Back Issue Vol: 44-4
It is my opinion that mowing hay, on the horse drawn farm, is one of the more pleasant jobs to be done there! You wait for a period of fair weather and when it comes there is often bright blue sky, high moving clouds and a small breeze stirring the tall grasses as you enter the field! The mowing, when using ground driven equipment, is a relatively quiet affair. There is the subdued noise of harness and chain, the deep breathing of the animals at work, the snick snick of the cutter bar in the hay, the murmur of gears and cogs meshing in the gearbox and the flow of the cut hay across the cutter bar as the mower advances. For me there is the pleasure of watching the play of muscles across a broad rump and the rise and fall of hocks and hooves on a strong pulling horse! I like the feel of the leather in my hands and the ebb and flow of contact with the horse’s mouth as we move across the field.
This past year like most shut-ins I’ve had time to read, write and sit quiet, but little met my need to face some ugly truths and quiet our political and social demons, until I came across this 2007 novel set in the Civil War, a ruggedly chiseled but beautifully rendered piece called COAL BLACK HORSE, by Robert Olmstead. The main character is a 14 year-old backcountry boy whose mother has a premonition, sends the boy to find his father and bring him home. They live in the Appalachian mountains, farming a high remote ridge in what is now West Virginia. The boy’s father has enlisted in the Union Army, and neither Robey Childs nor his mother Hettie knows where he is. But Hettie has heard that Stonewall Jackson has been killed, and her troubled visions and dreams lead her to send her boy out on this vague lifesaving quest.
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.
Over three inches of rain fell. There was mud everywhere. Horses and wagons tromped through deep gullies as did tractors and people. As the day wore on, it only got muddier. Still they came, young and old… to husk. This was my third year of attending the Indiana State Corn Husking Contest. I went the first year because I was curious. I remember hand-husking corn as a kid to “open up” the fields so Dad could get his corn picker in the fields without knocking any corn down. I wanted to try it that first year because of the memories. I met a lot of nice people, it was fun and I was helping to preserve a bit of history. Did I also mention that it feeds the competitive side of me? So, I came back last year and again this year. Yep, I am hooked.
Because their farm was selling, the horses needed to be moved out, but we weren’t quite ready yet. Our friends who had told us about them generously offered to keep the horses at their farm, with their Icelandics, for a few weeks while we finished fencing and stalls. When we arrived to help move them we were warned “Now this might take a while, because we can’t push Sokkull too hard if he doesn’t want to load, he could go down from the stress.” We were all a bit worried. However, when loading time came, he walked happily into the trailer, almost eagerly. “Oh boy, a trailer ride! Wonder where we’re going?” Prinsessa also loaded without any problems.
Looking back at the garden after seven months of the growing season, the time seems to have whizzed by, the hopes and expectations of March and April have been made, worked upon and revised, and now they have either been achieved or disappointed. Most years I keep a gardening/farming diary, usually the bare bones of sowing and planting dates, haying notes and veterinary treatments, and it is always a useful reference for the future, but whenever I have written more I never regret the extra detail. Last year however, I was too busy and preoccupied to write anything down and had to rely instead on the empty seed packets as a guide to what I grew, but this year of course I have these letters as reference, so next year it can’t fail to be great! Can it?
It’s hard to believe I’ve been scratching out this column now for something close to 11 years. You, dear readers, have been kind, indulgently suffering my random agrarian musings and generally not tossing too many rotten tomatoes. When I cast about for ideas for an upcoming column, I am often struck by a sense of panic – I have nothing left to say! Alas, I fear that my witicisms (so few) are used up, my best stories told, my romantic, sappy sentiments worn out, (these, I imagine, grow especially thin for those of you who want more about how to troubleshoot knotter problems on a 24T converted ground drive John Deere baler, and less about how I profited by watching a covey of ducks fly at 60 miles an hour up the river on a sultry early August afternoon while pausing from my work on said baler).
The new MINNESOTA Binder embodies every feature that is necessary to meet the demand for a binder that can be depended upon — not only to harvest this year’s crop, but each successive year’s under opposite and varied conditions. It is adverse conditions that test the mettle of a binder and if built to stand this strain without battle scars, then you know you have the kind of binder you need. The MINNESOTA binder is designed as a general-condition binder. It is heavier in weight because it is re-inforced to stand cutting on rough and hilly land. A MINNESOTA binder does not get out of alignment. It is easy running because it is equipped throughout with roller bearings. It is long lasting because the material of which it is made is in accordance with time tested specifications. Cheap material has no place in a MINNESOTA binder for its reputation is held higher than a profit.
