Grannie Kate’s back with a new use of bere meal ….. she writes …
“Fed up of ‘days old’ fish from the supermarket? Try stopping a local fish van to see the beautiful produce on sale!
This was what I did last Friday morning at 9.50 a.m. precisely and bought some haddock (landed that morning) from a mobile fish merchant from Anstruther.
The van horn was tooted loudly in the Main Street and behold people silently appeared to purchase from a wide selection of sea food displayed in the back of the refrigerated van. The old word ‘fishmonger’ seems to be out of fashion these days, ‘fish merchant’ now the preferred description
Home made fish and chips then, for tea, using my mother’s recipe for coating the fish before frying in oil. Haddock (and other white fish) tend to break up in the frying pan if they are fried without coating them first.
Fresh haddock from the sea and …… earthy bere meal from Barony Mills!
What to do
Place a large tablespoon of bere barley on a plate and then (if preferred) mix with white flour, e.g. another large tablespoon or less depending on your taste.
Grind sea salt and black pepper into the flour to season it.
Crack a fresh free range egg into a small jug and whisk it until the yolk is well mixed with the white.
Wash the fish ( this is important especially if the fish is not as fresh as you would wish and actually smells; remember, fresh fish does NOT smell!). Cut the fish in half lengthways to give 2 portions. Then cut again diagonally across the portion to give two or three smaller pieces or goujons. You now have about 6 goujons of fresh haddock.
Dip each goujon into the egg, shake off the excess egg wash then place onto your flour, rolling it around until it is covered. Repeat for all the haddock pieces.
Add some light cooking oil into a frying pan and heat – to test the temperature is right add a little bit of flour to the oil and it should start to bubble up immediately.
Add all your goujons to the oil, fry for about two or three minutes on one side, then two or three minutes on the other on a medium heat.
Lift out with a fish slice onto some kitchen towel and blot lightly to remove excess oil.
The goujons should be light brown with a thin crispy coating of bere meal on the outside.
Serve with fresh garden peas and homemade chips. Add salt and vinegar or wedge of lemon and perhaps some tartare sauce!
Remote, extensive rig system (lazy beds), north Lewis; historical records of crops from 1690s; bere and barley; subsistence farming on the atlantic edge.
One of the remotest field systems in Europe lies near Eoropaidh (Eoropie) on the north-west coast of the Island of Lewis, facing the Atlantic at 58 N. Continue round that parallel and you’ll cross Quebec in Canada, the Gulf of Alaska and Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula.
The Butt of Lewis lighthouse  lies at the northern tip of the Island. As you walk south west from there, the soil and grassy vegetation appear to be slipping towards the cliffs and into the sea.
A little farther south, and the cliffs descend to a rocky shore where the rigs or lazy beds were cultivated close to the tide. It’s a stunning position – go west and there’s no more land until north America. And what Atlantic storms there must be. Yet corn and other crops were grown here.
As testament, the rigs remain as long, grass-covered mounds 5 to 6 m between the furrows, some at more or less right angles to the coastline, others parallel to it. Earth was dug and piled from both sides into the centre and seaweed carried from the beaches and heaped on as fertiliser. Excess water ran down the furrows.
Extensive field systems
The rigs in the images are one of several field systems around Eoropaidh and Butt of Lewis. The Canmore web site  describes the field system in the photographs here, which lies south west of the lighthouse and facing west, and several others (round the ‘top’) to the south east of the lighthouse. All are abandoned.
They are considered to be post-mediaeval but period uncertain.
Aerial photographs are given for each location on the Canmore site  and other pages on that site tell more of the history of the area .
Lazy Hardly. Lazy beds in various parts of Scotland and Ireland were constructed to different designs. They are of various widths and heights. One explanation of the word is that they are made, not by digging up and completely turning sods of earth and grass, but rather cutting the sod on three sides, then flipping it over the uncut side to form a double layer – soil, vegetation, vegetation, soil. The method is shown in some recent videos .
But the most likely meaning is indicated by Fenton  as ‘from an obsolete sense of the English word (lazy), meaning uncultivated’, and refers to the fact that the raised bed is made on top of a strip of uncultivated ground.
Maintaining fertile rigs of the extent seen today around Eoropaidh was a major undertaking, needing the work of (according to Martin below) probably hundreds of people each year.
The method by which this land was managed is known as runrig, ‘a system of joint landholding by which each tenant had several detached rigs allocated in rotation by lot each year, so that each would have a share in turn of the more fertile land’ .
Fenton and Veitch (2011) give explanations and many references to the runrig system in different parts of Scotland.
Several accounts of the area were made from the 1690s onwards, but they make no mention of the field systems and give little information on the crops and methods of husbandry.
Why this omission? The extensive rigs must have been there during one or more of these accounts, The landforms look impressive to us today, the result of decades, centuries, of hard work, and continued upkeep.
Martin Martin’s visit in the 1690s
Martin Martin, from Skye, visited Lewis in the 1690s and reported his findings in the Description of the Western Isles of Scotland, published 1703 . On soil cultivation, he reported that the people turned the ground with spades; and with wooden harrows for breaking and smoothing the earth, drawn by a man ‘having a strong rope of horse hair across his breast’.
He writes ‘the island was reputed very fruitful in corn, until the late years of scarcity and bad seasons. The corn sown here is barley, oats and rye; and they have also flax and hemp.’  He continues to relate that the main fertiliser is sea-ware but that soot is also used, reportedly causing jaundice in those who eat bread from corn grown on land so treated.
