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 5

Drilling small seeds -- Seeds for a four years ley -- Elliot's mixture -- Ploughing and harrowing after a four years ley -- Handling the seeds

We always liked to drill the clovers and grass mixture in the barley after a potato crop, and then there were no laid barley places to kill the young seeds as the barley crop was always more regular after potatoes than after turnips. And we always liked to put the clover seeds just in; and all the drill coulters were tied up level, so that we could let them in or out with the lever. We used to put a short strong bolt in one of the lever nicks, and put the head of the bolt cornerways, so that you could alter the lever half a nick, as a whole nick would be too much. We liked the coulter to just make a mark, and then we harrowed in with very light small-seed harrows, made specially for the job. We never believed in sowing small seeds on our light land on the top where they could soon get burnt up, if it came dry, or they might get blown away, if there was a good wind. We dared not think of rolling the small seeds in, as after one experience of blowing sand we had to let the barley get up well and a good cover, before we dared roll.

In the first year of new seeds after harvest, we rolled them with a heavy two horse roll, and as soon as possible before winter give them ten or twelve cwts. of ground burnt lime to the acre.

Second year's seed: 4 cwts. steamed bone flour to the acre; 4 cwts. kainite during the winter.

Third year's seed: 4 cwts. steamed bone flour to the acre; 4 cwts. kainite during the winter.

Fourth year's seed: 4 cwts. steamed bone flour to the acre; 4 cwts. kainite during the winter.

I may say, we always expected a good crop of clover the first year, unless it happened to be very dry. In those days, we could sell all the fodder we could spare, so we used to mow every year. We never had a dreaded fourth year. I may say, we never used the common broad-leafed red clover, as you could not depend on it staying. Several times we would have a good plant of broad leafed red clover at harvest time, but it would usually be half gone by the spring. So we started using Garton's perennialized red clover, with wild white: but as I always believed in using the best clover and grasses, as soon as Gartons brought out Montgomery Red, we used that with wild white, until I retired from farming.

I will give an instance of the good crops of clover we used to get if we had enough rain.

We had a thirty-five acre field which had been down for a four years' course with Elliot's mixture, and had been on the plough again for several years with corn, potatoes, turnips, etc., and then we seeded it down again, in the barley crop, with another four years ley of Elliot's mixture. This being the second time of seeding down with Elliot's four years ley, the field was in good condition.

The first year, we had a wonderful crop of clover, which we calculated would be fifty cwts. to the acre, which we put into three stacks in the stackyard, and I sold them to a hay dealer in Nottingham for £275 in the stack. I tried hard to make £300 so that it would pay the rent of the farm. This was before the last war, so that it was at the ordinary price going at the time. The second year I sold the seeds, which had by then more grasses than clover, by weight for £261. The third year, we got the crop spoilt through bad weather, and we had to use it. The fourth year, I forget what happened, but always giving the field artificial manure every year, we always had equally good crops the fourth year as the second.

The modified Elliot Grass Seed mixture which we used was as follows.

For further information on this subject see Appendix 2.

We always liked to mow the seeds every year, as the more the grasses grew above the ground, the more the roots and fibre grew underneath the ground; and there was such a mass of roots and fibre underneath the soil, it was a big job to set the ridges and finish the furrows. The first field we ploughed up which had been down four years with Elliot's deep-rooting grasses, I went with the wagoner to open the ridges out, and although we had a new share with a good point on, and good sharp coulter, I had to plough and let the wagoner ride on the plough to hold it in. [The coulter is the knife-shaped part of a plough which cuts vertically.]

When setting the ridges, after the unsatisfactory experience of setting ridges and finishing furrows on the four years ley, instead of making two scratch marks about eighteen inches apart, we opened them out the same as when setting a ridge on the fallow land. Although we used to spread the two furrows we had opened out, so they were not in the way, the next year when we were ploughing up a four years ley, we started to plough round the field; so that we had no ridges and furrows to bother with, and we were able to make an extraordinarily good job. We ploughed the corners for five or six yards, and as soon as it got too stunt -- as soon as the angle became too acute to take in with one sweep of the plough -- we took the plough out and ploughed straight out at right angles to the furrow just finished, stopping as soon as the share had got through the last bit of turf. Then you could turn the last two or three feet over with the plough, whilst lifting the plough on to the ploughing. Thus you were able to set in and start the horses going again with a furrow nearly the full depth. We never had any headlands to turn on and that means a great saving of time. When we had finished the field, I would set a man to fork the bottom of the four corners, just to lighten it up, so that the seed would get buried that dropped in the furrows: he would start against the hedgeside, and work to the middle, burying any bit of turf that was not properly buried, and when he had done there would be hardly a bit of sod to be seen.

In those days the skimmers we used had a breast after the style of a digger plough breast, but set very nearly straight across; and they had for a share a piece of steel about two and a half inches wide, which went right across the bottom of the skimmer, and, if it was set rather flat; would cut six or seven inches when you wanted it on fallows. For the leys, we would set the skimmer with only the point catching two or three inches wide, and it was surprising what a good job it would make if you set it properly. The piece of turf that was skimmed off would lie at the bottom of the furrow, in one continuous piece, as regular as possible, hardly ever in a lump.

