Tag Archives: #harvest

Harvest Moment

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Out on a run, I could here the jangling racket of large farm machinery somewhere in the distance. It echoed across the low hills of my running loop. 

Finally, I found it. The crackling dry wheat was being cut. 

Here’s a slow summer moment in south-east France. 


The scent is an intoxicating mix of warm baked grass, honey, and a hint of something sharp and invigorating. 

And here’s what it looked like two days later.  The summer scent drew a small flock of ducks from a nearby pond. That, and probably the scattered grain. Lucky ducks.

The Third Season

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Word taxonomies have shown that there was a time, at least in some cultures of northern Europe, when there was only one season worth mentioning: Winter.

Sure, there was the warmer part of the year that wasn’t winter, known early by its Germanic word “sumer,”, denoting something like “half.”

So there was the warm half of the year, summer, and the other half of the year, winter.

The spaces in between, transitional moments more ephemeral than a long and heavy blanket of snow or days and weeks of heat and sun, went by various names until quite recently.

One of the apple trees in our small garden, a reliable producer of too many tart, delicious apples every year. All photos: PKR

One of the apple trees in our small garden, a reliable producer of too many tart, delicious apples every year.
All photos: PKR

Technically, that is to say, astronomically, the autumnal equinox denotes the point at which the day and night on Earth are approximately the same length.

Once, it was the time when the harvest took place and the lively, outdoor, active days of warmth began to turn inward, cooling off and withdrawing for a dormant season. The season itself was once referred to mainly by words denoting harvest, and this is still the case in German – the word “Herbst” has the same root as “harvest.”

These days, though, not many people are actually involved in gathering a harvest of the agricultural kind – the harvest as a season has been replaced by year-round availability of food.

The terms autumn and fall replaced harvest in English in the 16th century, with fall becoming more popular in North America.

I leave the fallen apples on the ground between infrequent mowings - the birds love them. The brown spots on the lawn are the scars left from a very long and hot summer.

I leave the fallen apples on the ground between infrequent mowings – the birds love them. The brown spots on the lawn are the scars left from a very long and hot summer.

I prefer the sound of the word autumn, with its sense of changing colors and a cool wind that slices through the heat of summer – but fall has the concise utility of being descriptive. The fruit falls, the temperature falls, the leaves fall, the rain starts to fall, and all that growth of summer pulls into itself until winter has passed.

The season holds a different promise from spring, that giddy season of birdsong and budding forth. Fall speaks of reflection, it’s the coppery flip side of spring’s exuberant coin, a time to prepare, a time to take time. It starts softly and ends quietly, almost before it’s even announced its presence.

So today, I offer a gentle salute to the Autumnal Equinox, a marker on the vague road that leads from one half the year to the next.

This year, late summer finally brought rain just as the season was turning - the grass is turning green just as the leaves are starting to fall, a sort of double season.

This year, late summer finally brought rain just as the season was turning – the grass is turning green just as the leaves are starting to fall, a sort of double season.

Field Clocks

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Excerpt from the Crescenzi calendar (c. 1306) via Wikimedia by Pietro de' Crescenzi

Excerpt from the Crescenzi calendar (c. 1306)
by Pietro de’ Crescenzi via Wikimedia

There’s something reassuring in the routine of sowing and harvest. It’s not just the crucial aspect of food security.

It’s one way we, as humans, keep time. A vast clock that we make every year anew.

A nearby field, ready for final clearing. All photos: PKR

A nearby field, ready for final clearing.
All photos: PKR

It’s blazing hot here, and as I wrote yesterday, the local farmers are using the heatwave to cut, dry and bale the early wheat crop. The air is thick with the sweet scent of cut grain.

Prickly wheat heads try and hitch a ride on my socks as I run past. Even though they’ve been processed and sown and harvested, hitching a ride is just what seeds do.

The same field, less than 24 hours later.

The same field, less than 24 hours later.

In the pre-industrial era, how long would it have taken to work one complete grain cycle on this field? It would certainly have required a vast collective effort.

Even today, most of the large machinery is shared between local farmers. But a harvest like this only takes a day or so from start to finish, and the same machines can be seen rotating around the village this week, cutting and baling one field after another.

Ready for the next crop.

Ready for the next crop.

Locals tell me that sometime in the middle of the last century, fields were mandated to lay ‘outside’ the village so it could develop into a more ‘residential’ locale – but it’s only recently in the last 15 years that this tiny village of 700 inhabitants started really growing. Even when we moved here back in the 1990s, it was mostly families who had been here for generations, most of them with small farms that encircle the village like a moat.

Now, with new apartment developments springing up faster than summer corn, and the farmer families selling their land and moving away, the harvest is seeming more and more like a clock that is slowly winding down.