However, there is no mention in his chapter on Lewis of rigs, lazybeds or any means of land-sharing.
Potato is often associated with rig systems but it was not grown in Scotland until several decades after Martin Martin wrote his journal, so it would not have been on the Island when he visited.
A note of caution is due – Martin is not always credible. What a pity when reliable records from that time are so needed! At various places, he related what we would today consider fabulous or supernatural occurrences, without question, as if they happened.
He was knowledgeable about many things, so was he tempting readers with fake news, or did he not check his sources?
Old Statistical Account, 1797
The Rev Donald Macdonald wrote ‘not a single tree, or even any brushwood, to be seen in the whole parish’. The crops were black oats, bear and potatoes, sown April and May, reaped in September and October. (Ed: black oat is Avena strigosa and bere a landrace of barley, Hordeum vulgare).
He confirms the use of soot as fertiliser as reported by Martin a century earlier. He writes that the roof of each house is thatched with stubble and heather ropes (stubble presumably being cereal stems) which become covered in soot due to the burning of peat within. He writes that in the latter end of May when the barley blade (first leaf) appears, the people take the soot and stubble and strew it over the crops as fertiliser.
Many domestic animals were reported – horses, sheep and black cattle, all small in stature. The region was very isolated, things had to be carried to and from Stornoway.
Potato came to the area between Martin’s visit and this account, but there is no mention of rigs or lazybeds. Just that many crude ploughs are found in the parish, consisting of a small piece of crooked wood, guided by a side handle held by a man walking alongside, and pulled by four small horses.
New Statistical Account, 1836
The Rev William Macrae notes also the absence of wood or tree, but that roots and trunk of fir, oak and hazel (with nuts) are ‘imbedded in a great depth of moss, such that wooded land must ‘at some remote period, have undergone some sweeping and desolating revolution’.
He mentions that people eat oat and barley meal, potatoes and milk, but laments the state of farming: that people have not attempted draining or trenching because they were just too hard up, while short tenancies of 6-12 years did not making it worthwhile. It was a subsistence economy with no exports and in no season was produce more than ‘barely sufficient, and sometimes not adequate, to supply the necessities of the tenantry’.
There is no mention of field systems or rigs, and the comment on the absence of drainage is not consistent with what we see today, but he may have been generalising to the whole of Barvas parish rather than these rig systems.
The Rev Macrae commented on many other aspects of life. His account is entertaining, but you feel his mind sometimes strays: he is patient to note among the statistics of population, produce, and adherence to the faith, that ‘The women are modest, comely and many of them good-looking.’
Modern field strips
Visitors today will see the agricultural land in crofting townships on Lewis divided into long thin strips, usually separated by fences. The OS 1:25,000 maps show these bundles of linear features covering much land near the coast.
One of the stated characteristics of linear farming of the type shown above is that, provided the strips run perpendicular to the main gradient in slope or soil, no one strip gets the best land and no one gets the worst.
This sharing of good and bad appears to be one of the reasons why crops, especially in the tropics, are sometimes mixed in a field, not in clumps but in long straight lines .
A note on bere and barley
The Living Field has a biding interest in when bere and barley were noted as being different things, e.g. that bere was a primitive landrace of barley. The story unfolds on this site at Bere line – rhymes with hairline.
There is nothing definitive in any of these historical accounts as to whether bere and barley were considered different. In the Old Statistical Account of Barvas parish , as noted above, both names are used for the barley crop but neither is defined.
In 2015, the Living Field team grew a range of old barley varieties in the garden, including some bere landraces originating from various parts of the north.
We had none from Lewis, but shown above are bere from North Uist in the Outer Hebrides and from Eday in Orkney. Barley grown in the lazy beds around Eoropie would have looked like this.
The land was farmed in this way for centuries, in isolation from much of the rest of the world. Given the location, the rig systems in north Lewis and elsewhere should be seen as a major achievement rather than something to be dismissed as backward (as some travellers did).
Crop production was limited by plant nutrients – nitrogen, phosphate, potash and the many minor elements. Legumes that provided much needed nitrogen by fixation from the air were not mentioned in the historical accounts, and were unlikely to have been planted as crops here as they were during the Improvements era after 1700 in the lowlands.
Apart from seaweed and soot, and probably animal dung, there was no other source of nutrients. To have survived for so long on so little was the achievement.
Contact for this article: email@example.com. Thanks to gk-images for allowing us to use some of their photographs.
 Field systems of lazy beds around Eoropie and the Butt of Lewis on the Canmore web site: the one shown in the photographs here is west of Eoropie, Canmore ID 129505. Others include ID 270561, ID 270560 and Dun Eistean ID 4417.
 Lazy beds: Guthan nan Eilean short video on making lazy beds in Uist (in Gaelic and English versions). A article from Ireland: Lazy beds in the Cooley Mountains. From the Louth Field Names project. The origin of the word lazy, from ‘uncultivated’, is explained by Fenton A, Ch 27, p 673 in Fenton & Veitch 2011 .
 Fenton A & Veitch K (eds). Farming and the Land. 2011. Publ: John Donald & European Ethnological research Centre. This multi-authored book has many references to runrig and lazybeds, including photograph of lazybeds at Eoropie (p 125); and a note that the runrig system in north Lewis may have been managed by small groups of people, rather than individuals.
 Martin Martin, 1703. A description of the Western Islands of Scotland. Printed in London. Available online: search Google Books for the author and title; also the Undiscovered Scotland web site offers the book online (with adverts). Undiscovered Scotland web pages: biography of Martin Martin, died 1719.
