“…among the fields of barley, among the fields of gold”
Written by Sting, magically sung, and recorded by Eva Cassidy, Fields of Gold, evokes the image of a mature barley crop, in July, ears of grain bent over, gently swaying in the summer breeze. This is our raw material, and the beginning of a journey, a journey that is the story of beer.
So for 2020, we are going on this journey, and following a crop of Spring sown malting barley planted in a field at Norton Bavant, just outside Warminster. We will track this crop through it’s growth stages to harvest, and hopefully, from there to our Maltings, and ending up in a glass (or two) of local beer.
The story begins…
The fields at Norton Bavant had been left since the previous crop of wheat was harvested on the 1st September 2019. Under normal circumstances, the ground would have been ploughed in January, but the wet weather prevented this. At last, a deep plough to bury the wheat stubble and any weeds, and to help dry out the soil. This is followed by 2 passes of a disc harrow. We just need a few days of sunshine and our field will be perfectly ready for sowing.
Our field at Norton Bavant is planted with a variety of malting barley named Planet, which is a very popular brewing variety. After the incessant winter rains, the soil has at last dried out to create a perfect seedbed, and still within the acknowledged timeframe for quality malting barley.
10 days in, and the barley is sprouting already. Lines are begining to form and the fields show their first signs of turning green.
After nearly 6 months of winter rains, our barley field has been drained of any naturally occurring “soil residual nitrogen”. So artificial fertiliser needs to be added. But this must be carefully gauged, in order to give plenty of green leaf and stem extension, followed by long ears of grain.
It is applied early in the crop cycle, because what we do not want, is too much nitrogen in the harvested barley! The grain nitrogen of top quality malting barley needs to be low in order to meet our expectation of that crystal clear beer in the glass
Our barley field has enjoyed 3 weeks of almost perfect growing conditions, lots of warm sunshine, and a little rain to freshen it up. It will now quickly lose its spiky appearance as the leaves expand and fold over, forming a complete crop canopy which intercepts maximum sunlight, and shades out any weeds.
Our crop of Planet barley has made tremendous growth. The awns (the long spikes on the tip of each grain) are beginning to appear, followed by the ears of grain themselves.
We are looking for 26 – 28 grains per ear, and based on up to 2 grain bearing stems per by plant, from a seed rate of up to 75kgs/acre, we can expect a yield of around 3 tonnes of barley per acre. That will be a good result.