Friday, 7 July 2017

harvest time

The lettuce farm has been mostly growing wheat this year.  The polytunnels have reverted to growing rocket, since the contract for growing medicinal cannabis they had last year was not renewed.  I think it is now being produced on a larger scale in tunnels warmed by the waste heat from one of British Sugar's processing plants.  When we saw the fields had been sown with some kind of grass last autumn we initially assumed it was a grass ley, to try and build up the organic content of the soil and avoid leaving it bare all winter, but as spring came and the grass kept growing I began to think they were leaving it very late to plough it in.  By the time it was a foot tall and producing heads of some kind of grain I decided it had to be a crop and not merely a soil conditioner.  There followed a debate about whether it was wheat or barley, since the total amount either of us know about cereal farming doesn't add up to much.  If I'd known it was a crop I'd have felt guiltier about treading on it when we were cutting our hedge from the field side, though we only trod a tiny bit on the very edges and I don't suppose it hurt it.

In the end I decided it was wheat.  It didn't look whiskery enough to be barley, and I'm not sure that winter sown barley is a thing whereas I have heard of winter sown wheat.  It was not very tall, but that might have been the breed.  We watched an interesting series about the history of British farming in the twentieth century which included an episode about wheat, and some modern varieties are terribly short.  However, I think the startling variations in height across the field next to us from short to downright midget must have been down to the soil.  After one season trying to grow lettuces in that field when the farmer first acquired the land, he left it fallow to grass for several years because he said the soil was so dreadful, varying from poor to atrocious, that he couldn't do anything with it.

If I'd seen the farmer to chat to I'd have asked about the wheat.  Did the soil need a break from a monoculture of lettuces?  Perhaps pests and diseases build up and a rotation is healthy.  Or had the effort of trying to grow salad outdoors in the UK proved not worthwhile, what with droughts and deluges making cultivation a gamble and consumer demand a lottery, or supermarkets wanting lettuce at less than cost price or suddenly not wanting it at all if their weather forecasts indicated that consumers wouldn't be in the mood for salad?  Or is this the beginning of the post Brexit shortage of horticultural labour?  Perhaps his Latvians and Lithuanians did not want to spend their summer planting and harvesting lettuces for a pound that was worth twenty per cent less than last year, in a country that seemed to hate them.

The combine has been working on the farm for the past three days.  I was about to type trundling, but combine harvesters don't really trundle.  A bit like footage of tanks in action, they go much faster than I expected they would.  Yesterday was the turn of the field next to our house.  It was very noisy, very dusty while it lasted, and all over in about three hours.  I found Mr Cool during the harvest, lying down in the shade of the garden trailer next to the chicken run, which is one of his favoured places, with little pieces of chopped straw and chaff drifting down over his beautiful fur. We could really do with some rain now, since every plant in the front garden and especially those with large or hairy leaves is covered with fragmented straw.  The dust has shown up how many spider webs there are in the garden in summer.  You notice them in the winter when they are covered in dew, but it turns out they are still here.  Unfortunately the effect of the chopped straw is not nearly so picturesque as that of the morning dew.

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