 Martin is probably referring to the Ill Years, the 1690s when a run of very bad weather caused repeated crop failure and consequently hardship and famine through the north of Britain.
 Old Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-99: Vol XIX dated 1797 for the Parish of Barvas. Online at Old Statistical Account.
 New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45: Vol XII for the Parish of Barvas. Online at New Statistical Account and also at Google Books.
High annual rainfall in recent decades causing problems for cereal production; timing of rainfall more important than yearly total; much greater yield drop caused by the wet harvest of 2012 than the winter floods of 2016. [An article in the series ‘Winter flood’.]
The last few decades have experienced several of the highest rainfall years since reliable records began in 1910. The effects of perhaps too much water on long term trends in crop yield are being examined and will be reported elsewhere. Yet contrasting years tell us already that problems are not caused by the amount of rainfall in a year, but by the timing of that rainfall.
The image above looks south over the Carse of Gowrie in early January 2016, the green cereal (corn) fields and the brown stubble were completely waterlogged, the landscape immersed in dense cloud, hardly any light for photosynthesis in the middle afternoon. (No attempt to brighten the image – this was how it looked.)
Many autumn-sown corn fields grew yellow with the persistent wet, dead patches within them. Yet the final estimates of yield for the harvest years 2016, released in December 2016, give the first indication that the severe flooding the previous winter caused a much smaller loss of yield than the wet harvest of 2012.
Fig. 1. Grain yield, average for Scotland, for wheat, spring barley and oilseed rape between 2000 and 2016: the first two standardised to 14% water content, the latter to 9%; horizontal lines show the average.
The trace in yield from 2000 (Fig. 1) shows a drop in 2002 for the two cereal crops, then a period of stability up to 2011 followed by a large fall in 2012. Yield partly recovered in 2013, rose well above the average in 2014 and 2015, then dropped back in 2016.
The same data are shown in Fig. 2 where yield of each crop is expressed as a percentage of the average for the whole period (100% line). The large depression in 2012 and 2013 is shown by all three crops as is the recovery and the later drop in 2016. The 2012 depression caused economic losses, but perhaps more important, the large variation between years shows how sensitive modern arable farming is to these slight variations in the weather.
Fig. 2. Grain yield from Fig. 1 presented as a percentage of the average for the period, for wheat (red), spring barley (green) and oilseed rape (blue).
It’s not the total rainfall
The annual rainfall exceeded 1300 mm several times during the period of stable yield between 2003 and 2011, but then the rain generally peaked in the winter. Only about one third of the corn is in the ground at that time (mainly winter wheat, winter barley and winter oat) – the larger area destined for spring-sown barley is still unplanted.
So provided the winter crops are not submerged for more than a few days at a time, they recover and grow to harvest. This happened during the stable phase, for example in 2008 and 2009 when annual rainfall was above 1300 mm.
Why was 2012 yield so poor?
The difference in 2012 and to some degree in 2002 was that rainfall was much higher in summer before and during harvest. In fact, annual rainfall in 2012, at 1287 mm, was lower than that during several years between 2003 and 2011.
It was the wet weather in late summer and autumn of 2012 that caused major loss of yield in the harvest of that year (mostly August to late September). The damage to the ground and to the winter crops just sown or about to be also caused a depression of yield in the next harvest in late summer 2013.
How did 2016 recover?
In contrast, the high rainfall in the winter of 2015/16 set records: in East Scotland December 2015 had the highest rainfall at 272 mm since records began in 1910, then January 2016 also broke all previous records with 266 mm. The result was prolonged waterlogging of fields and severe flooding of some river floodplains, and as stated above, a yellowing of leaf in many winter cereal fields.
Then conditions changed – the spring and summer months had less than average rain, and more than average sun, allowing soils to dry and crops to bulk, such that they yielded at or not much below the the average in Fig. 2.
The image above looks north across the Isla floodplain in Strathmore, in dense cloud just before nightfall, the field in the foreground cultivated, sludging and eroding into the river-water. (No attempt to brighten the image.)
The 2015/16 cropping season was testament to the resilience of the crop varieties and their agronomic management to overcome what was unusual weather by our standards. There’s also evidence that farming adapted, perhaps learning from the 2012 floods to shift its cropping patterns and perhaps the fields in which its most profitable crops were placed.
Winter wheat maintained its area between 2015 and 2016, indicating that few fields already sown with this crop had failed by February 2016 to the extent that they had to be resown in March or April with another crop.
But the surprise was the greater production of oats despite the bad winter. The area sown with oat (mainly spring 2016) increased a little, but the yield per unit area increased from 5.92 to a record 6.44 t/ha (tonnes per hectare) and the total production of oat increased by a factor of 1.32, also to a record for recent decades.
So what was going on? The reasons why oats did so well are not clear at present.
Signs of things to come?
The capacity of grain yield to recover from the late summer rain of 2012 and adapt to the winter floods of 2016 shows the soil and crops have kept a certain resilience during this bout of record rain-years.
But the alarming feature of the traces in Fig. 1 and Fig. 2 is the large variation between years caused by what were – compared to weather patterns elsewhere – fairly small shifts in the distribution of rainfall through the year.
The longer term effects of the present rise in annual rainfall are not yet understood. It will be not easy to distinguish the effects of rainfall from the higher temperatures over the same period – and the lower solar income in cloudy summers
More on this in future articles …
Links on this site
Winter flood – pages on the flooding effect of the high rainfall in recent years.
