Back Issue Vol: 45-4
The beets that prompted this story grabbed my attention because they had been bred with flavor in mind. Specifically, these beets had been selected to be either very high or very low in geosmin, the simple twelve-carbon molecule that gives soil its distinctive earthy aroma. It’s long been known that beets have an earthy character; some people call them “dirt candy” while others say they just taste like dirt. Of the flavor components identified in beets, earthiness is the one that people most often dislike, so my doctoral advisor, Dr. Irwin Goldman, had wondered: If we bred a beet with less geosmin, would more people like it?
I can tell you for sure because it is still there on the bookshelf, that the first adult book I ever bought, and I don’t mean the racy type, was John Seymour’s ‘Self Sufficiency.’ I bought it when I was about fourteen, probably with a book token given as a present, a good use for it because back then I wasn’t a great reader; I much preferred being outside, making stuff, various woodwork projects mostly, and my model railway, though by then that re-creation of an idealised tiny world was losing its appeal.
I purchased my first team of Belgian mares 15 years ago. Well broke, they taught me a lot. I read and re-read your books, and Small Farmer’s Journals. As time passed, I have hooked up singles, team, 3 and 4 abreast, for many projects. Plus, events like parades, weddings, family gatherings and funerals. Almost 20 years later we have a dozen mares and our own stallion, with babies coming in the Spring of 2022. And I am always learning new things as I read.
I would imagine that at least for those with draft horses, many may have some intention of working those animals in some capacity on their property. These goals will vary from those who would like to do all the draft work on their place with a horse or team, to those who never plan to do more than wagon or sled rides or perhaps a little hauling of materials around the farm or homestead. My main interest is in thinking through some issues I believe those who really mean to use their draft animals, for farm work or logging or for regular hauling projects, may encounter as obstacles to really achieving those goals.
I particularly enjoyed your “Setting Up A Binder” article in the last Small Farmer’s Journal. I noticed that the Champion binder has an IHC auto-steer tongue truck. I’m wondering if you know when that Champion binder was manufactured. There are many clever designs in the old horse machinery, but I have long admired how that tongue truck turns shorter than the tongue so a team can sidestep around a corner to line up for the next swath. We had one of these tongue trucks installed on a #9 mower back when Dad was still alive and farming. I still have a couple stashed in my windbreak.
We lived close enough to the Sweetgrass Hills in Montana for my Dad to use them to predict the weather. They also provided a huge expanse for a fertile imagination to grow wild and free. Every coulee in our area of the prairies was a mystery for me to enjoy. Every living creature scraping a living through the dust, the mud, the blizzards and the blue skied “I can see for miles” warm spring days instilled my respect. I loved the prairies and still do. The few miles from our place in Canada across the border to the States held for me lands filled with outlaws, buffalo and ancient peoples all filling my childhood imagination with the magic that only wide open spaces can.
I, a very young man and hungry to have a farm of my own, was managing a small goat dairy for an absentee owner. The farm paper was on the table at the neighbor’s house. I read the ad over five or six times and felt a terrible magnetic itch. I didn’t have any money to spare, a few bucks waiting to swell to enough to pay for a new coat and some groceries. I didn’t know anything about auctions except what I garnered from little snatches – of how a guy could get caught scratching his nose and end up buying something, slices of the singsong banter of the auctioneer pulling in people’s attention, the air filled with an urgency like a race underway, a woman walking around in front of a gathering of folks with a lamp held up high for viewing.
A marked characteristic of this group is that certain individual trees have a long blossoming period and a correspondingly long season in which the fruit matures. It is this that gives special value to the “Everbearing,” a variety which originated about 1885 in the garden of a Mrs. Page, at Cuthbert, Ga. Blossoming, as it does, through a period of several weeks, it rarely fails to set a fair crop of fruit, while the fruit in turn ripens through a period of from six to twelve weeks on the same tree.
How many times has the gardener, even the most seasoned of gardeners, been coaxed and tempted by the warm spring sun and breezes to chance the frosts and plant too early? Slightly crazed by cabin fever and beautiful seed catalogs, these Sirens have waylaid many a gardener who knows better into a garden of frosted tomato and pepper plants.
