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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

Changing of Seasons

Changing of Seasons

LittleField Notes: Changing of Seasons

by Ryan Foxley of Arlington, WA

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven” – Ecclesiastes

As I scribble these notes a day or two before the summer solstice I can’t help but reflect on the changing of the seasons. Down through the ages if there were one topic of conversation common to all peoples in all places it would be the weather and its close cousin the passage of seasons. How often, as the longest day approaches do we hear folks cry with trepidation, “just a few more days and it’s all down hill, all the way to the shortest day of the year” It is almost as if people are dragged through the year kicking and screaming. “I’m not ready for the dark days of winter!” And in hot climates I imagine people dreading the inevitable heat.

Now I like to talk about the weather and changing seasons as much as anyone. I don’t, however find myself bemoaning the end of summer or dreading the days following the solstice when each succeeding day will be shorter than the last. I must say though, that my comfort level with each season in turn is something I came to only after I started farming and ceased living a cooped up indoor life. I know this seems counter-intuitive, that being out year round in all kinds of weather could make one less desperate for warmth and sunshine and more at peace with whatever Mother Nature offers up. I may be unique in this regard and I really don’t have a good explanation for it. I only know that when I was teaching school I used to suffer terribly from spring fever. I think that being inside causes one to miss out on the minute harbingers of change: the first birdsong in February, the shift of light in mid-August, the first morning of summer when the spring chill has gone for good. Each clue is a window into the future and a light on the present. Staying inside too much reduces the seasons to their blunt, most basic nature and somehow makes us less at ease with their passing.

I find great comfort when autumn comes with its requisite chill. When the days become noticeably shorter I am ready. Ready for that ineffable and almost instinctual urge to stack wood, gather seed, put by, plant rye, don a sweater. Your body knows, the deer know, the trees know, the bear knows. It’s time to prepare for the dark days ahead.

Then winter: short northern days mean cozy evenings by the fire; potatoes, carrots and collard greens bedeck the winter table. Long evenings provide time to slow down, breathe and put some space back into life.

Ah… spring! Once the first tantalizing green spears of new growth poke through the dormant earth in late February I am ready to slough off winter and ease into spring with planting and plowing. I gather steam along with the season’s advance and when summer arrives in all its splendor I too feel invigorated with energy to fill up its long days. And so it goes, our little blue planet, spinning around the sun, creating a lovely panoply of seasonal change, year-to-year, eon-to-eon.

I suppose if you grew up in San Diego or Hawaii or some other southerly clime without such large shifts in temperature and day length as we Northerners experience, you may not feel such visceral connection to seasonal change. I have a strong hunch, however, that though they be less extreme, even tropical lands offer seasonal rhythms and repeated patterns to anyone who will but pay attention.

Changing of Seasons

I pity the poor urban dweller with no more motivation to change his behavior than to change the thickness of his coat as the seasons come and go. The local Whole Foods Market will have fresh goodness the whole year round. No need for planting schedules and harvest windows. The office worker in his tower will work from 9:00 to 5:00 regardless of the day length. His never changing job will carry on with the same sameness as the day before and the one before that. His commute may be inconvenienced by the odd snowstorm, but not to worry, the city snowplows will shortly have the whole thing cleared up.

We are blessed who are active participants in the life of soil and weather, crops and critters, living a life grounded in seasonal change. This talk of human connection to land and season is not just the rambling romantic musing of an agrarian ideologue. It is rather the result of participating in the deeply vital vocation that is farming and knowing its fruits first hand.

Donald Teamed Up

Last issue I told of my adventures training our young stallion Donald. He has continued to demonstrate a willing way and sharp intelligence and has progressed nicely. Alas, twelve-year old Clark, my go-to gelding for many years, has developed ringbone in his front left pastern joint rendering him too stove up for work.

So, compelled by necessity, I ended up having to pair Donald up with Star, the Suffolk mare he had just bred, sooner than anticipated. What excitement (!) the first time you hook a stallion with a mare. I don’t recommend it for beginners. However, there is no reason it can’t be done. There are a few necessary preliminaries and training aids that will help make this endeavor a success.