Rainfall since 1910 for UK and regions. Annual and monthly totals are available from 1910 at the Met Office pages for UK and Regional Series. At the Download site for UK and regional datasets scroll down to ‘Year ordered statistics’ and click the download link for ‘Scotland E – Rainfall’.
Yields, take from government statistics, are given in tonnes per hectare, t/ha, standardised to a water content of 14% for the cereals (corn) and 9% for the oilseed. Standardising is needed because the grain might be a bit drier in some harvests and a bit wetter in others.
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.
The store-house of Foulis; more from the Andrew Wight on his journey north of the Cromarty Firth in 1781; improvement and innovation in 1700s farming; feeding oxen and horse; ‘a man of enterprising and comprehensive genius’; bere and barley.
In ‘Great quantities of aquavitae‘, the farmer-traveller Andrew Wight commented in 1781 on the denizens of Ferintosh, on the Black Isle, who “utterly neglecting their land, which is in a worse state than for many miles around” preferred to spend their time distilling bere (barley) malt than tending soil and growing crops.
Among places supplying grain to the Ferintosh whisky trade in the 1780s was (he reported) the farmland of Foulis (also spelled Fowlis), on the opposite, northern, side of the Cromarty Firth. Mr Wight rode his horse the long way round, but now Foulis is only a few minutes drive from Ferintosh over the bridge.
The Store-House of Foulis
Andrew Wight did not write about the girnal or store-house at Foulis Ferry Point. It was built 1740, that is 40 years before he passed by on his journey north from Inverness (and that’s about 275 years before now). It was built to store grain before it was shipped off to market or paid to people in kind for work or favours.
The grain was grown by the estate or paid as rent by the tenants of the estate. They would grow grain on a farm or allotment and pay some to the landowner. Beaton (1986) reports accounts that the total barley received at the Store-House of Foulis in 1784 came to to 169 bolls two firlots. Example of payments ranged from 98 bolls one firlot from the tenant of Mains of Foulis to two bolls from a slater.
The Store-House of Foulis (map reference NH 599636) today has been well restored, with its fine slate roof and well harled walls (images above). Though sometimes called Foulis Ferry Point, the ferry ceased to operate in the 1930s. New buildings have grown around the site housing a visitor centre, restaurant and shops.
There area is rich in these store-houses or girnals as they were called, along the Cromarty Firth and up to Portmahomak. Beaton (1986) gives a map of locations.
Andrew Wight’s comments on the area
Mr Wight (IV.I p 241 onwards) writes about the crops, the farm animals, the owners, the improvers, the tenants and the peasants. Here are some excerpts from his journey along the north side of the Cromarty Firth from Fowlis eastward.
Of Fowlis (Page 233), he regales against the old practices – “having a baulk between every ridge, upon which were heaped the stones removed from the ridges; the soil was taken off every third ridge, in order to ameliorate the two adjacent ridges; and the crops alternately oats and bere; and to this bad practice was added the worst ploughing that can be conceived.” But after the land was improved by the then owner, he reports (page 235) a wheat yield of ten bolls per acre.
And on the same estate, Robert Hall, the farm manager of Fowlis ‘introduced a crop, rare in Scotland and an absolute novelty in the north, which is carrot. (…..) The farm-horses are fed on carrots instead of corn; and they are always in good condition.”
I rejoice to see six yoke of oxen
At Novar he remarks on the poor inherent quality of the soil, which is more than compensated by the desire of the estate to effect improvement to a degree that today would be thought of as ecological engineering.
He notes “Oxen only are employed both in cart and plough. I rejoiced to see six yoke of oxen in six carts, pulling along great loads of stones, perfectly tractable and obedient to the driver. They are all in fine order, and full of spirit. They begin labour at five in the morning, and continue till nine. They are then put upon good pasture, or fed with cut clover, till two; when a bell is wrung, and all are ready in an instant for labouring till six in the afternoon.’
At Invergordon, he comments on seven crops: “wheat on this strong land was very good; barley after turnip excellent; beans and peas are never neglected in the rotation; oats in their turn make a fine crop; the old pasture grass excels.”
Agriculture, manufactures and commerce, the pillars that support the nation
Several pages are devoted to the contribution of George Ross of Cromarty, MP a man of “enterprising and comprehensive genius”. He started a hemp manufacturing company employing many people and exporting coarse cloth to London and then a brewery for strong ale and porter, much of it “exported to Inverness and other places by sea-carriage”.
On Ross’s agriculture: “it is wonderful to see barren heath converted into fertile cornfields; clover and other grasses rising luxuriantly, where formerly not a blade of grass was to be seen; horse-hoed turnip, and potatoes, growing on land lately a bog; ….. hay, not known here formerly, is now the ordinary food of horses and cows”. He also cures and exports pork: “… he carried me to a very large inclosure of red clover, where there were 200 hogs of the great Hampshire kind feeding luxuriously.”
Ross works on a plan for improving the harbour and entertains “sanguine hopes that government will one day establish a dry dock near the harbour for repairing ships of war in their northern expeditions.”
Ed: Writing in 1810 after Ross’s death, Mackenzie (1810) states that the hemp trade was “now in a flourishing state. From (the year beginning) 5 January 1807, there were imported 185 tons of hemp; and about 10,000 piece of bagging were sent to London”. Ross was not so far off in his hopes for ship repair – Mackenzie refers to a ship being built there in 1810, and today there are deep anchorage and rig maintenance.
