This winter's pigs in the boggy field, having a lunchtime nap after digging hard.
The pigs did a great job this year in the boggy field, digging up the grass and rushes. But they are gone now for some weeks, and the field dried off a bit. It has always been very wet, and we actually took the spade and investigated a recently - only to find water coming up right in the middle of the field, most likely the source of all boggyness! So we decided to sort this out at some point, trying to drain the water into a nearby dirtch. But for now, we would only plough and cultivate the top half of the field (above the source of water).
This is a typical job where a tractor would certaily have made a mess of it. The soil was still fairly sticky, despite the mostly dry weather for the last three weeks, and the closer the horses came to the water source when passing back up to the beginning of the field after each turn, the harder the going was. Their hooves started going into the ground, which they didn't like but could manage ok, as they didn't have the pull of the plough. A tractor would surely have sunken right into the ground and turned it all up.
It is an interesting field alright, with very patchy soil - clay and gravel in places - but it gave us a good crop of potatoes last year, and we attempt to grow our sugar beet there this year. But first, we'll pass over it with the harrow a few times until the weather is warmer.
Two members of "The Hollies" having a go at ploughing.
Yesterday we went to "The Hollies - Centre for Practical Sustainability" (www.theholliesonline.com
) near Enniskeane/West Cork. One of the community members there had asked us to plough part of a field, as she was reluctant to get the heavy tractor in, and horses were a good alternative in that case.
So we had an enjoyable day out on a sunny hill top, with Henry and Winnie doing a great job, despite the fact that the top soil was very thin and very soon we hit gravel. It would be interesting to find out the geological side of things on this piece of land - is it gravel that a glacier a long time ago deposited there? Or was a previous land owner in the stone and gravel business and had just dumped a load in that field?
Anyhow, this geological set-up clearly showed one disadvantage of a horse plough - we couldn't plough very deep as the plough was just pushed up by the hardened layer of gravelly soil. With a tractor plough, it would have been possible to plough deeper, as the tractor would have helped the plough to stay deeper in the ground. But we didn't know that we would find these soil conditions, as we had not done test digs...
But we made the best of the situation and turned the soil up to 4-5 inches deep - deep enough to put green manure seed or grain in, but perhaps not potatoes, as hoped. Anyway, it was a good experience, and the horses didn't have to work that hard after all!
Setting up and adjusting things always takes longest!
Another afternoon in the field, and the grain is planted as well now!
I wonder how much a tractor would have sown in that same afternoon, well, the answer is - lots more! - but it's not our point to prove this - yes, horses can do less in an afternoon than tractors - because we all know this already.
Anyway, our 1/8 acre plot is planted up with triticale! Our attempt to grow this grain over the winter failed, with rats, rabbits and crows all coming down on the seed - and what they left failed in the cold and wet conditions we had from end of September onwards.But triticale being suited for more acid and wet soils should do well really, if the wildlife leaves it alone this time. As we ploughed the field first, then harrowed it, the seed drill got the seed in deeper this time, and with three rounds over it with the roller after planting, hopefully the chances of something coming up are bigger this time. But how lucky we are that we don't depend on this harvest-to-be - we still can go to the shop for our flour....Wouldn't it be great though to be able to grow our grain as well?!Anyway, the whole project was more tiring for me than for the horses - with all the preparations and tidying up of the seed drill, getting the horses ready and warmed up and used to pulling the seed drill again...
But they managed brilliantly, even though the gateways are still as tight a fit as last year, and because the field is so small, the horses have to turn the drill almost on the spot. So, the horses now enjoy their first few delightful hours on grass, whilst I just about manage to put my feet up and listen to an appropriate tune at the end of a long walk in the field, by Tir na nOg:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ruNNdbJP2F4
Putting seed in last October with our seed drill we picked up in Co. Wexford, the same one we used today.
Tim making a drill with the help of Henry and our friend, Selvi.
In the end, it took longer than expected to finish planting the potatoes (it always does, doesn't it, with things like doing the washing up and earning money getting in the way) - but as of this evening, the spuds are all in the ground! The dry weather made this job so much easier, and if the sun keeps shining, they should come up in no time...we'll be starting to check for first signs of growth soon!Last weekend, the first working horse course for this year took place here, and as we had a nice small group, we even got around to make a drill with the plough, get some manure with the sled and put a row of potatoes in with everybody.
With the nice dry weather, it was possible to be able to show participants the real use of horse power in the field with the potatoes, as well as out lawn (roller) and in the garden (using the tipping cart to spread manure), after we had spent the morning practicing long-reining in the paddock and around the field. If things go well, we may get to show participants of the next course the earthing up of the potatoes (the next course will take place 30th of June, see here
for details)!One of our course pariticpants put up some more photos of the course on her blog, have a look:https://limmster.wordpress.com/2012/04/03/courses-for-horses-3/
Two participants of the March course having a go at making a drill with Henry.