Nature Notes - September
September! Harvest home, Hops and Apples! To the Welsh: Medi – the month of reaping; in Gaelic: An Sultuine – the month of plenty and in Anglo-Saxon: Halemonath – the holy month. Fair weather first day of September, fair for the month. Most, if not all, of the corn harvest is now in. In days gone by, the last sheaf of corn standing was treated with great reverence especially in the West. In Hereford, my home county, it was called the Mare whereas in Cornwall, my spiritual home, it was called the Neck and was always cut in a special way. However it was cut, it was often dressed in women’s clothes or plaited into a “Corn Dolly” and “she” then presided over Harvest Home and was carefully kept, for luck, until the following year. September 3rd was St. Bartholomew’s Day old style and the start of Harvest End fairs. Interestingly, in time long past this was the month for Harvest Suppers or dinners. Arguably, September is a good time for beer drinkers as it is, by tradition, the start of the hop picking season. The 14th sees the beginning of the nutting season and hazel nuts (aka cob-nuts or filberts) collected on this day have magical properties. Look especially for double nuts that ward off rheumatism, toothache and the spells of witches. But beware, do not pick too early for the hazel is a powerful tree and to gather unripe nuts is not just unlucky but downright dangerous. However, you are likely to find yourself quite safe as the grey tree rat will have got there before you! Blackberries seem plentiful this year but, as always, gather them before the Devil fouls them. Also in high season are, bilberry, cranberry, dewberry, juniper and elderberry. The superstitions surrounding the elder are numerous as it is a plant of power. To fell an elder is very unlucky as it is home to the “Elder Mother” and burning the timber inside your house will release the Devil. However, every part has been used as a cure for some ailment or the other. Warts can be transferred to an elder stick that is then buried and an elder planted by a door will protect the occupants from evil. The elder also has the reputation of never having been struck by lightening! Elderberries are slightly poisonous and should always be cooked; they make a passable jelly and of course a wine of some infamy! My favourite is to stuff cooking apples with them and then bake them. I spent a very pleasant few minutes (actually, rather too many) watching a pair of red kites circling over the hay that was being tedded. Although there was quite a lot of wildlife leaving the field edge the kites made no attempt to dive for it as they are basically scavengers and have quite weak feet. However, not according to some scaremongers who have reported kites as taking a half lamb from a hot barbeque, a full grown mallard drake from a pond and of attacking small dogs and cats. It is wonderful how man’s imagination can conjure up nonsense to persecute the innocent! I am reliably informed that glow-worms have returned to Common Moor. I absolutely love September; it is the first warning of autumn (my favourite season) and the long term warning of winter (my next). The days seem to hold a special magic and to be out in the fields watching the farmers at work is a most satisfying way of wasting time. The hedges are full of berries and as I write, the sun is sinking slowly into the West leaving a golden hue on the trees and bushes and my mind goes back to the far too short a time spent on Dartmoor last month. As I look out of my window I don’t see a garden with houses at the end but mile upon mile of open moorland and I hear the buzzard call and the bleat of the Blackies, the Scottish Blackface sheep so prevalent on the moor. Sheep Dog trials will soon be back in full swing and I hope that, by the end of the year, my little tri-colour bitch Beth will be ready to enter nursery trials. We need to put the work in or at least, I do. To her it is natural but I am still learning. However, as soon as I can locate some suitable and affordable land, sheep will be coming to Croxley (if anyone has any ideas on land please let me know).