How to supply Humus, Texture, and Fertility by the Aid of Deep-Rooting Grasses
by William Lamin
Taking over Goosedale Farm -- What the last tenant left -- How to deal with weeds
Several years before the war of 1914, having got the money back which we had lost, while bringing the Bottom House Farm round and adding a bit more to it, we took the adjoining farm Goosedale, 347 acres. The farm had been in hand for twenty-nine years and was in a very bad state when the previous tenant left it, in fact he had taken the last straw out of it. While the Estate were farming it they improved it a bit, but not so much as they ought to have done, letting it get overrun with rabbits, which ruined half the hedges and ate no end of the corn. In some of the fields you had to go forty or fifty yards from the hedgeside before you got to any corn. They had also very moderate takes of seeds, which they let stop down for two years; but the ewes and lambs had very little to eat beside green sauce (sorrel) and the hedges. No end of the ground was bare, just the right places for the annual weeds and twitch to grow and fill up the bare places. When the Estate had been farming Goosedale Farm for twenty-nine years, they let to a tenant of their Estate at Redburn in Lincolnshire for one of his sons. But he had no more idea of farming that poor sandy land than a fly in the air, and he only stopped four years; and he did leave it in a mess, full of twitch, thistles and rubbish of every description. The last year he was there he only had four days' threshing -- which we should easily have done in three days -- and he hadn't a fodder stack for his cattle, but ran the mowing machine over a field that he had grazed with his sheep to get a bit of fodder for his horses. He had a thirty-five acre field of turnips, supposed to be eaten on; but I expect they were not much else besides tops, as after we had drilled it with barley, when it came up we had to top-dress it, as we could see there would be no crop if we didn't.
The outgoing tenant also left thirty-eight acres of wheat, a very poor crop, as full of twitch as ever it could hold, about as high as the wheat. We could not do anything with it, as if we had top-dressed it the twitch would have taken most of it. After harvest we scuffled the stubble and kept dragging it about to kill some of the twitch. We did not attempt to get any of the twitch off as we were putting potatoes in the next year to clean it, and there was not much twitch left after we had grown potatoes in it for one year. Another seventeen-acre field, that had been oats the year before, was one mass of thistles, so we decided to grow potatoes in it to clean it, so we gave it good scuffling and dragging before we ridged it up for potatoes. It was the nearest field to the Bottom House Farm, so we gave it a good dressing of farmyard manure from the Bottom House Farm as well as our usual dressing of artificial manure, in fact a bit more than our usual dressing, as you could not expect a good crop of potatoes unless it was done extra well. We then set the potatoes and ridged it up to bury the potatoes. After ridging them up we worked it several times with the one-rowed scuffler before the potatoes came up, to kill the thistles between the rows. After the potatoes came up, it was full of thistles up the rows, where we could not get at them with the scuffler. We should have done more harm than good if we had tried to hoe them up, so we had nine or ten lads to pull them up. The lads could push their hands well down into the sandy soil so that they did not prick their hands. The lads would pull the thistles with their right hands and when they had pulled one up they would hold them upside down by the roots in their left hands, until they had got as many in their hands as they could comfortably hold. We had a man following behind the lads with a bag for the lads to put them in. When the lads had got a handful they would shout 'bag' and the man would go to the lads for them to put them in: and I may say we had two men carrying those thistles off to the ends of the rows, whichever end was the nearest, and they had not got to be asleep either. When we had finished the field there was a continuous row of dead thistles on both headlands a yard high. I may say, that after we had grown the crop of potatoes and got them up in our usual manner there were very few thistles left and hardly a bit of twitch. When I gave up the farm, there was not a thistle in the field or a bit of twitch, except round where there had been a manure heap, there might have been several.
After growing the crop of potatoes the first year, we drilled it with barley and sowed it down with Elliot's mixture of deep-rooting plants and it stayed down until several years after we gave up the farm. When the new tenant ploughed it up and sowed it with oats and the year after drilled it with turnips, he did not get a very good plant. He attributed the poorness of his turnip crop to the fact that there was too much turf. A year or two after, I wanted to see the new tenant about something, so I had a ride across to see him and as I went his wagoner was drilling corn; I stopped to ask if he knew where his master I was and he remarked, 'Our Boss says we shall be all right when we get shut of this old turf.' The ground was simply covered with decaying roots, chiefly cocksfoot and other deep-rooting grasses. He ought to have had another corn crop off or potatoes to have given the turf fibre more time to rot. That field was worth £l per acre per annum more than when we took to it, but the farmer did not know it.
