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.