Weather Woes (or A Nurseryman's Tale)

 

Footprint in muddy soil Weather, you're a muddy mischief

As a nurseryman selling barerooted plants and trees, the onset of autumn is always exciting.

Nerve-racking too, as autumn brings the bareroot planting season with it, and the weather plays an enormous part in determining how well the season gets going.

Too warm and the plants need to stay in the ground longer despite the baying of waiting customers.

Too cold and the ground is frozen and trees and hedging cannot be lifted at all, let alone planted.

But too wet is the grower’s dread.

Plants can be lifted, but only by hand. Machines that cost many thousands of pounds, and that can lift 100,000 plants in a day, sit idle while we dig heavy, sodden ground to lift plants almost one by one.

Mud is both slippery and sticky (how does it do that?!) and by the end of the day we all look as if we had been mud wrestling. We should be so lucky!

But spare a thought for our farmers

Farming has had a terrible summer. Grain yields have been cut, in some places by as much as two-thirds by a combination of a lack of sunshine and too much water. The former being much needed for growth and ripening. The latter causing a range of fungal infections that, at best, adversely affect the crop, and at worst completely ruin it.

Arable farming is seasonal, as is growing bareroot plants, but the pace in farming is much faster. It may take us four years to produce a 60-80cm yew hedging plant, but by comparison the winter wheat sown in September is harvested the following July or August - usually, that is. This year, because the weather was so bad, harvests have been delayed as much as the end of September.

That delay means that the sowing of any new crop is inevitably delayed into October. At best. But if the ground is too wet, or if weeds need to be treated first, the delay is longer still.

Some farmers in the West Country, where rainfall is generally higher than the UK average and the land is wetter, have still not sown their autumn crops. And it is now too late for them to do so; the seed would just rot in the ground.

So they will have to wait, frustrated and concerned, until spring.

This means lost growth - wheat sown in autumn yields very much more than the same grain sown in spring. And so next year our farmers face a second year of lower crop yields, and lost income.

So, spare our farmers a thought. Because it causes me to think that no matter how much we complain about the weather, nurserymen are relatively lucky.

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