Last week we picked up an old rack saw to help us convert the oak logs into useful sizes of timber- mostly for fencing but we should also be able to convert the large elm logs into studding etc. This vintage rack saw was made circa 1900 by E.Davies at the Atlas Foundry, Shrewsbury, Shropshire. It came with a 42 inch blade and has a 15 foot bed and two 5 foot extensions. Once driven by belts from a steam engine it now has a pto shaft that allows it to be driven by tractor. The old hand drive rack, that rolls the steel bed and log through the blade, has also been changed so that it is now driven by an electric motor. I hope to make it mobile so that we can demonstrate it working. This saw is somewhat similar to the one that was once working at the Woodyard.
Last Saturday I helped Jean at the Fibre East show. This show brings all those who are involved with any natural fibre (wool, silk, flax, etc) under one roof, so to speak. Plenty to see and plenty of new ideas. First and foremost was the Halifax Spinning Mill Ltd. I found out that they will process anything from one to hundreds of fleeces and turn them into whatever you want.
One of the more interesting items he had on display was wool made into a string but not spun- the idea is for you to use a spindle and then spin the wool yourself ( mostly it is used as a teaching aid for children). Then there was the felted fleece, also in long string form (although with a much, much greater diameter) this can be spun into large yarn or just needle felted (another teaching aid for children). There were felting and knitting kits too.
Back to Jean’s stall… very interesting watching people – you notice that most people make a beeline for stalls with lots of colour (somewhat as in supermarkets), reds, yellows, blues etc all catch the eye, unlike the natural colours of the sheep’s wool. Unfortunately for us ours was all natural colours so it was quite difficult to catch the eye initially. However, those people who did come over were very interested in the wool, especially the Wimpole wool (as Wimpole is not too far away from Bedford where the show was being held). A stall for two days cost £110 which was very reasonable so we will have another go next year (having learnt from this year).
Went for another walkabout and found the sort of ‘have a go’ section- those interested could have a go at spinning with a spinning wheel or spindle whorl, felting, weaving and knitting.
This leads me on to the gentleman with a novel way of spinning wool. He had seen the contraption you can see in his right hand in another country and decided to make them in England. It is made of two bits of round wooden rod with one bit that spins around. You attach the wool and make the top bit spin around which in turn spins the wool- very easy to do and yet another idea to take back to Wimpole for teaching children (and probably adults too).
The great wheel aka wool wheel, high wheel, walking wheel, or muckle wheel (a Scottish term) was the first wheel to drive the spindle which, before this was invented, was done by hand on a spindle hanging down. The great wheel was one of the earliest types of spinning wheel. The fibre is held in the left hand and the wheel slowly turned with the right. This wheel is thus good for using the Long-draw spinning technique, which requires only one active hand most of the time, thus freeing a hand to turn the wheel. The great wheel is usually used to spin short-staple fibres (this includes both cotton and wool), and can only be used with fibre preparations that are suited to long-draw spinning. The great wheel is usually over 5 feet (1.5 m) in height. The large drive wheel turns the much smaller spindle assembly, with the spindle revolving many times for each turn of the drive wheel. The yarn is spun at an angle off the tip of the spindle, and is then stored on the spindle. To begin spinning on a great wheel, first a leader (a length of waste yarn) is tied onto the base of the spindle and spiraled up to the tip. Then the spinner overlaps a handful of fibre with the leader, holding both gently together with the left hand, and begins to slowly turn the drive wheel clockwise with the right hand, while simultaneously walking backwards and drawing the fibre in the left hand away from the spindle at an angle. The left hand must control the tension on the wool to produce an even result. Once a sufficient amount of yarn has been made, the spinner turns the wheel backward a short distance to unwind the spiral on the spindle, then turns it clockwise again, and winds the newly made yarn onto the spindle, finishing the wind-on by spiralling back out to the tip again to make another draw… phew!
Most people seemed to be on holiday this month but there were a few of us stalwarts left to have a bash at turning some spindle wood into a useful item. Rather topically we had decided to try to make some knitting needles- Tony’s pair were much smaller than mine but, at 17mm diameter, I was going to knit a lot faster. Made some meat skewers and the others also made croquet hoops, bobbins and doorstops ( didn’t make a spindle though but must do one and have a go at spinning some wool on it). Interestingly you get the very best artists’ charcoal from spindle twigs so we’ll cut and collect enough to put in the retort kiln later this month.
The week’s work was much the same as last… weeding; but this time it was the willow sets that needed the weeds mown down. We have only lost a few of the young sets so far so it looks good for next year; hopefully we will be able to harvest quite a bit of willow so that the Visitor Experience Ranger, Rosie, can get the public involved with basket weaving.