Eight fields, eight crops in sequence
Later on page 257, Wight comments on Mr Forsyth of Cromarty who manages a small farm divided into eight fields, and cropped as follows: “First potatoes, horse and hand hoed, with dung; second, barley; third, clover; fourth, wheat; fifth, peas; sixth, oats or barley, with grass seeds; seventh, hay; eighth pasture. … in this way ‘kept in excellent order, with the advantage of dung from the village”.
Throughout his journeys, Andrew Wight speaks his mind, always ready to praise good farming and condemn poor practice. (You can sense these journeys are more than a job.) And while he accepts the social divides of the time – he was commissioned by the wealthy – notably between the landed gentry and their peasants, he condemns those of the former who ignore, ill treat or exploit and praises those who support and encourage the people to improve their lot by agriculture, manufactures and commerce.
Other points to note are that legume crops (fixing nitrogen from the air) were common in crop rotations and that bere and barley are both mentioned but no clear distinction is made between them (see link to the Bere line below).
Mackenzie, G S. 1810. General view of agriculture of the counties of Ross and Cromarty. London: Phillips.
Wight, A. 1778-1784. Present State of Husbandry in Scotland. Exracted from Reports made to the Commissioners of the Annexed Estates, and published by their authority. Edinburgh: William Creesh. Vol IV part I. (See Great Quantities of aquavitae for further reference and web links).
Those in the upper set were taken of the Foulis Store-house and its surrounds on a visit in August 2016.
There were no ‘yoke of oxen’ around Foulis and Novar in 2016, so the Living Field acknowledges with thanks use of photographs from Burma (Myanmar) by gk-images, taken February 2014 (permission granted by the handler to take the photographs). The quotes below the images come from Wight’s text of 1784, and apply well to this magnificent animal).
West Ward Works, in Dundee, previously used for printing books and magazines, was the site of the first Dundee Design Festival, 25-28 May 2016. The Works is now a disused factory, vast space, tubes, wiring and old instructions on the walls.
The Works was one of those many places in Dundee and its surrounds that processed masses of natural product – flax and jute are other examples – usually extracted or grown elsewhere, but given greater value through manufacture and sale.
Silk, husk and glass
Several of the exhibits used natural fibre or other natural products. ‘Firth of Tay’ (shown among the images above) is a length of handwoven silk by Cally Booker. The notes say ‘Each block of pattern corresponds to (the) population profile in a local city, village or town’. It looks as if the patterns are based on a set of statistical distributions, e.g. perhaps number of people by age. (The subtlety of the colours is not well reproduced in the cellphone snaps above – her web site shows the original, link below).
Elsewhere, Barley waste from local brewing has been compressed and formed into a piece of furniture (a bar) by Beer52 with Design in Action and Aymeric Renoud.
And – though not using natural fibres in this invention – the firm Scot & Fyfe, establishd 1864 in Tayport to manufacture linen from flax, offered Alphashield – ‘A seamless glass textile ‘sock’ … fed into defective pipes deep underground and set in place with resin to repair the damage and create a new strong pipeline’. (But how do they get it to stick to the sides of the pipe?)
Bere and barley both named in Andrew Wight’s journeys of 1778-1784. Bere as the substrate for aquavitae. Bere as a nurse for grass. Bere seed maintaining its mass to volume ratio. Bere fertilised with seaweed.
Andrew Wight, a farmer from East Lothian was commissioned to undertake a series of tours in the late 1700s to examine and report on the state of agriculture in Scotland. His work was published anonymously between 1778 and 1784, but is invariably referred to by his name, and quite rightly, since it was a major undertaking and the best single guide to the state of agriculture during the long ages of improvement (reference below).
He travelled by horse to mainland areas, meeting farmers, tenants and landowners and noting the improvements, or lack of them, to husbandry .
Throughout he refers to both barley and bere, sometimes in the same place, which suggests he considered them different things, presumably bere being the 6-(or 4) row types and barley the 2-row.
He related many anecdotes about bere. Here are a few of them on the journey north from Inverness to Sutherland.
Great quantities of Aquavitae, Ferintosh distillery, Black Isle
He visited the area around Ferintosh, on the Black Isle, owned by Forbes of Culloden. Ferintosh was …. “famous for the great quantities of aquavitae made there under exemption from duty. I am told that there are no fewer than 1000 distillers in that place, wholly occupied in making spirits, utterly neglecting their land, which is in a worse state than for many miles around”. He goes on to write “great quantities of bear are imported from the neighbourhood, and malted there as Ferintosh bear: Not only so, but quantities of aquavitae made elsewhere are carried to market as Ferintosh”. [Ninth Survey Vol IV.I, p. 238].
Of those areas supplying the distilleries was Fowlis, which ‘ .. near the Cromarty Firth has access to seaweed and lime is imported from Portfoy … and bear finds a ready market at Ferintosh.” [p 239]
So you can imagine all these bear harvests from all around, going, not into mouths of people and animals as meal, but to distilleries at Ferintosh, and whisky coming out for export; and everyone so involved in making the stuff that the land went to waste.
But these days bear grain contributes to only a few specialist malts. Most are made from two-row barley.
Wight implied that exemption from duty was granted as a monopoly to that particular estate before the Union, and became ‘destructive to fair trade’ and ‘the occasion of manifold frauds’. Back-handers and dodgy labelling – what’s changed? But the distillery went out of business in around 1785, presumably because other distillers complained abut the unfair exemption.
Bear as a nurse crop for grass
At Invergordon, he writes …. ‘Wheat on this strong land was very good; barley after turnip excellent; beans and pease are never neglected in the rotation; oats in their turn make a fine crop; but above all, the old pasture excels. Later, at the same place, he tells of a method used to protect new-sown grass pasture.
