Back Issue Vol: 27-3
The Raquette Lake Railway was in its first year of operation, making it possible to travel by rail from New York City to Raquette Lake. The force behind this new rail service was Mrs. Collis Huntington, who announced to her wealthy husband that she would no longer endure the buckboard rides necessary to get to their camp, Pine Knot, on Raquette Lake. Like any new enterprise, railroads had start-up bugs. So, it was no surprise when the telegrapher from Raquette Lake sent this message to his counterpart at Clearwater: “WHERE NUMBER SEVEN? ONE HOUR OVERDUE HERE.” The resulting dialogue follows.
A friend had recently purchased 11 acres of ground and wanted to know if I thought that was enough ground to set up a viable farm to support his family. We have a fairly large farm of 24 acres in our area, probably considered nothing more than a garden to large-scale farmers. Yet from this farm we have been able to support our family entirely from our vegetable and fruit production. It was from this background that my friend asked for my input to assess his chances of becoming a farmer. To answer his question I sat down and wrote a letter outlining some points that I considered important for him to succeed in his quest. Following is that letter that I mailed off to him:
Our white garage faced south and here were stakes of tomatoes. The stalks were tied with twine. We stopped. My dad reached in to the front pocket of his khaki pants and pulled out a saltshaker he had grabbed on our way out of the kitchen. He picked a tomato, salted and bit into it, testing its taste and juiciness before passing it to me for a pre-breakfast treat. Each of us leaned forward, the juice spilling harmlessly on the grass.
First off these days I usually refer to myself as “that Bozo with the lines.” I like to tell people that up till now everything that I have done with horses was wrong. It is time to do it differently. I hope that my horses can forgive my explosions and dubious communications. I have had horses for 8 years now. There was a time a few years back where I actually thought that I knew what I was doing.
Although we were excited about being involved in this comprehensive research project, we must admit we had mixed feelings about doing the NEON enterprise budgets right from the start. Our reluctance was not due to going public with the numbers, but because economics has never been a driving force behind the goal setting and decision making we use on our farm. Right livelihood has always been a higher priority than profit. Consequently, most of our management practices have been based on what seems right for the land, for the animals, for our customer, ourselves, and the larger society – realizing all along that, being human, we will never get it absolutely right.
Wednesday, April 16 – With the help from a friend who made the mistake of volunteering to help out this morning, we cut up 350 lbs. of seed potatoes and then handplanted the early crop of Dark Red Norlands, Kennebecs and Carolas in seven rows along the north side of field 6. This was the first time we had tried ridge-tilling potatoes and it worked slick, using basically the same procedure as we used for ridge-tilling the peas except making the planting furrow deeper.
After three or four years we could see that the nature of our farming practices would continue to have detrimental effects on our soils. We were looking for a new approach, a routine that would be sustainable, rather than a rescue treatment for an ongoing problem. We decided to convert our fields to permanent planting beds with grassy strips in between where all tractor, foot and irrigation pipe traffic would be concentrated.
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.
One reason the no-till garlic may have been able to produce such a massive root system was due to the undisturbed soil being riddled with earthworm holes. Not wanting to destroy the beautiful soil structure created by the earthworms, we prepared the harvested garlic patch for planting a cover crop by fencing in our small flocks of laying hens to shred-and-spread the mulch of wheat straw in the no-till pathways. The birds also lightly tilled all this moisture conserving organic matter into the surface of the soil so a pass or two with the springtooth harrow was all that was necessary before seeding the winter cover of rye.
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.
By the time I get to the farm, the sun has set – leaving a soft yellow glow hanging over the yard. I park by the house and step into the brisk Turtle Mountain air. A Border collie slinks back into the shadow of the faded red, hip roofed barn, barking a required warning. The door to the milk room stands open, welcoming me into its offering of light. I had arranged to meet Larry and David Black here, specifically because David, Larry and Susan’s twenty-two year old son, has decided to become a farmer – which at his age and in our parts is a remarkable event. I want to know more about him and his family.
