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 3

Turnips -- Cleaning a crop of turnips -- A farmers' competition -- Barley and oats -- Ploughing

When I first started farming at Bestwood, there was great competition among the leading farmers on the Estate as to who should win the first prize for the best ten acres of swede turnips. If you had a field of less than ten acres, you could show the whole field. When I had been there eight or ten years, I can well remember putting a fifteen-acre field of turnips, with the hope of getting the prize. I don't think there was a field in England put in better, both for farmyard manure and a big dressing of artificial manure. The turnips were put in on the ridge system with a common Bealby plough without any wheels. Having no wheels made them into swing ploughs and if you had the sense to set them properly, you could make a deal better job than if you had wheels on, taking you where you did not want to go. The reason we did not use ordinary two-breasted ploughs [a double throws a furrow to the left and to the right in one action] was that we could bury the manure better, and make a better job of it the other way. First we used to mark the field out with a scrawler, with tines twenty-seven inches apart. When we had started at the top end of the field and opened twenty-four ridges out, then the manure carts would start and would put a good load on every two rows, sometimes one and a half rows, depending on the width of the field. The artificials would be drilled in the ridges on the manure. We would go round the twenty-four rows, continually covering the manure up down hill, and opening the ridges out up the hill. We would go forward for eight or ten rows, when opening the ridges out. We reckoned to put in four acres a day. If it happened to be dry weather, we kept the turnip drill going close up to the ploughs, so as not to lose the moisture.

I omitted to say regarding the fifteen-acre field of turnips that we finished ridging and drilling it on Saturday afternoon, and on Monday there came a tremendous thunderstorm, which washed many of the rows level and a lot of manure down across a grass field into the stackyard. That put an end to the showing of that field for that year, as there were too many gaps in it.

When we used to grow about sixty acres of turnips, and cart about half of them off for the cattle, and eat the rest on with sheep, we used to plough ten or twelve acres in, so that they would keep growing all winter, and plough out full of sap in the spring. When ploughing in turnips to keep for spring, we would plough a narrow furrow up and down every other row, and lay the rows from each side of the furrow with the necks of the turnips resting on the slipeside of the furrow', and then cover them up with a good big furrow, with a digger plough, minding not to get too near them, so that you got plenty of soil on the roots of the turnips. [The slipeside of a furrow -- which folds over to the right -- is the base of the left-hand side.] Incidentally, I was talking to a farmer the other day, and he said what a good crop of turnips a farmer friend of his had, and I told him when he could not get two rows of turnips into one -- when they were put as close together as possible in the row, without carrying some of them about to find a vacant place -- he had got a good crop.

When I was a youth on my father's farm, we had to be very particular in striking out and singling turnips, not to let our hoes slip over any weeds, and to see that the lads singling after us made a good job, leaving the best plants and raking all the annual weeds out at the same time as they singled them. [Striking and singling constitute one operation, carried out with a hoe, which reduces a row of roots to a single line of plants at a certain distance apart.] There were usually four strong lads, at 7s. per week, as well as myself, and each of the hoers had two lads after him at 1s. per day. We would usually take about fifteen rows each, and go about forty yards and then turn round until we had finished all the fifteen rows, finishing at the top end of the row, ready for starting on the next forty yards. One of the lads would stride the forty yards stint out, and make a mark right across all the rows we were taking up. Whatever the length the lad marked out, he would divide the length by half, and make a mark right across the middle of the stint, and each lad would single one end, and when he got to the middle, he c6uld have a rest till the hoer came up with the next row. This plan was a deal better than having two lads close after the hoe, as you could see every plant each lad had singled. Every now and then, I should slip on a bit faster with my last round, and walk across all the stints to see if they were singling them properly. We would never have five or six men all together, following one another, as then there would always be some of them not doing the job properly. We always insisted that each man took so many rows separately; so that if a man was not doing his work properly, he was told about it at once, and shown how to do it properly.

When striking turnips out, we always considered a man could hoe better and make a better job if he took in the teens of rows for fifty or sixty yards or less, and then turned round and worked his other hand. We found if you insisted he worked his left hand one way, and his right hand the other way, he would in a few days hoe equally well with either. Another point is that altering his position did not make his back ache so much. A farmer will find that when turnips, mangolds or sugar beet are hoed well, and singled well, there is very little weeding to do the second time over. It was not a big job with eight or nine lads to weed fifty or sixty acres of turnips, and I used to walk behind them with my hoe on my shoulder, and it only came off if a lad had missed an odd weed. When we had finished weeding a field the second time over, there would be hardly an annual weed or a bit of twitch to be seen.