The Harvesters (1565) by Pieter Brueghel the Elder via Wikipedia

The Harvesters (1565)
by Pieter Brueghel the Elder via Wikipedia

Road Works

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We’re back from our trip to Vietnam, and I’ll be posting a few pieces from that visit.

For starters, I thought I’d put up this photo of the largest, cleanest, newest road I encountered in Vietnam (or almost anywhere else, for that matter).

Three lanes in each direction, lined with broad sidewalks and trees, with a fully landscaped median strip, it ran for several miles between nowhere and nowhere on the central coast outside Quy Nhon. It was utterly devoid of traffic – with the exception of our little bus and the guy up ahead of us on a loaded-up scooter.DSC02635

But since it’s harvest season and rice is out on the roadsides to dry, this super-sized six lane thoroughfare didn’t go unused – outside the small village where it began, it was used for rice drying.

A blurry shot taken from the bus…but there's the farmer's scooter and the large grain rake for turning the rice, which takes a day or two to dry.

A blurry shot taken from the bus…but there’s the farmer’s scooter and the large grain rake for turning the rice, which takes a day or two to dry.

Each square of rice represents the harvest of one small field, cut and threshed mostly by hand. The rice husks are used by some to fire small ovens.

Women separating rice from chaff near a gas station parking lot.

Women separating rice from chaff near a gas station parking lot.

Drivers make a careful arc around the rice, even on very busy streets.

What a cooperative approach to road use.

Rice drying in another coastal village.

Rice drying in another coastal village.

Glimmering Jewels

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Glimmering Jewels
A sea sapphire in motion. Image via Sploid

A sea sapphire in motion.
Image via Sploid

A tiny iridescent copepod (Sapphirina copepod) has been making its way around the web lately in a lovely now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t fashion not unlike its appearance in the natural habitat. Invisible unless hit at the right angle by light, they are described by those who have seen them as making the water look like its been scattered with jewels. Researcher RR Helm, who wrote a wonderful piece on these creatures in Deep Sea News, has dubbed them ‘sea sapphires’.

A lot of the time I feel like I’m looking out over vast expanses of space where the news is all pretty much the same, most of it not good, and then there’s a flicker, or maybe two, of something that is worth celebrating. And not just RR Helm‘s lovely writing.

For example, there’s good news on one of my pet topics, the American eel: The annual season for harvesting valuable eel young, the elvers, will soon be upon us.

American eel (Anguilla rostro.) Image: Sidhat

American eel (Anguilla rostro.)
Image: Sidhat

Concern about steep declines in the American eel population has prompted the The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to issue strict catch limits being placed on the elver harvest this year, with the overall permitted catch down 35% from last year, when there were no restrictions.

Tiny jewel copepods from Panama Photo: Arthur Anker/Flickr

Tiny jewel copepods from Panama
Photo: Arthur Anker/Flickr

I won’t go on at length about the complex role of the American eel in the Atlantic ecosystem, how the debate over elver harvesting reflects a number of state vs. tribal conservation conflicts, nor about how little is known about the eel and the status of its population, nor how these juvenile eels are caught to be sold halfway around the world because Asian eel stocks are utterly depleted.

The fact is, a catch quota is a good start to slowing down the overfishing of these animals while their actual status is still under examination.

And so there’s a flash of color, of positive news, in the sea. The hope that if I keep watching, I’ll always see more.

Maybe even an entire sea of jewelled water.

ROV frame grab of the sparkling layer of Sapphirina copepods at about 40 meters (130 feet).  Photo: Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI)

ROV frame grab of the sparkling layer of Sapphirina copepods at about 40 meters (130 feet).
Photo: Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI)

Late Harvest

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Image via Decanter.com

If you’ve ever felt the need to get to know your champagne from the ground up, now is your chance – the Champagne region started the annual grape harvest this past week, the latest start in over a decade. A late and cold spring, hailstorms and rain led to vineyards problems like coulure, unpollinated flowers and falling berries, as well as millerandage, unevenly developed grape bunches. Not to mention outright destruction when it came to a couple of severe hailstorms in late July.

Still, in light of the excellent weather for most of July, the Comité Champagne (CIVC) is predicting a harvest decline of only 4.5% compared to 2012.

A late season and smaller harvest don’t mean the final result won’t be excellent, however. According to Dominique Moncomble, technical director of the CIVC, “Since 1950, the Champagne region has seen at least twenty harvests that started after September 25, and several of them were some of the very best quality”.

The general attitude seems to be one of cautious optimism. Or maybe cautious hope.

Photo: AFP

Photo: AFP

Around 120,000 seasonal workers are employed for the harvesting of 34,000 hectares (131 sq. miles) of vineyards in the region, starting with pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes, and moving to the later-ripening chardonnay blanc.

