“Gordon,” I said to my cousin this morning in his farmhouse kitchen as he was pouring hot milk into mugs of coffee, “have you ever heard crackling sounds in the barley fields?”
I’d just walked past a field of barley to check on the hedge that he’d pleached in the spring. I’d taken a couple of photographs of the ripening barley, and as I did, I’d heard crackling sounds, like Rice Krispies popping slowly and quietly.
“You haven’t heard it before?” he said.
So I wasn’t imagining things.
“I guess I’ve never spent much time listening to a cornfield,” I said. “I never thought there was anything to listen to.”
Except for birdsong and the sounds of insects buzzing and animals scurrying through the stalks or a surprised grouse squawking as it dashed away, that is.
Corn–the word used in England to mean grain such as wheat, oats, and barley–hasn’t occupied much of my time on the farm. I’ve viewed the English cornfields at a distance and thought how beautiful they can be, especially young barley which, unlike the stubby wheat and the pointilliste oats, shimmers and undulates in the wind.
But unlike jobs on the farm such as haymaking, milking, mucking out, feeding the calves, and collecting eggs, there’s not much you can do to help with the harvest except to stay out of the way of the combine harvester or perhaps help shift the bales of straw into the barn–a prickly, miserable job and best avoided if possible.
So the fact that grain crackles as it ripens is something I’ve never come across.
After months and months and months of rain, and now a day or two of sun, the winter barley on Gordon’s farm is almost ready to harvest. The green heads that once stood upright as recently as a month ago are now yellow, and bend towards the ground. The barley will need to see another week or so of sunshine before being harvested; when I peeled the skin and whiskers off grains of barley, I found that they were soft and chewy. Barley that’s ready to harvest will be hard, similar in texture to raw rice.
–Gordon’s farm, with a field of barley, and a hayfield and pastures in the background.
Click on this link and listen closely. You’ll hear the grain crackling as it ripens in the sun, getting ready for the harvest.