The Countryside About Us October 1999

posted 30 Sep 2019, 08:14 by Chris Hoare   [ updated 30 Sep 2019, 08:20 ]
The last oil seed rape and cereal harvest of this century ( I prefer the time span “century” to “Millennium” as I have lived through a fair chunk of the former and therefore it is more meaningful) has been gathered in. In the rural villages of our fair and pleasant land the “harvest home” will continue to be celebrated by the age old harvest supper and festival. Nowadays, most who come to wine and dine in village halls will not have laboured in the hot and dusty fields. However, the strong desire to keep the tradition alive brings us all together. Thomas Hardy encapsulates for me the “harvest home” in his novel “Far From The Madding Crowd”. You will recall farmer Bathsheba sits by her open window, the loyal shepherd Oak presiding at the other end of the laden table. The home spun entertainment became more ribald as the evening went on. Nothing has changed in that respect either, as we that gather in our local village halls can testify! There was much merriment that night, and so the festival continues now.

There was a time when a plentiful harvest had a real significance that in these days of plenty is lost. Now the question is what to do with the surplus production? In Hardy’s day, wheat yields of not much more than ½ ton an acre (measured in bushels) was normal. This year, some 125 years later on, yields have exceeded 4 tonnes per acre, I am told, such has been the progress with plant breeding and the control of problems, especially mildews. This has been especially important in a wet summertime, such as this year. Just as we now compare the progress made with years past, so future generations will be making comparisons with the late 20th century. Slowly, I hope, but inevitably I am sure, the plant and animal scientists will continue research and improvement. Previously the technique was one of improvement through breeding from the selection of the best. Now, as most of us have become aware, the genetically modification of plants and to a small extent, animals, rightly or wrongly, suggests the way forward. It is both exciting for its beneficial possibilities, but rather frightening for such big steps into previously uncharted fields.

One of the pleasures of walking along our good network of footpaths is meeting other folk similarly engaged or someone leaning over a fence to chat to and compare the success or failures of our gardens. By Little Green recently I was told that a convolvulus (bind weed) root had been carefully extracted from the ground unbroken and measured over 8½ feet long! That is one record I am content to leave unbroken!

Roger Sykes