird seed crops and game cover crops.
It is also a useful way of gaining personal insight on how well their birds are faring. Jim Egan, Head of Development and Training at our Allerton Project explains why conducting the count is so important:

“Farmers and gamekeepers are vital in helping to ensure the future survival of many of our most cherished farmland bird species such as skylark, yellowhammer, corn buntings and wild grey partridges. They are responsible for managing the largest songbird habitat in this country on their land but frequently their efforts to reverse bird declines are largely unrecorded. We believe our Big Farmland Bird Count will help remedy this, particularly as our earlier pilot count showed such encouraging results. ”

“Over the last 21 years researchers at our Allerton Project farm in Leicestershire have gained a great understanding of the needs of farmland game and wildlife. Their work has demonstrated the combined benefits of habitat management, winter feeding for birds and targeted legal predator control in the breeding season. We have also come to understand the benefits that can be gained from long term monitoring of bird numbers in order to identify trends in wildlife populations.”DSC_0037_edited-1

“We understand the crucial role that farmers and gamekeepers play in the survival of farmland birds and we want to give them an opportunity of showing what their conservation efforts deliver on the ground. It is also a satisfying way for people to discover the different range of birds that are on the farm and the results can be surprising. We hope it will spur people on to do even more work for their farmland birds in the future and will act as a catalyst for them to start building their own long standing wildlife records. ”

To take part, and for more information, please click here

Do you know what soil you have?

We often get asked ‘What type of soil do I have?’ from customers when we are out and about so here is the GreenPaddocks quick and simple cheat sheet to test the texture of your soil and find out what type of soil you have.   Once you know what type of soil you have we would recommend having a quick Grassland MOT done to find out the pH balance, check organic matter percentages and nutrient levels to ensure your land is in optimum condition.

GP soil texture test

If you only do one thing, do this

Now is the time to do THE most important job on your pasture: Aerating.

Soil aeratingWe may all be aware or have heard that land is easily compacted by vehicular, stock and even human traffic. But why is this of concern?

It is very easy to ignore what’s going on in the soil – ‘out of sight, out of mind’ so to speak. But just like the foundations of a well-constructed house, or perhaps like the proverbial iceberg, what goes on ‘out of sight’ is of essential importance.

All plants, and in particular grasses require strong, sturdy roots to enable them to access nutrients and of course to anchor them to the ground. Regular aerating will encourage root growth and strength and help maximise root volume. And this is important as the more numerous, deep and strong the roots, the better the grass can access nutrients, and withstand both drought and flood. Aerating will also allow oxygen to penetrate down deep into the soil, and this encourages all the macro and micro-bacterial activity that keeps the whole eco-system that is soil in good heart.

As one horse livery owner, and a friend of GreenPaddocks, always says “if there was only one job I can do every year – it would be aerating: our paddocks have improved immeasurably since we started to aerate”.

Vital checklist from my Agronomist:

1. Aerating should be part of regular routine maintenance, not a question of shall we/shan’t we aerate this year.

2. Far more important to aerate than roll.

3. Helps create a denser sward which makes sure more water goes where it is needed – the grass roots.

4. Environmentally a good thing to do too as it reduces run-off – so less phosphate etc. goes into water courses (run-off being a big environmental problem as a whole).

5. A denser sward means that it is stronger and better able to withstand the punishment meted out by our equine friends…horses are notoriously bad for grassland – churning it up, compacting it, grazing it too tight and generally making a mess – allowing pernicious weeds to establish.

6. Proper regular maintenance = better/stronger grass = fewer weeds and a more robust, attractive environment.

Sowing the Seeds for Grassland Management

Dew on the grassThe evidence is indubitable; spring has sprung. Here in the office we’ve been converting thoughts into action and fleshing out plans for this year’s grassland management with considerations being given to inputs, rotation, fencing, ditching and spring hedge trimming amongst other things.

All grasses in the UK share common characteristics in their growth patterns and barely grow at all when the temperature dips below 5°C. Conversely, it grows vigorously during warm and wet conditions, typical of the spring and early summer.
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Spraying to control weeds

Certain weeds are poisonous, such as buttercup and ragwort, but all are detrimental to your grassland, and soil is a harbour of weed seeds just waiting to germinate.



When it comes to weeds, the word we use is ‘control’ not ‘kill’. This is not to be obscure or clever, simply a statement of fact, as herbicides will only act on the weeds that are there – at the right growth stage – at that moment in time.

Modern herbicides are very safe on grass, and very efficient at controlling weeds. We can target specific weeds, if one type dominates, or try to clean up a variety with an appropriate range of herbicides.

Times up Dock

Dock leaves right for spraying

Right for spraying

Got any of these chaps in your fields? If  they are looking like the image on the left now is the time to spray them.  This time of year they look healthy, not old and damaged and purple/brown in colour as when they age or get ramularia (leaf spot fungus) they don’t take up the herbicides so well so control is much less effective.

If you have livestock grazing be warned that excessive quantities of docks in the diet can cause dietary upsets, especially in young animals. When fields become infested with docks, the available grazing is reduced, which then impacts on the planned grazing cycle.

They are the most pernicious and damaging of all grassland weeds with more than 15% of productive grassland having a serious dock infestation. Docks compete with grass for light, nutrients and moisture thus reducing grass yields.  Docks have only 65% of the feed value of grass and are unpalatable. In general, animals will only eat them if there is nothing else available.

So, now is the time to get rid of them to ensure you have healthy, productive pasture throughout the season.

Are We Springing into Spring?

A Groundhog Predicts the Arrival of SpringThe official arrival of spring comes with the onset of many other things; lambing attendants being too busy to answer their phones and more daffodils in the hedgerow than you can shake a walker’s stick at.

With all the planetary changes that take place in our ever moving annual calendar and with recent shifts in our climate, I’d been pondering precisely when spring had actually sprung!

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Giant Hogweed: a bitter alien?

Giant hogweedI read a fascinating article by Hugh Warwick in today’s Environment Guardian, entitled, ‘Don’t fear the alien invasion – our landscape is defined by foreign plants‘.

Hugh describes being ‘attacked’ by a giant hogweed. Following the altercation with this toxic, ancient specimen, the poor man’s knee broke out into the most dreadful blister and left him needing to seek the services of a skin specialist.

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Accreditation and Membership

Also ROLO and CSCS members