catching rays

It is seldom that you see Devon so lush in August. After a few days of sunshine all that is left to remind us of the preceding ten weeks of misery are the ruts left in fields where we struggled to harvest our crops in the mud. Even they will soon disappear under the plough as we catch up on our cultivations and sow the first green manures.

Devon is humming with mowers late into the evenings, knocking down the grass that should have been cut for hay in June or July but which has grown tough and seedy during those wet weeks. Most dairy farmers rely on silage (natural fermentation and pickling) rather than hay (drying) to preserve the summer excess of grass for feeding to their stock through winter. Whereas silage needs only a 48 hour weather window for harvest, hay needs five or six days of drying weather. Most people have managed to make their silage but the more traditional, often smaller, sheep and beef farmers who rely more on hay, face a busy few weeks trying to salvage what they can and then a difficult winter with tough, poor quality hay.

Planting is just about finished for the year. The last purple sprouting broccoli, lettuce, radicchio and kale went out to the fields last week, leaving just the spring greens and some late sowings of spinach and salad leaves. With sun, warmth and plenty of moisture both crops and weeds are making up for lost time. Nature has a way of compensating over the season so things may work out yet. The boxes have undoubtedly suffered over the last month and it will take a week or two for us to get back on track but already the quality and variety are improving.

The summer of 2007 will be remembered by some as a bumper year; a few crops in certain areas have fared well and have met good prices. For most it has been frustrating but we will survive. For a few it will be the straw that breaks the camel