Churchyard Nature Note with Andrew Tompsett

October 2017

“We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves”.


Our Harvest Festival will be on Sunday 1 October. We have been rejoicing, even if few of us have played any part in bringing in sheaves. Today fewer people than ever are involved and there are almost no sheaves to be seen anyway as corn and other seed crops are harvested and threshed in the field by combine harvesters and balers.

This has become more feasible as drilling the seed mainly takes place in autumn resulting in an earlier harvest the next year when advantage can be taken of better summer weather. We must thank the plant breeders for this change and so there is less chance of seeing stooks, like little houses of sheaves, still standing, wet in the autumn, and going green in the fields. Not that modern harvesting is free from frustrating wet weather or showery conditions as we have seen this summer.

Prolonged dampness or too high a moisture content results in poorer quality grain, less suitable for baking and is therefore a lower price to the farmer, and often only suitable for animal feed.

Haystacks or stacks of sheaves used to be a common sight on farms in the old days. All these had to be thatched to keep out the rain, so apart from some house roofs there is little employment for thatchers today. Instead, the harvested grain is piled high in barns with air ducts under the floor so that warm air can be used to dry the corn. Moisture percentage is critical 18-20 % for harvesting and 14% for storage. Of course, warm air costs money so we should be thankful for the green energy produced by windmills and accept them in the landscape.

The number of workers employed in the harvest and subsequent threshing was traditionally huge: now there are very few. In the old days there was much rejoicing and, as I recall, also a lot of fun for children provided they kept safe. The smell of the steam engine, the hum of the thresher as the grain poured out into sacks, and the excited terriers as the bottom sheaves were exposed revealing many escaping rats and mice. These are exciting memories which are still fresh for those of us who are over 70.

So, let us rejoice even if we are not actually bringing in the harvest. God has once again given us the harvest even if to many of us this may consist of a few apples and some runner beans with tins and packets of food for wider distribution. All the same, just rejoice!

“Bringing in the sheaves – We shall come rejoicing”

An American Gospel song by Rev. Knowles Shaw 1874.

Andrew Tompsett