Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Old and new cultivation

click photo to enlarge
Only a few minutes before I took today's photograph we walked across a pasture that showed clear evidence of medieval cultivation. The surface of the field undulated due to centuries of ploughing using oxen and horses. Generations of ploughmen had gone up and down each selion (a strip in a furlong, which themselves were aggregated into large open fields) in the same direction each season. As a result the ploughshare had made each selion into a long, straight, low bank that curved to the left at each end where the plough was turned. Our passage across the field rose and fell as we went over each ridge and furrow.

The contrast between this traditional method of cultivation, one that prevailed for over a thousand years, with the sight that greeted us as we crossed a recently harvested wheat field, could not have been greater. A single man in a large tractor pulled a machine that was preparing the land and sowing the next crop at the same time. He would accomplish in a few hours that which formerly took many men and animals weeks to achieve. The driver gave us a wave as passed by - such work today is a solitary undertaking - and as we went on our way back to Folkingham I reflected on the way today's cultivation contrasted with not only the distant past but what happened for much of the twentieth century.

Nowadays, as I understand it, there are essentially 5 approaches to preparing a wheat field with the next crop:
1 Conventional ploughing - plough the straw in deep, cultivate the seed bed, then drill and finally spread fertiliser
2 Shallow cultivation - plough the straw in deep, drill and fertilise in one pass
3 Minimal tillage - till the straw in shallow with cultivator, drill and fertilise in one pass
4 Shallow tillage - turn straw over in the surface soil, drill and fertilise in one pass in this layer
5 Direct drilling - no soil tillage, simply drill and fertilise in one pass leaving the straw on the surface.

However, I'm no expert, so watching the man and machines at work I was unsure which method of 3-5 was being used. I think it's 3 (minimal tillage) but I'm happy to be corrected.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 105mm (157mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/400 sec
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On