Life on Siø, an Island Farm, Denmark 1936

From my dad’s journal of memories: a story from his life on Siø farm when he was a teenager in Denmark during the dirty thirties.

The work in the fields went on but we were also digging ditches for drainage.

The biggest boulders were blasted with black powder, the holes for the powder done with hand-drills. The smaller boulders would be hauled out with horses and stone sleds.

At times there were very low tides where the crew hauled in boulders from the tide flats to bolster the dykes ringing the low-lying island.

Heather that had grown there for thousands of years had in some places left an iron deposit one to two feet thick about one and a half feet below ground. This bog iron was an export item during the iron age just as flint was an export item during the stone age.

This iron crust prevented drainage of rain water, meaning that we had to cut through the layer of iron crust to lay the drain tiles below it.

In the process of digging the drainage ditches we found stone age tools going back to the earlier stone age when Denmark was settled about ten thousand years ago. This was when people had learned to polish flint interestingly. I learned lately that it was only in Denmark that they did that and that such stone tools had become a collector’s item in ancient Egypt.

A foot below ground we often found rings of stones with ashes which had been camp fires for the Swedish army when it marched through there during the religious wars in 1600.

The grain and seeds grown and harvested during the summer were stacked and stored in a huge barn. When the weather was bad in winter, the old tractor was belted on to the threshing machine as we did not have electricity.Dad's painting of the Sio farm in Denmark, 1932In the second summer I was on the island, my uncle tore down one old building and rebuilt it, the one that housed the windmill stable and housing for the farmhands. It was all modernized and later, after I had left, he built a new barn for a hundred milk cows, another for a large number of pigs and finally a large new mansion in the same style as the old one.

The money came from seed crops of clover, cabbage, and sugar beets, but he also had a large mortgage on the farm.

The island was as fertile as the land of the Nile Delta and was subjected to many of Egypt’s ten plagues. The flies came in so thick that the walls in the pig barn turned black with them; we sprayed the walls with lime. The mosquitoes in the summer evenings formed big clouds and hummed like electric motors.

Rats gnawed their way in to the buildings and we waged war on them, shooting them at night when they came out to feed. Hares multiplied as much as the rats did and hunts took place using nets stretched across the narrowest part of the island with the hares been driven towards the nets and captured. Being a vigorous strain they were sold to hunting clubs across the country to improve the hares there.

Migrating ducks and geese came by the thousands and when the thousands of seagulls nested off a couple of small islands we would wade between them and pick out fresh-laid eggs on which we feasted.

The long winter evenings on the farm passed with reading and playing cards in the light of coal oil lamps. Sometimes my aunt Elna would gather the family and farm hands for an evening of sing-song of mostly hymns with her as the lead singer. She would have been nicknamed the ‘Grand Old Lady’ if she had been a pioneer woman in the wild, wild west.

Editor/Daughter’s Note: There were no bridges to the other islands when my dad was living on Siø in the 30s so the farm was quite isolated, especially in the winter. His uncle had purchased a boat to take the produce and livestock over to Langeland and hired an old skipper and his family to run it. Dad started spending a lot of time with the old skipper’s family and began talking of spending his life at sea, something that so alarmed his family they sent him off to a less-isolated farm.Dad's Denmark: Sio

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