Just a few hot, dry days and the rivet wheat went from green to golden brown exceedingly quickly. Not a bread wheat because it has such a low nitrogen level (9% compared to bread wheat at 13% or more) but it does yield a heavy crop and I hope to find out if it is in fact any good for thatching (which I think it is). It was a minor wheat landrace that was grown in Cambridgeshire in the late Georgian /early Victorian period. I suspect that, with the advent of reaper binders, this very long wheat (5′ or more) fell out of favour ( as we struggle with my reaper binder if the wheat is over four and a half foot tall).
I have found out that rivet wheat was probably introduced into England in the late Saxon period as it is much hardier than the very similar Durum wheats of the Mediterranean which need long, hot summers to fully ripen. (Don’t get so many of those here do we?! ) Mostly it is good for biscuits but the flour of rivet can be mixed with bread wheats; it can also be used for all sorts of pasta. Apparently the straw makes quite good paper and is very durable so can be used in thatching to good effect. One thing I do know is how itchy those awns are! Awns are the bristles that stick out of the ears- very useful at keeping the birds from eating the seed though.
Wasn’t long before we had reaped a fair chunk of the rivet. Normally three reapers would keep the bandster busy; however we had got ahead of Jayne and she was struggling to keep up…
Once bound and put into stooks, it takes a week or two to dry the wheat out ( don’t want any rain now as this will start the germination process in the wheat grains). For bread flour you need the flour to be mostly starch, if the rain soaks the grain for too long then the enzymes within the grain will break down the starch and turn it to sugar; the seed then starts to grow using the converted sugars. There is a test called Hagberg in which you grind the grain to flour, put a measured amount in a tube and let a steel ball drop down through the mix of flour and water in the tube. The speed it goes down lets you know whether the wheat grains have started to germinate as the sugars get dissolved in the water thus allowing the steel ball to drop through the remaining flour in suspension (less starchy flour in suspension=less viscosity).
Monday’s mowing session was the last for this meadow- we have mown all the richer wild flower sections of Victoria Avenue so will move onto another area next week.
Nothing is ever easy, there is always something requiring immediate attention and this week it was the sewage- a pipe had snapped off in the pumping station… bit of a smelly job!
While spreading Monday’s mown hay we noticed that some more ragwort had come into flower. The insects like it but it had to go from the hay meadow. Last week I put a bit from Wiki onto the blog about the poisonous substances in ragwort- namely the Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids. I have been reliably informed that it is quite a minefield when one wants to know how poisonous it is. As with all things, some species of animals are more susceptible to the poisons than others. Sheep can detoxify the PAs much better than cows but, even within a species, things can vary ( as usual, the young of any species, including humans, are more susceptible). But… things get worse… ragwort can have different amounts of PAs within a single plant and even this can vary from year to year. When pulling ragwort one has to think about skin absorption ( this can happen if you don’t wear gloves but it is on a much much lower absorption rate than if you eat it). All in all it’s a tricky subject as ragwort is both valuable for biodiversity and a hazard for livestock keepers. So, at Wimpole we pull the ragwort from all the hay meadows but leave those plants on waste ground and margins away from hay meadows (mostly because there are not enough of us to pull it all anyway but also because this can be left for the wildlife)
Rain was forecast for the end of the week so, having checked the barley in the cock, we decided to bring it in as it must have been around the required 16% moisture content. First in was the Chevalier barley which we thrashed the old fashioned way with a flail (an exact copy of an original one in the Farm’s collection).
Thrashing was done by hand with a flail up until the advent of the thrashing machine. It was a winter’s job that a man could do to earn some money in a period when there was little work about. (One has to say it is a very dusty job but not as bad as you may think it is.) However, these new fangled machines began to put an end to this type of winter work causing much misery to the farm labourer. (In fact it caused the swing riots of the early 19th century.) Even the fourth Earl of Hardwicke commented on the strife it caused and the destruction and burning of thrashing machines around Wimpole.
Once thrashed the chaff and grain were put into the winnowing machine ( another dusty job made worse by those itchy awns)
The Nottingham Long-eared barley was next, but this time we put it through a small thrashing drum- that made quicker work! All in all we got three bushels of Chevalier and four bushels of Nottingham ( odd though as I sowed more of the former than the latter). As the Chevalier was sown first it was maybe eaten by the birds!
The Farm’s spring barley was ripe too- time to get their new Massey combine out. Although second-hand it looked pretty new to me and it wasn’t long before Albert had got the hang of driving it. Abi was driving the tractor and grain trailer and, by the evening, part of the Wildbarns field ( called Top Twenty), had been harvested. Plenty more to harvest so they are hoping for dry weather…