Originally published in the Guardian on 26 August 1966
HAMPSHIRE: The wondrous fine days of last week have come just right for the harvesters. Although tractors with trolleys are not so picturesque as horses with wains, there remains a flavour of the sacred earth at harvest-time. The more especially in large fields with men and girls scattered at various jobs. And I have seen a young fellow, stripped to the waist, and as brown as a South Sea islander, with a girl beside him, her hair neatly plaited in pigtails, both holding on to a jolting bar, as they returned to the farm after work. The quality remains, in spite of the combustion engine. In many fields the straw is being trussed, and not wastefully burnt. Various uses are being found for it besides the bedding down of animals; in right conditions cabbages can be grown, also seed potatoes bedded and grown, with great saving of labour. If for no better use, it can be made into compost. The hot days have brought swarms of flying ants, fat, juicy, young queens, that birds relish. Starlings, that naturally have quick, gliding flight, learn to hover, not very well, but sufficiently slowly to snatch at the flying ants in midair. The starlings fly at a low level over fields and gardens, and, higher up, seagulls circle to taste the formic acid flavour. They remind me of the time when I have eaten honey-ants in West Australia that were dug up by aborigine girls. These were the only form of sweetmeats that the bush provided, and very good too. I was sorry to learn that the Scops owl had escaped, with but poor chance of survival I fear.
Source: Guardian Environment