After talking to other Christmas tree farmers, who were encouraging, and reading up on planting the trees, I began a plan for a small Christmas tree farm. In February of last year, Jim and I and our work horse, Snip, ploughed up and disked an area to the east of our house. My “field of dreams” became my “field of screams” as rocks and boulders boiled up out of the earth. Only slightly daunted, I tackled the rocks. I raked, scooped, picked and dumped them for days. When the little plot was relatively clear, the fun began. I untied the strings and opened the brown paper bundles that contained my Douglas and Noble tree seedlings, and inhaled pure Christmas, pure magic!
The story is getting out that Michael, a local farmer, left his farm and family to join the Rural Life Defence Force (RLDF). And because the story is public now I expect its OK for me to let you in on some of the details – so we don’t go around making this into something it’s not. Michael put on his cleanest overalls a week or so ago, kissed his wife and kids good-bye, left a list of things to do for the neighbour’s boy and went to join his comrades at a blockade.
A good many farmers are coming around to the idea that it pays to invest a little bit more in a building at the start so as to get away from the upkeep expense later on. They are turning to clay tile more and more. The building material dealers and the rural builders are lining up with the farmers on this proposition. The lumber dealers are carrying in stock a line of all the commonly used sizes, and the builders are finding out that it is no trick at all to lay up a tile wall and make a good job of it.
But to all who really want to farm – to accomplish something in developing a high agriculture along sane and wholesome lines – I would say, “Do not have too large a territory.” Not that I advise a really small one, but simply one within reasonable bounds. For beyond a certain limit it is not the size that counts. Not far from where I am now writing, for instance, is a farm of eight hundred and fifty acres, of which certainly seven hundred are arable land; and at about the same distance in another direction is one of only seventy acres that produces more than the big one.
It is possible to have your animals strung out (4, 6, 8) and only have two lines. So you have a team line that comes like this (to the lead team) and yet no lines on the wheelers. Instead what you have is a tie in chain and a forked three point line hooked to halter rings and back to the lead bar or chain. This requires an equalizing double-tree set up to a lead bar or preferably a chain to the lead double-tree so there is an equalizing effect. All animals have to pull equal. There’s an equalizer with this and there are a variety of different ways of doing that. Basically the leaders step forward and pull along the bar or chain and literally pull these horses back for an equalizing effect.
Over these last twenty-seven years we have seen, and heard of, many examples of boomerang lives. Specifically speaking tales of people who made passionate and reasoned choices to become independent farm operators only to leave after awhile to return to urban lives and then, with the passage of time and the morphing of rationale, to look longingly back at those left-behind farm lives.
Squashes and pumpkins are very easy plants to grow, provided they are given a warm and quick soil. They are long-season plants, and therefore in the North they are very likely to be caught by frosts before the full crop has matured, unless the plants are started early and make a rapid and continuous growth early in the season. In hard, rough clay lands the plants do not get a foothold early enough to allow them to mature the crop. On such lands it is impossible, also, to plant the seeds early. As a consequence, nearly all Squashes are grown on soils of a loose and relatively light character.
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.
The sun shines on the plow as its share slices through the dark soil. The farmers hands tighten on the handles as the strong horse lurches forward starting another furrow. After finishing the row the farmer stops and wipes his brow on his shirt sleeve and fans himself with his straw hat. As he stops to rest for a minute or two, the farmer looks up at several smiling faces of young school children who have come to watch him. Is this a scene from the 1880s? Yes, but it is also a scene from the year 2003. The place is Carriage Hill MetroPark Farm, an 1880s recreated living history site in Dayton, Ohio.
What I have come to call the “triple tree trainer” is simply using a three abreast hitch to bring mules along slow and deliberate to train them to pull triple, double and single. I am certain that I am not the first to use this device as a training method. I first saw a tongue designed similar to this hooked to a restored fire engine at the Mule Day’s parade in California. It was then, as I studied the hitch, it occurred to me that it would be very useful in helping me overcome some difficulties in training mules to the tongue and to shafts.