Home and Shop Companion 0113

Are we going to get articles written by our English friend again soon? They were great and very interesting. Thanks, Rich

William Castle is back! His first installment for 2022 immediately follows. As the season evolves, instead of every single week, he is going to be sending us letters from his small corner as time allows. In between, we’ll continue with Rural Ramblings and other guest contributions.

Thank you, William!

Home and Shop Companion 0113

letter from a small corner of far away

Dear Lynn, dear Everyone,

Spring has come and I am farming weeds, mostly on purpose. I started watering the greenhouse again a few weeks ago and spread compost where the tomatoes will be planted to get a flush of weed growth which I hoed out on two consecutive hot days this week. Half the garden is also ready for sowing, well in advance, so some weeds can grow there too, and I have put floating fleece on part of one bed to hasten the process before I sow peas. In the other half are still the remnants of last year’s crops, broccoli and leeks mostly, but I need to get in there soon, to remove cabbage stalks and the weeds that grew in amongst the crops that stayed in the ground into the winter.

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In the field there is less hanging over from last year, just a few parsnips hiding in the green manure, but otherwise it looks almost ready to go. This morning I cultivated the ploughed ground with Lucy and had one sweaty horse by the time we had finished. The work of cultivating and rolling was not particularly hard and we weren’t at it for long, but the temperature this week has been more like late May than late March. So when I turned Lucy in to join Molly, she went straight to the water trough instead of the hay.

The first bit of ploughing we did three weeks ago. I started in the part where the potatoes will go, but at the end of the first furrow, Lucy started going fast as her feet were sinking in. I hadn’t realised it was so wet, so I left it at that and moved across to where the onions will grow. Here it was dryer, though the soil might have crumbled more and left the mouldboard more easily if I had allowed an extra couple of drying days, but with the following week full of non-farming activities I was pleased to have got it done. In both patches I had sowed a grass mixture with added mustard last autumn, but the grass was slow, whereas the mustard grew tall. Given the late sowing date I didn’t expect the mustard would grow quite so much, nor did I expect it to flower, but the mild autumn meant it was still flowering and providing pollen for the insects in December. Luckily it does not seem to have produced viable seed. It did, however, leave tall stalks which I was unsure how to tackle in February. I could have mown them before ploughing, but when chain harrowing the grassland, I decided to run the harrows upside down through the mustard, just to flatten it. I did this twice over and it worked fine, but there were plenty of mustard stalks left on the ground when I came to plough, so I made sure to use the disc coulter, set fairly shallow, to push the stalks down into the soil and cut through them.

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The potato patch was only really dry enough to plough last week, and this time I used the bigger plough with a digging mouldboard which cuts a wider and deeper furrow. I hadn’t used a disc coulter on this plough, so before I started, I made a clamp so I could use the disc coulter from the smaller plough. In Britain, disc coulters on horse drawn ploughs were rare, knife coulters were the norm, so I haven’t ever found the right disc for either plough, my disc coming from an early tractor plough. The clamp is very simple, just three plates with a hole in each corner, with four bolts welded onto the middle plate. Two of the bolts, set in opposite corners, stick out in one direction and clamp round the plough beam, and the other two clamp round the upright stalk of the disc.

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Even though this plough is really designed for two horses, and I have used an identical model with three, the hake [clevis] does go well over to the furrow side, so it also works for a single horse. After using it last year as well, I think I like it better than the small plough, even with a single horse. The biggest disadvantage is that it is heavy to lug about if you don’t get the horse to turn wide enough at the headlands to line up with the furrow, but it is more stable and easier to control when in the furrow. It also leaves a more broken furrow which is easier to work down and there is less risk of leaving a furrow slice standing on its edge, which can happen with the little plough when you steer it to take a narrower slice when straightening out a wobble. The other thing I have done this time is to plough deeper, not a bad idea in advance of making potato ridges, about seven inches, just tickling the top of the subsoil and undercutting any pan from the more usual five inches.

The potato patch was rolled last week and then today I cultivated it once before rolling again and I am sure it will need one deeper cultivation at the very least before creating the ridges. The other patch has been rolled and cultivated quite shallow twice, before rolling again, and were it not for the hoof prints, would almost make a seedbed. But I will look again in a couple of days, then probably harrow it a couple of times. Then I will see what the weather does, it may be warm enough to sow seeds and plant onion sets, but I doubt it, as some artic air is due to come our way soon, so in the interim it can grow some more weeds.

Take care,


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

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I love your Home & Shop Companion, and now I understand where Lynn got his common sense and sensibility! I love his Dad’s ramblings, and, like Lynn’s writings, they feed my soul. I’m also very intrigued by Harold Jackson’s great ideas. Who is/was this gentleman? Please give us some background info! Thank you! – Wendy

Hi Wendy, I noticed early on that Harold Jackson was credited with about 80% of the ideas appearing in “Handy Andy’s Department” at the back of Farm Mechanics magazine in the 1920s and 30s. I, too, was curious and did some looking and found almost nothing about him. He isn’t listed in the magazine’s masthead, but neither is anyone else other than the top brass. Radford Publications also released a compilation book called “Handy Andy on the Farm” but the author is given as “Farm Mechanics Magazine.”

With your recent query we took another look. I put Kema on it (like Liam Neeson, she has skills in this area) but even she was stymied and unable to find any trace of our Harold Jackson.

I think he was probably the editor of “Handy Andy’s Department” in a time when subordinates weren’t really given credit for much. I imagine he did the drawings and wrote up (or rewrote) the directions for all of the reader submissions, and was probably responsible for generating ideas when submissions were thin. He may have managed a small team focused on these projects.

Or, maybe he was just a dude with a lot of time on his hands inundating the Farm Mechanics mailroom with handy hints!

Either way or otherwise, it must have been pretty interesting compiling and sharing these tidbits of mechanical wisdom and creating an important archive in the process. It reminds me of the musicologists like Lomax that criss-crossed America recording early folk music. I bet he’d be pleased to know that people are still finding value in his work 100 years later. – EG

Home and Shop Companion 0113

Home and Shop Companion 0113