Thirty Years Farming on the Clifton Park System

How to supply Humus, Texture, and Fertility by the Aid of Deep-Rooting Grasses

by William Lamin

Chapter 1

A rough sketch of Bottom House Farm -- The four years ley with deep-rooting grasses -- Artificial manures -- Stooking corn -- Leading and stacking

I was brought up on my father's farm, until I was twenty-four years old, when I married. Instead of starting me on a farm, my father set me up as a butcher, and I had a butcher's shop in Sherwood,. Nottingham, for five years. Then, being absolutely sick of butchering, and without saying a word to my father, I took the adjoining farm to him, on the Bestwood Estate.

The farm had been in hand for nineteen years, and the Estate could not let it. My father said I was a big fool, and should lose all my money, and he was very nearly right, but not quite! Although I thought the land was similar to the sandy side of my father's farm, when I got on it I soon found out my mistake. It was many degrees lighter sandy soil, and very gravelly in places, and in the spring would blow away with the least bit of wind. In fact, in the spring and summer the soil was either being washed away in a thunderstorm, or else blowing away in a sandstorm, or being frizzled up in the dry weather. Some of the land was so light, that if you got hold of a handful of soil, it would run through your fingers like calosand. [Calosand is a fine sand much used on dairy farms for cleaning milk utensils before the introduction of modern cleaning powders.]

When I first went to Bottom House Farm it comprised 367 acres. The arable land had been cropped on the five-course system. My first year's cropping consisted of:

One-fifth wheat and oats; one-fifth turnips; one-fifth barley; one-fifth first year's seeds; one-fifth second year's seeds.

We had thirty-two acres of wheat -- three quarters to the acre, but with twitch all over it about a foot high. In fact, we got three big crops off after harvest. There were thirty acres of oats moderately clean -- about four quarters to the acre. The turnip land was moderately clean, and the barley land was moderately clean, but with one field full of thistles.

The first year's seeds gave a moderate take of rye grass and clover; the second year's seeds, three-quarters green sauce (sorrel) and a quarter rye grass with odd bits of Dutch clover. Indeed the first year's seeds were a very light crop: the second year's were very little but green sauce (sorrel), and did not require many sheep to pick them over.

When I had been at the Bottom House farm five or six years, farming on the five-course system, we had several dry years, working hard, cleaning the land, and losing money every year. In fact, in about a fortnight or three weeks' dry weather the seeds, clover, and grasses, and the permanent pastures would go back, and get less every day.

It was about this time that I happened to get hold of a book by R. H. Elliot on the Clifton Park system of farming, which he carried out with success on his own land at Clifton on Bowmont, on the northern slopes of the Cheviots. There were about 450 acres of light stony arable land, and 800 hill pasture, and I made up my mind at once that this was the system which my land needed, and I have been farming my land under this system of four years ley ever since, with deep-rooting plants.

When I first started on the four years ley, the ordinary seed mixture of clover and rye grasses cost about 10s. per acre, whereas Mr. Elliot's mixture of deep-rooting plants cost £2 per acre [=40s.], which was a great difference. But we had to reckon 10s. for each of the four years it was down, and you would not believe what a sod we could grow in four years.

By then, we gradually started growing potatoes, and I knew potatoes revelled in turf, so we used to skim plough the second year's seeds (rye grass and clover), drag them about to kill the twitch and thistles that were among the turf, and then plough it in ready for putting in the potatoes the next spring. But this land had to be well manured with farmyard manure, and a good dressing of artificial manure, which consisted of ten to twelve cwts. of burnt lime to the acre, drilled on the top of the land when it was ploughed, as soon as the weather would permit after Christmas. That was followed by ten cwts. of kainit [salts of potassium], also on the top of the ploughing, and eight cwts. of steamed bone flour, and two cwts. of sulphate of ammonia, on the top of the manure in the ridges. Then one cwt. of sulphate of ammonia and two cwts. of steamed bone flour as a top dressing when the potatoes were about one foot high. We generally expected about ten tons to the acre, sometimes a shade more, sometimes less, according to the weather and the amount of rain we had.

It was about this time that the Principal of the Midland Agricultural College came to give the farmers on the Bestwood Estate a lecture on artificial manures at the White Hart hotel, belonging to the Estate; but he did not tell us how to grow potatoes.

The same year, we had five tons of Scotch seed potatoes, which set six acres, and we had fifteen tons per acre of potatoes off the six acres of Scotch seed. Altogether we had sixteen acres of potatoes that year, and the Nottingham Co-operative Society had over £700 of potatoes, besides a few odd tons of ware which we sold and plenty of seed potatoes from the Scotch seed, which we saved for the next year. Fifty pounds per acre was a lot of money in those times. This was the first year I ever made any money at farming. I may say that I was always a great believer in artificial manure, and would a great deal rather spend my money on artificial manures than on cake. In fact, when I was a butcher, I used to take the two farming papers every week Farm & Home, and Farm, Field & Fireside, and I would study every experiment in artificial manures that was printed in those papers, besides making many experiments on my own account in the field.

One of my first experiments was with a twenty-five acre field, which had been put in with wheat by the tenant before me, and it was one mass of marigolds, dodder and twitch, there being only about one quarter of wheat to the acre. The Estate had the farm in hand nineteen years after that. Then I took it. When I had been there a few years this twenty-five acre field had been in seeds two years, and we ploughed it up and sowed it with oats getting a moderate crop of about five quarters to the acre. Then, being short of wheat straw for thatching, I decided to put it in with wheat. When my father, who was considered one of the best farmers on the Estate, saw what we were doing, he remarked to a neighbouring farmer, 'If there is a crop of wheat there, I've done farming!' So you see he had a very poor opinion of the field. In fact, it was very gravelly all over; but there must have been enough rain to keep it going, for it threshed out at six quarters to the acre.

