Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Farm Bulletin: Celebrating Lammas, the Harvest

In the abundance that is harvest season, with its piles of corn, peppers, late berries and peaches, it is difficult to imagine what we're not seeing. That is, the crops that withered in the field or failed due to the vicissitudes of weather, moisture or a bad batch of seed. Those are the realities of the farmer, as contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm reminds us.

As the Blue Moon sets, the new day marks an old Anglican celebration, the Lammastide. On this day, the British celebrated mass at the start of the wheat harvest with loaf of bread made from the new crop. The word, in typical British fashion, is likely a corruption of "Loaf Mass," though ponderous sorts have tried to document less plausible derivations. Rooted in the rural parishes, Lammas faded from the liturgical calendar with the industrialization of the 19th century.

The chickpea plant (left) and chickpeas (top).

We can only wish that Vaughn Williams had composed a piece to celebrate the Lammas. Digging about, we found but one hymn that had a peculiar martial bent to it. Not even worth quoting. For those of us born under the sign of Aries, it is easy to conceive of the harvest a sensuous, fertile moment, not a forced march into the fields. Indeed, in the Northeastern states, the community corn harvest brought the town's families together and was called a "frolic" where rewards were tendered with a buss, not script.

Today, the word lammas is used more often by arborists, foresters and plant physiologists than the clergy. Lammas growth is the second spurt of growth following fruiting, typically around the beginning of August. This growth is tender and runs the risk of damage if it fails to harden off before the frost falls. Our kestrels and barn owls are raising what might be termed a lammas brood. A bit exasperating as both are noisy species; the kestrels all day and the owls take the night watch.


This week, we harvested the chickpeas. Despite our best efforts, the harvest is about a third of what we expected. A real consequence of the dry spring and early summer. Chickpeas are a spring-planted dryland crop and a few May rains are essential for good yields. Our wheat was also on the shy side, but less so because most of its growth takes place during the winter rains. Barley, which also grows through the winter but is easily knocked down and damaged by the May rains, produced an excellent crop without that challenge. A diversity of crops means the disappointments are mingled with the successes. Keeps you humble even as the occasion may call for celebration.

Black currants.

For farmers, the hardest decision is to walk away from a crop. Thursday, Zenón and Anthony took a look at the currants and gooseberries with a thought to the autumn tasks. Zenón exposed a few branches with beautiful black currants dangling from them. Smiling, he said Abel advised him not to show Antonio the fruit, lest he get an idea that it should be harvested. Irresistable. In bold red letters on the day's picking list was 20 flats of black currants, much to the momentary horror of staff.

Actually, we will walk away from the fruit, it is not worth the time or distraction. Though it is never with pleasure, coming to such a decision is cause for relief. The time we might have spent messing with the currants will be better invested in managing the grapes and beans. Three years ago, as some of you may recall, we had to walk away from the grapes because of severe mildew. Rather than lament what is lost, we best revel in what providence has delivered, and this year it will be the grapes and barley, as well as corn, beans and blackberries.

Photos of chickpea pods, chickpea plant and barley from Wikipedia.

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