That field was called the Burnt Close on the Farm Plan, why I don't know, because it was one of the least likely to burn up when we left it. The reason why we left it down in temporary ley so long, was we had to have a cart road across it from one farm to the other and it would have wasted too much time going round it. To give an idea how high the grasses would grow we had to mow several swaths with the grass mower each side of the cart track five or six weeks before it was time to mow the field; we mowed it every year, so that the men would not get wet through in going from one farm to another. The first year I asked the retiring tenant to plough up a second-year seed field, and plough it deeper than he usually did and I would pay him extra for it; as it was full of thistles and I wanted to plant it with potatoes to clean it. While his man was ploughing it I used to send one of our men with a one rowed scuffler to follow after the plough to scuffle the bottom of the furrow to get more soil for the potato shoots to work in. There was not much turf to bother with so we let it stop well underneath and ridged on the top of it and worked in the middle of the ridges after the potatoes were set, as we had over a hundred acres to set altogether on both the farms. The thistles had to be pulled up as usual; there were not quite so many as in the other field, but quite plenty.
There was a thirty-two acre field that had been cropped with oats the last year of the retiring tenant and was a mass of twitch and thistles, so we decided to get half of it ready at once. We put two four-horse scufflers into it and all the horses we had got from both farms with drags and harrows. We gave it such a towsing getting the twitch out that we killed most of the thistles and there were very few thistles in the next crop. I may say we broke both the scufflers over the first half of the field, because it had never been ploughed anything near so deep as we wanted it ploughed. Having broken the scufflers with the first half, although we were short of time, we had to plough the other half. When we had got the first half ready we decided we had better get that put in first -- and the land had to be limed and drilled on the top, before we started to ridge. The land for about forty yards nearest the hedge had to have a double dose of lime to kill the dodder, as I had never seen any corn anywhere near. By the hedgesides the rabbits used to eat the corn off right into the field. We got a moderate crop of turnips, being plenty late enough. Some farmers might have called it a good crop. The next year we had an extraordinary crop of oats, although all the turnips were carted off for the cattle in the yards: but we gave it our standard dressing of artificial manure, quite one third more of the mixture, because we knew it wanted it. The keeper told an adjoining farmer what a good crop it was and he would not believe it, as he had never seen a crop on it. So the farmer made it his business one Sunday morning to go and have a look at it and he said, 'I should not have believed it if I had not seen it.' I should say there were as many oats again per acre as any he had ever had on similar land; there was not a weak place on any of the thirty-two acres and it did take some fetching home, being the farthest field from the homeland.
We had a thirty-five acre field which had been drilled with turnips and eaten on with sheep in the retiring tenant's last year, but there could not have been much bulk of turnips -- principally tops -- as when we had drilled it with barley, when it came up we had to top-dress it, as we could see we should have no crop if we did not. I may say we grew barley in the field for six consecutive years and the fifth year we had five quarters to the acre. Usually you cannot keep the barley from each field separate, as when you put the barley in the Dutch barns you want to fill the roofs up when they have settled down a bit; or perhaps you have got a hedgeside stock row that is not in quite so good condition that you want to put on the top, so that it won't heat. When this thirty-five acre field was in its fifth consecutive year of barley, it so happened that the only other field with barley that year was the thirty-two acre which was adjoining the Bottom House Farm and it was as easy to lead it to one homestead as the other -- and it was easier to contend with when we got it home. We had to have five wagons and four gear horses, as it wanted two gear horses to pull out of the field, so in taking this field of barley to the other farm, there was no guessing how many quarters we had to the acre -- we were sure.
