Farming advice in 1947

Jot 101 Farmer's friend cover 001

When the Director of the Cambridge Farm, W. S. Mansfield, brought out his Farmer’s Friend in 1947, he did so in one of the coldest winters on record, when farming wisdom may not have had much effect. Speculating on why most of the old farming precepts he listed made sense, Mansfield turns to modern farming theories and simple entomological and botanical knowledge for some answers. However, there are still questions to be asked of a few of these pieces of ancient wisdom. Your Jotter’s comments are in italics.


On a farm where there are geese, the farmer’s wife wears the breeches


Traditionally, the poultry on a farm are the perquisites of the farmer’s wife. This is perhaps one of the reasons why on so many farms they receive such scant attention from the farmer. Certain it is that no class of poultry is popular with the majority of farmers, and geese are the least popular of all, so much so that in ordinary times few farmers will tolerate their presence. For this they have reason, as geese eat an incredible amount of grass, and compete directly with both sheep and cattle. It has been estimated that seven geese eat as much grass as a cow, and those who have had most experience with geese are the least likely to quarrel with this figure. Moreover, it is not only the amount of grass that geese eat that makes them unpopular but the amount they foul.


Mansfield neglects to mention the usefulness of geese to warn the farmer or farmer’s wife of unwelcome visitors, whether man or beast. A flock can create more noise than two dogs and many can be more aggressive. Plus, unlike dogs, they are good to eat and produce eggs. Geese one. Dogs nil.


If the moon is full at Christmas no black fly will be seen on the beans


The attacks of black aphis, which often do serious damage to the bean crop, are far worse in some years than in others, but there is of course no connection between the severity of the attack and the phase of the moon at Christmas.

A very good indication, however, of the severity of the attack to be expected the following summer may be obtained by examining spindle trees during the winter. The black fly lays its eggs on these trees at the end of the summer, and it is the eggs which form the over wintering stage of this pest. A close examination of shoot and buds of spindle trees during the winter may reveal a large number of black aphis eggs, which are black shining objects, rather smaller in size than a pin’s head. By making counts of the numbers of eggs present on spindle trees entomologists can now predict fairly accurately whether there is likely to be a severe attack of bean aphis in any one district. Continue reading

The Auroras and other doubtful islands

Another chapter from this fascinating forgotten work Oddities: A Book of Unexplained Facts (Allan, London 1928) by R.T. Gould. The Aurora Islands group of three phantom islands was first reported in 1762 by the Spanish merchant ship Aurora while sailing from Lima to Cádiz. They are referred to in an episode in Edgar Allan Poe's novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, where Pym and his crewmates search for but fail to find them. Gould was  an admirer of the 'divine Edgar' - whom he calls ' one of the greatest and most unfortunate of all writers... the only world-figure of American literature.' The islands were last reportedly sighted in 1856, but continued to appear on maps of the South Atlantic until the 1870s.

Aurora Islands on a map circa 1800 (far left)

   At the beginning of last century the existence of the three Aurora islands, lying to the south-eastward of the Falklands, was as little doubted as that of Australia. Originally discovered by the Aurora in 1762, they were reported again by the Princess, Captain Manuel de Oyarvido, in 1790, and by other vessels at various dates, while in 1794 the Spanish surveying-vessel Atrevida surveyed and charted (so she imagined) all three islands, as well as determining their position by astronomical observations. Lying in the track of sailing vessels bound round Cape Horn, they were, of course, much too important to omit from even small-scale charts; consequently every chart-maker who valued his reputation and his sales proceeded to embellish his charts of the South Atlantic with a "new and correct delineation" of the group, frequently adding the track of the Atrevida in their vicinity–presumably as "corroborative detail" in the Pooh-Bah style, although that vessel's narrative was neither bald nor unconvincing.

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