The farmers anticipated a demand for hay or grazing the next year that current grass fields could not supply. So what could they do? They could sow more grass late the present year (September), but what could be done to avoid the seedling grass being damaged over the winter. The solution was to sow grass (which then included various legumes and ribwort plantain with rye-grass) and then … he related….
‘Three firlots of bear were sowed at the same time upon the acre, intended as a cover for grass during the winter …… The bear grew vigorously, and covered the surface during the severe months, but died away on the approach of warm weather.’ The bear seed was sacrificed, it seems, to solve the problem ‘when grass-feeds must be sown in the wrong season’. [Ninth Survey, Vol IV.I, p. 248-250]
Bere fertilised with seaweed
Repeatedly, the writer points to farmers who use lime or marl to reduce acidity, and dung to replenish nutrients taken from the soil by previous crops. Soil fertility was probably the major limitation to maintaining yield.
At Lochbeg, Sutherland, about Mr Gilchrist, the proprietor, he writes “His mode of cropping is one half (the land?) under bear, manured with sea-weed, which is spread on the ground directly, and mixed with soil in spring in two ploughings. Three firlots sowed yield seven bolls per acre.” [Ninth Survey, Vol IV.I, p 307].
Bere seed maintaining its mass to volume ratio
On the Route Homeward, he calls in at Castle Grant. “One thing is extremely remarkable with respect to bear on this farm. Though, time out of mind, no feed has been used but what is produced in the farm itself, yet it never degenerates. To this day a boll of bear, measured by a firlot of 32 pints weighs 20 stone Amsterdam’. And he goes on to write that it degenerates every where else after three or four years sowing, ‘Yet this country lies high, and the climate is cold and stormy.’
An uncertainty in interpretation here seems to be what is meant by the word ‘degenerates’. All cereal harvests consist of grain (seed) that is used for food or sale and the supporting and protective ‘stuff’ around the grain – the stem, the spiky awns, the coverings. A good harvest has a high proportion of grain to all the rest. But grains will only grow to their full extent if they have enough nutrients from the soil.
We have noticed in the Living Field Garden, where bere and other cereals are maintained by saved seed, that the plants might put out all the supporting and protective materials, but if nutrients are short, then the grains do not fully fill. The resulting harvest is not heavy per unit volume of material.
A crucial feature of the bere on the estate that Mr Wight refers to seems to be that the ratio of volume to mass of grain (firlots to Amsterdam stones) is maintained over time. The heaviness does not decline presumably because soil nutrients removed by the crops are replaced by nutrients from elsewhere on the farm and this happens ‘time out of mind’.
This may be a case of highly effective, scientific, nutrient management centuries ago – before labs, remote sensing and intelligent machines.
Farewell Mr Wight
And he writes a farewell to Volume IV.I: “Having now no ground to survey, and having been long out, I proceeded with the utmost expedition homeward, to make up the loss that my absence occasioned in my private affairs.”
Many thanks Mr Wight!
[There will be more from Andrew Wight in future notes on the Bear line – rhymes with hairline].
Sources, references, contacts
Wight, A. 1778-1784. Present State of Husbandry in Scotland. Exracted from Reports made to the Commissioners of the Annexed Estates, and published by their authority. Edinburgh: William Creesh. Vol I, Vol II, Vol III Part I, Vol III Part II, Vol IV part II, Volume IV Part II. All available online via Google Books. With thanks.
Ayrshire in the age of improvement. Contemporary accounts of agrarian and social improvement in late eighteenth century Ayrshire. 2002. Edited by David McClure. Published by Ayrshire Archaeological and Natural History Society. [The introduction gives background to Andrew Wight’s mission and journeys.] Available online.
In Landrace 1 – bere the query arose as to whether there was a bere line from the neolithic (late stone age), a line of transmission of bere (barley) seed from the first settlers in these regions to the present day. Another question was when bere and barley became distinct – they are the same plant species, but just look a bit different, close up.
So since bere is our most famous and still-grown-in the-wild-but-only-just cereal landrace, the Living Field will explore the bere line as a fairly random walk through time, backwards and forwards that is, putting facts and photos on this web site as we find them.
At some point in the future, we might order them into a chronological list, starting with the earliest and ending with the most recent, but ‘random’ suits us for now.
Here’s an image of bere in the Living Field garden, a cereal beauty!
Lawson and Son’s bere and barley varieties, 1836 and 1852
In their Synopsis of the Vegetable Products of Scotland (1852), Lawson and Son list the names and characteristics of all varieties of crops and other useful plants known to have been grown or tried by them or their correspondents in Scotland. The 1852 Synopsis built on their earlier Agriculturist’s Manual (1836). They must have been growing all these different types of plant in their experimental gardens and plots near Edinburgh throughout the 1830s and 1840s if not earlier. Their Synopsis was a major achievement. It has not been surpassed.
Was bere listed?
Under barley, ‘Common Bere’ is listed among the four-rowed barleys (see note below on four- and six-rowed barley), but of particular interest are several other types that appeared very close to bere. Since most of these types were kept and grown from saved seed, they made a set of landraces, certainly not pure and probably overlapping in many characteristics.
So was common bere a distinct type? Lawson and Son frequently used it as a standard, comparing others to it in terms of structure and timing. For example, there were types that looked the same as bere growing on mainland Europe, one of which was ‘probably the same variety’. Then there was the higher yielding ‘Victoria bere’, and several naked forms (the ‘husk separating from the grain in thrashing, as in common wheats’), including ones said to be superior to the ‘Old Scottish four-rowed naked’. There were also several four-rowed types originating from other parts of the world, outside Europe.
