View from the Hill 10th August 2015
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Harvest started on Saturday 18th July, a little later than average. The barley looked irresistible to some on the team who couldn’t wait till Monday. Just as well, because the weather was catchy, we had a bit of breakdown trouble, and the barley was fitter than it had looked on Thursday. The ultimate test is a sample off the combine in the moisture meter. It is always difficult getting a representative sample just by walking through the crop. By Saturday it was below 16% so we had to get on with it. Winter barley is always the first to cut on this farm, followed by the oilseed rape. By the time we had got through last weekend’s frustrations, with consecutive days wasted with breakdowns and waiting for spare parts, all the rape was ready to cut, and the next three days were a wonderful romp through over 200 acres of lovely crispy rape. None of the rape needed drying, which was a big bonus, and was a good saving in fuel. This brought us to Wed 5th August, by which time the spring barley was beckoning, the first field came in between 15 and 16% moisture, needing only a quick blast in the drier to get it down to the required 14.5%. Tonight (Sunday 9th) we have made great inroads into a very pleasing spring barley crop after 8 days solid harvesting.
An early start to get the combine over to Thornicombe on Saturday morning worked very well, beating the traffic and the heat, and the combine has needed three grain trailers to keep it going as the yield has been good, and the conditions, until tonight, have been excellent, the combine has cut at 25 tonnes per hour constantly, and yesterday produced well over 250 tonnes of barley in one day. Moisture levels in the hot weather were down below 13% , so I was rattling it through the grainstore at top speed, which is around 20 tph, and the heap has grown rapidly, requiring constant attention to ensure we get no embarrassing spillage.
During hot harvesting weather the grain can come in to store at anything up to 30 degrees temperature, usually this means it won’t need drying, but then cooling it in store is an important issue, cool grain heaps deter insect attack, hot heaps encourage it. If grain needs drying it will also go onto the heap hotter than ideal, so we have to ventilate the heaps, with various means, mostly vertical plastic columns which when a fan is placed on top, can deliver cool air to the bottom of the heap, and this will percolate up through the heap, gradually driving out the heat. The aim is to have all heaps down to 5 degrees by December, though this can be difficult without a good few frosty nights.
Keeping the columns vertical whilst the grain pours in from above is a bit of a dark art, utilizing ratchet straps, and a shovel to locate the base with a pile of grain can usually get the desired result. CCTV in the store helps to keep an eye on things during breaks and when working outside.
Last month we managed to get our hens installed in their new summer quarters, a little shed on wheels, located in the back garden, surrounded by electric fence, to keep marauding foxes away. We clipped one wing on each bird too, so they couldn’t escape.
However, the law of sod dictates that for every step forward, something else steps backwards, and so it was that a few days later we found a hedgehog caught in the electric fence. Luckily after we found some stout gloves to cope with the prickles, and cutters to free him from the wire, and placed him in a peaceful spot, he seemed to recover and soon scuttled away. The electric shocks might not have done him any favours, but perhaps prickles do not conduct as well as flesh, fur or hair.
Back to harvesting, which frankly is top of our priorities right now, although rain today gives me time to write this. No sooner is the barley or wheat cut, then the balers move in to gobble up the straw, mostly bought at last month’s auction by our most regular and efficient contractor. His big Class Quadrant baler behind a 390hp Fendt tractor packs the straw into lovely dense bales in a trice, then the loading team move in and load up enormous loads to be ferried off to various dairy farms further west. Once the straw has gone, Gary moves in with the Carrier discs to create a stale seedbed, it is essential to get the weed seeds and spilt grain to germinate before we establish the next crop, these can be burnt off with a low dose of glyphosate, which takes the pressure off the weedkillers we would use on the crop once it is established.
Some more harvesting pictures