Loving spring from the bottom of my heart

There is an old adage that you shouldn’t plant potatoes until the soil is warm enough to sit on it comfortably with your bare bottom. It’s a farming rule. In these troubled times it is good to have one certainty to cling to, and this is mine.

I recently took my FACTS training, and the tutor, Jim Lewis, even mentioned the “bum test” in his course programme. Luckily for all concerned, it didn’t come up in my practical exam.

I’m not sure how this theory came about in the first place. Maybe it was a bit of blue-sky MAFF research from the post-war years – they had money for things like that back then. Junior technical assistants would presumably have put different parts of the body into contact with the soil under controlled laboratory conditions. It certainly brings a new meaning to the term “applied research”. The scientific community would have been rocked to its core to discover the best tool for soil sampling is a bottom and that it has to be nude.

My personal theory, however, is that the discovery was an accidental one; someone fell over without any clothes on while they were potato planting and liked the sensation. Being a potato grower is a lonely life and you take your thrills where you can find them.

As a conscientious farmer, I’ve been testing the field by the main road every day since the end of November. After months of recording ICY, COLD, COOL and DAMP, finally the experience is approaching COMFORTABLE and we are finally ready to start planting.

After months of winter, doesn’t it feel wonderful to be able to put your trousers back on and to start planting new crops? I love the optimism of launching into a new season. This is why I am so cheerful – I really enjoy this time of year.

I am especially optimistic because 2010 was my favourite year of farming so far. My pleasure was not entirely down to money, I’m not particularly avaricious, but it was definitely satisfying to see all of our enterprises showing a reasonable financial return for once. We have been quietly re-investing the profit in machinery for the past few months. This is a plan to prevent George Osborne getting his hands on it and wasting it on nurses, policing and repairing potholes.

Consequently we have a few new toys to play with this spring. We are precision-placing our nitrogen and phosphate and we have a new cultivator. Even more exciting is our late arrival at the GPS party – we have finally invested in a tractor with satellite-guided steering. Isn’t technology amazing? Who would have thought that science would one day make driving a power harrow even more boring than it was before?

My initial impression is that the severe cold weather has at least left us a good legacy. The frost mould is deep and the soil is in fantastic condition. Some neighbours are saying the soil conditions are “too good”, but with tractor fuel at over 70p/litre, I’m not inclined to agree. How can land be too comfortable to sit on?

Although most older readers have been bum-testing their land for years, I hope some younger readers have learnt something useful today. This is something every child should have learnt on their grandfather’s knee, but hopefully not while he was soil sampling.

Matthew Naylor, aged 37, farms 162ha (400 acres) of Lincolnshire silt in partnership with his father, Nev. Cropping includes potatoes, vegetables, cut flowers and flowering bulbs. Matthew is a Nuffield scholar.

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