The Night Ploughing


It was the strangest thing – to look out on the nightscape behind the house where there are no roads or houses as far as the Edge, which itself drops a thousand feet through near vertical woodland to farm fields below on the Shropshire flatlands, and see what looked like searchlights moving doggedly through the darkness. The sight induces a frisson of fear. Iron Curtain watch towers spring to mind; H.G. Wells and War of the Worlds: are these Martian invaders patrolling the hinterland? Have the Thought Police hacked into my anti-establishment cogitations and are now tracking me down?

Of course a second later, common sense regained, I knew exactly what was going on, though it was still surprising – this spot of nocturnal November farming, presumably intent on finishing the job before the next round of deluge. The two tractors had been out working on Townsend Meadow since early afternoon. One tractor was ploughing. I watched it moving up and down the field, the glint of steel blades, the rig periodically disappearing from view over the brow of the hill. The other tractor was working back and forth across the ploughed-in wheat stubble, it equipped with high-tech agri-gear fore and aft – (and I’m assuming) seed drilling and then harrowing.  I’ve yet to discover what crop was being sown. Doubtless there will be shoots any time now.


But in the meantime, on my most-days slither and slide along the path to the allotment, I’m astonished how very spirit-lowering is the lustreless expanse of darkly sodden earth after months of pale and textured gold. No more taking short cuts across the field or fossicking for pot shards and clay pipe bits either. I’ve also noticed that the tenant who currently has the field in hand, has reduced the strip of uncultivated headland between our home boundaries and the crop by a good 2 or 3 metres. We always understood that the headland was there as a flash-flood reducing measure, to say nothing of providing a swath of bio-diversity. Only time and heavy rainstorms will reveal the consequences or not of this little development.




The day before ploughing and drilling – 3rd November.


copyright 2019 Tish Farrell

41 thoughts on “The Night Ploughing

  1. Having switched to no-dig veggie gardening – thanking you – reading your post I was wondering if it would be possible to grow large scale crops in this fashion?

    Shame about the reduction of land. Let’s hope nothing bad comes of it.

    I had to look up fossicking. Like beverage, fossicking is one of those words one never uses in normal conversation!
    I was relieved to read it wasn’t something you needed a prescription for or got from the NHS, and you can do it with your clothes on.
    A definite plus considering the weather you’ve been having lately.

    1. 🙂 🙂 🙂 Hello Ark. Can always rely on you for a bit of cheering up. We are about to evolve into ducks here. Or possibly fish. But you mean to say you’ve never fossicked! Actually I think you’re a bit of fossicker with your camera – the little gems you turn up for us.

      As to ‘no dig’ scaled up, that’s a good question. Basically the farming version is ‘no-till’ cultivation. There seems to the GMO crop plus lots of herbicide version (not good), and then the organic approach which I gather is happening somewhat in the UK. Basically the latter seems to involve leaving post harvest litter on the surface of the soil like a mulch and then when the next crop is to be sown just drilling the necessary holes through it without disturbing the rest of the soil. This apparently requires special drilling equipment. But actually no-till needs to happen fast as we’re going to run out of cultivatable soil in a few decades – too much lost by erosion and run off. Regenerated soil is also said to be far more effective at sequestering carbon.
      Greetings from a very soggy UK Tx

      1. Once the basics are sorted out no dig/till is a breeze. I hope to have it down pat by next season, including some decent compost.
        The raised brick beds I laid out are working a treat and I am so looking forward to seeing the potatoes when they are ready for harvesting.

      2. So happy so hear that this system is working out for you. But you’re right, it does take a few seasons to get into one’s stride with this. I think I’ve said to you, my problem is making enough compost to cover the beds. Have currently been raiding the Linden Walk for chippings left by the tree surgeons when the trimmed the lime tree undergrowth. Bit of a toil though.

      1. That is a cracking vid. Not seen raised beds built with so many layers, or with so much wetting of materials. V. interesting. I’ve been following UK’s Charles Dowding’s approach which is v. much simpler (lots on YouTube). I guess it comes down to what materials you have ready access to and also perhaps what kind of soil you have to start with.

      2. I love Charles’ videos. I am using his example as inspiration for my future compost heap.
        I might even get a chipper ( at a later stage) – which he said he would not get but eventually relented!

        Our soil is mostly clay, which I am trying to sort out with decomposing vegetation etc and all the leaves we have.
        Tis a slow process but it’s worth it.

      3. I found a load of barley straw someone had put on the allotment bonfire heap – taken off their strawberry bed at the end of the season. I thought that’s not staying there – so it’s now covering a newly made raised bed, and also keeping my globe artichokes cosy for the winter.

    1. Yes, the rain has been pretty persistent since the end of September, so trying to find a good time to plough and plant must have been a real headache for many farmers. The ground is absolutely sodden.

  2. Industrial agriculture makes me, by turns, angry and depressed. The reduction of the flood strip is frightening. I’m guessing you are downhill of it? ☹️

    1. Yes, most of Wenlock is downhill of it. There’s a strip of raised ground behind our hedge and along most of our boundary, but other properties have been v. vulnerable to field run-off in the past. I guess the farmer is thinking the new attenuation pond in the top right hand corner of the field will reduce the run-off, but then most of the field doesn’t drain in that direction. Definitely a watch and see situation that raises my anti-establishment hackles more than somewhat.

  3. Beautiful writing Tish. The first few sentences read like the opening to a novel. I really enjoyed reading the whole piece and hope the new cropping arrangement does not have unpleasant consequences..

      1. Do it! I’m faffing about too wondering if I should a progress report blog post on the novel writing or do some actual writing! Novel writing is a lonely business. Maybe I need to write the blog post to motivate me to write the story. 😊

  4. I loved reading the comments for this post and it does make me wonder, among other things, about the changes in gardening that will have to happen when we move to Arizona. Since we’ll be renting initially, it will be interesting.

    The first photo is very sci-fi-ish, one of those where the viewer wonders what she’s seeing. 🙂


    1. Thanks, Janet. Arizona will definitely be interesting gardening-wise. Maybe keep the cardboard boxes from the move?:) They seem to be the basis of a good raised bed whether underneath or on top.

  5. So nice to have your house and garden directly on the fields. A sense of infinity? Or at least open space?
    I hope the “land reduction doesn’t affect you… Bon week-end.

  6. I remember the first time I watched farmers gather in hay by car headlights; I thought aliens had landed. The reduction of protection doesn’t sound good – maybe you should mention your concern in writing.

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