Working Through Fifty-two Weeks' Fertility Farming
Preparing for the Change
The time to change over to Fertility Farming will be influenced by many factors: date of commencing tenancy, type of soil, district, or perhaps just the moment at which the 'last straw' of orthodox troubles determines an immediate change.
For the farmer who becomes convinced that chemical methods are wrong it will be a matter of morality. Chemical methods will be wrong and therefore stopped from that moment, whatever the time of year.
But for the farmer who becomes convinced that fertility farming is likely to pay in the long run, better than the usual exploitive methods which leave inevitable troubles in their train, then a convenient time to start the new method is chosen -- and the change over will be gradual.
My farm had Lady Day tenancy when I rented it, though it was the type of soil which is mainly autumn sown and for which a Michaelmas tenancy would have been more convenient. But if I were starting again to change Goosegreen over to fertility farming I would start in the early autumn, immediately after harvest, when nearly all the fields are bare and cropping plans are best formulated and put into effect.
As a guide to farmers who wish to try my system I will describe a full year's cycle. Much of what I say is normal farming practice, and though where this is so I have tried to be brief, I hope seasoned farmers will excuse its inclusion at all. Where my methods differ I have described them in full, for they differ not for the sake of difference but because hard experience has shown me a more effective way of producing abundantly more successful results. This is not the way I started fertility farming, but the way, hacked out by hard graft, from the many trials and more errors than I care to remember, which I would go if I were starting Goosegreen on the road to fertility again.
These methods suit my farm very well; they will almost certainly suit yours, for they fit most conditions, and I hope I have given enough detail to enable you to go ahead.
The first thing to receive attention in any change of plans, or reconstruction of a farm for the change over to new methods, are the farm buildings. So I give a plan of the ideal layout for the methods I describe. (See plan, Appendix 3). This layout is based on the present layout of my own farm; only based, I regret, though I hope one day to achieve the ideal which I consider this plan provides.
Farmers who are fortunate enough to be starting from scratch in the provision of farm buildings, or those who have enough capital to alter existing buildings to an ideal plan, will find this layout most economical of time, labour and materials, for the practice of the methods of farming set out in this book.
The cost of erecting such a set of farm buildings from scratch would be high in 1950. But five per cent on the cost, assuming you can raise it, would be small expenditure for an easily workable set of farm buildings; for you can be sure that it will be more than saved every year in reduced labour costs.
When I adapted my farm to a layout as nearly approaching my ideal, though most of the buildings are still more tumbledown than orderly, I saved the wages of two men in the first year. In two years I had paid for the milking parlour and minor alterations to other buildings out of the reduced labour bill.
I have found the following to be the necessary equipment for a farm the size of mine, that is 180 acres approximately. This may be taken to cover the needs of farms from 100 to 200 acres, and the initial requirements of farms of greater acreage. For farms of 200 to 350 acres, start with this equipment and extras will make themselves necessary as work proceeds.
A Tractor. I have some steep hills, and must therefore have a fairly high-powered tractor. For eight years I have done all my work with a 27 h.p. model. An additional light tractor on such heavy and steep land, though far from being an essential, would enable one to effect some economy on much of the lighter work. Or, on level ground, it would be possible to do all the work with the modern hydraulic integral equipment tractor of 16-22 h.p.
A Two-furrow Plough. On light land of good humus content I am convinced that a plough is not necessary. But on all other soils, especially where the humus content is low, it will be necessary to build up the humus content of the topsoil, and thus its friability and ease of working, before it will be possible to dispense entirely with the plough.
Reaper, Binder. Both obvious needs.
Disc Harrow. This is the key implement of the organic farm and one which is capable of performing all the operations of cultivation and seed-bed preparation. Where economy is necessary, no other cultivating implement need be owned. Even a roller may be dispensed with, for a weighted disc harrow, run with the discs straight out, will serve admirably in the compression of a seed-bed.
A Roller is, however, not an expensive implement to buy. They are often available at farm sales at ridiculously low prices, and will be useful in the early stages of working towards completely organic methods. When the soil is rich in organic matter there will be no need for the roller.
Tractor Trailer. A low-loading trailer is preferable, for the nearer to the ground the bed of the trailer the easier is loading and unloading. For though some unloading is to barns and stacks at a height, the greater part of the year the trailer will be engaged in carrying materials which are to be loaded from the ground level and unloaded to the same level.
Light Drag Harrows, for covering seed and grass harrowing.
Two Hundred to Three Hundred Tripods are really an essential in the British climate for the farm desiring self-sufficiency in foodstuffs.
A Hay Tedder. The old-fashioned kick tedder, though not absolutely essential, is a valuable tool for getting air into the grass immediately after cutting, for the purpose of tripodding, and also where quick-wilting is called for in silage making (during excessively wet weather).
A Milking Machine, if you are to milk more than twenty cows.
Some kind of green-crop loader, though not essential in the early stages, will be found well worth its cost where much silage is to be made with a small staff. A second trailer, or old army lorry, is also valuable unless you can borrow one at harvest and muck-carting times.
Starting with these implements, plus all the small tackle like forks, shovels and tools, we can push ahead with the actual farming. I have avoided anything superfluous in the equipping of the farm, and likewise, throughout the farming notes for the year, I have cut out all the fancy work.
In starting this system of farming you will wonder what the hard cash savings are likely to be, even in the first year, and also how soon some benefit might be expected to result. Though these things will become apparent to some extent as we work through the year, it might be some encouragement to anticipate one or two items.
