Harvest Time

It’s that time of year when you look out into the fields and you see combines going up and down harvesting the crops all day long. Well this is exactly what we have been doing down on the farm here at Gressenhall. The only difference is that we have been harvesting our crops using the Suffolk Punch horses with an Albion reaper binder. The crops on the farm this year have consisted of oats, rye and barley.

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Harvesting the crops down on the farm

The workings and a bit of history behind the reaper binder:-

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Richard on the binder

The reaper binder does not only cut the crop but also binds it into sheaves. The cut stems fall onto a bed canvas, which then transports it to two other elevator canvases which nip the harvested crop together whilst moving it to the binding mechanism. The binding mechanism bundles the crop and ties a piece of twine around the bundle. Once tied, it is ejected from the side of the binder.

Our binder is an Albion 5a and dates back to the 1940’s. It was produced by The Harrison McGregor Works at Leigh who were established in 1873 by Henry Harrison and Alexander McGregor. The ‘Albion’ range or harvest machinery achieved high sales and a high reputation around the world.

The binder is designed to be horse-drawn, but can be adapted for use with a tractor. The main drive of the machine is produced by a ‘bull wheel’ or ‘land wheel’. When the wheel turns, it drives a chain which then drives a gear box that transmits its power down driveshafts to make all aspects of the binder work.

The earliest models of binders used wire because the tying of the sheaf could be made with a simple twist rather than a complicated knot. But this did prove to have some disadvantages: it made it more difficult to cut the wire tie, and there was always the risk of damage through pieces of wire slipping through to the mechanism of a threshing machine.

The automatic knotting (binding) mechanism for twine was developed in America during the 1860s. Binders using the device did not immediately become popular because the twine used was relatively scarce and costly. This changed during the 1880s as the volume of production in Mexico of twine, made from sisal hemp, became available. This meant that the twine tying binders quickly took over from the wire variety.

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The picture above shows the binder at work on a crop of Chevallier barley, a Victorian variety. From the seat the operator has a good view of the knotter and can regulate where the sheave is tied depending on the size of the crop. You can also see that our binder is a left hand cut, the size of the cutter bar is 5 foot and the sheaves are ejected from the right hand side. Another worker or two then follow up behind the binder stooking the sheaves in the field. This aids in the drying out of the cut crop.

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Binder traveling through cut sheaves and stacks

Now that the harvest is complete for this year, we can now look ahead to see what crops will go where and then start the preparation of the land. I cannot wait to learn all about ploughing with the horses!

Ben Preston – Heritage Farming Apprentice

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Summer Activities

With the summer taking hold and temperatures getting nice and high the vegetation around farm is really starting to grow. The grass on the field and track boundaries needs constantly cutting with either the tractor or graham and his lawnmower! However it is the river trail and boardwalk that is the area of Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse where there is a constant struggle between people and plants. The plants surrounding the river walk (especially the nettles!) require a lot of maintenance and cutting back to ensure that visitors can walk across our boardwalk and see our lovely river and wild flower meadows without having to battle through the greenery! For the odd jobs a pair of shears will suffice in trimming up edges and tackling the odd pesky weed, but when it gets a little too thick for shears and loppers the power tools must be brought out! We have several brush cutters at our disposal and with Ben, Dani, Scott and I (Tom) having recently undertaken a brush cutter course there are plenty of people around the farm to help tackle this problem.

One of the biggest advantages of the Skills for the Future project is the huge variety of training and learning opportunities available to us, one such opportunity was the chance to travel to various water and wind mills in Cambridgeshire. This gave me the opportunity to learn about how they are operated and the huge maintenance issues that the men and women who look after them face. I started off the course by visiting Lode Water mill at Anglesey Abbey, which has been fully restored to working condition and is used to mill flour which they sell on site. We then moved onto Wicken Fen mill which is an old fen drainage mill that has been moved and restored onto Wicken Fen but instead of draining it, it is actually used to move water from the river to the fen to maintain its moisture. From here it was a short trip to Wicken Corn mill which is a very impressive restoration project that is completely run and maintained by a group of volunteers. This mill is of a traditional Cambridgeshire design that mills a fairly high quantity of flour considering it is a traditional mill. The whole course was thoroughly enjoyable and extremely interesting; it was fantastic to see groups of such dedicated volunteers who have given up so much time and effort in order to maintain and run these buildings. The mills were very impressive when being run and they are all well worth a visit!

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Wicken Mill

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Lode Water Mill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the run up to Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse’s Village at War event local groups of Guides and Scouts are coming to camp on site and undertake all manner of war time outdoor activities.

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During their visit they will be building camp fires every night and so in preparation for this Hannah, Mike and I cut down a willow tree on the farm and processed it into pieces for firewood. It was a fairly large tree; you can see what remains of it from the photo! And so, hopefully the wood that we have given them should last them their many campfires which they are planning on having!

Over the summer holidays there is a new stamp trail to follow and a few new stamps to see (such as the hedge hog and frog). The normal trail boxes will be getting a new lick of paint before they go up so they can cope with the rest of the year’s weather.

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Bullhead (Cottus gobio)

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Stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus)

During the week we have been offering River dipping sessions to the visitors and they have been extremely successful and many creatures have been found over the past few weeks. Most people are lucky and catch a fish, such as Sticklebacks and Bullheads. Many parents remember catching these fish when they were younger and still enjoy the activity now (sometimes being more involved than their children). Other finds have included leaches (which all the children have liked but not all the adults), cased caddisflies, water fleas, water scorpions, damselfly nymphs and mayfly nymphs, midge larva, water beetles and greater water boatmen (backswimmers).All the finds have shown us that the river is able to support many species and that the water quality is good as well. We have had many enthusiastic comments from parents saying that they are really glad that river dipping is back at Gressenhall as its an activity both young and old can be involved in together.

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Water Scorpion (Nepa cinerea)

As well as river dipping we were involved in ‘Alice at Gressenhall’ making Jabberwockies.

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The idea behind this was to encourage people to make their mythical creatures from materials such as clay, pipe cleaners, acetate, crêpe paper and sticks and leaves.

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It was amazing to see what variety of creatures could be made from the materials we had.

 All the Jabberwockies were very good with some being scary, funny, beautiful and some being a mixture of many creatures creating very fascinating monsters.
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Hannah and Tom

Heritage Landscape Management Trainees