May 10, 2021
Farming, at its essence, has offered, and still does, a set of opportunities for man to work in communion with nature. Farming is always best as a calling, as a soul’s livelihood, as a grandparent’s handoff, as a hand on a planting stick with heart to the magic. Farming is that everyman’s punch card to self-sufficiency and holy order. All of these reasons and more are why I say farming is a sacred trust; one of the sublime possible marriages of man to nature, nature to man, wherein sustenance is the outcome because nature – worshipped, sweet-talked, coaxed, listened to, courted, fed, groomed, honored and stewarded in minuscule ways and at minuscule stations – allows it so.
May 4, 2021
The true ‘Jackson Fork’ is arguably the single most iconic product invented by Byron Jackson, of early 1900’s San Francisco – but it was by no means the only important innovation/product Jackson engineered. As these old cuts testify, he designed many devices and systems for forage handling. Some, like the Threshing Outfits, were geared for handling large volumes of grain crop.
May 5, 2021
The rising sun had not yet drunk the dew from the grass in the dooryard of the line cabin when the man mounted the forward hub of the prairie-schooner and bent a final glance into the dusky interior to make sure that nothing had been forgotten. He inventories the contents with his eye: a mattress for his wife, baby boy, and little Nellie to sleep on: blankets and comforters – somewhat faded and ragged – for himself and Roy to make a bunk of, on the ground; a box of extra clothing, cooking utensils, a lantern, rope, shotgun, family Bible – badly tattered – and a hen-coop, containing seven pullets, lashed to the end-gate. A wooden bucket hung from the rear axle-tree, to which was also chained a black and white setter. The only superfluous article seemed to be a little mahogany bureau, battered and warped, but still retaining an air of distinction which set it apart from the other tawdry furnishings, and marked it as a family treasure.
May 6, 2021
Gain always points to increase reflecting back on fertility. The word ‘gain’ in the manner to which I prefer its use and application NEVER, by definition, depletes. Whether you accept my terminology or not, it should be clear that I and many like me refuse to accept as our goal the maintenance of the status quo. We chose to work to increase fertility, increase health, increase biodiversity, increase market community, increase income, increase positive reputation. We choose GAIN, not sustainability. And that is good news.
May 7, 2021
I have a thought for another circle letter discussion. I would like to hear what folks feel it takes to work successfully with horses. How folks deal with their horses in all their moods and in all the different situations presented to them. When I started driving I found the hardest thing for me was working with my horses when things were just not quite right. Many of my attempts seemed to make things worse, though we would always seem to get through the day. I found my ideas on what it takes to drive horses successfully to be changing almost daily as I feel I am slowly stumbling onto an approach that works.
Explore Small Farmer's Journal: Crops & Soil
The amount of manure produced must be considered in planning a cropping system for a farm. If one wishes to manure one-fifth of the land every year with 10 tons per acre, there would have to be provided two tons per year for each acre of the farm. This would require about one cow or horse, or equivalent, for each six acres of land.
There are three general divisions or kinds of graftage, between which, however, there are no decisive lines of separation: 1. Bud-grafting, or budding, in which a single bud is inserted under the bark on the surface of the wood of the stock. 2. Cion-grafting, or grafting proper, in which a detached twig, bearing one or more buds, is inserted into or on the stock. 3. Inarching, or grafting by approach, in which the cion remains attached to the parent plant until union takes place.
It’s the sweet smell of Spring that drew me to the Hedmark Farm in Fence, Wisconsin. An immense cloud of steam billows from the sugar shack. It’s sugarin’ time! Here Milan and Vita Hedmark, along with their whole family (three generations), work to drill holes for 1,100 taps. They tapped a week before the sap ran this year. Sugarin’ requires a combination of freezing nights and warm days to start the sap flowing.
A big focus of tillage for our dryland market garden is improving rainfall infiltration and moisture retention. Beginning with skim plowing in the early 80’s, we have added a half dozen shallow tillage practices to maintain moisture conserving residues in the top of the soil. Recently, we were introduced to an objective method for measuring and comparing these moisture preserving practices, thanks to joining the Soil Health Benchmark Study conducted by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture. One of the benchmarks for this research project, which includes over 60 vegetable, grain and dairy farms, is tillage intensity. This numerical index is based on the Soil Tillage Intensity Ratings developed by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The Brassicas have received too little attention from botanists. The inevitable outcome of such neglect or of any superficial study is a reduction of species, and in this direction Brassica has suffered greatly. The most perplexing species in our manuals are those which contain the greatest number of old types or synonymous names. It is true that this is supposed to be primarily due to the variation of the species or groups, but it is often to be charged to superficial study or insufficient material. Our manuals contain too few rather than too many species of Brassica; at all events, the miscellaneous dumping of rutabagas, turnips, rape and other plants into Brassica campestris is unnatural, and, therefore, unfortunate.
