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It Is Who We Are
oxchair

Ox Chair.

It Is Who We Are

by Lynn R. Miller

Out changing irrigation pipe on a crystal clear summer morning and I notice four buzzards circling over the woods a little to the north of me. One peels off the circle and heads my way, then floats on the current until it is just thirty feet above me banking into a small circle. Suddenly dawns on me that we are looking right at each other, and that I am standing still as a corpse. All of a sudden, I jab my fist into the air at the scavenger bird and it jerks its head, falling backwards out of its circle and returns to join the other three off in the distance.

Reminds me of my dear departed buddy Bulldog Frasier. He was staying with us, as was his custom, during one of our auctions, he and his red heeler Stubby. Auction was done and we were having breakfast just before he was to leave to return to Montana. Fork in hand, no change to his tone he said “Boss, don’t ever give up. No matter what, don’t ever give up.” Not long after that Bulldog passed away. But he never ever gave up. That was the sort of man he was.

bulldog

Bulldog Frasier

Bulldog was a horseman, a farmer and a logger. He knew intimately what it meant, and what it took, to stay with the necessary work, day in and day out. He knew that there would be days when he could enjoy having laid up the crops, or having loaded out the last of the logs on a job, or selling a good team of horses he had raised and trained. But he knew just as certain, that every next day would have more chores needed doing. That he had signed on to a continuum.

With the difficulties we have experienced these last many months, difficulties that arguably were not of our making, we almost lost the ultimate battle, because we almost allowed the difficulties to define us. But now, all of a sudden it would seem, we shake our fist at the buzzards, and we return to the real work at hand because the animals need fed, the crops needed tending, the fence needs patching, the neighbors need our help, and family wants to be held and enjoyed. Those of us who are farmers know these things. It is who we are. And that distinction is incredibly important. Though the evidence is to the contrary, in the world today society seems to have accepted without quarrel that the highest and best distinction for us all is our commonality. I disagree completely. I believe our highest and best distinction as human beings comes of our individuality, and of our separate and separated cultural distinctions. I believe completely that we as farmers are different from school teachers, I believe that carpenters are different from bankers, I believe that Japanese people are different from Sudanese people, that paupers are different from princes, and that thieves are different from honest folk. And I also believe that the lines of distinction are frequently fuzzy and blended. But that never lessens the defining facts of the distinctions, one from the other. And those distinctions, that variety, those various sets of working values give us our vitality and worth, they define us.

Visiting a Parable

Fifty five years ago, in requisite summer bible school, my young brain took a bead on the story of the Tower of Babel. I found it fascinating even though I was too young to have any context to place it in, or against. As my remembered version of the story goes, way back sometime around the beginning of recorded history every one was of a kind, spoke the same language, ate the same foods, on and on. One nation, if you will. And the leaders, feeling like there wasn’t much left to accomplish within their small and nearly perfect world, decided to have its peoples build a tower all the way up into the heavens, right up to God’s front porch as it were. The project caused some discontent and, depending on your version, for whatever reason people fell upon each other in anger and argued until their languages separated in many dialects and people grew to hate one another just because it seemed the ‘right’ thing to do. (I do believe that that is where we came up with the word ‘Babbel’ as in nonsensical speech, a confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel.) The Tower figuratively and literally came tumbling down and the small engineered and ‘perfect’ world became various, messy, large and far flung. I’ve always felt that the story contained a seed of the truth of natural design, that the ‘world’ sought and seeks its own balance in all things, definitely including the human species. And that balance begs for variety.

ducks

We are far flung.

The Ranting Section

I have a storage closet in my brain, a space where I hang thoughts and ideas in a haphazard pattern that matches how these thinkings touch one another. The Tower of ‘Babel’ has come to hang in my brain with many thoughts centered on modern man and corporate rule. I ‘feel’ that corporate governance is very like the one world leadership of early Babel, believing that keeping everyone of a language and of a target (building the Tower) was the right thing to do, to demand. The board room needs to believe, in the measure they feel counts – the marketplace, that people in Uganda and Paraguay and Alabama and France and China are or will be all the same – they will eat the same foods, live in similar houses, visit with each other over the same social networking sites, use the same medical systems, worship in similar ways, get their news from the same sources. And the board rooms have decided that the Tower we are building is one of artificial life, that we will reach God when we no longer depend on the vagaries of nature for our food, environment, shelter, spirituality, class structures, and more. Genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, synthetic materials, ‘virtual’ realities, corporate funding and ‘suspense’ accounts will, they believe make it possible for all of us to travel back and forth from heaven on weekends in hybrid vehicles outfitted with talking computers which are capable of generating genetically-engineered snacks, beverages, and travel games. But something is going very wrong with this plan. People are fighting amongst themselves and reclaiming old ways, languages, heritage foods, craft-based skills of self-sufficiency, spirituality which is connected with nature, and an abiding disdain of usurpers, board members, pretenders, cyber mobs, stock brokers, bank owners and internet chatrooms. The construction of this new tower to artificial life is faltering. We are experiencing, in the wider world, a ‘confusion of tongues.’

So I’m out baling hay and these scattered manic thoughts come charging in on me. What if several states in these United States actually succeed in seceding? What if Quebec becomes a nation unto itself? What if Mongolia pulls out of China? What if people around the world recognize that all of our governments are in states of advanced rot? What if the CEOs of large brokerage firms and big banks are actually charged with the felonies we all know they committed in recent years? What if Monsanto is tried in court for endangering biological life on the planet? What if college athletes are allowed to earn money? What if every elected official in every country has to pass a series of tests: lie detector, blood workup, spelling, arithmetic, criminal record search and financial disclosures? What if the Food and Drug Administration was subjected to an ethical and moral audit? What if people are allowed to grow real food? What if Facebook were restricted to those under the age of 10? What if people could milk their cows and then drink the milk, put manure on their fields as fertilizer, collect seeds from the plants they grow, allow their chickens and hogs to run out on pasture, plant fruits and vegetables in their yards, and be contemptuous of a justice system which has become contemptuous of them, a justice system which has forgotten what “justice” is? What if pigs grew wool?

