Guy’s news: Nostalgia & declining vigour

The evenings are drawing in and morning dews are getting heavier, but finally we have seen some sunshine. Just in time for our increasingly nervous, grain-growing neighbours to snatch a harvest which was looking at risk.

Having won the church tenancy of Riverford in 1951, my father recalls being persuaded to take possession early when it was suggested that another harvest with a binder would kill the previous tenant. The binder and threshing machine was replaced by a combine harvester. Pa might have been a forerunner of the new age of mechanised farming but we were never much good at growing barley and sold the dilapidated and painfully slow combine harvester after our last grain harvest 40 years ago. On a long, dry day, free of break-downs, it might have cut and threshed 10 acres. Memories persist of teas laid out on a blanket in the field and later, when I proved my worth by pitching bales, cider from a barrel in a shaded hedge; the labour was such that you sweated it out before ever getting drunk.

Years on I find myself looking over hedges at combine harvesters pouring grain into waiting trailers with a nostalgia that I don’t quite trust; harvest was a backbreaking job that seemed to go on for months. Today’s combines can clear 10 acres in half an hour and it’s a long time since anyone pitched a bale of straw by hand, preferring to make giant 500kg bales and move them mechanically.

On our side of the hedge a sunny end to August has helped, but may prove a little too late for the tomatoes; it will take a miraculously sunny September to ripen the 10 tonnes of waiting, green fruit. I hope some of you are keen chutney makers; I suspect we will be pushing green tomatoes by the end of the month. With age and declining light our basil has run out of vigour and flavour and been abandoned, but cucumbers are still going strong. Rather than try to coax yield out of exhausted plants we are increasingly taking the view that it is better to plant a second crop which, with the vigour of youth, seems less willing to accept that summer is over in August. This works well for cucumbers and courgettes and could also work for basil; something to try next year.

Guy Watson

8 responses to “Guy’s news: Nostalgia & declining vigour

  1. Green tomatoes are good for fermenting. Lots of recipes online

  2. I’d be delighted to get some green tomatoes in my veg box. We love green tomato chutney!

  3. Thanks for the harvesting memories. Back in the very wet 1946 I was turning stooks to dry out,but leaving hay as it lay and only the top was spoilt. We had surprisingly full barns,which was just as well with the following fierce winter.
    One particularly wet day I went through five changes of dungarees, hanging them round the cooking range. (Anyone recognise ‘stooks’?)
    Hard days but happy, and this year I have had better than usual ttomatoe!Good luck with yours.

  4. So glad you have had tomato problems – thought it was just me!

  5. My mother used to fry green tomatoes and sprinkle them with a little brown sugar.
    They were a delicious accompaniment to our breakfast. Green tomatoes can be ripened on a sunny windowsill – with mixed success!

  6. I remember helping with the bales as a child – we were surrounded by farming country. But my father’s job was to mend the combine harvesters and earlier machinery – working all through the night if necessary.

  7. I was interested to hear about your idea of a second crop. This year I have suffered from reluctant tomatoes, some of them seemed to just give up early but oddly, in July, I was finding young tomato plants around my garden (from the compost from my compost bin I assumed) so I planted 3 of them up and found they grew faster than spring planted ones and quickly caught up. So next year I am going to try planting them in monthly succession instead of the standard method. Might try the same with cucs and courgettes as you suggest. I have been gardening for some years and doing things differently and experimentation in garden practice is something I never tire of. I’m so glad I came across your site today.

  8. There is no life without tomatoes and I am very disappointed that mine – although ripening well – taste just about a bland as the Supermarket Netherlands ones. I fed them regularly and gave them a few doses of Bicarb which I was assured would make them sweet! Huh! Any ideas?

    And cucumbers grown in greenhouse – great – but mildew set in early. Any remedy for that?

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