Friday, 10 December 2010


I know we are in the middle of winter, well, not even the middle bit yet, more the mid morning stage but the best time of all is the harvest time so forgive me for digressing a little.

We grow cereals (oats this year) but usually barley. This is the cash crop. Barley is the crop which puts shoes on our feet, coats on our back and bits for the tractors.

On a good year, the barley is grown for the maltsters and made into whisky.

We begin by ploughing the fields in spring. Red tape does not allow us to plough before a certain date (set by a beaurocrat who has not realised that farms which lie very high up in the hills have a shorter growing season, but hey).
Once the fields are ploughed, we harrow them so the earth has a good tilth and accepts the seeds. too deep and they are buried, too shallow and they are washed away.
We then sow the seeds and hope for gentle rain and a bit of heat. It is such a thrill to see the first tiny shoots emerge from the ground.
We watch the barley grow and once it is almost ready, we check closely at it's colour and my husband squashes a barley seed to see if it is ripe. It is one of those farmery things that he does and he knows instinctively if we are ready to rock or if we have to wait a bit. He also scans the sky to ensure the weather will hold.
We get all the machinery ready, wash the tractors, grease and oil all the gubbins, order plenty of wrap and the big moment comes when the combine is rolled out of the big shed.

There are lots of amazing combines to be seen on farms, computerized huge beasts of things which are so sophisticated that they practically brew the malt. There are combines capable of cutting massive widths. Amazing. I bet they even have DVDs in them.
Our combine, however, is a vintage baby from the 1970's.
When she emerges from her sleepy corner of the shed, coughing and spluttering and puffing big plumes of oily smoke, my eldest son and I always stand with fake guitars and make "Waka taka" seventies guitar music noises as we are sure that Huggy Bear and Kojak are not far behind.
As she is driven out of the big shed, my husband always stops just in the doorway as the height of the combine is perfect for oiling the door mechanism, so hingey bits get oiled.

We set off for the field in a little convoy, husband at the front in the combine, me with the Valtra and bailer and my eledest son driving the Land Rover which is packed with the younger children, picnics and gallons of juice.
My son and I park up in a quiet bit out of the way and my husband makes the first cut. We always cheer at that bit.
I will wait for a while until there are a few dreels cut but meanwhile settle the children with their picnic and a treat, usually comics with freebies stuck on, so they can crayon or adorn their wrists with jewellery depending on the comic and child. You need the diplomacy of a UN dude at this stage as there is a window for fighting through envy. Hence more comics.

Now comes the very best bit.

I climb into the cab with a big bottle of water, bar of chocolate and some fags, have a minor panic as I inevitable forget what all the levers do, mutter a prayer so as I remember and nobody falls into the bailer, fire up the engine and the PTO (which fires the bailer into action) and off!

There is nothing in the world as good as bailing.
You are in a bubble where there are no responsibilities, no stress or anxiety, just you, the straw to harvest and whiles, the red kite wheeling overhead,  (trying to spy little mice or rabbits).
The view of the countryside is beautiful and I feel complete peace in my soul.

We go up and down the field, up and down until it is all neat and tidyily cut and full of fat, golden bales.
We just keep going until all the fields are cut but my son and I swap roles for a bit. I sit with the children until he carts the grain into the other big shed then when he comes back, I am back in the Valtra.

Once the straw and grain are in, I do the hay on my own.
It is cut with a giant lawnmower thingy (sorry but I cannot think of it's correct title), left to dry out for a couple of days and wuffled.

Wuffled! Isn't that the best word!

A big spikey machine gathers up the hay and throws it into the air then it falls back to the ground all fluffed up.
Once the hay is really dry then it can be bailed. I like, nay love bailing hay as it is very different to straw, less dusty, and the smell is heavenly.
My husband and son look after the children while I bale and I know they are safe.

After several fields have been done, you tend to forget you have a bottom as it goes completely numb. You make conversation in your head to people that you have not seen for a while as there is no DVD in the tractor (and I don't like faffing with those MP3 players; I like the peace).

By nighfall, you are ready to fall out of the tractor sideways and you have developed the 'thousand mile stare', your neck has developed the girth of a Soviet weightlifter with checking behind to see if all the machinery is doing what it ought and when you finally drive home and switch everything off, you walk all strangely as if you were on the moon.

Over the moon, more like.

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