Tuesday, 27 July 2010
Farming Northj Yorkshire style.
Up here the corn is just beginning to ripen. There is not a lot of arable land around the Dales - this is grassland and sheep country with a dairy farm thrown in here and there for good measure. But some farmers grow a field or two of corn for winter feed and the sign that it is beginning to ripen is that combine harvesters are on the move. Most of our roads are little more than lanes and meeting a combine harvester coming in the opposite direction creates no contest - you just get out of the way and let it go past.
Further South harvesting has been taking place for a few weeks now, but up here we are what is called ' close to the weather' and things take a little longer. But there is no doubt that corn has been cut - the proof came today in the form of our first load of straw. And with its arrival the thought struck me - up here farmers really spend the whole of the Summer preparing for Winter.
We cut the grass to make hay or to make silage - for Winter feed when the grass in the meadows has stopped growing and has gone dormant for Winter. We fill the barns with straw for Winter-bedding. And on a house-keeping level, we stock up the freezers with surplus vegetables for Winter-eating; we gather the blackberries, raspberries, gooseberries and make jam and chutney for Winter-eating; we pick blackberries and make blackberry whisky for colds and sore throats in Winter; we pick sloes to make sloe gin - a warming drink on a chilly night.
No wonder in the 'old days' harvest festival was such an important time - people really were thanking God that everything was safely gathered in, in the knowledge that once this has happened then animals and people alike would survive the Winter months with plenty to eat. Add the logs from the sawn up branches of a few fallen trees and you would be just as snug and warm as the cattle would be snuggled down in the straw.
Now that almost everything can be bought in the supermarket we have no need to make jam and chutney, wine and sloe gin - it is all there on the shelves for us to buy and making it has become just an enjoyable hobby for some. But we still have to store that straw, and believe me, today, with a brisk Westerly breeze, there is straw everywhere as well as in the barn!
The cats are happy - a nice high stack of straw to sit atop - a bit closer to the newly-hatched swallows; the farmer is happy - good clean straw already for putting down in the loose housing in late October; the only person who is slightly unhappy is the farmer's wife, who is still wading through straw in order to get to the back door - I cannot tell you how it has managed to spread itself about.