We always drilled our mangolds and beet on the flat, as we always got a good plant on the flat and a poor one on the ridges. We would give the land a big dressing of farmyard manure before ploughing. To obviate the manure rucking into heaps while being ploughed in, we used to have two men or youths pulling the manure into the furrow with forks and spreading it evenly all along the furrow. We would put a stick up in the middle of the field and the men would meet in the middle and could easily keep out of each other's way. Instead of ploughing the land as deep as it should be, we ploughed it a moderate depth just to get the manure out of the way of the drill and horseshoes; and as we did not believe in burying the manure at the bottom of a deep furrow we subsoiled a little bit deeper than we should have ploughed it had it not been manured.

When I was a young man turned twenty, working for my father, there was. an agricultural show at Sutton-in-Ashfield, where my father took the first prize for the best cob in harness for five successive years with his driving cob. I think someone told him he would not stand any chance if he showed any turnips, as it was a shade better land round about Sutton. So my father decided to show one acre, which was all you had to show. We put one and a quarter acres in a bit of nice, sandy loamy soil, and I may say I did all the operations necessary for growing of the turnips, except the manuring, and I saw that this was done properly. The chief operations were:

I may say that I struck out the one and a quarter acres myself in the day, starting at 8 o'clock in the morning, and finishing at 8 o'clock at night, and two lads singled after me. The only weeding they had was when I went for about two hours with four or five lads one afternoon. When the judges came to judge them, I told them they had never been touched since they were singled, except for about two hours' weeding one afternoon. I don't think they believed me, but they didn't say so. There was hardly a weed to be seen. Needless to say they easily got the first prize .

As I have previously remarked, there was keen competition on the Bestwood Estate amongst the leading farmers as to who should get the first prize for the best ten acres of swede turnips, so I think it better to say how this came about.

When I was a boy I can well remember the exciting day we used to have at the ploughing match, always held on one of the farms on the Estate in their turn.

The Bestwood Agricultural Society was one of the oldest in the country when it was dissolved. It gave prizes for the following:

There was also another local agricultural show of which we farmers on the Bestwood Estate were members -- the Moorgreen Show at which we farmers on the Bestwood Estate would show chiefly sheep and turnips, and nine times out of ten the first prize for turnips would come to this Estate.

About ten or fifteen years before the last war the Sulphate of Ammonia Committee used to give £10 every year to both the Moorgreen Agricultural Society and the Bestwood Park Agricultural Society, to be given in prizes for the best three acres of turnips grown with sulphate of ammonia as the source of nitrogen, for the purpose of encouraging farmers to use it.

One year, one of the Societies gave the £10 all in one prize, and I managed to get it. Usually, if you could get the sulphate of ammonia prize for the best three acres of turnips, you stood the best chance for local prizes. Altogether, I won £20 in prizes for different acres of turnips for that year. After that, the Societies thought it better to give the £10 in three prizes of £5, £3 and £2, which was no doubt the better way. The Bestwood Park Agricultural Society was only a small affair, just for the tenants of the estate. The Moorgreen Agricultural Society was, and is now, one of the most popular one-day shows round about, and would take entries from any district.

I have only once in my life shown as little as one acre of turnips, and it was at a County Show. We only got second prize, and one of the judges, Mr. Sharp of Aslockton, said cultivation was ideal. It was a thirty-five acre field, half turnips and half corn. You could show the acre anywhere you liked in the eighteen acres, but the crop was so level, you could not find one place better than another. I stuck a stick down in three or four places, but I did not know which spot to decide on. I may say this field was at the far end of the farm, about a mile away, and the turnips were at the far end of the field, a long way from the manure yard.


I remember quite well drilling a thirty-one acre field on the farm with barley, and we also under-sowed it with Elliot's mixture of deep-rooting grasses for a four years ley. We always preferred to drill the small seeds before the barley came up, as the horses' feet made such a mess of the barley if we drilled the small seeds after the barley was up. The small seeds cost £2 per acre, and I wanted the small seeds to have as firm a seedbed as possible, so when the barley was about two inches high I rolled it. The next day, a rough wind sprang up, and cut all the barley off, and withered all the blades of barley, making them as black as your hat with the blowing sand. The wind also blew many of the £2 per acre seeds into the next field. I may say a day or two after there came a good rain, which started the barley growing again, and it got into a five-quarter crop. Most of two headlands were about'a foot deep in blown sand, but it taught me a lesson, never to roll corn on light, sandy soil, until the corn was at least three inches high with plenty of cover.

