Harvest 2015

combining wheat 2015

Step outside the back door and you know that it’s harvest time. First the unmistakable dusty smell of harvest, then the steady noise of the combine in a distant field and the roar of the tractors driving into the yard …

emptying wheat trailer

… followed by the bang of the trailer tailgate as they empty their load of wheat.

wheat harvest 2015

It is a slightly fraught time of year, when everything seems to be done at a run, tempers run short and the weather forecasts consulted and sworn about more than usual.

harvest rolls

Thankfully, I’m no longer required to drive tractors and corn cart but have slipped into the role of chief gofer, provider of refreshments and soothing influence.

harvest bars

I am more suited to some of these roles than others.

eating greengages

wheat stubble


Phew. Harvest has finished. After days of checking every weather forecast and stopping and starting between showers, the wheat was finished at the weekend and the beans yesterday. This morning, while this year’s harvest was loaded onto lorries to go to the central co-operative grain store, next year’s oilseed rape crop was sown in the cleared fields as the cycle starts off again. On a rather smaller scale, Beth and I have been out along the hedgerows picking blackberries for Slamseys Blackberry Gin. There is one field where the blackberries ripen at least a fortnight ahead of the rest of the farm so it’s good to make a start. A rather less frenzied harvest than the wheat harvest.




In the garden the plums continue to ripen. The cherry plums have all been eaten, the damsons are almost ready and although there are still Czar plums on the tree, we’ve lost enthusiasm for eating them because the greengages are at their peak.  Who wants to eat a boring plum when the greengages are ready? This has been a bumper year for greengages and looking out from the kitchen window, I’ve noticed that everyone walking from the yard makes a detour to pick and eat a few greengages en route to the back door. I could eat greengages for breakfast, lunch and supper and not tire of them in their short season. Sweet, juicy, delicious little greengages.

I’ve been making loads of greengage compote and greengage crumble; some is eaten straight away and the rest frozen. Sometimes I cook the greengages swiftly on the hob with a little water or roast them in the oven but more often than not I use my mother’s technique for dealing with greengages or plums. Because sometimes mothers know best. Simply put a kilo of very ripe greengages into a bowl, pour over boiling water and leave for a minute. Then tip the fruit into a bowl of cold water and slip the skins off. Cut the fruit in half, pop out the stones and lay the fruit in a shallow dish. Sprinkle with a dessertspoon of sugar, cover with cling film and put in the fridge for an hour or two for the sugar to draw out the juices. I vaguely remember Mum’s instructions were to leave them for longer, but I don’t plan far enough ahead for that. Kind of cooked but not cooked.

When I was explaining what I was doing to one of my daughters who’d wandered into the kitchen, I told her it was just like skinning tomatoes. “Who on earth skins tomatoes?” she asked in a scathing tone. Well, sometimes I do. I like sandwiches made with skinned tomatoes, white bread, plenty of butter and a little salt and pepper. Skinned tomatoes are best because when you squash the sandwich, the bread soaks up all the copious juice. What do you mean, you don’t squash your tomato sandwiches? Didn’t you ever take tomato sandwiches on a school trip and pull out a warm, soggy and flattened sandwich? I rather liked them and always thump my fist on a tomato sandwich to recreate the effect.

greengage sandwich

While we were having this conversation, a lemony Madeira loaf cake was cooling on the table and it was but a short step before I’d cut two slices of the loaf  and made a Greengage Sandwich – greengages, crème patisserie and Maderia cake. I thought about cutting off the crusts but decided that was a step too far. Much better than a Victoria Sandwich (mainly because there’s almost as much filling as cake).

Almost as good as a squashed tomato sandwich.

harvest 2013

combining Far Blackley

Harvest has started and for once, we’ve started with the wheat because the oilseed rape is late this year due to the pigeon damage earlier in the year.

sweeping the grainstore

The grain store was swept out, the tractor and trailers checked over and the weather forecast consulted even more frequently than usual. Last week Bill did a few “farmer’s bite” tests on the wheat, where you take a head of wheat and rub it between your hands to thresh it out, blow away the chaff and then bite on a grain to discover how hard it is. While the grain is soft then it’s not ready but as soon as it’s hard to the bite then it’s time to do a more scientific moisture test to see if it’s dry enough to combine.

On Sunday afternoon it was decided that the wheat was ready to harvest here at Slamseys Farm and the contractors arrived to start the 2013 harvest. The combine first cuts around the outside of the field enough times to make a headland to turn on and then works methodically across the field. When the tank on the combine reaches 90% capacity, the flashing light signals the tractor driver to pull up alongside the combine as the spout comes out and the grain is unloaded from the combine into the trailers. The wheat is then tipped into a big heap in our grain store and from there will be loaded into lorries to be taken to the central grain store of the co-operative where it’s weighed and tested. If necessary the wheat will be dried and then stored in optimum conditions until it’s sold.

The contractors have now moved with their combine to another farmer and will return next week (we hope) to cut the oilseed rape and wheat on our outlying land.

Harvest is the culmination of the past year’s work and it’s always a fraught time, especially as we can’t control the weather that can make or break harvest, so it’s good to have part of the crop already cut and stored. As farmers, our job is done and the wheat passes down the line for others to process – the grain store, millers, bakers and food manufacturers of all sizes and then to the shops and markets for everyone to buy. It’s a good feeling to be part of the team that feeds the country, even if the UK is only 62% self sufficient. Do you realise that if all our home produced food was put into store on 1st January, then today is the day we’d run out? Scary.