The history and development of the new Pioneer Cultivator started in 2009 through a Horse Progress Days connection with two young men, Jelmer Albada and Ties Ruigrok from Netherlands. Both young men spent a few months working on local Amish farms to learn about animal husbandry and soil fertility. Jelmer returned to Horse Progress Days in 2012 with a presentation on shallow tillage practices that are gaining popularity in Europe and South America. Shallow Tillage originated in Europe where environmental regulations are much stricter than in America – thrusting them in the forefront of organic weed control. “But how is that possible?” was the question asked by many when they saw the pictures of Jelmer cultivating numerous rows of vegetables with a single horse.
These images came as patent documents in a group of other wagon related inventions from the 19th century. They were sent to us by Journal reader and friend Gail C. Millard. We give hearty thanks. LRM
Ever wonder where all that seed comes from when you place your midwinter seed orders? Many seed companies (as in retail seed catalogs) buy at least some of the seed they offer from commercial seed growers who have a highly mechanized operation. This allows us to have inexpensive seed that is widely available. A lot of these catalogs also contract small farm growers to provide those hard-to-find specialty seeds we all love. There are also seed companies who do all their own grow-outs for the seed they offer. All these companies will also run seed trials to test the qualities of new varieties they want to offer.
This past year a phenomenon occurred I had not heard of before that brought me mixed feelings. In the face of the nationwide quarantines and shelter in place mandates, people everywhere put out gardens. People who had not gardened before, those who had not in many years, and the regular gardeners did even more. This resulted in seed companies everywhere running out of seed relatively early in the year. Many of these companies had surplus stock that was completely wiped out. And then it happened again this year. As I said this brought me mixed feelings. The first was “Wow! This is great, more people are gardening than ever!” The next thought was a little more somber and perhaps selfish, “I may not be able to count on getting the seed I want when I want it.”
The frail kid has a strong heartbeat – and he’s sucking on my sweater. Good sign. I wrap him in a towel and nestle him in the hay. Then I tie his mother to the stall wall and milk her. The whole time a voice in my head says, ‘you never bottle-feed babies.’ If the doe can’t feed her kid, the kid dies and the doe is a cull. But here I am making a bottle of colostrum for this kid. If he doesn’t get this in him, he will die. Despite my “hands off” rule of farming, it just seems wrong in this case – especially after all his work to get to this point. When I have enough milk, I hold him close in my lap. With some struggle, he gets the hang of the bottle, downs it, and finally perks up a bit. His head stops bobbing and he looks right at me, his eyes trying to find my face. He’s tired and frail, but his belly is full.
Tomatoes should be started in hotbeds. To make the beds, select a sheltered place on the south side of a bank or erect some shelter on the north side from where the hotbed is to be made. Dig a hole about a foot deep, 8 feet wide and as long as needed; 18 feet long will give room enough to grow plants for twelve acres of Tomatoes. Use fresh stable manure; cart it out in a pile and let it lay three or four days, then work it over until it gets good and hot, then put it into the hole prepared for it, 8×18 feet, about 18 inches thick. Then place the frame, 6 x 16 feet, on the manure; that will leave one foot of manure outside of the frame; by this means the heat will be just as great at the edge of the bed as it is in the middle. Then place 4 or 5 inches of dirt on the manure and let it lie for a couple of days to allow the dirt to get warm. The sash is put on as soon as the dirt is placed. When the dirt is warm, rake it over to get it nice and fine, then sow the seed in drills which are made about 2 inches apart by a marker.
I could catch glimpses of this story as I walked through my dusty little farm; when I went past coulees full of dark moist places scattered with poplars and willow, chokecherries and sagebrush, causing my heart to ache… I wanted to explore that coulee forever. Sorting out the smells while flushing out prairie chickens and partridge. Listening to the wind blow through the fox and coyote smells as a horse snorts scents from his nostrils; I wanted to drink the water from the ever-flowing story well and discover all the moist, fertile grounds hidden in the dry prairie where I lived. So, first we follow the wind…
When I first looked intently at harnessed mules and horses and longed to understand how the system worked, it was the harness that confused me even more than the anatomy and movements of the animals, even more than the overall system. I saw a tangled basket of straps, chains, ropes, all seeming to have purpose. Yes, there were some diagrams in dusty libraries and old books and these did offer basic explanation of the structural design of some harness varieties. But those didn’t help me to understand in a truly useful way. It would be a few years before I would have my own first team and a pile of old harness to figure out. The little bit of book learning and diagram scanning I did failed to educate me. I have told the story before of how my innocence and arrogance got me into big trouble the first time I harnessed and tried to drive a team. Some of that tragedy came from the harness being put on all wrong, making it unable to function properly. That does not need to be the case with newcomers today.