Flindt on Friday: Timely advice from a pulse prizewinner

Rumour has it that hundreds of farmers are finally turning their backs on oilseed rape this year, and turning to peas and beans as their break crops.

This is all very well – but do they have any idea of what they’re letting themselves in for? All farmers are masochists, but the pain of pulse production is very special.

Someone needs to warn them – someone who has been trying to grow them for years and is bean prizewinner at the last Alresford Agricultural Show. That’ll be me.

See also: Read more from Charlie Flindt

If you’re choosing combining peas, your agronomist will prattle on about resistance to wilt and mildew, and harvest date and blah blah blah; ignore him. Only one thing matters: standing ability.

That once-fantastic looking crop that comes to ripeness at the perfect time is useless if it’s on the floor.

You’ll still need good lifters, even in a standing crop, thanks to the badgers. You can get heavy cast iron ones that take two days to fit, or fancy nylon telescopic things from across the Atlantic – but standard crop ones are fine. Just keep ’em shiny.

A heavy seed-bed roller is a good investment. Min-tilling and Hampshire diamonds make for a full stone trap – or worse.

Bale or bail out

A hard hat is useful for when you ask your balerman to bale the haulm – cattle go mad for it, but balers are less keen. You might get a smack round the head at the suggestion. And keep the bales under cover; water does not run off them.

Your custard corduroy consultant, with his one-year gross margin obsession, won’t like peas – in fact, you can flush out the closet Cirencester alumnus (one who’s sneakily wearing jeans) by asking their opinion of them.

They’ll never get that it’s the next wheat crop that makes peas worthwhile. That, and the pigeon shooting. And the fact that a couple of days of easy high-speed pea combining, leaving a bare field just gagging for the next wheat, can be the harvest highlight, much needed in a year like this one.

beans being unloaded into a trailer

© Charlie Flindt

What about beans? Variety choice is simpler; there are very few, and some of them were found on the Ark.

The cheap and effective herbicides have all been banned because they were cheap and effective, and the battle against bruchid beetles is almost lost, so there’s little chance of getting human consumption quality these days.

Rook ’n’ Roll

If you plough them in, power harrow the field smooth afterwards – or direct drill the lot as deep as you can. And roll. You’ll need a couple of dead rooks on sticks, but keep them out of sight of snowflake walkers.

The combining technique for beans is unique. After weeks of praying for “scorchio” dry days, you find yourself hoping for heavy dews or even a bit of drizzle to keep the pods intact on their way over the cutterbar. Sometimes late night or very early starts are the only solution.

If they’re short, you put the table on the floor and go like hell – that’s why the smooth seed-bed is vital. If they’re long and tangled, it’s a battle to keep the drum slow enough to avoid breaking beans without it grinding to a halt; hurrah for the combine’s “vomit” button.

All being well, you’ll get enough to save for next year’s seed (notify the relevant authorities, of course) and some to sell, and you’ll get a better crop of wheat for your time, trouble, and delicious pain.

You may even have a fine looking sample for the next agricultural show, if Carrie lets Boris say we can have them back, of course.