In recent weeks our piglets have been escaping from their pens. Now that’s something that happens from time to time, but this is different. Our farm manager, Rob, has been finding them in one particular spot outside their pen – under one of the two ancient beech trees on the other side of the field from their enclosures, scoffing beech mast. Beech “mast” are the sweet, nutty seeds of the beech tree, and very attractive to all those animals who like fruit and seeds, including pigs!
This autumn the ground is covered by beech mast. We have had a very heavy crop of apples and pears this year, the blackthorn on the hedges are covered in sloes, blackberries are prolific on the brambles, the rowan or mountain ash trees are covered in orange fruit, the oak trees have a veritable carpet of acorns.
What is happening?
Well, years ago our forefathers would have told us that this is a sign of a very bad winter to come and Mother Nature was compensating by producing plentiful fruit, berries and seed for the animals ahead of the freezing weather.
But before you go out and buy more winter woollens, let’s consider the facts : some trees like apples and pears have a tendency to crop heavily every two years, others like the oak and beech tend to have a bumper year every four or five years. When these coincide we call it a “Mast Year”. Scientists tell us that this is caused by the mix of weather earlier in the year, rather than anything to come. Who knows?
But if we do have a freezing, snowy winter, remember that this has been a Mast Year. And you found out about that long range weather forecast here first!