August is the month for harvest, and you will undoubtedly notice this as you see tractors, grain carts, and combine harvesters in the fields and on the lanes. Generally, the first of the 4 cereal grain crops to be harvested is barley, followed by wheat, and then oats. Some farmers may also be harvesting peas, beans and oil seed rape in this region.
The date on which harvest begins will depend on when the crops mature, and the weather. This year has had drought periods (March / April) and very rainy periods, which has affected the speed at which crops grow. You will have noticed that the crops have changed colour from green to gold as they mature.
Once ready to harvest, there is also the weather to consider. Farmers are hoping for dry weather so the sun will do all the ripening and drying, and the grain can go straight into the barn, and be stored safely before we sell later in the year. Farmers always wait for the dew to evaporate before beginning to harvest. They then keep going until the dew settles again, which explains why farmers tend to harvest from about 11 am to midnight (sometimes later) rather than normal working hours. If there is poor weather, farmers may be forced to harvest crops when they are damp, or even very wet. This then requires that the grain is passed through a grain dryer before storage. Obviously, this is an expensive process, in terms of energy, time and labour, and so farmers would prefer to delay a few days if better weather is forecast.
In addition to the grain, the straw is also harvested and stored for use in the coming year for feeding and bedding the cattle.
Many people have been noticing nature and wildlife much more during the lockdown period. Butterflies and moths seem to be more abundant this year. If you cut back your Buddleia in late April it will be in flower during August and able to host the butterflies on the wing this month such as Painted Ladies and Red Admirals and of course the Hairstreaks.
The Purple Hairstreak flits in and out of oak trees mainly staying in the canopy but they can be seen on warm summer evenings around the lower branches. The caterpillar feeds on the oak leaves of native and non-native trees.
Moths are also out in abundance taking advantage of the warmer nights. Look out for the larger Hawkmoths which may enter our houses when windows are left open attracted by the lights. Seen locally are Poplar, Small Elephant and Privet Hawkmoths.
These also attract the local bat communities of course whose maternity colonies begin to disperse and move on to mating roosts. The young bats begin to catch insects for themselves and no longer need their mothers’ milk.
The birds are quiet although the song of Wrens, Yellowhammers, Blackbirds, Dunnocks, Buntings, Linnets and Song Thrushes may be heard as they continue to nest raising a late brood.
Fran Harris and Julie Wise
This blog first appeared in the St. Paul’s Walden Parish Magazine