Thunder and lightning and a whole mess of confusion, that’s what it would mean. The Tower of artificial life tumbling down. It could also mean we find we’re on our way back to a bigger world, one where fairness was/is a criteria and wealth a wide open measure. Because, let’s face it, the race to all things “bigger” has granted license to stupidity, corruption, and police-state tactics. The breakup of governments, empires, corporations, and artificial integrations would, in the long run, be a mighty good thing. Allow tribes to be tribes, find the biologically defensible ways to keep them from fighting each other. Allow families to be small craft-based businesses and find ways to defend them from corporate marauders. Allow that even the smallest of us are innocent until proven guilty even if it erodes the court system’s implied imperative to protect the property rights of the biggest. Does that make of me an anarchist? Don’t think so. Think it makes of me just one individual who’s tired of looking the other way.

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Spotlight On: Crops & Soil

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes

This is the account of how one farm put more horse power into the planting, cultivation, and harvesting of its potato crop. Ever since we began farming on our own in 1994 one of our principle aims has been the conversion of our farm operation to live horse power wherever feasible. This has meant replacing mechanized tools such as tractors and rototillers and figuring out how to reduce human labor as we expanded upon the labor capacity of our work horses.

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

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The old way of selecting seed from open-pollinated corn involved selecting the best ears from the poorest ground. I have tried to select perfect ears based on the open-pollinated seed corn standards of the past. I learned these standards from old agricultural texts. The chosen ears of Reid’s average from 9 to 10.5 inches long and have smooth, well-formed grains in straight rows. I try to select ears with grains that extend to the end of the cob.

Walki Biodegradable Mulching Paper

New Biodegradable Mulching Paper

Views of any and all modern farming stir questions for me. The most common wonder for me has been ‘how come we haven’t come up with a something to replace plastic?’ It’s used for cold frames, hotbeds, greenhouses, silage and haylage bagging and it is used for mulch. That’s why when I read of this new Swedish innovation in specialized paper mulching I got the itch to scratch and learn more. What follows is what we know. We’d like to know more. LRM

Marketable Cover Crops

Marketable Cover Crops

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Our cover crops have to provide the benefits of smothering weeds, improving soil structure, and replenishing organic matter. They also have to produce some income. For these purposes, we use turnips, mustard and lettuce within our plant successions. I broadcast these seeds thickly on areas where cover crops are necessary and let them do their work.

Winter Production of Fresh Vegetables

Winter Production of Fresh Vegetables

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Any claim about winter production of fresh vegetables, with minimal or no heating or heat storage systems, seems highly improbable. The weather is too cold and the days are too short. Low winter temperatures, however, are not an insurmountable barrier. Nor is winter day-length the barrier it may appear to be. In fact most of the continental US has far more winter sunshine than parts of the world where, due to milder temperatures, fresh winter vegetable production has a long tradition.

Purslane, Portahoopies and Plow Planted Peas

Purslane, Portahoopies and Plow Planted Peas

For those not familiar with this tasty, nutritious weed, purslane can be a real challenge to manage in vegetable crops for a number of reasons. The seeds of this weed remain viable for many years in the garden, and generally do not germinate until hot weather — that is, after many of the market garden crops have already been planted. To make matters worse, this succulent plant often reroots after cultivation. Purslane also grows so close to the ground that it is impossible to control by mowing.

Horsedrawn No-Till Garlic

Horsedrawn No-Till Garlic

We were inspired to try no-tilling vegetables into cover crops after attending the Groffs’ field day in 1996. No-tilling warm season vegetables has proved problematic at our site due to the mulch of cover crop residues keeping the soil too cool and attracting slugs. We thought that no-tilling garlic into this cover crop of oats and Canadian field peas might be the ticket as garlic seems to appreciate being mulched.

Planting Calendar and Other Diagrams

From Dusty Shelves: A 1943 calendar for seeding your vegetable garden.

Wild Potatoes and Calcium

Wild potatoes bring increased calcium for better tubers.Have you ever cut into a potato to find a dark spot or hollow part? Early research shows that these defects are likely the result of calcium deficiencies in the potato — and that tuber calcium is genetically linked to tuber quality.

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.

Making Sorghum Molasses

Making Sorghum Molasses

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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.

Soil, Vegetation, and Acidity

From Dusty Shelves: Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide teaches us about soil acidity.

Beating the Beetles – War & Peace in a Houston Garden

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…

Cultivating Questions Winterkilled Cover Crops for a Mild Climate Part 2

Cultivating Questions: Winterkilled Cover Crops For A Mild Climate Part 2

Finding just the right cover crop-tillage combination for crops planted the last half of June has always been a real challenge in our location. While surface-tilling mature rye and vetch in May works well for fall crops established in July and August, this cover crop-tillage combo does not allow enough time for decomposition and moisture accumulation for end-of-June plantings.

Fjordworks Horse Powered Potatoes Part 2

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes Part Two

These types of team implements for digging potatoes were the first big innovation in horse powered potato harvesting in the mid-19th century. Prior to the horse drawn digger the limitation on how many potatoes a farmer could plant was how many the farm crew could dig by hand. The basic design of these early diggers works so well that new models of this type of digger are once again being manufactured by contemporary horse drawn equipment suppliers.

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

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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.

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