Our compost piles will age for at least a year before being added to the garden. We have learned that the slow aging is more beneficial to the decomposition process as well as not losing nearly as much nitrogen to off-gassing as happens with the hot and fast methods. Another benefit is the decomposition is much more thorough, destroying weed seeds, pathogens and any unwanted chemicals much better in a slower composting setup.
Any claim about winter production of fresh vegetables, with minimal or no heating or heat storage systems, seems highly improbable. The weather is too cold and the days are too short. Low winter temperatures, however, are not an insurmountable barrier. Nor is winter day-length the barrier it may appear to be. In fact most of the continental US has far more winter sunshine than parts of the world where, due to milder temperatures, fresh winter vegetable production has a long tradition.
The economics of commercial beekeeping on a small scale is changing rapidly as well. All the problems honeybees are facing, here and worldwide, have sent the value of bees and bee products trending sharply up. Weather problems, and a huge global expansion of the corn and soybean monster has killed the world’s surplus of honey. In the U.S., commercial beekeepers are focused like zombies on pollinating the California almond crop, and so have further reduced their ability to produce surplus honey and bees for sale. At the same time that U.S. commercial beekeeping is circling down in a death spiral, hobby beekeeping is booming and almost every beekeeping club in the country has at least twice as many members as it did twenty years ago. What this means is that if you are fortunate enough to live in a place with relatively clean and varied sources of pollen and nectar, the potential for a successful family-sized commercial apiary is better now than it has been for many decades.
There is a great potential in establishment of a seasonal “sugarbush” industry for small farmers of the northwestern states, particularly western Oregon and Washington. Five syrup producing species of maples are found mainly east of the Rocky Mountains. The Box Elder and the Big-leaf Maple are the only syrup producing maples of the Pacific Northwest. Properly made syrup from these two western maples is indistinguishable from the syrup of maples of the midwestern and northeastern states.
Fruit trees should always be planted in a sunny location. Full sun encourages vigorous growth, while discouraging fungal disease. A minimum of six hours of sun is requisite. Avoid planting near the edge of a woods, which may seem sunny, but allows little direct light. Also, choose a site that has good, but not excessive, air flow. Upland slopes that run perpendicular to prevailing winds are the ideal. Valleys often have troublesome frost pockets; hilltops expose trees to temperature extremes and drying winds.
These photos were taken mostly in hilly country around Wonju during 1976-1977. I am not an expert on farming in Korea. I just got out whenever I could to watch and photograph. You can’t begin to imagine how hard they work and how resourceful they are. I was not aware of any government subsidy programs. Their crop insurance was the family, and families helped each other particularly during planting and harvest.
Wood has certain advantages as a fuel, which many people nowadays have not considered. Wood is clean and free from disagreeable dust; it produces little smoke or soot when properly burned. A cord of hardwood leaves only 60 pounds of ashes, while a ton of hard coal will make 200 to 300 pounds. The wood ashes, moreover, have fertilizing value. Wood begins to burn at a comparatively low temperature, so that a wood fire is easy to start and can be maintained at a lower ebb than a coal fire, when only a small output of heat is needed. For cooking, a wood fire need not be kept burning so long as a coal fire and is less likely to overheat the kitchen in warm weather.
The original bush of this very promising new raspberry appears to have been found by Mr. Ulysses Eaton at Cambridge City, Indiana, as a chance seedling in his berry field in 1885. He propagated this and planted it for his local market. In 1898 accounts of the large size and fine quality of its fruit reached Mr. Amos Garretson, who visited the discoverer and, being impressed with the value of the variety, secured some plants of it from Mr. Eaton for testing at his home at Pendleton, Indiana.
