Old-fashioned harvest recreates our bygone farming heritage

Farmer Patrick Murray with his 5ft 'shocks' of heritage wheat grown for thatching straw at Blo' Norton

Farmer Patrick Murray with his 5ft 'shocks' of heritage wheat grown for thatching straw at Blo' Norton - Credit: Brittany Woodman

Memories of bygone harvest times have been recreated at a Norfolk farm which is growing heritage wheat for thatching straw.

In contrast with modern priorities, Patrick Murray and his family are producing the old variety for its straw, rather than its grain.

The 5ft plants have been harvested with a 92-year-old restored Massey Harris binder, with the sheaves then piled in "shocks" in the field at Blo' Norton, near Diss.

'Shocks' of heritage wheat grown for thatching straw at Blo' Norton

'Shocks' of heritage wheat grown for thatching straw at Blo' Norton - Credit: Brittany Woodman

Mr Murray said the scene is likely to evoke fond memories of East Anglia's farming past.

"I think a bit of nostalgia will creep into some people's minds and they will think: It was like that when I was a child," he said.

"This method of farming died out in the 60s. I am 74 now, but cutting wheat with a binder was still the main way of doing it when I was a boy.

"Harvesting used to involve a lot more people - the village policeman and the vicar used to join in as well.

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"As farm labour decreased it was replaced by more modern machines.

"I have got to be truthful, I really enjoy this old-fashioned way of harvesting and it is nice to see some of the traditional skills carried on for future generations."

The heritage harvest has been a family effort, including Mr Murray's son James and 13-year-old grandson George.

Farmer Patrick Murray and his son James with their restored 1920s Massey Harris wheat binder

Farmer Patrick Murray and his son James with their restored 1920s Massey Harris wheat binder - Credit: Brittany Woodman

This weekend the shocks of wheat - also known to some as "stooks" - will be carted away ready for a steam-powered threshing process, before the straw is sent to a thatcher in Bedfordshire.

"The wheat is from the early 1900s," said Mr Murray. "It is very tall, and not high-yielding compared to modern-day wheats, but we want it for the length of the straw and the hollowness of the stem.

"It has a waxiness on the stem which makes it last longer and it repels water. 

"There are a lot of thatchers, but nationally there is a severe shortage of thatching straw, because it is very labour-intensive and a lot of people have not got the labour to do it. As small farmers we can fill that niche market.

Farmer Patrick Murray and his son James with sheaves of heritage wheat grown for thatching straw

Farmer Patrick Murray and his son James with sheaves of heritage wheat grown for thatching straw - Credit: Brittany Woodman

"We have grown about five acres which will yield about 7-10 tonnes of thatching straw, probably enough for about three houses. 

"The grain is a by-product. It could go to a flour mill or it could be ground up for our cows."

Farmer Patrick Murray with his 5ft 'shocks' of heritage wheat grown for thatching straw at Blo' Norton

Farmer Patrick Murray with his 5ft 'shocks' of heritage wheat grown for thatching straw at Blo' Norton - Credit: Brittany Woodman

Farmer Patrick Murray with his restored 1920s Massey Harris wheat binder

Farmer Patrick Murray with his restored 1920s Massey Harris wheat binder - Credit: Brittany Woodman