About this time, I bought two double furrow Oliver diggers for ploughing the fallows and potato and turnip land. We found two horses could pull them easily when ploughing shallow, but we had to have three horses when ploughing deep. We found the skimmers on these double furrow Oliver diggers were the best skimmers I had ever seen, and they would go through any turf, and hardly ever get bunged up. So we had some new standard uprights made, to fit the single furrow plough, for ploughing the four years ley. We found we could handle the single furrow ploughs better at the corners, and make a much better job than when using double furrows for the four years ley.

Owing to the large amount of fibre when the four years ley was ploughed, the job was to get a good mould for the corn to be drilled in without making the soil too fine; as it was almost sure to blow if there came a rough wind before the oats got up enough to protect it. I bought a light set of chisel harrows, but when we had put weights on each harrow we found they were only heavy enough for the lightest land. So I ordered another set a bit heavier that did the job just right at one operation. We could harrow round the same way that it was ploughed, so that we did not pull any sods up and did not miss any ground. We had no twitch to contend with, but plenty of fibre to get round the tines; so when too much fibre collected round the tines, we had to stop and rear each harrow up on its end, and pull the fibre off with our hands.

One of the good things which the four years ley did was to help to kill the annual weeds, as many annual weeds lose their germinating power in four years; so if you see that you have a good plant all over the field, they have no chance to reseed.

When the field had grown a crop of oats, after harvest there would hardly be an annual weed to be seen or a bent of twitch. I will give an instance. I had a great-uncle, who had a way of coming to look round about once a year, so we were driving round in a pony and tub, when we came to a man ploughing a nineteen-acre field which had been down with a four years ley. The man was ploughing round the field, and had got about fifty or sixty yards off the hedge, and I said to my uncle, 'Get out: I will give you a shilling for every bit of twitch you can find'; and he said, 'Do you mean it, how big a piece?' And I said, 'If it is only an inch long. It doesn't matter, if you can tell it is twitch.' But he could not find any; I knew he couldn't. He might have found some if he had been on the headland. One of the reasons we got the farm clear of twitch was that I never sowed any rye grass, so I did not sow any twitch seed in my seed mixture.

I have heard many farmers say that rye grass turns to twitch, but of course that is not possible. It is the twitch seed in the rye grass that grows and most likely they had not all the twitch out before they seeded it down with the two years ley. I understand it is now possible to buy rye grass seed with very little twitch seed in.

I well remember when I had been at Bottom House Farm a few years, skim ploughing a twenty-eight acre field that had been down for a two years ley, and dragging the turf about with the idea of growing a crop of potatoes. When a neighbouring farmer came over the hedge, there was so much twitch that he said, 'Whatever will you do with it?' And I said, 'You will see, Matthew, we shall torment it!' There was very little twitch left in the field when we had grown that crop of potatoes. I may say that we could not grow a crop of potatoes after the land had been down for a four years ley of deep-rooting grasses. It was one mass of fibre, and we had to grow a crop of oats and let the turf rot for a year; and then it would take plenty of pulling to pieces.

In about eight or ten years' time, when we had got into our stride growing potatoes, we found we had not got enough fallow land to grow fifty or sixty acres of turnips and forty or fifty acres of potatoes as well. We could handle a field of potatoes easier than a field of turnips; so we sold our flock of breeding ewes and stopped buying any store shearling sheep for eating the turnips and only put one field of turnips in each year for the cattle to tread the straw down, and we hadn't a sheep on the farm for many years. We used to mow all the seeds, as we could sell them well in those days before the 1914 war. After starting to put the land down for four years, we only put one field down each year instead of two and ploughed one field up instead of two. Of course we had to keep the field up longer and we grew two crops of potatoes and some corn crops and perhaps a field of turnips, before it was seeded down again with the four years ley.

When mowing seeds we used not to go all round a twenty or thirty acre field, but cut it in half and mowed the half nearest to the stackyard first, being very particular to measure it out square so that we should not have any gores at the finish.

After we had mown a field of seeds, as soon as they were ready, and had to get them turned, we had two Blackstone swath turners which were very good for turning the hay in the meadow where the grass was not too long. They made a very good job, but our four years ley grasses were too long for them and would often bung up; but we had to manage with them for a long while, as there was nothing better. When the side delivery rake came out we set up one of them and then you could put two rows into one if you wanted to -- and if you wanted to turn them you could do it very easily with the side delivery rake. We never liked to put above two rows into one; then, if it happened to rain, you could soon turn it with the back end of the side delivery rake.

Later on we set up one of Nickolson of Newark's side delivery rakes; it was very strong but it took a lot of pulling on our soft land. We managed all right for a few years with these two swath turners and two side delivery rakes; when Nickolson's of Newark made a combined side delivery rake and swath turner, we had one of those. They had two sizes, a small one and a large one. We had one of the largest and it was a wonderful machine; the tines were in three sections, two small ones, one on each side of the swath turner, and a larger section for the middle for side delivering it together. This machine had the tines just curved a little bit at the bottom, very useful for turning the swath for the first time, as it did not slip over any and made an extraordinarily good job. It also had a back action: if you happened to have an extra good crop of clover, you could give it a turn with the back action without knocking them about. If we were putting two rows together for the hay loader and it was a bit ricky, we turned the left section and the middle section with the tines curved backwards and only the right-hand section with the curved tines facing forward. When side raking it together with the tines in this position we found it pushed it to the side better, only bringing a bit now and then over the top.

Next: Chapter 6

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