God speed to the Plough

January by the Limborg Brothers shows the unenviable Duc du Berry rolling about in food.

THE FARMERS’ PRAYER

Let the Wealthy and Great
Roll in Splendour and State,
I envy them not, I declare it.
I eat my own Lamb,
My Chicken and Ham,
I shear my own fleece, and I wear it.
I have lawns, I have bowers,
I have fruit, I have flowers,
The Lark is my morning alarmer.
So jolly boys now,
Here’s God speed to the plough
Long life and success to the Farmer.

Plough Sunday is the first Sunday after Epiphany.  Since the industrialisation of agriculture, we’re used to seeing the plough more or less follow the combine harvester in the early autumn. Even allotmenteers aim to get the plot dug over before Christmas, to let Mr Frost go to work on those walloping great clods.  But in the traditional agricultural year, the stubble was left to feed poultry and geese, and ploughing was left until after Christmas.

They used to take ploughshares to be blessed in the church; today some farming communities take their tractors (presumably only as far as the lych gate!).

Perhaps there was another reason for starting to plough now. We went out to the allotment today because it was sunny and not freezing cold, just a nice winter’s days like wot we used to have in the good old days before white Christmases! Most of our usual winter staples – the purple sprouting broccoli, the kales, the sprouts – were dead and the oriental greens had turned to mush. There was not much for us to do so we spread some muck around on the potato-patch-to-be. New ground, it had been dug over just before the November snow, and Mr Frost has indeed done his work. The clods are wet but crumbly and the manure has broken down very well. Just chucking it about seemed a ritual in its way, throwing dark brown on to mid-brown. It’s an earth day, for sure.

We tackled the compost bin yesterday, got everything turned over and aerated. It’s got two months now to turn into black gold and I think it’s going to make it. The sense of the moment is earth and potential. But then it hit me as we came home. It was four o’clock and still light. Plough Sunday they call it, but really it’s farmers’ New Year. May it be full of good things.

[Thanks to a site called RuSource for the information].

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