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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Fjordworks Cultural Evolution Part 2

Fjordworks Cultural Evolution Part 2

Fjordworks: Cultural Evolution Part 2

by Stephen Leslie with technical assistance provided by Kerry Gawalt, both of Cedar Mountain Farm at Cobb Hill co-housing in Hartland, VT.

Meditations on the Amazing McCormick-Deering Riding Cultivator – Part Two

“There are places in this world, and in human hearts too, that are opposite to war. There is a kind of life that is opposite to war, so far as this world allows it to be.” — from the novel Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

Introduction

After two long and harrowing years of trekking for thousands of miles through the uncharted west most every man in Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery looked forward with unbridled anticipation to their imminent return to civilization. However, John Colter, an intrepid young huntsman from Kentucky, had not yet had his fill of wilderness. When the expedition encountered two trappers on the lower reaches of the Missouri in the spring of 1806 they were a mere six weeks out from St. Louis and near the end of their epic journey to the Pacific Ocean and back. Private Colter requested and received an early and honorable discharge from the Corps so that he could join ranks with the trappers. It would be another four years of hair-raising adventure among Indians and mountain men, lonely vigils through rocky mountain nights at -50 degrees, and sojourns into strange lands of boiling mud pits and geysers, before Colter (who nearly lost his scalp on several occasions to his longtime nemesis the warriors of the Blackfoot nation) finally made his way back to St. Louis.

Why did Colter leave his compatriots and return to the wilderness when every other man in the Lewis and Clark party yearned to return to the white man’s world? Did he have a sense of how quickly these wilds would be subjugated by the Americans and did this drive him to want to drink in as much of its pristine and untamed purity as he could? Meditating on the adventurous life of John Colter puts me in mind of another question: Why would anyone of the twenty-first century choose to “go back” to farming with horses? Unlike Colter, we modern small farmers have no pristine wilderness to escape to. We have to face a world of degraded eco-systems and a technocratic culture that is most often hostile to the honest challenges and simple gifts of the small farming way of life. Our choice to “go back” to utilizing animal traction cannot be understood as an escape or a retreat, but rather as a new corps of discovery that seeks pathways to a more sane, just, and sustainable civilization.

Just as Lewis and Clark needed to find the Shoshone tribe in order to trade for horses to make the crossing over the Great Divide, so too, do we small farmers require our horses to help us restore our land, to repair the fabric of our local communities, and to heal our human spirits. Those of us who have taken up driving lines to manage our fields and forests have the power within our hands to help steer the course towards a new cultural evolution. With the help of our horses we can begin to envision a society which utilizes power sources that will be a mix of renewable energy, the best of green technology, combined with the time-tested efficiency of draft animals used for traction.

Fjordworks Cultural Evolution Part 2

How We Use The Riding Cultivator At Cedar Mountain Farm

For more than ten years we cultivated our market garden with the walk-behind cultivator. This past season (2012) we made the transition to the riding cultivator. I really enjoyed using this amazing implement. Our current team of Fjords are now mature animals (14 & 18 years old) and have been working together for 11 years, so they were certainly ready to work quietly and walk slowly enough to be effective with this precision tool. We decided to take a second look at the riding cultivator after we increased the size of our market garden from 3 to 4 acres and we were gratified to discover how effective (and pleasurable to work with) the riding cultivator can be for weed removal and for throwing dirt into the row to cover tiny weeds in the crop row. Last time we tried to use one was about ten years ago when my relative inexperience as a teamster and our young horses made it impossible to do any finesse work — I only managed to cultivate very mature crops and as we were finding the single horse cultivator to be quite adequate, I soon gave up on it. But I would take it out and use it as a secondary tillage tool now and again, keeping the horses somewhat familiar with it, and keeping the potential alive for its future use.

A couple of years ago, inspired by my visits to Natural Roots Farm in Conway, Massachusetts where I observed David Fisher’s extensive use of the riding cultivator, I brought both McCormicks we had on the premises into the shop before winter set in and dug into them. I took things apart and cleaned, oiled, replaced rusted out bolts. As I worked I gradually began to get a sense of the marvelous complexity of possible adjustments on these machines. Both cultivators required a lot of penetrating oil and on one the master lever was bent and needed to be heated to be straightened, but overall they were in remarkably good condition.

