Winter flood … continued

The floods this past winter of 2015/16 were spectacular, lakes appearing where there were fields and swollen rivers coursing through the landscape. The soil was saturated for months and crops were damaged.

It was difficult to predict at the time the loss of grain yield at harvest. If a winter crop fails, farmers may switch to another crop such as the hardier oat. Or they may sow oat in spring instead of spring barley; or even not sow a grain crop at all. Only the ‘good’ crops might appear in the census. The trouble caused by the flooding might appear less than it was.

The first reliable indication is after harvest when the first estimates of the year’s yield are tabled. In 2016, the first estimates were published on 6 October and they suggested a smaller drop in yield than perhaps expected, smaller than the one following the floods in 2012.  But we’ll wait until the final estimates are out in December 2016 before making final comparisons with that year.


Here for reference (Figure 1) is a graph of national average yields each year from 2000 for the main grain crops, spring barley and winter wheat. In Figure 1, yield in units of tonnes per hectare  (weight of grain per hectare of land, a hectare being 100×100 m) is shown in comparison with the average over the period represented by the dashed lines. Winter wheat yields more than spring barley, but the drop in 2012 is clear for both.


In Figure 2, the yields are shown as a percentage of the average (the heavier line at ‘0’ on the vertical axis). Both crops go up about the same and down about the same each year, but the drop in 2012 was bigger than anything like this in the last two decades. The wet cloudy year of 2002 also showed a fall in yield. Compare these with high yield of 2014 when the warm, sunny summer allowed the grain to bulk to a record for recent times.

Despite all the advances in machinery and crop varieties, farming in the north east Atlantic croplands is still very much at the mercy of the weather. Maintaining soil is good condition will be essential for future yields.

Further information and photographs of the 2012 floods on the Living Field web site at The late autumn floods of 2012.


First Estimate of the Cereal and Oilseed Rape Harvest 2016. Scottish Government. Published 6 October 2016. Link to a downloadable PDF file.





Painted in the Living Field Garden on 6 October 2016, by Jean Duncan.

Jean captures that solidity of the red-brown tuber, the arching leaf-stems and the straggle and mush of leaf-blades, grey-green and splattered with soil.

It’s the grey-green colour of the leaves and the yellow tinge to the cut tuber that distinguish the neep, swede or swedish turnip from the other turnip. The same Brassica napus as the oilseed rape it is, but a variety that puts its energy into the tuber and not into oily seeds.

This and the other turnip Brassica rapa – the one with hairier, bright green leaves and white flesh – were one of the main supports to agricultural improvement in the 1700s, a living food for people and animals through much of the winter.

Swedes and other fodder crops of the cabbage family are still grown in gardens and fields,  but not so much as they used to be. Stockfeed comes in tubs, made of soya, from the Americas.

Today the yellow mash of the neep goes with haggis and tatties to make the burns supper, and the tuber is sometimes still carved on the last day of October, the eve of All Hallows, into a lantern.

But those who know still value neeps as a prime vegetable, healthy and nutritious with a fine taste – anytime.

More on neeps

Ingredients of the Burns’ Supper – SoSCOtchBOnnet

Part of the Brassica complex – its minor role as a weed and feral plant

Festivities around the November cross-quarter day – XQ4




Fixers 3 Crimson clover

Third in a series on nitrogen fixing legume plants.

The crimson clover Trifolium incarnatum ssp incarnatum was once grown widely in the south of Britain and trialled in the north, where it never found favour as a forage ley compared to the white and red clovers. So a small field of mixed legumes in Tarbat, a few miles south  of Portmahomack, was unusual.

Crimson clover was the most visible of the plants, in full flower late September, but the patch also contained red clover, two white- flowered clovers and a few other plants. On its margins a stray sainfoin appeared, probably a relic from a previous sowing.


Crimson clover was noted in Lawson & Son’s Vegetable Products of Scotland  (1852). They report that, if sown in autumn, it can be cut in June the next year ‘…. and the land fallowed for wheat or spring corn’.  They report that is makes a valuable green food for cattle and when cut in full flower ‘it makes a more abundant crop, and a superior hay to that of common clovers, at least it is more readily eaten by horses’.

They also report a comparison of ‘common crimson clover’, a variety of it named ‘late-flowering crimson clover’ sourced from Toulouse in France, and Moliner’s clover which was said to be grown in France and Switzerland. The late flowering variety came out top.

In modern taxonomy, the only one of these native to Britain is now called long-headed clover Trifolium incarnatum ssp molinerii, white-flowered, but that is found at only a few coastal sites in the south of Britain. This is likely to be the same as the Moliner’s clover mentioned by the Lawsons, but their seed was most likely sourced from European seedsmen rather than from the wild in Britain. Crimson clover is now Trifolium incarnatum  ssp incarnatum. Moliner’s and crimson are therefore considered sub-species (ssp) of the same species.

So what was it doing here? It was probably sown in a clover mix as a legume contribution to CAP Greening measures (see Sources). As can be seen the mix was luxuriant in foliage and flower well into autumn, when many other wild plants were dying or seeding.

Tarbat is a rich agricultural region, and you can see why the Picts farmed and established their monastery and unique monuments here  over 1000 years ago. Today, small fields and patches like the one shown offer refuge and food for  insects and birds in a landscape dominated by grazing land, and harvested or ploughed fields.



Peter Lawson and Son. 1852. Synopsis of the vegetable products of Scotland. Edinburgh: Private Press of Peter Lawson and Son

Mixtures for CAP Greening and also crimson clover alone: Cotswold Seeds

Taxonomy from: Stace C. 1997. New flora of the British Isles 2nd Edition.

Links to legumes on this web site:

Contact: Images are the property of the Living Field project.