Changing of Seasons

As I mentioned last issue, I want the stud to be comfortably and confidently going single before I attempt to drive him double. He should understand “whoa”, “back” and some version of “git-up.” He should be able to pull a forecart with a moderate load. He should be able to take the forecart down a hill and comfortably hold the vehicle back. In short he should be well started. While training we want to avoid asking a horse to do more than one new thing at a time. And asking him to work with a level head along side an animal he has just bred is a tall order indeed. You want to have your ducks in a row before you try it.

Use a jockey stick. This is simply a stick about 30” long with a snap on either end. One end clips into the halter ring on the stud and the other clips on the middle hame ring on the mare. This keeps him from turning his head to nip and nicker at her, as a stallion is want to do.

Use a butt rope. This is simply a rope from inside breeching ring to inside breeching ring. This keeps the two horses from spreading apart when ground driving them to and from the vehicle. Getting young trainees straightened out from inside-out is not a fun or safe endeavor. You want to avoid this with any young team and a butt rope will prevent this common mishap.

Be firm. The stallion must learn that when the harness goes on he is to become a gentleman. The nickering and nipping must cease in preparation for work. A valuable command I learned years ago from a venerable old hand was “quit!” – delivered in a firm, almost growely tone. Again, I recommend it with any team for that horse who is trying to rub his bridle off on the neck yoke, or trying to pick a fight with his teammate.

Do some actual work. I’ve said it before and bears it repeating: there is no substitute for sweat on the collar pad. A few rounds of harrowing a fallow field and Donald was not so keen on noodling around. Work quiets a horses mind and gives him something to think about other than fine-tuning the pecking order while in harness. People are not so different. Sweat on the brow and a callused hand make good character.

At this writing it has been about four weeks since I first drove Donald and Star together. They continue to progress nicely. Yesterday I went out with a wagon to do some odd hauling chores. Donald walked quietly and stood patiently, the perfect gentleman.

Changing of Seasons

Seasonal Notes

Missed Opportunity – This June we had an unusually warm and dry spell that prompted many local farmers to cut hay earlier than usual. They had more faith in the weatherman than I. Instead I put my trust in my forebears who never would mow before the Fourth of July. So I held off, just sure that even if it didn’t rain the usual June marine layer would keep off any real heat and delay curing. Several years ago in June when the forecast looked promising I mowed a couple of acres only to have to abandon it in the field as mulch. I simply wore that hay out with my daily trips over it with the tedder. It just wouldn’t cure.

This year was different. Those folks who went ahead and mowed got some really first rate hay made. I feel betrayed in a way. Betrayed by the erratic and extreme weather patterns of late. Is this yet another case of seasonal norms disappearing, of old adages and local lore that no longer hold? Anyway, the Fourth of July is just around the corner and I’m still counting on that good weather coming my way.

Changing of Seasons

A Parable – One beautiful sunny day around the 15th of May I sent my youngest son Brendan out to our little corn/mangel/pumpkin field to plant field corn. For several years I have been planting a variety called Painted Mountain, which does very well, in our cool summers. Most years it will dry down in time to make nice feed for chickens and hogs and corn meal for the kitchen. The variety was bred at high altitude in Montana a decade or so ago and seems to be gaining in popularity in northern sections outside the Corn Belt where for various reasons traditional field corn doesn’t do well.

Around the same time that Brendan planted his corn in the field I planted few rows of sweet corn in the garden. We both used the same tool, a wonderful old hand held corn planter with two handles. A hopper is attached to one handle. When the handles are separated a coupe of seeds are released. The tool is then plunged into the soil whereupon the handles are brought together and the seed is deposited in the soil; take a step and repeat on down the row. Two acres a day could easily be sowed this way.

