Rockside is a big farm near the west coast of the Rhinns of Islay. Mark and Rohaise French grow malting barley for Bruichladdich in addition to attending to their herd of Angus beef cattle and running Rockside Trekking Centre. Mark planted his barley early this year, taking advantage of a spell of very dry weather in March and April to plough the ground and get his seed in.
There are a lot of risks associated with early sowing on Islay. Huge flocks of wild geese spend the winter here, only leaving at the end of April for their breeding grounds in Greenland, high above the Arctic Circle. They are very adept at digging the seed up as soon as it is in and can do significant damage. The seed might germinate quickly, and then be nipped by a late frost, or heavy rain can puddle the ground, drowning the young shoots.
Those sun-soaked early April days now seem a long way off, because the weather then became very difficult. Lots of rain, and unusually low temperatures for the time of year. There was some goose damage, but the early sowing seems to have paid off.