Tuesday 6 March 2012

When the Countryside Used To Be Full of Vegetables And Little Farmers.

How do you know that a farmer is really good at their job?  They are always 'outstanding' in their field.  The old jokes are always the best aren't they?

To those of you who are new to this blog.  I am a smallholder farmer and a writer.  Yes I toil with the soil and I toil with the pen - even computer keyboard.  Any road.  In my funny book about - BALING STRING!  Yes that's right.  There is a bit at the end of my book entitled: A note from the Author.

....The journey (talking about visiting West Cork on my holidays) was always tiresome and seemed never ending to me as a small child of five.  We travelled from Heuston train station in Dublin down to Cork City.  The train hurtled through fields full of cattle, sheep, vegetables and hay.  Farmers stayed at home tending their mist encircled, apple shaped hills.  Ireland seemed a rural paradise back then and everybody seemed happy...

Well folks.  That's how it seemed to me anyway.  Every farmer (I mean every) grew a field of vegetables; Mangels (for the horse) giant Cow Cabbages (for the ----?)  Yes you are right.  "Moo", rows of Swedes, "The Turnip"), Carrots, Sugar-beet and rows and rows of Potatoes.  The farmyard manure was used for fertilizer along with the gathered seaweed, and it was all spread by hand with a pike (pitch-fork) and a horse and cart.

Those rural times spent on my grandparents little farm in Ireland in the late 1960's and early 1970's.  Instilled in me a longing to follow in their footsteps.  I just feel so privileged that I actually saw how rural Ireland used to be.  Perhaps when the oil runs out or we can no longer afford to pay for it, we will return to those times?

What do you think readers?


  1. Dave! Lord alone knows what'll happen to me when the oil runs out (I'm hoping they perfect nuclear fusion!)! My London garden is probably smaller than your rhubarb patch! I've done very well with my rosemary bush, but as I've read that it is impossible NOT to grow rosemary, it's not such a feat as I thought! Will have another bash at tomatoes in pots and am determined to grow a bay tree (these too are indescructable, so I've heard)!

  2. Thanks Carol. You should get yourself one of those allotments. You can have a shed and lots of soil to grow vegetables and fruit and meet loads of other like minded soil slaves. Some allotment holders even offer their advice and a 'nice cup of tea.'

    I have been watching: The Tube on the BBC this week. I always thought Jools Holland presented it from Newcastle? Must be showing my age? They reckon it costs one hundred million pounds a year for the leccy bill and just FOUR MILLION pounds a day to run the Underground. Then I moan and wonder why there's no public transport in the countryside.

  3. Sounds a bit like West Cumbria used to be.

    Lots of farms, little by todays standards, with a grey Massey-Fergie tractor to do everything; well, there was still a lot to do by hand.

    Most of our local farms had a few milk cows in the byre, a few porkers and maybe a bacon pig or 2, and often a few ewes as well.

    Swedes (tunchies locally) were grown by the field for feed, and kale was common (I haven't seen a field of kale for years)
    Hay-making was fun if back-breaking work, no big bales, just the little ones made by the baler towed behind the Fergie, amd mewing was a real skill.
    Harvest was by combine, antiquated machines by todays standards, requiring somebody to stand on a platform and replace full sacks with empty ones. The straw was baled same as the hay. I would have loved to see one of the huge threshing machines working.
    Silage was almost un-heard-of.
    Some farms grew peas, beans and cow-cabbage, these open to plunder by small hungry boys.

    All the dung went to the midden, to be labouiously hand-forked into the muck spreader, a fearsome macnine distributing tons of good manure over quite a large area which no doubt improved the soil quality and crops.

    And there was always a few chickens scratching about, they seemed pretty much self-sufficient, only needing a handful of corn to encourage them into shelter from the foxes at night.

    There wasn't a lot of bought-in feed, or much fertilizer either.

    Yeah, I can see the clock being turned back when the oil runs out, we'll need to re-learn the horesmans skills, a lot slower but a lot quieter.

