It is that time of year again. The earth is beginning to warm up. The winter rains have gone and we now have fields that are beginning to dry out and weak sunshine to herald in the spring.
One of our early jobs on the farm is to plough the fields for this year’s crops. As we are organic, we are experimenting this year with barley and peas undersown with grass and clover. In this way we shall take a crop of highly nutritious silage in the summer and will then still have fields of grass and clover that the cattle and sheep can graze.
The ploughing is done by Chris, who has been performing the same task for some fifty years. He is a real craftsman turning each furrow perfectly so that it falls neatly across the next, turning grass and weeds into the ground, making rolling, preparing the seedbed and sowing the peas, barley, grass and clover seed so much easier.
Years ago seed was sown by hand with the farmer striding to and fro across his field scattering the seed on the land, as the old hymn says. It was pretty hit and miss and much of the seed would be eaten by the birds. The seed would be held in a “zellup” as the farm workers of old used to say, in the Devonshire dialect.
As a child I was fascinated by the name. This was a kidney-shaped galvanised iron container strapped to the farmer’s side which would take half a hundredweight of seed. It was only when I found an old “zellup” at the back of the machinery shed years later that I realised that it was in fact “ a patent seed lip” which had been invented by the Victorians to modernise seed sowing!
Now, a century or more later, the seed is precision drilled at exactly the right depth to ensure effective germination and growth. Everything is done scientifically. We still plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land…but differently!