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: Book Reviews

Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide

How to Store Vegetables

Potatoes may be safely stored in bits on a well drained spot. Spread a layer of straw for the floor. Pile the potatoes in a long, rather than a round pile. Cover the pile with straw or hay a foot deep.


Driving Fence Posts By Hand

Where the soil is soft, loose, and free from stone, posts may be driven more easily and firmly than if set in holes dug for the purpose.

Build Your Own Earth Oven

An Introduction To Cob

Mixed with sand, water, and straw, a clayey-subsoil will dry into a very hard and durable material; indeed, it was the first, natural “concrete”. In the Americas, we call it “adobe”, which is originally from the Arabic “al-toba”, meaning “the brick.” Invading Moors brought the word to Spain from North Africa, where an ancient mud building tradition continues today.

An Introduction To Grasslands Farming

From Dusty Shelves: A World War II era article on grassland farming.

One Seed To Another: The New Small Farming

One Seed to Another

One Seed to Another is staggering and bracing in its truths and relevance. This is straight talk from a man whose every breath is poetry and whose heartbeat is directly plugged into farming as right livelihood.


Rotation As A Means Of Blight Control

Every farmer knows that when a crop is grown on the same field year after year, it becomes inferior in quality and the yield steadily diminishes.

Old Man Farming

Old Man Farming

Long after his physical capacities have dwindled to pain and stiffening, what drives the solitary old man to continue bringing in the handful of Guernsey cows to milk?

A Short History of the Horse-Drawn Mower

A Short History of the Horse-Drawn Mower

Book Excerpt: The enclosed gear, late model John Deere, Case, Oliver, David Bradley, and McCormick Deering International mowers I (we) are so fond of had a zenith of popular manufacture and use that lasted just short of 25 years. Millions of farmers with millions of mowers, built to have a serviceable life of 100 plus years, all pushed into the fence rows. I say, it was far too short of a period.

McCormick Deering/International No 7 vs no 9

McCormick Deering/International: No. 7 versus No. 9

McCormick Deering/International’s first enclosed gear model was the No. 7, an extremely successful and highly popular mower of excellent design.

Wheel Hoe

The Wheel Hoe: A Tool For Shallow Tillage

When we bought this little farm I soon realized I needed a wheel hoe. The size of the horse and tractor dictated space wasting wide rows in crop production and, to some degree, so does my two wheeled tractor.

Retrofitting a Fireplace with a Woodstove

How to Retrofit a Fireplace with a Woodstove

Because the venting requirements for a wood stove are different than for a fireplace you need to retrofit a stainless steel chimney liner. A liner provides the draft necessary to ensure that the stove will operate safely and efficiently.

Woodstove Cookery at Home on the Range

An Illustrated Guide To The Wood Fired Cookstove

Illustrated guide to the wood stove and it’s accoutrements.

The Horsedrawn Mower Book

Removing the Wheels from a McCormick Deering No. 9 Mower

How to remove the wheels of a No. 9 McCormick Deering Mower, an excerpt from The Horsedrawn Mower Book.

Work Horse Handbook

The Work Horse Handbook

The decision to depend on horses or mules in harness for farm work, logging, or highway work is an important one and should not be taken lightly. Aside from romantic notions of involvement in a picturesque scene, most of the considerations are serious.

Horsedrawn Plows and Plowing

Setting Up A Walking Plow

Here is a peek into the pages of Horsedrawn Plows and Plowing, written by SFJ editor and publisher Lynn R. Miller.

Work Horse Handbook

Work Horse Handbook

Horses are honest creatures. And, what I mean by honest is that a horse is almost always true to his motivations, his needs, his perceptions: if he wants to eat, if he needs water, if he perceives danger. He is incapable of temporarily setting aside or subverting his motivations to get to some distant goal. This is often mistaken as evidence for a lack of intelligence, a conclusion which says more of human nature than equine smarts. What it means for the horse is that he is almost never lazy, sneaky or deceptive. It is simply not in his nature.

Chicken Guano: Top-Notch Fertilizer

Whoever thought I’d be singing the praises of chicken poop? I am, and I’m not the only one. Chickens are walking nitrogen-rich manure bins.

Aboard the Planetary Spaceship

Aboard the Planetary Spaceship

SFJ Spring 2016 Preview: Edward O. Wilson’s new book, Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, offers a plan for the problem of species extinction: the dominant species, man, must hold itself back, must relinquish half the earth’s surface to those endangered. It is a challenging and on the face of it improbable thought, expressed in a terse style. But his phrases are packed because the hour is late.

Journal Guide