Friday, 19 April 2013

Farming

Agricultural tasks in the days of my childhood formed a regular source of extra money for lots of people within the village. Machinery was basic and nowhere near as efficient as it is today. Manpower was then what kept the farming industry going and in providing large numbers of jobs, contributed hugely to the rural economy. Almost every job which is now performed by a machine was then done by a man. Even though there were the basic machines of the day, for the most part, they required a man or men to operate then. For example, the seed driller, which was towed by a tractor, but required as many as four men to sit across the back of the machine to ensure the seed was flowing freely down through the pipes and into the ground.
 
This was the case with many of, the then, newly invented machines. The combined harvester required men to change sacks as they became full and to switch on and off the traps through which the corn was fed into the sacks. As one trap was shut another was opened. When full the sacks had to be lifted, stacked and transferred to a trailer for transport to the grain dryers and store sheds. At each and every stage this required a man or men to perform the tasks. Bales of straw and hay had to be lifted by means of a pitch fork or by hand. From the time of baling to the eventual resting place of the straw or hay in a barn, each bale had been lifted by a man several times. As far as Kingsley was concerned the main farms were Malthouse Farm, Old Park Farm, Dean Farm, Lode Farm and Oxney Farm. It will,therefore, be appreciated that between the five of them, they employed a large number of both permanent and part time staff. Producing, in various amounts, barley, wheat, oats, hops, potatoes, sugar beet, sweeds and mangolds. In addition to the production of all of these crops the farms also had cattle,(beef and dairy ), pigs and poultry and, in the case of Old Park Farm, a thriving market garden. There were also the two large fruit farms, Rookery and Jude, the latter being known also as The Nurseries at the time. Like the general farms the fruit farms and nurseries required large numbers of men to perform the seasonal tasks associated with their business. What all this boils down to is the fact that large numbers of Kingsley people were then employed on the land and many of them lived in the tied cottages which were owned by the farmers they worked for.
 
Harvesting the various corn crops provided many a young man with the chance to add to his income by doing three or four weeks extra work in the evenings and at weekends or, indeed, during school holidays. School boys were commonly employed by farmers in the fields and most of us at some-time or another went along to help out. I and, I know, my friends had great enjoyment from so doing, we were treated very well and had a lot of fun. We, of course, all liked the pocket money we earned by doing so. As far as harvesting was concerned the tasks required of the workforce were handling the many sacks of corn produced. These all had to be loaded on to trailers from the combine, then from the trailers on to the dryers and then into the corn sheds. The dryers were sheds in which there was a raised floor and into the floor were cut square holes. The holes were large enough to allow a sack to be placed over them but small enough to prevent the sack from dropping through. A heater was located beneath the floor and this blew hot air into the space below the sacks, the hot air then dried the corn within the sacks. All highly labour intensive. The whole handling process was repeated with the bales of straw produced, in so far as they also had to be stacked into heaps of about a dozen or so on leaving the baler, from there they were loaded on to trailers, removed from the fields and then unloaded into the barns where they would be stored. They, of course were not dried as the corn was.
 
Hop picking will be dealt with in a separate article, but it also required large numbers of people to harvest the crop.
 
The potato harvest was the other big user of local labour. The harvesting machines of the day were crude and inefficient. They consisted of a number of long tined, rotating discs which were geared to the two main wheels of the machine. The machine was towed by a tractor and as it was dragged along the two or four tined discs would spin, biting into the ground along the rows of potatoes and throwing the tubers out into lines to the side of the machine. The potatoes would then be picked up by hand and deposited into sacks. Again the sacks had to be stacked upon trailers and removed from the fields to store sheds or barns. As mentioned above, the harvesting machines were not very efficient and large numbers of potatoes were left in the ground, so much so, that a secondary harvest was conducted. This involved the potato field being raked over again by a tractor pulling a harrow or cultivator and exposing the potatoes that had been left behind by the first machine. These were then collected and bagged up as the previous spuds had been. The difference this time was in the payment method involved. The casual or part time staff engaged for the first harvest were usually paid by the hour or day. However, when it came to the second harvest and the collection of the missed potatoes, the workers were then paid by the sack. This, no doubt, was intended to ensure the "pickers", as they were known, were thorough in their efforts and went to great lengths to gather every last spud. This was back breaking stuff and I well remember the aching backs associated with potato picking. It didn’t seem to put off people from taking up the work and there were many young people and women engaged each year in the process. It was also common, at the time to find groups of travellers, or gypsies, engaged in seasonal tasks as above. Many of whom would have a regular circuit and visited the same farms year on year.
 
During the winter months the work force of each farm would be employed in cleaning out ditches and cutting hedges. Once again these tasks were done by hand. In the case of ditching the men dug out the rubbish and silt that had found its way into the ditch system during the previous year. They used spades and shovels, it was hard work but it kept the fields and farm tracks dry and free from flooding. The hedges were cut with hand axes, bill hooks and saws and the trimmings were burned every few hundred yards as the men progressed around the fields. Obviously a very labour intensive process but a much nicer one than the smashers which are used today to reduce the trimmings to near pulp. Happy days.

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