The whole secret of the growth of these products before the regular season is in the cropping and the soil. Every inch of soil bears at least three crops a year, each of them anticipating the season and therefore producing fancy prices. The soil is regarded by the gardeners as of so much value that, as explained, there is a special clause in the lease that they are at liberty to cart it away to a depth of eighteen inches if they give up the farm at the termination of the agreement. The ground is so precious that no space is allowed for a wheelbarrow path. The loads are all carried in baskets and not a square inch is allowed to go to waste in this rich garden.
I have grown potatoes in my garden for many years and agree with the French: the flowers are gorgeous. They may be white, pink, red, blue and purple. I favor Yukon Gold, which produces purple flowers with brilliant yellow anthers and stigmas. Perhaps I am biased, but I don’t think any other flower is so beautiful.
The gardener’s work, in almost every thing he does, is to co-operate with Nature. To the extent he learns how to do this, his efforts will be rewarded by success. His problem really is to discover the things he can do that will actually be working with nature, and not counter to her way of doing things. The “improving on nature” which one hears much about is in reality merely lending her a helping hand, by following the tips she herself gives. When we interpret these tips correctly and are guided accordingly, it means successful gardening.
An edible tuberous root, much prized in North America, a staple article of food in all the southern states, and also much consumed in the North. The Sweet Potato plant is a trailing vine of the morning-glory family. The branches root at the joints. The edible tubers are borne close together under the crown and unlike the common potato they do not bear definite “eyes.” The varieties differ greatly in length of vine and the “vineless” Sweet Potato has a bushy habit. Good commercial varieties that are well cared for rarely bloom, and even then the flowers may not produce seed. The plant is tender to frost. The species is widely distributed in tropical regions but is supposed to be of American origin.
Grasshoppers, both young and old, injure crops in but one way, that is, by gnawing and devouring them wholesale, and where very numerous they have been known to consume almost every green thing in sight. Even the bark on the tender twigs of trees is eaten by these ravenous insects, which are known to gnaw the handles of agricultural tools, such as hoes and rakes, in order to secure the salt left upon them by the perspiring hands of the farmer.
Delay ridge building until early fall so that the cover crop on the ridge does not grow more than 12” tall before winter. The residues from a short cover crop will be much less challenging to cultivate than a tall stand of oats, especially if tangly field peas are mixed in. Waiting for the winterkilled cover crop residues to breakdown as long as possible before ridge-tilling in the spring will also make cultivation much easier until you gain familiarity with the system.
We’ve been savoring the first forsythia blossoms in the Finger Lakes (yes, they’re edible!) And they inspired me to share our favorite edible flowers with you. (There are a lot!) Edible flowers are the best of all worlds, nourishing us in so many ways with their beauty, well beyond calories.
In making the resin and beeswax waxes, the materials are first broken up finely and melted together. When thoroughly melted, the liquid is poured into a pail or tub of cold water. It soon becomes hard enough to handle, and it is then pulled and worked until it becomes tough or “gets a grain,” at which stage it becomes the color of very light-colored manila paper. When wax is applied by hand, the hands must be well greased.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Farmer’s Bulletin No. 1184 Issued 1921, Revised 1941 — The evident preference of the Chinese for the wild root and the unsatisfactory state of the general market for cultivated ginseng have caused grave doubts as to the future prospects of the industry. These doubts will probably be realized unless growers should strive for quality of product and not for quantity of production, as has been the all too common practice in the past.
How much compost to use for growing produce may be a more pressing question for many growers than the timing of application. Soil testing, crop recommendations, nutrient budgeting and field observations are some of the common methods for determining compost rates. Although we have used all of these tools over the years, our guiding principle has been kind of arbitrary: we use the manure produced by our work animals. With three to four horses for 3 ½ acres of vegetables, that comes to one horse per acre and a current application rate of 5-6 tons/acre.
Years ago, my brother advised against plowing the patch of prairie on the back forty of our Hubbard, Iowa farm. “Some day,” he predicted, “that prairie will be as valuable as the rest of the 40 acres. We know how to grow corn; but that prairie was seeded by the last glacier.” Left untilled by generations of my family, the troublesome treasure has now become a jewel among a cluster of conventional crops on the farm.
This information appeared in L.H. Bailey’s Cyclopedia of American Agriculture from 1900. It was one approach to field design at a time when rotation was king. Though the menu of crop succession is important and useful, we find the sterile approach to field reshaping, in the name of “efficiency,” to be harsh and somewhat suspect. With the return of our small farms and good farming comes a renewed interest in the powerful tool of crop rotation. It preserves soil, builds soil, activates the calendar year in helpful ways and spreads the farmer’s risk.