Was there more than one bere landrace?
Their account, while not mentioning separate landraces within the bere grown in Scotland, suggests a situation more complicated than a single class of northern barley landrace that was generally called bere. The name ‘Victoria bere’ suggests bere could be of different forms. The Living Field has not yet found evidence from subsequent records of what happened to the various bere-like barleys. Did any become more widely grown? Were they all classed as bere in some future time?
In the Lawson’s time, and for another century, oat was the main cereal here, but as barley increased in area and overtook oat to become the most widely grown crop today, it was mainly the two-rowed barley that came through. Certainly, most of the four-rowed recorded by Lawson and Son seem to have disappeared.
So – from the Lawsons’ books and records – bere in Scotland in the 1800s was structurally distinct from two-rowed barleys, but was not that distinct from a range of bere-like forms grown on mainland Europe and beyond.
The Lawsons’ books also give evidence of the wealth of international connexions in the seed trade and in the desire of farming to seek improved crop varieties wherever they could be found, whether from a few unusual ears in a field in Scotland or from occasional samples from Nepal, Morocco or … the list is endless.
Further details of bere and other four-rowed barleys
Lawson and Son distinguished four-rowed, six-rowed, two-rowed and an usual type named ‘fan’ or ‘sprat’ barley.
Presumably reflecting the usage at that time, they classed bere and several other barley types as four-rowed. In their earlier Agriculturist’s Manual (1836) they write of Common Bere and types similar to it – ‘middle grains on each side forming a distinct straight row; lateral ones forming a kind of double row towards the base, but uniting so as to form one row towards the extremity of the spike; so that instead of being named four or six-rowed, they might with more propriety be named four and six-rowed barleys.”
Common bere is described as ‘ear about two and a half inches long, containing about 60 grains … and ‘awns or beard about three and a half inches long, adhering to the grain’. In their Agriculturist’s Manual, they state the bere grown in 1835 in trial plots in Edinburgh was sown 7 April, in ear 27 June (81 days) and ripe 12 August (127 days).
The description of the type referred to as Victoria bere suggest attempts to improve the existing landrace. This type ‘produces longer straw, is longer eared, often containing 70 to 100 grains”. Where did it come from? A Mr Fulton, in Ayrshire, is credited with ‘bringing the Victoria bere under the notice of cultivators in this country’. He obtained a few ears of it from the Belfast Botanic Gardens in 1836 and he must have bulked seed for extensive trialling from those ears.
Several others are compared with common bere. Winter white has ears thicker and longer than bere, and its grain sample is coarser. Sown in the autumn it acts like a modern winter variety, ripening earlier than the spring types, but it can also be sown in spring, ripening later. Winter black also had ears larger than bere, but of a ‘black or dark bluish colour’ best sown autumn because if sown late in spring it will not mature the same year.
The variety Square is evidence of similar varieties to bere grown on mainland Europe, being cultivated in France and Germany. It differed from the common bere by being ‘three or four days sooner ripe, and having a thinner skin’. There authors suggest it is probably the same variety (as common bere).
Also, the variety Naked (also known as Siberian barley), which superseded the ‘Old Scottish Four-Rowed Naked‘, which is ‘still a favourite in many districts of Scotland’. Naked’s ears are similar in shape to the common bere but rather more distinctly six-rowed, containing a much greater number of grains. It was grown extensively in the north of Europe, and even in parts of France, and despite ‘its cultivation now almost abandoned … it certainly deserves a fair trial in this country, particularly in the north of Scotland, where it might form a valuable acquisition on account of its earliness, being ripe about a week before the Common Bere’.
Of the 11 other four-rowed barleys listed, some are from overseas, for example African also known as Tangier or Morocco barley (stated as no longer cultivated), Bengal, Nepaul or Himalayan introduced 1817 and Peruvian (described as a superior six-rowed).
Note on Six rowed barley
Entries on six-rowed barley include only two types, one of which is imported from China, but appears the same as the other listed, True Six-Rowed Barley. They describe the awns of this adhering to the grains ‘with great tenacity’ and ‘the coarsest in sample of any of the barleys, but hardy and prolific’, sown as a winter or a spring type, and nearly a fortnight longer to maturity than bere.
Peter Lawson and Son. 1852. Synopsis of the vegetable products of Scotland. Edinburgh: Private Press of Peter Lawson and Son
Title page: Prepared for the Great Exhibition and dedicated to William Jackson Hooker, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew. Peter Lawson and Son describe themselves as ‘Seedsmen and Nurserymen to the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland’. [The notes above are from a copy of the original book. The text is also available as a scanned version – search for its title at Google Books].
Peter Lawson and Son 1836. The Agriculturist’s Manual. Edinburgh, London and Dublin.
Full title: The Agriculturists’s Manual ; being a familiar description of the Agricultural Plants Cultivated in Europe including practical observations respecting those suited to the Climate of Great Britain ; and forming A Report of Lawson’s Agricultural Museum in Edinburgh by Peter Lawson and Son, Seedsmen and Nurserymen to the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland. Available online at biodiversitylibrary and at books.google.co.uk
Thomas Thorburn used diagrams to get a point across: for example, diagrams in the form of a squares to represent large numbers of things. If the reader was no good with figures, then they might get a better idea by comparing two squares of different size to see which was larger and which smaller, and by how much.
His “Diagrams, Agricultural Statistics of Scotland for 1854” was based on agricultural census data collated by the Highland Society and gives areas grown with various crops and output in total bushels of grain and in bushels of grain per acre, including those for barley and bere.
