Small Farmer's Journal

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by Charles Capaldi

Dateline – May 1st, 2010

Today, Paul Bishop lives in Houston, Texas.  But his farming roots reach far back into a childhood with time well-spent on his grandparents’ farm in Tennessee.   Now that he’s a grown up, with a day job requiring a deft hand at tying a tie, Paul’s farming consists of  a couple 18″-deep raised beds set right on the lawn.  He trucked in a pile of black, fertile, organic soil and planted his crop right there.  When he told me that, I knew that I had a kindred spirit on the other end of the phone.  I also know from the indoctrination tapes on the interstate as you drive into the Lone Star state:  Everything in Texas is bigger, better and above all, warmer than most of the nation.  While a late season weather event left my Vermont garden blanketed in snow, Paul’s cukes are blooming in Houston.   Blooming that is, unless the cucumber beetles arrive first.

And arrive they have …

“At first I thought they looked like big, yellow lady bugs.” Paul said, “Then I looked them up on the web and they turned out to be striped cucumber beetles.”

Paul did what most of us would do in our right mind.  He ran out to a local garden supply store and asked what he could use.  Sure enough, the clerk sold him a bottle of something he promised would work and that he reassured him, was indeed organic.  Of course, the idea that we can just spray something on our crops to protect them from predators, or add something to our soil to make everything grow better, oversimplifies the relationship between the relative order of a kitchen garden and the chaos of nature.  Where the raison d’être of a garden supply store is to sell you something, the raison d’être of an organic garden is to find that balance between order and chaos.

In a small garden, picking off any visible beetles only takes a few minutes each day.  My youngest son regularly cashes in his haul of potato, asparagus, and Japanese beetles to the tune of a penny a piece – and then promptly feeds the contents of his container to the chickens who provide the service of turning them into eggs.  We also use floating row covers to confound the wee beasties – Remay, for instance,  is a woven horticultural fabric, permeable to light, air and water.  At its simplest, it can be laid directly on top of the crop to confound the pests whose stomachs are way bigger than their brains.

Unfortunately, living in the great North, just about everything blows away in the wind, so we borrowed a page from Eliot Coleman’s books (The Four Season Harvest and now,

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Spotlight On: Farming Systems & Approaches

Starting Seeds

From Dusty Shelves: A WWII era article from Farming For Security

LittleField Notes Seed Irony

LittleField Notes: Seed Irony

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They say to preserve them properly, seeds should be kept in a cool, dark place in a sealed, dry container. Yet the circumstances under which seeds in a natural environment store themselves (so to speak) seem so far from ideal, that it’s a wonder plants manage to reproduce at all. But any gardener knows that plants not only manage to reproduce, they excel at it. Who hasn’t thrown a giant squash into the compost heap in the fall only to see some mystery squash growing there the next summer?

Cultivating Questions Winterkilled Cover Crops for a Mild Climate Part 2

Cultivating Questions: Winterkilled Cover Crops For A Mild Climate Part 2

Finding just the right cover crop-tillage combination for crops planted the last half of June has always been a real challenge in our location. While surface-tilling mature rye and vetch in May works well for fall crops established in July and August, this cover crop-tillage combo does not allow enough time for decomposition and moisture accumulation for end-of-June plantings.

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Cultivating Questions: A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Market gardening became so much more relaxing for us and the horses after developing a Horsedrawn Guidance System. Instead of constantly steering the horses while trying to lay out straight rows or cultivate the vegetables, we could put the team on autopilot and focus our whole attention on these precision tasks.

An Introduction To Farm Woodlands

The farm woodland is that portion of the farm which either never was cleared for tillage or pasture, or was later given back to woods growth. Thus it occupies land that never was considered suitable, or later proved unsuitable, for farm enterprises.

The Shallow Insistence

…a life of melody, poetry and farming?

Organic To Be or Not To Be

Organic: To Be or Not To Be

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How do our customers know that we’re accurately representing our products? That’s the key, the reason that a third party verification system was created, right? I think this is the beauty of a smaller-scale, community-based direct market food system. During parts of the year, my customers drive past my sheep on their way to the farmers’ market. At all times of the year, we welcome visitors to our farm. In other words, our production practices are entirely open for our customers to see.

Biodynamic Meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm

Biodynamic Meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm

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One weekend I attended a Biodynamic meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm in Dorena, Oregon, in the Row River Valley, just east of Cottage Grove. I always enjoy seeing other food growing operations, as this is such an infinitely broad subject, there is always much to learn from others’ experiences. At this farm, draft horses are used for much of the work.

The Woodfired Bottom-heated Greenhouse Bench

Cultivating Questions: The Woodfired Bottom-heated Greenhouse Bench

It took several incarnations to come up with a satisfactory design for the bottom heated greenhouse bench. In the final version we used two 55 gallon drums welded end-to-end for the firebox and a salvaged piece of 12” stainless steel chimney for the horizontal flue. We learned the hard way that a large firebox and flue are necessary to dissipate the intense heat into the surrounding air chamber and to minimize heat stress on these components.

New York Organic Grazing Dairy

New York Organic Grazing Dairy

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The cows have fresh pasture after every milking — twice daily. They are also sometimes moved during the day — if I have miscalculated grazing needs. The goal should be to always have well fed cows. Cows coming in hungry, wolfing down their grain, are a sign of poor grazing management.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 2

How do you learn the true status of that farm with the “for sale” sign? Here are some important pieces of information for you to learn about a given selling farm. The answers will most probably tell you how serious the seller is.

Traditional Agriculture in Siberia

Traditional Agriculture in Siberia

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The agricultural system of the Old Believers has long been one of hand labor. Their homesteads (hozyastvas) were not intended for tractors or horses, with the possible exception of their larger potato fields. Traditionally the small peasant hozyastva has its roots in hand labor, and this has helped maintain the health of the land. Understanding the natural systems is easier when one’s hands are in the soil every day as opposed to seeing the land from the seat of a tractor.

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 1

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 1

I am certainly not the most able of dairymen, nor the most skilled among vegetable growers, and by no means am I to be counted amongst the ranks of the master teamsters of draft horses. If there is anything remarkable about my story it is that someone could know so little about farming as I did when I started out and still manage to make a good life of it.

LittleField Notes Farm Log

LittleField Notes: Farm Log

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My starting every column with a discussion of the weather set me to thinking about that old clichéd idea of talking about the weather; how it is all old men talk about downtown at the local coffee shop; how they sit for hours telling endless lies about how the snow was deeper, the nights colder and the hills steeper when they were young. However, clichés have basis in truth, and it is true that weather is a wonderful conversation opener.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 4

Assuming that you’ve found a farm you want to buy, next you’ll need to determine if you can buy it. If you have sold your property, and/or saved your money, and have the means to buy the farm you are sitting pretty. If you do not have the full price of a considered farm, in cash or any other form, you will likely have to look for financing.

Henpecked Compost and U-Mix Potting Soil

We have hesitated to go public with our potting mix, not because the formula is top secret, but because our greenhouse experience is limited in years and scale. Nevertheless, we would like to offer what we have learned in hopes of showing that something as seemingly insignificant as putting together a potting mix can be integrated into a systems approach to farming.

A Tour of Various Draft Farms

A Tour of Various Draft Farms

Amidst all of the possibility that is out there, all of the options and uncertainties, it helps to remember that there is also a strong community in the draft-farming world. What will serve us well within this great variety of farms and farmers is to keep in touch, to learn from one another’s good ideas and mistakes and to keep on farming with draft power.

To Market, To Market, To Buy A Fat Pig

Within so-called alternative agriculture circles there are turf wars abrew

Journal Guide