Ploughing fields in times gone by
Ploughing took place mainly in the Autumn. As a child in the 1940s, I could watch it at a distance from our double-decker buses. At that time, I assumed that the purpose was to produce long dips or furrows for seeds to be sown into and that a plough was merely something sharp that went into soil and was pulled through it. I was wrong on a number of counts. Read on:
How a plough worked
A basic plough consisted of a circular blade in front of a larger curved one in an arrangement for a horse or tractor to pull through the ground. Some ploughs had more than one set of blades.
The circular blades cut through the ground and the curved ones turned over and buried the top layer of soil and weeds. This needs to the short statement or definition of what ploughing was and is:
What ploughing is
Ploughing is the turning over of land to bury weeds and prepare the soil for seeding.
Why ploughing needed skill
Ploughs needed various skills to operate effectively:
It took skill to set the blades so that they cut at a suitable depth: too shallow would mean that the weeds would 'see' daylight and grow, so contaminating the next crop; too deep would mean that the winter frost was less likely to penetrate the top soil. Frost broke up the soil helping to turn it into a fine tilth.
The furrows had to be straight and at a uniform distance apart as gaps would mean weeds and heavier soil at sowing time.
The soil needed to be in the right state for ploughing: Too dry and hard would mean that the plough would not readily go through it, and too wet would mean that the furrows would be washed away. I don't know how much leeway there was on this, but skill and experience would have been needed to make the decision of when to plough.
In my early years, I saw farm horses pulling the ploughs.
It was the task of the farmers or farmhands to guide the horses and the ploughs. This meant walking behind the ploughs or with the horses, whatever the weather and keeping alert to give the horses instructions. Good weather must have meant a lot.
Farmers and farm hands must have given many sighs of relief when tractors came along. All they had to do was to sit in the driving seat, manage the controls and let the tractor pull the plough. Having to look backwards, though, to make sure that the furrows stayed even must have led to many a stiff neck.
Not that driving a tractor in these times was as pleasant as you might think. There were no covered cabins to sit in, so the seat was open to the air. What's more, the tractor tyres were solid, making for a bumpy ride.