I may say we fallowed the barley stubble every year and seeded it down in the barley crop in the sixth year without a cleaning crop, and there was hardly a bit of twitch or thistle to be seen in it. It so happened that we thought one of the meadows on the low land would make a good field to grow potatoes in. So we asked the agent if he would mind if we ploughed the meadow up and left the thirty-five acre field down permanently, and he said you can do what you like with it. But we found the meadow had a very gravelly subsoil about all over and a lot of wet holes where the water could not get through the subsoil for gravel, so after growing one crop of potatoes on it we seeded it down again permanently.
As I have previously said, the last year of the retiring tenant had only four days' threshing, which we should have easily done in three days. The second year we had it, we had fourteen days' threshing and one mile and ten yards of potato pits. There was no guesswork about the lengths of the pits, as the man was paid by the yard to get the grips out and cover the pies down with one foot of soil, and they had to be measured properly for the man's satisfaction.
One mistake farmers often make is to let weeds get too well established before they start to horse-hoe them. Weeds in root crops want destroying as soon as ever you can after they have germinated, when they take no killing.
Many farmers make the mistake of not getting close enough to the plant, whatever it is. You want to get as close as possible the first and second time, horse-hoeing before striking the plants out, and then you will save no end of labour for the hoers when they have only a very narrow row to chop out. A horse-hoe doing two rows is enough for a good man to watch, if he is to make a good job. It wants to follow a drill that takes four rows; and then he can hoe a drill's width at a round. The drill coulters want measuring for equal distance from each other, or you cannot set your horse hoe as near as you ought. And it is no use starting horse-hoeing unless it is fitted with new blades which will face any hard ground. Should it happen that the ground is a bit hard, you must get under the crust as shallow as possible the first and second time, and set the handiest man you have got to do the job, and go and see that every blade is doing its work properly. This is a job on which you don't want a tractor pulling a wide implement, for the wider the implement, the farther off you have to be with the hoe blades, as a wide implement is liable to get a bit on the swish. For the first and second horse-hoeing you want a good strong steady horse that will pull straight without rolling about, and use your tractor and other implements after, if you like. Getting over the ground with wide implements is no good, if you are not doing the job properly.
Annual weeds are a great pest to the farmer, but he can get rid of them if he will only make his mind up never to let them seed. On many farms the annual weeds take quite a quarter of the nutrients that the corn crop should have; and if it is in a dry district they will take most of the moisture from the corn crop, and consequently you get a poor corn crop when it might have been a moderate or a good crop. I saw in a farming paper the other day where some big man was complaining that the wheat crop was not weeded the same as it used to be. The wheat crop is not the right place to clean the land: all the thistles, etc., want getting out in the root crop. Give the wheat a good harrowing with the right weight of harrow at the right time to loosen the soil and that is all it wants. We never thought of such a thing as weeding corn. The other day I saw in one of the farming papers a picture where some man had invented a skimmer to fasten on a plough and skim the weeds off the next furrow to be ploughed into the furrow that had been ploughed, so that the tractor wheel could flatten the weeds solid at the bottom of the furrow. That man must have had some inventive genius, but he was starting on the weeds at the wrong end. Weeds want starting on as soon as you possibly can after they have germinated; don't let them rob the land and fill it full of seeds before you kill them.
Often when you have drilled your root crop there will come a dry time and the seed will be a long time germinating. But it is always wet enough for the annual weeds to grow and the land wants horse-hoeing.before you can properly see the rows. If you do not get the horse-hoes going soon enough, the annual weeds will grow faster than your root crop; and they will take a deal more killing if you don't kill them before their roots have got hold of the ground. On light land it is a good plan, especially if you have got your root crop on the flat or ridges, to have two or three American Planet hoes and run the field over with them. As soon as you have started with the Planet hoes you can start with the horse-hoes. See that the men working the Planet hoes keep just under the weeds, minding not to let their hoes slip over any weeds if the ground happens to be a bit uneven. It is necessary for the Planet hoer to be as near the plant as ever he can, as every weed he hoes up is done for and there are not the lads to do the weeding that there used to be. A man can Planet hoe two acres per day. This is not meant for a farmer who has got his land clean. If a farmer has hilly land he will be a deal better using a one row horse-hoe instead of a double rowed one as the wheels tend to slide down hill; consequently the hoe frame gets a bit on the slant out of plumb and then the man will not be able to get as near the plant as he ought.
Next: Chapter 5
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