Plough Lessons

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A revealing test patch (ignore the tussock on the bottom left)

The last few days have been spent working on the new plough. There is no need to use this latest implement for several weeks, but the field I intend to work with has been gnawed to the bone by sheep and has nothing left to offer. The weather has been fair and dry, and I can see no reason to postpone the job. I also can’t deny that I am giddily excited and can’t wait to make a start.

The plough has required a little active repair. I was informed that the skimmers needed to be replaced, and my first task was to find out what skimmers are. It transpires that they are the blades which slice the turf before the soil is lifted by the point. The old skimmers had been worn down to a rounded nub, and both of the bolts had seized. I broke one and had to hacksaw the other, but these should be easily replaced and the new skimmers will slot neatly into position.

I was also advised to clean the mouldboards. These had gathered a little rust over many years of inactivity, but it was hard to see how this would be a problem. I tried to plough a test patch and immediately found that the rust made the soil stick to the metal boards in fat, greasy clumps. The plough worked brilliantly, but the job was not as neat as it could have been; imagine spreading butter with a dirty knife all crusted with yesterday’s jam. The furrows were crumbled and broken where they should have been smooth and orderly, and this was compounded by the missing skimmers – instead of slitting the soil, the plough had ripped it. This is mainly a matter of aesthetics, and I was drunk with the joy of fresh soil and the spectacle of turf being rolled up like a rug.

My father offered a solution to the dirty mouldboards, and we ran the plough through a small area of rough, rubbly hardcore which has just been quarried to mend the road. The plough made the little stones boil, and most of the rust was soon rubbed away – I’ll hunt out the rest with a grinder, but it was an interesting lesson. I gather that our neighbours used to clean their ploughs by running them along the Solway shore, and the rusty mouldboards were ably scoured to a mirror shine by shells and pebbles.

Ploughing is a vast and technical job. I cannot hope to do it nicely on my first attempt, particularly since the field I’ll be working on is a rounded, bulbous triangle shape. Ploughmen chase the dream of perfect furrows running in parallel across geometrically beautiful landscapes, but beauty is just the cherry on the cake for me – I’d rather do a scruffy job than no job at all.

I am now more thrilled than I have ever been by the potential this project has to link my farm project with wildlife, and I am looking forward to seeing what comes next.

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