The pay, from what I can tell on the French employment website, is €9.43/hour, with some vineyards offering a bonus for quick pickers, and others paying by basket harvested. The harvest contract lasts for between one and two weeks.

So, if you have the inclination see grapes up close and really get the feel of Champagne, put on your boots, grab your tent, and get picking.

For those who like the notion of harvesting but only for a day, and who don’t mind having to paying rather than being paid for their work, I found this harvest party site – I haven’t tried it, but it offers an hour or so of vineyard picking, a tour, and a large vineyard feast.

Charonnay grapes Photo: Gayle Keck

Chardonnay grapes
Photo: Gayle Keck

More:

Check out Been There Ate That For a good post on the harvesting experience.

Summer Farewell

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A walk during the last evening of summer on the Autumn Equinox.

The images aren’t as sharp as they could be, much like my memories of this long season.

Mont Blanc across the Lake  Geneva basin. Photo: PK Read

Mont Blanc across the Lake Geneva basin.
Photo: PK Read

Welcome autumn, season of harvest and provision, of warm golden days and crisp evenings.

Jura mountains, facing the Rhône Valley. Photo: PK Read

Jura mountains, facing the Rhône Valley.
Photo: PK Read

A favorite season, the season of new seeds ready to be hardened by winter in the trust that, against all expectations, they will sprout in spring.

Autumn field, just plowed for winter planting. Photo: PK Read

Autumn field, just plowed for winter planting.
Photo: PK Read

Plein Soleil

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I was listening to a local radio station show on gardening and all the topics they discussed had to do with the awful weather we’ve had in the Lake Geneva region over the past few months. How to salvage trees and plants from the recent hail storm; the damage done to local greenhouses (one didn’t have a single pane of glass left intact); the lack of cherries this year due to a freezing spring and too much rain.

In our own garden, none of our fruit trees (cherry, apple, plum) will be producing much this year, and the reliably abundant grape vine is almost bare. The only exception is our red currant bush, which I will be harvesting over the next couple of days and putting up as jam.

This red currant bush is a holdover from the old garden - it used to be lost in a patch of scraggy raspberry canes. When we laid down on a stone path and raised bed, we left the currant bush where it was. This is its first year on its own. It looks happy. Photo: PK Read

This red currant bush is a holdover from the old garden. It used to be lost in a patch of scraggy raspberry canes planted long ago by previous owners. When we laid down on a stone path and put in raised beds, we left the currant bush where it was. This is its first year on its own. It looks happy.
Photo: PK Read

We are finally, finally in full summer mode and I thought I’d put up a few images that contrast my running path during this last freezing spring and yesterday.

This is a crossroads where I can either head back home or loop around for another round 2-mile round.  Photo: PK Read

This is a crossroads where I can either head back home or loop around for another round 2-mile round. A bit dangerous with all the ice.
Photo: PK Read

The same spot in summer. And yes, this time I went for a another round. Photo: PK Read

The same spot in summer. And yes, this time I went for a another round.
Photo: PK Read

Then there are the fields. Winter planting always strikes me as an ode to hope and optimism in the coming of spring even as the days grow ever shorter.

A winter-planted field, thrashed by wild boar. Photo: PK Read

A winter-planted field, thrashed by wild boar.
Photo: PK Read

The same field, ready for harvest. Photo: PK Read

The same field, ready for harvest.
Photo: PK Read

Finally, the fountain that is one of my running touchstones. It’s at the top of a steep hill that marks the halfway mark of my regular round – passing it means the rest of the run is homeward bound.

A local fountain in spring, still covered in winter algae. Actually, the fountain is drained over winter, and only allowed to fill following the spring thaw - but we had approximately three spring thaws this year. Photo: PK Read

The  fountain in spring, still covered in winter algae. Actually, the fountain is drained over winter, and only allowed to fill following the spring thaw – but we had approximately three spring thaws this year.
Photo: PK Read

The summer fountain, clean and flowing. Photo: PK Read

The summer fountain, clean and flowing.
Photo: PK Read

For the first time, a pair of northern goshawks (Accipiter gentilis) has taken up nearby residence. At least, that’s what I think they are. While there are always many hawks, large and small, that circle around and scout the fields, this is the first year I’ve had a pair regularly sweep within an arm’s length of my office window before swooping up over our garden. Big birds, their forms fill my window and I can hear their wings cut the warm air of this summer that took its time arriving.

Not the actual birds that fly past my window, but the same kind. And this is pretty much what I see for a brief moment, once or twice a day. Photo: birdskorea.org

And while it’s neither French nor pastoral, this remains one of my summer song perennials.