The variety of wheat was two-thirds Standard Red, and one-third White Victor. I made a note of what artificials were sown when it was drilled, and besides the artificials it had before it was sown, we top-dressed it with nitrate of soda on all the gravelly places when it was waist high. I helped one of my men to sow it, and I noted whom it was sold to, and how much it made per quarter; but I have since lost the book.

After this field had been seeded down with Elliot's mixture of deep-rooting grasses for four years several times, it was very full of turf and fibre. A few years before I retired, we sowed it with wheat for three successive years and had a good crop every year. I may say you can grow five or six successive crops of barley as easily as three crops of wheat, and take no more out of the land.

In stooking corn, we always stooked the first stook row as far away from the hedge as we could, so that it could get as much wind and sun as possible. We never liked to have more than two men on one row, so that if any of them were not stooking properly, we knew which man it was and could then show him how to do the job. We always went the opposite way round the field to the binder, so that the sheaves were the right way for picking up, without turning round. Another thing we were very particular about was that the stooks should always point north and south, so that the sun could get both sides of the stook. To stook corn pointing east to west is wrong, as the south side of the stook will get all the sun, and the north side will not get any; consequently, when the corn should be ready to lead, the south side will be ready, but the north side will not be in as good a condition as the south.

To get the stooks all pointing north and south whichever way the main stook row is pointing, every odd stook should be pointing to the north. Sometimes the stook would be straight across the row, or switched a bit, or a good deal. When setting the sheaves up, we always insisted on putting the two flat sides together, and giving the sheaves a good flop down, and letting every pair of sheaves. stand up by themselves, not loll against the first that were set up, and leave an open space between each pair of sheaves, so that the sun and wind could get into the middle of the stooks.

Another fault which is easily done is to sprag the butts of the sheaves out too far, so that the sheaves are too flat and the rain will go right into the sheaves instead of running off. The sheaves should be as nearly straight up as they will conveniently stand, and the heads of corn should not be pushed endways, but the butts kept straight up and the heads of corn apart; so that there is an opening between every pair of sheaves, and a thin mass of corn on the top of the stook, which the wind can soon blow through and dry again, if the stook gets wet. There is a lot of corn spoilt in a wet season through bad stooking. Never put more than eight sheaves in a stook of oats and barley, and ten of wheat. I will guarantee that when corn is stooked in this way, there will be very little sprouted corn, even in a wet season.

Often when starting to lead a field of oats or barley, it will be necessary if the sheaves are in none too good condition, as soon as the dew is off the ground, to pull the stooks over, being careful to keep that side of the stooks which is in the worst condition on the top, and while pulling them over, screw the stooks round if necessary, so that the butts of the sheaves face the sun or the wind, whichever you think will be the best: sometimes if you think it will be a fine day, you can set four or five men to pull as many over as you can lead that day. Sometimes, if the weather is changeable, it would not be wise to pull too many over at once, and then if the stooks are in none too good a condition, it is as well to have a boy keep four or five loads in front of the wagon, and then they would not take long to set up, even if it rained.

Never start to lead on the hedgeside row first, as it is usually in not too good a condition, but load the hedgerows when roofing a stack.

If a farmer has a good Dutch barn on his farm, it is a very great help to him in harvest-time. We had a good Dutch barn at both my farms, with eight bays, ten yards long, and five yards wide, and a good height, and we always saved them for the barley. When stacking barley, we always took a bay up in two halves. We put two loads on one half, and then started on the other half and put a wdgon load on each half in rotation; so that one half was a bit higher than the other, until you got to the beams. If you kept one half a bit higher than the other, you could keep the opening between the two halves three or four inches wide, so that the heat could rise, should it take any heat. We also pulled a two-hundredweight carbide tin up the middle of each half, so that you had got a nice round hole in the middle of each half for the heat to come up, if there was any. It is also handier when threshing, as you can get the farthest half up first, and leave the half nearest the machine for the man to stand on who is throwing the sheaves on the machine. A farmer should always see that the machine owner has got the beaters set right, as if they are set too closely, he is probably splitting the corn, or peeling the ends, which the brewers don't like. Or, if he has not got his beaters close enough, he is not getting all the corn out of the straw. He should also look at the revolving screen, and see that there are no weak wires, letting good barley through.

We never put any wheat in the Dutch barns, as it rucked up too much. We always tried to put up good stacks of wheat, holding fifty quarters or just over, and when the threshing men came, they knew when they had finished the stack that they had done work for the day, and would not be expected to start another stack.

When stacking the wheat outside, we always used the elevator, and then it was not much trouble to put up a good stack to hold a day's threshing. When the threshing machine came, it was my custom to tell the owner, who worked it himself, 'Now, I want you to get these stacks threshed in so many days, and if you get done before time, on the last day I shall pay all the extra men for a full day.' They always threshed more on my farm than they did anywhere else.

Often, when we had been threshing six bays of barley in four days, they would get done by three or four o'clock on the last day, but they would get paid for a full day, and the owner would charge me for a full day for his machine, just the same. We found it paid to do this, as they would get started to time in the mornings, and after meal-times as well.

Next: Chapter 2

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