Home & Shop Companion #0004
letter from a small corner of far away
Dear Lynn, dear Everyone,
What a change just three weeks can bring. Like nearly everywhere else in Europe, here in Britain we have been in near lockdown for two weeks, only able to go out to buy essential food or medicine, once a day for exercise, or to go to work if absolutely necessary. For me, and I guess for many of you who live on farms and ranches, [if you also have to stay at home] much of my daily routine has stayed pretty much the same, and that is mostly what I want to tell you about.
The other change has been in the season. For months it has been dreadfully wet; February here was the wettest on record with many rivers overtopping their banks and flooding farmland, businesses and people’s houses. Then since the middle of March we have scarcely had a drop of rain.
My horses, Molly and Lucy, have been mostly idle over winter, but as soon as it had dried enough, I was out chain harrowing and rolling the pasture, starting steadily, particularly as Molly, now 21, needs a gentle reintroduction to work because of her age.
I have a small garden patch in the field, and usually I hope to have it ploughed by the end of February or soon after, to give the overwintered green manure time to rot and for the furrows to settle before further cultivation. But because of the wet, this year the work has got crowded together. This might be a problem if I was a ’real’ farmer with large acres, but we have only one field of six acres, most of it down to pasture, so the workload is not great. Still, at this time of year my ‘proper’ work as a violin maker often has to play second fiddle to what is happening outside as nature springs back to life.
If you have been reading the Small Farmers Journal for a while, you may recall I wrote about ploughing with a single horse when I only had one horse, using a Ransomes RHA plough, a small model designed for use with a one horse or two smaller horses or ponies. Since getting a second horse, I have continued to use this small plough, [which also featured in ‘Learning to Plough’ in the 43-1 edition of SFJ] because I am used to it and it is light to manoeuvre if the horses don’t line up precisely with the next furrow. So, this year I started out ploughing as usual, but had difficulty burying some of the tufty grass weeds that had developed over autumn and winter. This problem was one result of hurting my shoulder last September, which put me out of action, so instead of establishing an even stand of rye and vetch as a green manure, I had to let the weeds do their thing.
After struggling with this patch where I will plant potatoes and onions, the plough not having sufficient ground-hugging ability in the free working soil to keep the rolling coulter cutting through the weed growth, [or perhaps I hadn’t got it adjusted right] I decided to get out my original plough, which I bought thirty years ago, but I had never used it here. This is a Ransomes LCP, the type of plough I learned to plough with, which is heavier and more stable than the other one and with a sharper mouldboard which breaks up the furrow. I had intended to give it a go last year, but since the ploughing was going fine with the little plough, I just kept on going with that.
This year, however, it immediately made all the difference in the next patch; with a deeper, and wider furrow, the LCP made easy work of turning the weeds under, and after rolling both patches and putting the cultivator through the first patch, I called it a day for the horses, with the intention of continuing next morning. It was not to be; however, Molly having developed rapid and laboured breathing by my evening visit. She tends to react like this when the cow parsley comes into flower in late spring, but this hot day had brought out the bees to the tree blossom, so I called the vet, [that’s what we call a veterinarian, not an ex-serviceman] who injected her and gave me a bottle to add to her feed to ease her breathing.
So next day I was back to one horse and the little plough. To make life easier, I chose to plough ground with less weed growth. This was going to be the first time Lucy had ploughed on her own, and the first thing to do was to open out a new furrow, hard enough with a team, but with a single horse you can’t see very well where you are going. So following a tip I got from SFJ years ago, I set the plough to take a small furrow, put the hake [clevis] in the middle, and with my right hand on the left handle to steady the plough, drove Lucy with both lines in my left hand. Having two wheels on the plough, set widely apart on this occasion, certainly helps with the stability, and although the resulting furrow was not good enough to take a photograph, it was good enough for farm work and straight enough to turn back when making the ridge, crown, or whatever you call it in your part of the world. Luckily Lucy is used to walking in the furrow and pulling whatever load I put her to, so we actually had a very pleasant and constructive morning.
Since then, Molly joined us again for the last patch of ploughing, and both have been working down the ground ready for planting, but that will have to wait for another time.
Here’s hoping you and yours are well and safe,
William Castle is a violin maker, farmer & SFJ contributor who lives in Shropshire, England.