Lammas day in cornfields
August 1 is Lammas Day, an ancient pagan festival marking the end of the growing season and the start of the corn harvest. Lammas means 'loaf-mass': by custom the day on which loaves of bread were baked from the first grain harvest and presented to the local lord, or in Christian times, laid on the church altars as offerings.
Over thousands of years the wild flowers of cornfields have adapted to grow in tune with the seasonal cycle of crop growth and harvest: they too run to seed at this time. It follows that if you have sown cornfield annuals the start of August will mark a key point in their year, an opportune moment to consider "what next"
What follows depends upon whether you have sown cornfield annuals as a ‘nurse crop' together with a perennial meadow mixture, or sown cornfield annuals alone.
Meadow mixture sowings with a cornfield annual 'nurse crop' require the most urgent attention. It is very important, particularly on fertile soils, that the annual growth is cut back as soon as flowering declines or as soon as the cover vegetation collapses (usually late July from autumn sowing; early August from spring sowing). The cuttings are usually substantial and must be removed. This cut will reveal the developing meadow mixture and allow it to grow and develop into the autumn unhindered. A delay in cutting will compromise the main sowing, particularly if the cover vegetation has collapsed. Do not wait for the annuals to set seed; there is no point as they cannot grow in established grassland.
Cornfield Annuals sown alone do not need such urgent attention. Whilst they will have given their best in terms of display, they will continue to produce odd flowers and shed seed until the autumn frosts arrive. As well as dropping seed for another year they provide a valuable source of food for seed eating birds. The annuals only need to be cut and removed when you are ready to prepare the land for the next sowing or wish to tidy the site.
It is possible to re-establish a cornfield mixture each year from self-sown seeds by clearing and cultivating the ground to create a new seedbed.
(to see a short video demonstrating this process see this linked article)
Posted on 21 July 2010,