Firstly, you will see that we have saved quite £500 on equipment, for the average farm of this size needs at least an additional tractor and supporting equipment under orthodox methods. We may further count on a saving of at least another £500 in labour and another £5 an acre for annual crops -- i.e. cereals and roots -- in the cost of operations which are avoided by fertility farming methods. In other words, the cash saving in equipment is at least £3 an acre and in labour and cost of operations £5 to £8 an acre. The first saving is not a recurring one. But the £5 to £8 saved in labour and cultivation is both a recurring and an increasing economy, and may represent the profits in the early years (see Chapter Two for details). So, whereas you might have expected some slight fall in returns due to the abandoning of artificial fertilizer and other exploitive practices, the saving effected by the considerable labour and power economies will well balance that and may even make enough difference to turn a loss by orthodox methods into an immediate useful profit by fertility farming methods.
9a. Bulls are tethered out most of the year, and taken for a walk daily
9b. A prize-winning home-bred yearling bull Polden Polo by Polden Popomack out of Polden Lou-Lou -- tethered in Lucerne and Timothy
10a. Seven-inch wheat heads grown on land unploughed and without artificial manures for many years
10b. 'Osiris' branching-headed wheat grown experimentally for the first time in Britain by the author
It is useless tackling these methods with the idea that immediate and spectacular results will be obtained. It takes two or three years to begin to see the effects of these methods, particularly where a generation of extractive chemical methods have to be overcome. Where disease has become prevalent in crops or stock, then, however, the first year will see remarkable improvement, and enough to convince an intelligent farmer of the ultimate immense benefits which fertility farming will bring. The mere omission of chemical manures and veterinary injections, the stopping of drugs to the soil and the animals, will show an immediate, almost startling, improvement in the health of the animals. Once your mind is set on these natural reforms in soil and livestock management, you may safely say good-bye to the diseases which are so common in herds still under the grip of orthodox 'science'. This does not mean diseases will be eliminated in the first year. It does mean, however, that you will see undeniable signs of their reduction and the clear beginnings of their control and eventual elimination. It will take two generations of home-bred stock to work out hereditary weaknesses, and even then there will be occasional troubles which are inexplicable. But disease, as it is known on most farms to-day, will be no more on the fertility farm after three to five years of rigorous adherence to the methods of this book. The results in the changing character of the soil and the increased yields of crops are not so immediately apparent. For it has taken centuries to remove the humus from the soil, and it will take a few years to get it back to a vital friable condition again. Even so, it is unbelievable how much more quickly it is possible to build fertility than to destroy it. In this fact lies the only hope for the survival of humanity. For were it possible to destroy fertility as quickly as it is to rebuild it, man would have starved himself from the face of the earth half a century ago.
Signs of fertility in the soil which may be watched for as indicators of success are the appearance, in large quantities, of weeds like chickweed. Chickweed will not grow in abundance on poor soil. At Goosegreen it grows, even through the winter, sufficiently to provide large quantities of winter grazing and green manuring. When we started there wasn't a plant of chick-weed anywhere. The earthworm is the best indicator of an increasing humus content. Look for vigorous red worms whenever the soil is moved. The more there are, the more satisfied you may feel about the cropping capacity of the field. At least one in every handful of soil is what you may expect when fertility is at a high level and what you may hope to achieve when you have put every field through a complete cropping rotation by fertility farming methods.
A comfortable carpet-like effect underfoot will also come to the fields after three or four years of humus building, and heavy soil, unpleasant to walk across in wet weather because of clinging mud, will acquire increasingly the clean and spongy condition which allows treading without carrying mud which collects like snowballs on your boots. But this is something to look for in future years and a sign that your farm is truly fertile and healthy.
Assuming the rotation recommended in the earlier part of this book is to be followed, it is a good plan to divide the farm into units of twelve acres for each 100 of the farm, using one unit for each 100 acres of the farm for each year of the rotation. This means that for each 100 acres the cropping will be as follows:
1st year 12 acres divided into 4 acres kale; 4 acres arable silage crop; 4 acres beans or linseed, getting a 10-12 tons an acre dressing of compost. 2nd year 12 acres oats, or dredge corn under or after sown. 3rd year 12 acres ley -- grazed. 4th year 12 acres ley -- mown and grazed. 5th year 12 acres ley -- grazed and mown; compost 5 tons an acre in winter. 6th year 12 acres ley -- grazed and ploughed for autumn cropping. 7th year 12 acres wheat, undersown with legume. 8th year 8 acres oats -- 4 acres barley (if pigs kept).
That is a total of ninety-six acres of rotation crops, leaving four acres per 100 for lucerne or semi-permanent silage crop of some kind.
For every 100 acres of the farm you will then have:
20 acres oats, or dredge corn,
12 acres wheat (or other cereal),
4 acres kale,
4 acres beans and/or linseed,
4 acres silage crop in addition to ley and lucerne silage,
4 acres barley (or additional oats if no pigs), 48 acres ley,
4 acres lucerne,
which will provide the food for 20 cows and 12 followers in the second year, and 30 cows and 20 followers, plus 5 breeding sows and 500 hens (taking advantage of some purchased foods for pigs and poultry), when the full rotation is working and all the farm is under the four-year ley cropping.
So, with these beginnings we may work through a typical fertility farming year -- commencing with the first week in September.
Next: 14. Fifty-Two Weeks Farming
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