To show how thorough we were in keeping the land clean, we once had four days threshing barley, and I said to the threshing machine owner, who was feeding the machine himself, 'I shall give you a penny for every thistle you can find,' and he only held up three or four during all the four days threshing, although the farm was covered with thistles when I took it.

It was surprising what strong barley straw we used to grow, like wheat straw, which I attributed to there always being plenty of phosphates and potash left in the land after growing a crop of potatoes, it being always my intention to give the potato crop more phosphate and potash than the crop really wanted. We usually expected five or six quarters of barley to the acre; sometimes up to seven, which was not bad for light, sandy, gravelly, soil.

It was my custom to get fresh seed barley and oats from Messrs. Garton every three years. If they had brought any new variety on the market of oats or barley, we always tried them, and we would order enough to produce enough seed to drill all the acreage we expected to sow the next year, and to grow it again the next year -- which made three times altogether. When drilling my own seed, we always winnowed it well. I never believed in sowing corn not fully developed.

The first oats I had from Gartons were 'Gartons' Abundance', which I think was one of the best breeds of oats they ever brought out. My youngest son is now growing Onward, a very good yielder. In those days, I used to have two or three days leading and threshing oats out of the field, if we could make £l a quarter. I well remember having a one and three-quarter days' threshing when a neighbouring farmer said to me, 'Hello, William, have you threshed out?' I replied, 'What do you mean?' and he answered and said he had heard of my selling a hundred and fifty quarters of oats: and I replied, 'I will bet you what you like there is a hundred and seventy quarters,' and we delivered a hundred and ninety-two quarters exclusive of seconds. We did not start threshing the first day until after lunch, as the machine had to come six or seven miles, and it was his first day out that harvest.

We had many different kinds of Gartons' oats and we finished up with White Winter's Marvellous. When we first grew them, we used to grow them in the autumn, but as our farm was exposed to the north winds in winter, we later used to sow them as early as possible in the spring. We found they stood up better than any other variety.

When I first started farming, I was advised to try early Welsh barley, as it produced more to the acre than any other kind of barley on light land, but I only grew it one year as the brewers were not very fond of it. We also tried Goldthorpe, but it wecked badly, and we did not sow it again.

When Burton Malting came out, we grew that for a few years, until the Maltster came out, and we grew that for a few years. We kept having regenerated seed every three years. We finished my last years of farming with Spratt-Archer, which we stuck to until I retired.

I remember having a big crop of barley in a thirty-acre field. We were running two McCormick binders and a new binder made up by an English firm. The two McCormicks would go through the crop with very little trouble, and very rarely get bunged up, but we could not get the English machine to contend with the crop. I dare say the English machine would have made a good job of an ordinary crop, but it was no use to us, if it would not make the same work and face a big crop the same as the other two. We only used the English machine one year. We gave £24 for it, and sold it for £16. One of its faults was that it made a round sheaf, and the McCormick made a flat one. The flat sheaves were a good deal handier to stook and stood up a great deal better. When you put the flat sides together you had a much thinner head of corn, which would soon dry, if there was a wet time, than if heads were put together anyhow.

We had a thirty-acre field which we drilled with oats after it had been down to four years ley with R. H. Elliot's mixture. This was the first time we had ploughed a field up after it had been down for four years. After we had ploughed it and started to harrow, we found there was so much fibre on the up-turned turf that our ordinary harrows, which we used for the two-years rye grass and clover mixture, would not touch it. So we had to harrow four times to try and get enough soil to cover the oats, when they were drilled. We had ploughed it well six or seven inches deep which was as deep as we dared go, in order not to fetch up too much red sand. We had a new Walker corn drill, with plenty of weights for it, but we could not get the oats in very deep. The disc drills had not come on the market at this time.

