Home and Shop Companion 0061

Small Farmer’s Journal Home & Shop Companion

March 31, 2020 – April 1, 2021

April 1, 2021, 11:18am PDT – I was getting ready to send out this 61st Home & Shop Companion email when I realized the first one was sent out a year and a day ago, so we have an anniversary of sorts to celebrate.

We’ve had 45 letters from William Castle, king of the pen pals, every one wonderful, every one a gift. Thank you, William, from all of us.

I’ve enjoyed very much digging through old magazines such as Farm Mechanic and Farm Workshop for the Handy Hints. It would be fun to put together a compilation of all the hints I chose to not share for Health, Safety & Liability reasons, except, you know, for those exact reasons. I’ll just say, people used to do some crazy stuff with Model T’s and razor blades and electricity.

It is super easy choosing the recipes. I open any SFJ to My Small Kitchen and when my mouth starts watering I grab that recipe.

We thank Stephen Bishop and Ben Smith (see below) for their contributions, and especially thank you to our readers for all the positive replies and responses we have received to the Home & Shop Companion. That is what makes it fun and worth it.

I also realized that today is April Fool’s Day, and even though I shouldn’t present the dates of an ongoing newsletter in the ‘Born – Died’ tombstone style, I couldn’t help myself.

Don’t worry, see you next week! – EG

Home and Shop Companion 0061

letter from a small corner of far away

Dear Lynn, dear Everyone,

It has been two weeks since Molly hurt her back leg; she is now off pain killers and I am allowing her access to all the track at night so she can move about more, but I am still keeping her isolated from Lucy so she doesn’t get ‘rowed about’ by the livelier Lucy. Then tonight as I opened up the track, she gave a small buck of restrained springtime exuberance, so I think she is on the mend.

Meanwhile, Lucy and I have been working down the ploughed ground for vegetables. Because I prefer to have a green covering to the soil for as long as possible, there is no time to leave ploughed land to settle, so I always use a roll after ploughing to squash down the furrows and to provide resistance to the cultivator tines that follow. It might seem counter-intuitive to compress the soil which you are immediately going to loosen with the cultivator or harrow, but when I did a short course at an Agricultural College thirty years ago they organised a morning of cultivations to show the effect of doing things in different sequences. The most striking demonstration was running a fixed tine cultivator over ploughed ground either immediately after ploughing or after it had been rolled. When done straight after ploughing some of the furrows were partially rolled over and the surface was uneven and lumpy, but when cultivated after rolling, the furrows stayed in place, the surface was flatter with a moderately good tilth interspersed with clods of a couple of inches diameter. This was almost good enough for an autumn cereal crop, though a harrowing before drilling to firm the seedbed and to ensure a closer contact between the soil and the seed would have helped.

Although I thought I knew the effect of cultivating before this demonstration, until the class in the afternoon I don’t think I understood why. It’s not exactly rocket science, [but it is more important]; as a tine moves through the soil it pushes any clods against the undisturbed soil immediately in front of it, and if the clod is at the right moisture content, it shatters. If the soil in front of the tine is very loose, however, the clods are just pushed around like the play balls when a child wades through a kids’ ball pit.

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So, with the rolling done, Lucy and I went straight to the spring tine cultivator. It’s the dragged type with C shaped tines, and although it is old and its joints are very loose, I think this must be my favourite implement for its effectiveness and simplicity. To start with, I always set the cultivator fairly shallow, because I want it to break down the top couple of inches while there is still some cohesion in the plough’s furrow slice, despite the crushing effect in the top inch caused by the roller. That cohesion gives something for the cultivator tines to push against even when working in the top layer, and due to the shape of the tines, at this depth they are working at almost right angles to the soil surface so they are pushing clods forward against the soil, rather than lifting them.

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Once the cultivator has been over the ground, in setting the C shaped tines deeper, the tines pivot round so they stick out further below the frame of the cultivator, but in doing so the points are no longer vertical, but point forwards into the undisturbed soil. Because of the increased weight of soil above the tine, there is still enough resistance for the clods to be broken down, whilst the forward pointing tine also pulls the implement into the ground. This allows the frame of the cultivator to be light, the shape of the tine keeping the implement in the ground, which is why the design works even on a narrow implement with only five or six tines. You can see the difference by comparing this type of cultivator with the single row crop cultivators with S shaped tines and a high centre of gravity, which bounce all over the place and must be jarring to the operator’s arms.

Another advantage of the spring tine cultivator is the action of the sprung tines. Unlike a fixed tine which moves at the same speed as the implement, when a sprung tine meets a clod which is too solid to break, the tine is bent backwards as the cultivator moves forwards, so increasing the force on the clod until the clod shatters, or if it is very hard, it is pushed out of the way. The mistake when using this type of cultivator is to set it too deep. When one or more tines grab hold in the ground a large force is put on the horses until the cultivator is pulled out of the ground when all the force is released, then it digs in and repeats the process. When working correctly you can see the tines vibrating backwards and forwards as they react to the resistance in the soil.

I ran the cultivator through both patches of ground twice this week, but the two patches felt quite different, though only a few yards apart, the difference being due to the depth of ploughing. The deeper ploughed ground for potatoes was more pulverised by the plough, so the second cultivation could be much deeper than in the other patch. This is where the other vegetables will grow, which was ploughed more shallowly, and where the furrow was less broken. With this firmer soil the second cultivation could only be half the depth as in the potato patch for the cultivator to work properly, but that is OK because I don’t want to cultivate deeply and risk dragging up any green from the bottom of the furrow.

Since then we have had some rain, which scuppered my intentions to cultivate the potato patch again and then roll it to give an even surface before making the potato ridges, whilst in the other bed I intended to do the opposite, to roll first to consolidate the ground and then cultivate. However, that might all change, depending on the action of the rain and how long I need to wait before the soil is dry enough.

Take care,


William Castle is a violin maker, farmer & SFJ contributor who lives in Shropshire, England.

Good evening from Africa!

I’ve been enjoying reading these Home & Shop Companion emails when they come. I was wondering what I need to do to submit a tip to you all. I have one I’ve used and would like to share. Thanks.

– Ben

Hi Ben,

All of the tips so far have been taken from old magazines, most recently Farm Mechanic from the 1920s. We hadn’t really considered it, but I think it would be really neat to share similar kinds of ideas from our readers when we can get them. If you’d like to share we will surely consider it, and maybe it will inspire others to chime in.

If you can include an illustration, whether a photo or drawing, that would be great, and if not hopefully you can describe it well enough that we might take a stab at an illustration. Include a little blurb about yourself as well, if you like.

You can send me an email with your entry. Thanks! webmaster@smallfarmersjournal.com

Home and Shop Companion 0061

Home and Shop Companion 0061