The Crops

The farm is about 1000 acres (400 hectares) of arable land with about 5% natural woodland and 5% rough pasture where cows and sheep graze. The main crops were wheat, barley, oats, field beans, dried peas and potatoes.

For several years cabbages and Brussels sprouts were grown, ceasing when they soon became unprofitable due to the very low price paid by the supermarkets.

Over the following years as markets for various crops increased and declined, various combinable crops were grown though wheat remained the staple crop.  For several years in the 1970’s ryegrass was grown for seed and hay, It was harvested by first mowing it then, after it had dried, it was picked up by a special combine header and threshed. The hay was baled and used as animal fodder. In later years linseed (flax) was grown for linseed oil extraction. Field beans and peas have been grown intermittently as break crops, either as high protein animal feed or for seed.

For many years one of the most important crops was potatoes. It was also the most labour intensive. The seed was usually sorted into wooden trays and stacked in a temperature controlled well-lit shed to encourage the seed into growth. This is known as chitting the seed. Various methods of preparing the deep seed bed needed were used. One early method involved several passes with rigid tine cultivators to achieve a deep seed bed with a final pass of a rotary cultivator before the six row planter, manned by six women who placed the potatoes in rubber cups on a rotating wheel. They were kept supplied with fresh trays of potatoes by two more workers on precarious platforms mounted each side of the tractor. The ridges were then built around the crop as it grew; three or more passes being needed. In later years, deep wide ridges were made in the autumn so that winter frosts started the break-up of large clods of earth. Then as soon as the soil was dry enough in the spring, the ridges were re-formed using a rotary cultivator with deep ridgers. A large combination de-stoner and planter finished the job, splitting the large single ridge in two and planting two rows of potatoes.

The crop was originally harvested by casual workers picking up by hand into paper bags. The regular workers were kept very busy using the tractor drawn potato digger, distributing bags, moving scales and loading the filled bags onto trailers or pallets. On a good day up to 100 tons of potatoes could be lifted!

The automatic potato harvester reduced the amount of casual labour required but it is a complicated machine, often working under poor conditions, so prone to regular breakdowns. The operator could spend many hours lying on cold, muddy ground under the machine struggling to repair a cold muddy machine.

The majority of the crop was stored in the large barn that was insulated with straw bales. Throughout the winter the crop would be cleaned and sorted for sale using a riddle, either into paper bags or one-ton bulk bins.