Having harrowed the upturned turf so many times to get the mould, it made the soil very fine. Consequently, when the oats were about two or three inches high and a strong wind blew up, it cut about two-thirds of them off, so that there was only about one-third of the field with any oats on that were worth anything. So we scuffled two-thirds of the field up and planted it with potatoes. We did not try to fetch the turf up from the bottom, as it would have been too much for us to contend with when it had not had a year to rot. We were sorry the wind did not cut the whole of the field off, as it turned out a good potato year. The field was ploughed after the oats and potatoes, and the whole planted with potatoes the next year; we used no farmyard manure, but we gave it a good dressing of artificials both years. We wanted all the farmyard manure for the potatoes and turnips in the fields that had not been down for four years ley. Several years before this field was laid down for four years, we put it in with turnips and manured in the ridges with farmyard manure and artificials. The turnips were just coming up, and one day there came a thunderstorm and washed all the ridges level in some places, there being no end of manure, sand and silt at the bottom of the field, where it could not get through the hedge. You see, there was no fibre in the soil to hold it together. We stopped it washing away when we had had it down for four years with deep-rooting grasses.

When your man is ploughing don't let him about finish ploughing the field before you go and see how he is doing it. See that he ploughs a good depth if it is going to be cropped with either potatoes, turnips, beet, mangolds, or kale. This is the time in the rotation when you should subsoil it several inches by fitting three scuffler tines to the plough hales; they can be fastened to the plough hales with couplings (the same as the couplings that fasten the skimmers) as near to the slipe and breast as possible. All land that has not been subsoiled wants subsoiling, as if the land is inclined to be wet it will very often let the water away by breaking the hard pan that is holding it. Half the land in the country has not been ploughed anything like deep enough and wants subsoiling. To break the hard pan all tractor ploughs ought to be fitted with loose fittings for subsoiling so that a farmer can move the tines up or down just what depth he likes or take them off altogether if he likes. It should be an easy matter for the tractor plough-makers to invent some adjustments to hold the subsoiling tines. The tines are not forced to be very strong as if the ground was hard they might help to hold the plough out: the tines want to be chisel pointed as I have already described.

Half the land in the country is not ploughed well enough and no end of land is ploughed without a skimmer on, which is a great mistake if you want to get rid of the annual weeds. Aim at ploughing a deep wide furrow that you can turn completely over. When ploughing after potatoes, turnips, beet and kale you should only plough deep enough just to get under the manure of the preceding crop -- as you don't want to bury any remaining artificials left in the land at the bottom of a deep furrow where the succeeding corn crop cannot find them.

I have seen it advocated for a tractor to pull five or six furrows. Even if the tractor could pull five or six furrows, my idea is that it is ploughing a lot too wide to fit the humps and hollows of the land. The other day I was looking at a four-furrow plough taking twelve-inch furrows, which my youngest son had got for his caterpillar. I consider that width is plenty wide enough to plough for getting over ridges and furrows.

The heavy disc harrows are also very good for the stubble to cause the annual weeds to grow. I see that one farmer was complaining about the disc harrows that they cut the docks in two. He ought not to have any docks. They want forking up and never let them seed. The three-row scufflers fastened behind the tractor are very good for opening the ridges out for the potatoes. You can also cover the potatoes up with the three-row ridge plough, if you have a caterpillar tractor: it will keep on the top of the ridge, if the man is looking after his job. But remember the rows want to be straight and even widths. You can't cover the potatoes up with an ordinary tractor, as you can't keep the wheels on the top of the ridges. A farmer with ten or twenty acres can make equally as good a job with an ordinary ridge plough, and a one-row scuffler, with five tines in as I have already described.

In one of the farming papers I saw the photo of one man on a tractor and another man riding on the seat of some sort of contraption, supposed to be hoeing or scuffling ever so many rows at once. The man on the scuffler was supposed to be steering it. If it needs steering, the man wants to be behind it with some hales in his hands, so that he can see what he is doing. They might be getting over a lot of ground, but it is a hundred to one they are not making a good job, simply having a joyride.

Some farmers are tractor-minded, and try to do without horses, but if the holding is big enough, a man would be better with some horses as well, as often they can do a job better than a tractor. Some farmers are trying mechanized farming, but how are they going to keep the humus and texture up? They will gradually come down to the American dust bowl, but not quite as quickly. A farmer might keep on longer if he undersowed with clover; but it would gradually get clover sick if he kept on with it year after year. If you want to keep the land in condition, you must have mixed farming and keep the plough going all round the farm. The fields don't want to be too big either -- between thirty or forty acres is quite big enough for the land to be stocked properly and plenty big enough for the tractors. If your fields are too big, what a job it is to get the farmyard manure and lime and artificials on.

Next: Chapter 4

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