Planting, raising and harvesting food has had a long and vigorous literature with two complementary aims – practical knowledge, and what the Captain in the chain-gang movie “Cool-Hand Luke” calls “Getting your mind right.” In that regard a farmer I know says, “If nothing is nibbling your garden, that just means it’s not part of the ecosystem.” Fine classical samples of farming’s philosophical and emotional mindset are to be found in M.D. Usher’s new work of selection and translation: How To Be A Farmer: An Ancient Guide to Life on the Land, A Work of Many Hands.
There is so darn much good info in this charming book. Perhaps the most dramatic examples come with ideas for protecting fig trees in really cold climates, from growing in containers, to swaddling, to the idea of laying down the tree in a trench and covering it during winter. It’s tricky but definitely worth the consideration and effort, and you’ll need this good book to show you how.
After long experience a person can develop an almost innate understanding of the fundamental nature of the horse. This is what I think of as horse sense, a term that seems to have fallen out of use in recent decades. But I like very much what the development of horse sense entails: that of a lifelong inquiry into the mind of the horse, his habits, behavior and natural tendencies. It is almost impossible to teach horse sense, or to learn it from a book. It is rather something learned from many years of daily interactions between horse and man. Horse sense is being able to read the body language of a horse, to anticipate what he will do before he does it, or at least to anticipate what he’s most likely to do.
Homesteaders drawn to new land were often soon down to guesswork, and learning the hard way. In the early years there had been crop failures and experiments tried that never worked for a minute. The growing season here was short, and the grass wasn’t lush enough even at best for more than a cow to every twenty-five acres. Too many cows on the land might mean the new owner could sell fat cows after a good summer that first year, but then they might starve the next year, on land that had been eaten down to the roots and couldn’t bounce back. Orchards got planted that froze out or were eaten to nothing by deer and elk before they ever bore fruit, by animals that gobbled that tender fruitwood bark like candy.
This cultivator has many features which farmers everywhere know to be desirable. Its extremely simple construction is combined with unusual strength and durability. Light in draft and easily operated it makes cultivation work easy for man and team.
I say it is a good book, much of it superb writing, with paradoxical messaging that bites itself on the ankle several times. The text comes entirely from a shepherd-writer at once torn by his journey while still living this story’s outcome right now. The book IS for the most part hot on target, stirring, elegant and vital. BUT, it too often slips and becomes side-swiping, a ‘realist’s harangue’ against those who are the better and best examples because their courageous farming comes from passion and a perpetual husbandry-alignment with nature.
Once upon a time there were no gas (or steam) powered motors. Necessity begets innovation and every discovery simply lays the foundation for the next. Mechanization arose, yet for a long time the only power sources were a person’s two hands or the four legs of a draft animal. An under appreciated amount of hand and draft powered machinery came to be. Among these were horsepower units. A set of gears set in motion by a draft animal walking a circular track pulling a tongue.
Scottish Blackface are ideally suited to grass-based farming. The breed has been developed over centuries to utilize rough and coarse grazing ground and to produce grass fed market lambs of the highest gourmet quality. They are extremely hardy and thrifty and thrive in areas where other breeds struggle to survive. Breeders benefit from easy keeping, productive ewes that produce premium market lambs on grass and with a lamb crop of 150% or better.
It shouldn’t have been there, but there it was, a nineteenth-century gravestone partly exposed at the edge of a rubbish pile back in the woods. He assumed some farmer had finally had his fill of always having to skirt an abandoned plot of graves that no one had tended for years. Perhaps he had struck a half-buried slab with his cultivator and broken a tine and, perhaps, after cursing and counting costs, he had hauled away every stone on the site and plowed it all under.
I consider farms to be one of those interesting things I was talking about. Isn’t it just so lovely that a small, tilled plot of land can hold so much life? Food for humans, food for animals, bulk and produce, cover crops, an environment for domesticated and wild animals alike. If you were to pause time, think of all the things that would be happening! In the stalky field, a bleary-eyed fawn twitches tired ears. In the hawthorn hedge, a magpie pulls at a thorny twig, artfully constructing a masterpiece of a nest. In the barn, the scurrying of an evasive mouse catches the attention of the draft horses, slowly chewing their breakfast.
In the last century, the increased number of larger farms and ranches, coupled with much of the textile industry moving overseas, has resulted in few wool mills that serve small flocks. However, Valley Oak Wool & Fiber Mill is one rare such business. Located in Northern California, this mill takes raw, unwashed fleeces, and processes them into batting, roving, and yarn. Importantly, wool mills such as Valley Oak Wool & Fiber Mill serve to bridge the gap between farmer and sheep, and crafter, textile, and wearer.