  4. Welcome back Cumbrian. I still hand fork (pike - pitchfork) the fym and the shavings. Don't like the slatted houses that the cattle lie on today.

    You paint a wonderful picture of rural Cumbria. People didn't have much money back then, but they had talent and brilliant husbandry skills. I love watching the James Herriot "All Creatures Great and Small. The old cars and grumpy old farmers (characters) made the countryside a fascinating place.

    The horses also respected the land. Today's heavy tractors compact the land, break the field drains and pollute the air with fumes and noise!


  5. Bet the beasts don't like the slats much either, but they're un-complaining animals.

    Yeah, there's still a little bit of the old rural Cumberland (it was Cumberland and Westmorland then) but mostly on the fells, the Lake Dictrict National Park Authority is the landlord of much of the fells, and they dictate how many Herdwick ewes have to be kept on each area. And you can't work Herdwicks any other way than on foot and with a good dog. The Lake District Special Planning Authority forbids just about every form of new building, so the rural landscape stays pretty much the same.

    Yes, money was tight, but the food was good, like you say, every farmer had a potato patch and tons of manure for it, a few of them knocked down their own animals. There was always milk, eggs, chickens, and the occasional rabbit / hare / pheasant / woodpigeon / salmon / trout to supplement the protein. Every kitchen had the hooks in the beams for the side of bacon.
    Every farm wife baked in her Aga, and most made pickles / jams / preserves in season.

    James Herriot really brings back memories, I can only remember 1 working horse, up to about 1960, a big black and white, I'm ashamed to admit I don't know the breed, one of the big shire type. But it must have been wonderful to work with these powerful animals.

    The big tractors I can't beleive the size and power they have, down-side as you say is their colossal weight. Look at a field of standing corn, you can make out the tracks of the machine when it last passed, it compacted the soil so much.
    Something an old farm hand told me about tractors and working the soil a lot of years ago "If you need 4-wheel drive, you shouldn't be on it"

    Doubt if we'll see it, but I think the horse will eventually make a return. Unless they come up with someting to replace engines.

  6. Do you write Cumbrian? You should do. I really enjoy the way you wax lyrical about the countryside.

    My late grandmother used to feed the animals before herself in the morning. She would ride a bicycle ten miles for her messages (shopping) and she was always buys rearing calfs, making meals, sewing, cleaning, collecting the eggs and cooking.

    I wonder if the big horse was a Suffolk Punch? They named a lawnmower after it didn't they? I love going to working farms (they show you how it used to be) like the one at Muckross in Killarney. There's potatoes growing, butter making, cows milked by hand...

    I totally agree with the old farm hand about the 4-wheel tractors. Would love to see Britain during the Dig For Victory campaign during the second world war. Wish my grandparents and uncle were still alive to show me how to farm the old ways.

    Great comments Cumbrian. Many thanks!!

  7. Yes, it's lovely to see the old restored and working farms, you should visit Beamish if you ever get the chance, I think you'd like it.

    Google it for further info.

    and I forgot about the butter-making.

  8. I have been to Crich? The tram museum in Derbyshire. They filmed most of the Catherine Cookson book adaptations in Beamish.

    I also love the reconstructed street in Castle Museum in York. I also miss visiting all the great English cathedrals and ruined Abbeys like Bolton (near Skipton) and Fountains. Do you ever get to Scarborough Cumbrian? Little Voice was filmed there. Jane Horrocks is amazing!

    Thanks for your comments Cumbrian!

  9. Never been to either museum, but visited the little street at York, very impressive.

    I did visit Scarborough once, arrived at 0530 and set out on a converted trawler to fish for giant cod and haddock in the depths of the North Sea. Arrived back at about 1900 absolutely shatterd (the North Sea can be choppy) and drove back home. Me and another 11 fanatics. Fishing was good, but we didn't see much of Scarborough.

  10. You should go back to Scarborough Cumbrian. I have seen some really good short breaks in the Sunday Express. My mother always read it. Pickering (Heartbeat, James Herriot) and Robins Hood Bay are well worth visiting also. I forgot Whitby too. Fishing for giant Cod sounds really exciting.


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