Bere (or bigg) and barley are clearly distinguished in the pages of Diagrams as different crops.
The agricultural census in Diagrams tells us much about bere and barley in the 1850s.
Bere was grown mostly in the north and west, but occurred in most agricultural census regions. Farmers throughout Scotland would have been familiar with it.
The area in Scotland sown with bere was just less than 10% or one-tenth that sown with barley.
Yields of barley and bere, when expressed in modern units were both 1.5-2.0 tonnes per hectare (t/ha), compared to present national average yields of 5-6 t/ha for spring barley.
In Scotland as a whole, bere yields were a bit less than those of barley (about 80% or 90% depending on how yield was calculated), but where they were both grown in the same area, as in some northern and north-eastern regions, their yields were similar.
Bere has now almost disappeared as a commercial crop, whereas barley is the most widely grown corn in Scotland, going mainly to malting and animal feed.
Where was bere grown in the 1850s?
The area grown with bere in 1854 was about 9% of the area of barley. So in the whole of Scotland, just over ten times more barley was grown than bere. And while most bere was grown in the north and north-east, in places such as Aberdeen, Orkney and Shetland and Caithness, it was grown in a small area in many other places, including areas such as Haddington which are considered to be high-yielding. (The names Aberdeen, Orkney and Shetland, Haddington, refer to census areas.)
Here are some figures. The area grown with bere in census regions was, at the top end, Aberdeen 5322 ac, Orkney and Shetland 2922 ac, Caithness 2710 ac, Argyll 1888 ac; and at the bottom end, Perth 502 ac, Haddington 40 ac and Roxburgh 6 ac. The abbreviation ‘ac’ refers to acre, which is about 40% of the hectare, the present metric unit (1 acre = 0.4047 hectare; a hectare can be visualised as a square of 100 m by 100 m).
For barley, the figures at the top end were Fife 27,938 ac, Forfar 25,222 ac, Perth 23, 710 ac, Berwick 16,576 ac; while figures in the north and west were Orkney and Shetland 149 ac, Caithness 265 ac and Bute 389 ac.
What did it yield
Thorburn gives yield in bushels per acre, bushels being a measure of dry volume, used for grain, and acre being a unit of area widely used until recently, and still used locally. He gives the total bushels produced in each census region (from which bushels per acre can be calculated by dividing bushels by the area of the region) and in a separate diagram, he gives bushels per acre for each region. The two estimates are not always the same, so here we use Thorburn’s bushels per acre figures rather than our calculated figures.
Using standard conversion factors and our estimate of 1 bushel of bere = 21.8 kilograms (see Light on bushel), the national average yield of bere was 1.77 t/ha (tonnes per hectare) and of barley 1.93 t/h, so the yield of bere was just more than 90% (nine tenths) of the yield of barley.
The yields vary between regions, but where both barley and bere are grown together, especially in the north and west, the yields are not that different. In Caithness, for example, barley is 36.0 bushels per acre and bere 36.5 bushels per acre.
In Diagrams as it appears online, there is no description of the methods by which the census was conducted. It is presumed the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland did the work and handed the information to Thorburn who constructed his diagrams.
The yields of crops would have been difficult to measure consistently in the field or on the farm. Harvested grain differs in water-content depending on the weather, the locality and the variety of the crop. And grain also will differ in how ‘clean’ it is , how free of the bits and pieces of plant material that may be harvested with it. Today, yields reported in the annual census are given to a stated water content; so if the actual content measured in the combine harvester or in the grain store differs from this stated content, then the mass has to be corrected to allow comparison of near-dry mass between fields, farms and regions. No indication is given in Thorburn of how the dryness and cleanliness of the grain were standardised across regions.
The way the bushel was measured also probably varied. Perhaps some farms used a standard bushel measure (e.g. a barrel or basket) whereas others might have used a container, such as a cart, that they knew held a given number of bushels.
And then the areas sown with the crops were stated very precisely, sometime to several hundred thousand acres and three quarters. But were all fields measured so precisely? What if crops were grown in strips or parts of fields – was the area grown with each strip or part measured? It is difficult today to measure accurately the area of all fields in Scotland sown with a particular crop – and that is with all the official demands to record what was grown where and when.
Despite these uncertainties, the census was a major achievement. It must have taxed the Highland Society’s officials and local organisers. And they probably did have a very good appreciation of areas and outputs. But in some regions they appear to have come up against difficulties that were too great – for example, the yield of bere in Orkney and Shetland is omitted from Thorburn, despite much bere being grown there.
Sources and References
Thorburn T. 1855. Diagrams, Agricultural Statistics of Scotland for 1854. London: Effingham Wilson.
The Scottish Records Association has a page on the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland with references to that time:
[http://www.scottishrecordsassociation.org/index.php/archival-summaries/other-institutions/52-royal-highland-and-agricultural-society-of-scotland] Ed: possible issues with this web link, inquiries in progress.
And the following should lead directly to a pdf file on the above:
[http://www.scottishrecordsassociation.org/images/archivalSummaries/SRA004rhass.pdfSummary] Ed: possible issues with this web site, inquiries in progress.
Ps. There is also a recent reissue of one of Thorburn’s books: Diagrams, illustrative of Facts, Principles & Theories. Paperback by Nabu Press, published 2012. [Update: we have now viewed this book in late 2017 and confirm that it contains few statistics about land or agriculture. It covers a wide range of topics in various forms, including line graphs and squares within squares .]