Typical of most of these models that are still in use, there was some degree of sloppiness in the wheel hubs resulting in odd numbered measurements when we endeavored to re-set the wheel-base, but not enough to affect their performance in any appreciable way. Eventually, we discovered that when the hub caps are removed (they are threaded, so don’t try to pry them off) there are three options for the linch pins on the axle that allow you to tighten up some of the sloppiness due to wear. The axle hubs on these old models do not have any type of bearings, so keeping them well-greased becomes doubly important. There are grease caps affixed to the axle hubs. These are the predecessors of zerc points and grease guns, and have the same function of forcing grease into the moving parts of the machine. The grease caps are on top of a tapered tube, you force grease down this tube and into the hub by filling the cap and screwing it tightly back into place.(1)

The McCormick cultivators have a tilting lever that can adjust the tilt of the tongue in relation to the frame. This is very handy for adjusting the tool to accommodate different sized teams; the shorter the horses the greater the slope of the tongue and the greater the need to compensate with the master lever and particularly with the two independent depth levers that control the angle of the gangs. For hitching our draft ponies to the cultivator we need to have the tongue adjusted to slope downward from the implement to the yoke. This is worth mentioning because this is one of the few hitches in which this configuration will normally be seen. Our Fjords stand at just about 14 hands. We have the tilting lever set on its 2nd to furthest back setting and that does the trick for then allowing us to adjust the depth lever gangs so they meet the ground evenly with full penetration of the shanks front to back. Without the ability to make this tongue slope adjustment, hitching to a team with shorter legs would cause the gangs to tilt and result in inadequate penetration of the rearmost shovels. I imagine the ideal situation is to have horses of a height that allows the tongue to stay more or less level to the ground.

The length of the neck yoke and evener on a cultivator should be relatively close to the row width (in this way you can set things up so that horses, wheels, and track rippers all travel along the center line of the row paths). On the McCormicks the standard issue evener is 38”, but the way the single trees are attached from below (with three holes to adjust for different horse heights), and with an additional tie-rod anchoring them to the front of each corresponding gang, they have plenty of wiggle room to work well with whatever wheel-base setting fits your planting system. Most teams of horses can manage to walk side-by-side down to about 30” rows. Most gardening systems set up for horses use 32”, 36”, or 42” row widths. However, many vintage riding cultivators were built for 42”- 48” rows, which were common corn row widths in the early 1900s when most of these cultivators were built. The McCormick’s wheel base can be brought in to a 36” wheel base which allows for cultivating rows set as narrow as 32” without having the wheels cut into the crop rows to either side (initially we were using our McCormick with a 40” wheelbase but we found that for late season cultivation we were having some problems with riding over the outer leaves of leafy crops in adjacent rows, so this season we have brought the wheel base in to 36” to better match our 32” row spacing).

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Spotlight On: Crops & Soil

How to Grow an Acre of Potatoes

How to Grow an Acre of Potatoes

by:
from issue:

Heretofore potato production in this country has been conducted along extensive rather than intensive lines. In other words, we have been satisfied to plant twice as many acres as should have been necessary to produce a sufficient quantity of potatoes for our food requirements. Present economic conditions compel the grower to consider more seriously the desirability of reducing the cost of production by increasing the yield per acre.

Farm Manure

Farm Manure

Naturally there is great variation in manure according to the animals it is made by, the feeding and bedding material, and the manner in which it is kept. Different analyses naturally shows different results and the tables here given serve only as a guide or index to the various kinds. The manure heap, by the way, is no place for old tin cans, bottles, glass, and other similar waste material.

Prairie Grass A Jewel Among Kernels

Prairie Grass: A Jewel Among Kernels

by:
from issue:

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.

Carrots and Beets The Roots of Our Garden

Carrots & Beets – The Roots of Our Garden

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from issue:

Carrots and beets are some of the vegetables that are easy to kill with kindness. They’re little gluttons for space and nutrients, and must be handled with an iron fist to make them grow straight and strong. Give the buggers no slack at all! Your motto should be – “If in doubt, yank it out!” I pinch out a finger full (maybe 3/4” wide) and skip a finger width. Pinch and skip, pinch and skip, working with existing gaps and rooting out particularly thick clumps.

