Friday, 29 July 2011

Plooughing and scattering.

It is the end of July this week-end and everywhere the tractors are busy in the fields; haymaking, grass cutting, baling are all going on as I walk down the lane. The one or two fields of barley in this mainly grassland area are looking ready for harvesting. Last week our neighbour was walking through his barley field pulling out the wild oats by hand while the other side neighbour was spraying his barley field with weed killer to give it a fortnight before he cut it.

In the implement sheds combine harvesters are being got out of the far corners, dusted down, oiled up, tinkered with and got ready for work. Round here farmers often share a combine between two or three farms and share the work too so that they all get it done fairly quickly. All the barley round here goes for cattle food.

I must say that one of the things I miss by living up here in the Dales is being able to walk through a stubble field. I remember them from my childhood in flat Lincolnshire - the pheasant, partridge and other birds scratching about for the gleanings, the hares loping about between the rows, the smell of the cut corn.

Of course it is not so long ago when combine harvesters were new fangled things. My uncle farmed in the Lincolnshire Wolds during the Second World War and he had a binder which was a great mammoth of a thing which went up and down the hills at a precarious angle. There would be a threshing day when all his corn was threshed. There would be a smell of smoke in the air, a lot of noise, a lot of dust and a lot of work for my Aunt Alice who had a whole lot of workmen to feed at lunch time. I went once and remember the dust and corn husks which got everywhere and made me itch like mad.

If we had to choose the harvest hymn we all know I suppose it would be 'We Plough the Fields and Scatter the Good Seed on the Ground". Almost every Harvest Festival Service begins with that hymn. I looked it up on Google and found it was originally a poem in German by Matthius Claudius (1792), set to music in 1800 and translated into English in 1861.

And that made me think of the Harvest Festivals of my childhood in a Methodist Chapel, where we spent the entire Saturday decorating the chapel. We would tie a string round the whole chapel and thread Michaelmas daisies through it. Every window sill would be piled high with produce and every available space covered. All round the pulpit apples would be precariously balanced and we would hope not to have a 'tub-thumping' preacher on the Sunday! Monday night there would be an auction of all the stuff and the highest price usually went for the wonderful sheaf of wheat bread loaf baked by the local baker. There would not be a tin in sight in those days - we hardly ever used tinned food because our veggie gardens had to provide the year's supplies.

Go back even further to my mother's generation and the women would glean the fields to collect enough corn to grind their own flour for bread making. Millet's painting "The Gleaners" is one of my favourites but before I begin to wax lyrical about that and those times I need to remind myself the times were jolly hard for the majority of the population - they really knew what hard work was about. Not like today's combine harvester drivers who sit in front of a computerised screen and let the machine do the field on its own.

13 comments:

Pondside said...

When I think of my grandmothers and great grandmothers, at the edge of a new continent with no modern convenience at all, birthing at home and doing everything from scratch I am completely humbled.

Heather said...

Lovely memories Pat. I can see why farmers share machinery today - we drove past an enormous farm vehicle yesterday which must have been worth a fortune.
I remember seeing the tied bundles of cereal crops shooting out of the machine before being stood up into stooks, and a farmer's daughter schoolfriend had to have a week off school when her mother was indisposed so that she could cook for her father's men each lunch time.
Best of all, I remember how beautiful our parish church looked on our wedding day which fell on the day before the Harvest Festival Service. The pulpit was completely hidden by foliage and flowers held in place with wires, and the windowsills and all other available spaces were full of every kind of fresh produce. It is still a lovely service especially in a country church, and inspite of the fact that we can buy foodstuffs from all around the world now.

Elizabeth said...

Harvest festival was always one of my favorite festivals --yes, it was such fun decorating the church with all the bounty from the fields. Thanks for the info on "we plough the fields.....". Love getting little snippets like this.
I feel sad for children who think peas come frozen from Birdseye to go with the fish 'fingers'.
Did you go apple picking?

steven said...

weaver your memories of the methodist chapel at harvest time evoke the most favourite memories of mine when i would visit my grandad's churches which would have been beautifully prepared beforehand by the ladies' guild. what i cannot forget is the magical smell of the fruits and vegetables, the plants and flowers and of course the church smell itself. it's all still so very powerful!!! steven

Mary said...

.........and following the service we would make gift baskets of the harvest produce brought to decorate the church, and deliver them to elderly or disabled shut-ins - I always enjoyed that part as I've always loved talking with older people. Of course I'm one myself now, but doubt any child will be ringing my door bell come Autumn.............sad when one realizes so many of the old things are gone. We grew up in a much better time, of that I'm certain.

Mary

angryparsnip said...

The Harvest celebration at the church sounds wonderful.
I love the old hymns.

I remember belonging to the group who arranged the flowers for Sunday service. Our Thanksgiving service was always filled with lots of fresh vegetables and flowers but ours were always store bought and on a much smaller scale that yours but still wonderful.

lovely memories.

cheers, parsnip

Rachel said...

Even with the big machines we have today harvest is still a lot of hard work and long hours for everyone involved, including those sitting stressing indoors over the fertiliser and fuel bills I might add and we are in the hands of the weather just like our fathers and grandfathers and this will never change. My house was surrounded by 200 acres of rape and this has been harvested in roughly 10 days, and this would have been quicker if we had not had drizzle and low cloud all week. As it is, all the rape will have to go through a drier before it is acceptable to the merchants. The barley fields are thin and crop yields are between 30 and 50% down in this county and there is little straw due to the drought in the Spring. Not a lot has changed in spite of the machinery.

Rare Lesser Spotted said...

What a stunning commentary on the life of a the countryside, thank you for sharing. I can recall stubble fields and burning stubble and having to stand at a crossroads junction around 1985-ish while a field that was being burned spewed grey thick smoke with billions of blackened 'bits' across the road causing chaos. When I got home, I looked like I'd been down the mine!

ChrisJ said...

We used to watch them harvesting the fields and waited for the foxes and rabbits to come running out. Great excitement. Up in Flamborough they would burn the stubble fields but I doubt they're allowed to do that any more.
I haven't heard that hymn for a long while. I did love the Harvest Festivals in the churches. I find it hard to think of our descendants looking back with nostalgia to this tehcnological age.

Dartford Warbler said...

Your memories took me back to the Lincolnshire village where my mother grew up. I remember staying with my Granny at harvest time and watching the huge combines at work in the fields. The Methodist chapel was full of produce from gardens and I still have two felt mice who were made to decorate sheaves of corn.

i also remember the thrill of finding pea vines which had fallen off the trailers into the lane. Those peas were the best ever!

Bovey Belle said...

How I enjoyed your memories Pat - and everyone else's. My children always enjoyed Harvest Festival and our church looked wonderful bedecked with flowers, but more tins than fresh produce, sad to say.

We live in "hill country" this side of the river and there is too much rain for grain harvests. We don't see corn fields until we travel East and are almost at the River Severn.

Penny said...

Catching up on your last few posts, lovely, your hens and chicks look beautiful, I wish I could have a cockerel but a bit far to come!I love your tale of the fox.
Lovely winter day here, sunny and warm and I feel so much better a lot of jobs were done.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thank you for the comments. It seems we all have happy memories of harvest festivals in the past.