By proper methods of tillage, crop rotation, or green manuring, and even by the application of fertilizers, the interaction between prevailing soil conditions and biological phenomena may be modified so as to promote the activity of desirable micro-organisms and retard the development of the undesirable ones.
Wheat is a plant of vast economic importance, widely distributed over the civilized world and having a history coincident with that of the human race. The grain is used largely for human food, chiefly as food-stuffs made from its flour, and in the form of breakfast food. The by-products of its manufacture are used as stock-food. The grain, whole or ground, is also valuable for stock feeding.
After the field has been thoroughly prepared in the way of plowing and fertilizing, which should have been done at least two weeks before the plants were set out, the rows should be laid off from 3 to 4 feet apart. The plants may be set from 2 to 4 feet apart in the row, varying with the varieties to be used and the soil. Tillage should be continued, and varied according to the conditions of the weather.
Cabbage is the most important vegetable commercially of the cole crops, which include cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, kohlrabi, collard, broccoli, and many others. It also ranks as one of the most important of all vegetable crops and is universally cultivated as a garden, truck and general farm crop. The market for cabbage, like that for potatoes, is continuous throughout the year, and this tends to make it one of the staple vegetables.
Views of any and all modern farming stir questions for me. The most common wonder for me has been ‘how come we haven’t come up with a something to replace plastic?’ It’s used for cold frames, hotbeds, greenhouses, silage and haylage bagging and it is used for mulch. That’s why when I read of this new Swedish innovation in specialized paper mulching I got the itch to scratch and learn more. What follows is what we know. We’d like to know more. LRM
Beans are picked by hand. Payment is usually at a given rate per pound or basket. A worker’s earnings depend on the quantity of beans picked. In a given field, the quantity of beans a worker picks depends mostly on two things: How you do the work, and, how steadily you work. Skill in doing the work is acquired through practice of good methods. The things that a skilled picker does to make every move count are the following:
The earth’s green carpet is the sole source of the food consumed by livestock and mankind. It also furnishes many of the raw materials needed by our factories. The consequence of abusing one of our greatest possessions is disease. This is the punishment meted out by Mother Earth for adopting methods of agriculture which are not in accordance with Nature’s law of return. We can begin to reverse this adverse verdict and transform disease into health by the proper use of the green carpet – by the faithful return to the soil of all available vegetable, animal, and human wastes.
Hard red spring wheat is grown principally in the north-central part of the United States, where the winters are too severe for the production of winter wheat. The States of North Dakota, Minnesota, and South Dakota lead in its production. About 14 million acres of this class of wheat are grown annually in the United States, comprising about one-fourth of the total wheat acreage in the last 10 years.
We have a double standard for planting density in the bio-extensive market garden. We plant all the vegetables in widely spaced rows to insure plenty of moisture, fertility and air circulation for each plant. For the cover crops in the fallow lands, we take just the opposite approach, seeding at a high density to quickly provide ground cover, weed suppression, and biomass. One reason we have been slow to adopt cover crop cocktails is the very low recommended seeding rate — sometimes as little as 30 lbs per acre — in order to give all of the different species in these diverse mixes lots of room to grow. The mental shift to planting cover crops at a density comparable to our widely spaced vegetables has not come easily.
The Persian, often called English walnut, had been brought to Europe during Medieval times by traders from south central Asia. Its value as a nut and furniture wood crop was well known throughout the Old World by colonial times. Early Americans soon realized that the native American black walnut was just a bit different from its Eurasian relative. First of all, the New World tree grew bigger than its cousin. Secondly, its nut meat, while equally edible and nutritious, was stronger tasting. Thirdly, unlike the relatively easy to crack shell of the Persian walnut, the American’s shell was extremely hard, difficult to smash.
The structural management of a clay soil is not such a simple problem as that of sandy one. In clays and similar soils of temperate regions the potential plasticity and cohesion are always high because of the presence of large amounts of colloidal clay. When such a soil is tilled when wet, its pore space becomes much reduced, it becomes practically impervious to air and water, and it is said to be puddled. When a soil in this condition dries, it usually becomes hard and dense. The tillage of clay soils must be carefully timed. If plowed too wet, the structural aggregates are broken down, and an unfavorable structure results. On the other hand, if plowed too dry, great clods are turned up which are difficult to work into a good seedbed.
This summer, Kristi Gilman-Miller took half a hundred photos of partner Ed Joseph and I using McCormick-Deering #9 mowers to cut down Triticale grass mix hay. The crop would have been much better if we hadn’t been visited night-time by as many as 300 Elk looking for water and green feed. We planted in seven acre lands a quarter of a mile wide as we were recording variables in plantings for our research into the best future crop rotations. We were very impressed by the Triticale, a cross between Rye and Wheat, which makes a grain hay the cattle and horses love.
If it weren’t for the maple syrup season, March could be a very long month. Too early to plow and too muddy to do much else, it’s still a great time to be outdoors. And at Malabar Farm State Park, the legacy of the late Louis Bromfield, March is Maple Syrup Festival time, a time for everybody to get together after a long winter, to renew old acquaintances and to show the new generation what tapping maple trees and boiling sap to make maple syrup is all about.
My apple orchard has only recently begun to bear fruit, but I have learned many things by the “school of hard knocks” which I wish I had known before. Perhaps these remarks may save some time and trouble for others thinking of setting out apple trees in a cold and demanding climate. Northwestern Maine, where I live, appears on the climate map as Zone 3, and area frost pockets even get down to -45 degrees F.
A program for the control of wind and water erosion has been set up in every part of the United States. Large scale erosion control demonstration projects are being established. Hundreds of engineers and agriculturists have been hired to supervise this work. CCC boys are doing much of the physical work in remodeling farms and watersheds, building terraces and dams, and planting trees for shelter-belt protection as a means of controlling wind and water erosion.
My gardening career extends from the late 40s to the present. I am not a certified master gardener who has achieved acclaim and fame. Vegetable production has been fairly substantial with a scope of hundreds of jars canned, quarts frozen, and bushels dried almost every year. Eighty-five percent of the food we eat is produced on our farm and in our gardens. As we have worked in the agrarian life style, we have learned many lessons which have come in the form of failure – missed expectation. Perhaps some of our experiences will help you.
Decaying vegetable matter, a uniform and rather low temperature, a uniform supply of moisture, – these are the general requisites for Mushroom-growing. The decaying matter is supplied by horse manure. The manure is allowed to heat and is turned several times before it is placed in the bed. The heating itself is probably of no advantage except as it contributes to the decay of the material: heat can be supplied by other means if necessary. The broken and decaying manure is placed a few inches or a foot deep in beds. When the temperature is reduced to 90 degrees or less the spawn is planted. As soon as the bed has cooled sufficiently, it is covered with earth or litter to regulate the temperature and moisture.
For many years there has been a strong tendency in the American fruit trade to urge that fruit growers reduce the number of varieties in their commercial plantations. When commercial fruit growing was developing out of the old-time family orchard, with its succession of varieties ripening throughout the season, such advice was undoubtedly good for the average individual planter, but there appears good ground for the belief that a point has been reached in several of our orchard fruits where a wider range of season and quality would result in a steadier net income from the fruit crop, and therefore in a sounder business condition in the fruit industry in many sections.
According to Walter Conrad Muenscher’s 1935 classic handbook, Weeds, “The Canada thistle is one of the most feared weeds in the United States.” Judging from the number of desperate requests we have received on how to deal with this prickly perennial, Canada thistle still strikes terror in the hearts of innocent farmers across the country.
When Clovis Gold passed away not quite two years ago at the age of 93, he was perhaps the last of a vanished ilk: the tomato growers of Union City and Hurley, Missouri. For half a century this industry was a mainstay of these communities in addition to many other towns. Although some Ozark settlers in antebellum times believed that tomatoes were poison, this notion was about gone by 1870. Perhaps the privations of the war, and the lawless days of Reconstruction, made people desperate enough to eat those “ornamental” fruits… and find them delicious!
Whether located in a suburban setting, or a rural one with limited available acreage, small farmers are always facing a perennial problem – not enough room. However, right under a small farmer’s nose, on almost every city lot or nook and cranny of an oddly shaped rural parcel, there’s a home for some fruit or vegetable. Maybe that sliver of ground is only a few square feet, has limited sun, is in a ditch or against a wall or fence, but some certain garden plant or animal would love to call it home.
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The Cow That (Almost) Barked • Side Show Stunt • Penny the Piglet • Rhyming Riddles