Cultivating Questions

Cultivating Questions: Concerning the Bioextensive Market Garden

One of our goals when we first started farming here was to develop the farm as a self-contained nutrient system. Unlike the almost complete recycling of nutrients which can take place on a livestock operation, we are always amazed – even a little disturbed – to see how many tons of fertility and organic matter leave the market garden each year with so little returned to the good earth.

Peach

Peach

by:
from issue:

The Peach is a showy tree when in bloom. There are double-flowered varieties, which are as handsome as the dwarf flowering almond, and they are more showy because of the greater size of the tree. The flowers of the Peach are naturally variable in both size and color. Peach-growers are aware that there are small-flowered and large-flowered varieties. The character of the flower is as characteristic of the variety as size or color of fruit is.

Raised Bed Gardening

Raised Bed Gardening

by:
from issue:

Raised beds may not be right for everyone, and our way is not the only way. I have seen raised beds made from rows of 5’ diameter kiddy pools, and heard of a fellow who collected junk refrigerators from the dump and lined them up on their backs into a rainbow of colored enameled steel raised beds. Even rows of five-gallon pails filled with plants count as raised beds in my estimation. Do it any way you care to, but do it if it’s right for you.

Cabbage

Cabbage

by:
from issue:

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.

Asparagus in Holland

Asparagus in Holland

by:
from issue:

The asparagus culture in Holland is for the majority white asparagus, grown in ridges. This piece of land used to be the headland of the field. The soil was therefore compact, and a big tractor came with a spader, loosening the soil. After that I used the horse for the lighter harrowing and scuffle work to prevent soil compaction. This land lies high for Dutch standards and has a low ground water level, that is why asparagus can grow there, which can root 3 foot deep over the years.

Cultivating Questions

Cultivating Questions: Follow-Up On Phosphorus

We like to think that the bio-extensive approach to market gardening minimizes the risk of overloading the soil with nutrients because the fallow lands make it possible to grow lots of cover crops to maintain soil structure and organic matter rather than relying on large quantities of manure and compost. However, we are now seeing the consequences of ignoring our own farm philosophy when we resorted to off-farm inputs to correct a phosphate deficiency.

What We've Learned From Compost

What We’ve Learned From Compost

by:
from issue:

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.

Making Sorghum Molasses

Making Sorghum Molasses

by:
from issue:

Growing sorghum doesn’t take much work, according to Buhrman. You plant it in the spring, work it a couple of times and that’s about all that’s required until late in the growing season. That is when the work begins. Before it is cut, all the stalks have to be “bladed” – the leaves removed from the stalks. It’s then cut, then the tassles are cut off, and the stalks are fed through a crusher. The crusher forces the juices out of the plant. The sorghum juice is then boiled in a vat for four to five hours until nothing is left but the syrup.

Starting Seeds

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

Cultivating Questions: Alternative Tillage & Inter-Seeding Techniques

Our intention is not to advocate the oddball living mulches we use with this single row inter-seeding system, but just to show how it is possible to utilize the between-row areas to improve insect habitat, reduce erosion, conserve moisture, fix some nitrogen, and grow a good bit of extra organic matter. If nothing else, experimenting with these alternative practices continues to keep farming exciting as we begin our twentieth season of bio-extensive market gardening.

Onion Culture

Onion Culture

The essential requirements of a soil upon which to grow onions profitably are a high state of fertility, good mechanical condition, properties – that is, if it contains sufficient sand and humus to be easily worked, is retentive of moisture and fertilizers, and is capable of drainage – all other requirements can be met.

Rice as a New Staple Crop for Very Cold Climates

Rice as a New Staple Crop for Very Cold Climates

by: ,
from issue:

If you were visiting Earth from some other planet and had to describe its inhabitants upon your return, you might say that the average person eats rice, and grows it as well, usually on a small scale. You’d be accurately describing the habits of over a quarter of the world’s population. Rice has a special story with an exciting chapter now unfolding in the northeast USA among a small but growing group of farmers and growers.

Swallow

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.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT