by Rambler 19/04/2002
AT this time of the year, between the wars, the fields used to be hives of activity. April was the month for sowing seeds and planting potatoes. The Ulsterism was 'setting the spuds'.
The seed potatoes were termed 'setts' and set down or dropped, by hand, about fifteen inches apart in drills containing a layer of farmyard manure. Then a light sprinkling of 'bag-stuff' was added, before a ploughman, using a drill plough hauled by two horses, split the drills (mounds) and covered the setts.
Each horse trod on a drill, one on either side of the one to be split. The animals were well schooled, docile animals which "never put a foot wrong" (farmers' language). If they had put a foot wrong, they would have squashed the setts. The whole procedure was organised with precision, not haphazard, but made to look effortless by relaxed men and teams. Not a sound was needed, except quiet commands at the turning rigs, ie, the head rig and the footring.
Mechanisation has banished all the men and horses. The
present generation of farmers wouldn't know where to begin if their engines
were banished. The horsemen with carts, the ploughmen, and the manual
workers have also vanished. The 'craic', the team work and, of course, the
toil have all gone. The fields
are lonely now. Efficiency and speed have taken the place of the old-time slavery.
Memories of the old ways came back me last week as I planted a plot of British Queens and Aran Victory spuds.
Firstly, I persuaded two men from the Montiaghs townland to come along with their well-used turf spades to prepare the allotment and fill the drills with farmyard manure. A relative who owns a garden centre had delivered the manure in plastic sacks, the 'Real McCoy' but not so smelly.
I found 'the bag stuff which my father used, ie sulphate of potash, still available, so I added a light sprinkling, in the traditional fashion. Then my helpers set the seed, British Queens of course, and covered them up,
Come July, I should have my own supply of 'balls of flour' readily available down the garden. There will be no scarcity of potatoes in the shops in the summer.
Many are labelled British Queens, but I challenge any merchant to supply any to match the ones fresh from my garden.
I have been growing them for a long time now, hence I know a 'Queen' when I see it. 'British Queen' labels abound, in season, but ... (I will say no more).