Painting The Fields Yellow

An artist has been at work changing the landscape dramatically over the past week. Finaly the sun has come out, the cold winds from the north have gone to be replaced by gentle, southerly breezes bringing warm air from the continent of Europe. And with this rise in temperature the cultivated fields of the secret valley and beyond have been altered from drab browns and fresh greens by the addition of an acidic, strident yellow.

Love it or hate it (and many people hate it, if only on account of its smell), Rape is now in full flower. Last spring, as a birthday treat, I was given a hot air balloon trip (read the post!) over our beautiful Cotswold countryside and the patchwork of yellow fields stood out as if the land had been given reflective, safety jackets to wear.

Rape, or Oilseed Rape as it is also called, is now a major crop in the UK being grown for its seed which, when pressed, produces cooking oils and biodiesel. The waste product is made into highly nutritious livestock feed.

Although it has been grown since the 13th century it was only in the 1970's that production took off on a major scale - now almost a million acres. And with this increase in production has come the claim that some people suffer major allergies from it, although as always, there is no conclusive proof of this. What is certain is that there is a greater number of the tiny, black pollen beetles (that are such a nuisance in the flower garden, being transferred into the home with cut flowers) and the thick yellow 'dust' that settles on our cars and window sills.

When seen close to, Rape is so obviously one of the Brassica family with its cabbage like leaves and smell. Let a garden cabbage run to flower and the blooms are remarkably similar. However, where cabbages have been bred to 'heart' up, rape grows tall and open.

Like our garden cabbages, rape is also prone to a large number of pests and the crop is regularly sprayed with chemicals to protect from these and fungal diseases, in particular. Although it is reputed to be perfectly edible, it is for this reason that I never harvest any (or 'filch', would be a more accurate description, I suppose!) on walks around the farm. Even the sheep make no attempt to break through the fence to reach the crop.

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  1. On first view it looks quite beautiful, though I know how dreadful that sort of yellow pollen can be (we get it here from the pines). On second thought, it makes me wonder how such large-scale monoculture will affect things over the next 30 years.....

  2. An interesting post, Johnson, but I hate the yellow peril! It is the only plant that seems to bring on symtoms of hay fever and I have had to pull over while driving the car because my eyes watered so much after passing fields of it. It seems to seed everywhere too, in the hedgerows etc. Bring back the wheat and barley fields :-)

  3. I have seen the fields of rape and thought it beautiful. That said, I don't have to live with it and its issues.
    We have just come out of one of the worst pollen seasons that I can remember here in the mid Atlantic states. Yellow dust storms and people wearing masks. And that pollen was from trees. Do we do away with those?
    As far as chemicals...I must use chemical sprays for the roses here. The spray does seem to keep the deer away. Now a days... everything has chemicals. From the water we drink to the garbage bags used to throw out our leftover processed fast-food ! And people still seem to live to be 90 or 100. lol

  4. I'm glad to say that I have never suffered any effect from the rape fields. Unless, of course, you count when I bought a yellow shirt and got covered in pollen beetles!

    Interesting, Tim & Jim, about the tree pollen problems you endure. I've only ever seen pollen drifting like that from yew trees - and then, not every year.

    As for chemicals, Jim, my heart tells me to go organic. My head tells me that I must breathe in far more chemicals than I actually eat or drink. As always, I guess there has to be a happy balance.


  5. I have a field of rape across the lane this year. My bees love it, but it makes life difficult for the beekeeper, as the nectar they gather from rape makes honey that crytallises very quickly, and some people say the taste is unattractive. I'd rather my bees were on wild flowers and fruit blossoms at this time of year, but I can see from their little yellow legs where they've been!

  6. Kathy, I've heard people say that they don't like the taste of rape honey, too. I didn't know about it crystallising 'though.

    When I lived in the Chilterns, wild marjoram was a common plant on the chalk grassland - when in flower it was a magnet for every bee and butterfly in the area. I bet that honey tasted good!


  7. Reading the previous comments I see there seem to be a lot of negatives to this crop. I only remember flying into Heathrow one year when Rape was in blossom and it was a beautiful sight.
    And what would I do without my canola oil?


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