Changing of Seasons

After a couple of weeks the corn that Brendan planted came up beautifully, with no skips and no thinning necessary. Meanwhile my sweet corn effort produced only two plants. Baffled and trying to figure out where I may have gone wrong, I asked Brendan about his technique. He simply said, “Dad, I prayed the whole time.” I’m sure my mind was wandering hither and thither during my planting effort, no doubt occupied with some worry du jour. Meanwhile over in the field, St. Isadore, the patron saint of farmers, must have been smiling as young Brendan poured his holy intentions into his sowing on that glorious spring day.

Changing of Seasons

Spotlight On: Equipment & Facilities

Bobsled Building Plans

Bobsled Building Plans

Here are two, old-style, heavy-duty, bobsled building plans featuring the sort of sleds you might have found in New England and the Maritime Provinces of Canada. (In fact you might get lucky and find them still.) These are designed to haul cord wood on the sled frame.

Students on the Lines

Students on the Lines & McD Grain Indicator Plate

from issue:

We conclude our online presentation of Volume 41 Issue 2 with beautiful photos from Walt Bernard’s Workhorse Workshops (www.workhorseworkshops.com) and some hard-to-find info on the McCormick-Deering Plain Fluted Feed “R” Grain Drill Grain Indicator Plate.

Step Ahead Horse Progress Days 2016

Step Ahead: 23rd Annual Horse Progress Days 2016

by:
from issue:

I had only been to Horse Progress Days once before, at Mount Hope, Ohio in 2008. It had been an eye-opener, showing how strong and in touch with sustainable farming values the Amish are, and how innovative and sensible their efforts could be. So at the 23rd annual event in Howe, Indiana, I was there partly looking for signs of continuity, and partly for signs of change. Right off I spotted an Amish man with a Blue Tooth in his ear, talking as he walked along.

Haying With Horses

Hitching Horses To A Mower

When hitching to the mower, first make sure it’s on level ground and out of gear. The cutter bar should be fastened up in the vertical or carrier position. This is for safety of all people in attendance during hitching.

Build Your Own Butter Churn

Build Your Own Butter Churn

by:
from issue:

Fresh butter melting on hot homemade bread… Isn’t that the homesteader’s dream? A cheap two-gallon stock pot from the local chain store got me started in churn building. It was thin stainless steel and cost less than ten bucks. I carted it home wondering what I might find in my junk pile to run the thing. I found an old squirrel cage fan and pulled the little motor to test it. I figure that if it could turn a six-inch fan, it could turn a two-inch impeller.

Horsedrawn Plows and Plowing

Setting Up A Walking Plow

Here is a peek into the pages of Horsedrawn Plows and Plowing, written by SFJ editor and publisher Lynn R. Miller.

The Use and Construction of Home Made Implements

The Use and Construction of Home Made Implements

by: ,
from issue:

It is now possible to purchase a make of machine to suit almost any condition if the money is available. There is no doubt that eventually they will be quite generally used. However, the dry farmers are at present hard pressed financially and in many instances the purchase of very much machinery is out of the question. For the man of small means or limited acreage, a homemade implement may be utilized at least temporarily.

New Idea Mower

New Idea Mower

from issue:

For proper operation the outer end of the cutter bar should lead the inner end when the machine is not in operation. After long use the cutter bar may lag back and if this happens it can be corrected by making adjustments on the cutter bar eccentric bushing as follows: First making sure that the pin and bolt in the hinge casting “A” Fig. 5 are tight and in good condition.

Barbed Wire History and Varieties

Book Excerpt: The invention of barb wire was the most important event in the solution of the fence problem. The question of providing fencing material had become serious, even in the timbered portions of the country, while the great prairie region was almost wholly without resource, save the slow and expensive process of hedging. At this juncture came barb wire, which was at once seen to make a cheap, effective, and durable fence, rapidly built and easily moved.

Ask A Teamster Tongue Length

Ask A Teamster: Tongue Length

My forecart pole is set up for draft horses. My husband thinks we should cut the pole off to permanently make it fit better to these smaller horses. What would be your opinion? Like your husband, my preference would be a shorter tongue for a small team like your Fjords. The dynamics and efficiency of draft are better if we have our horse(s) close to the load. A shorter tongue will also reduce the overall length of your outfit, thereby giving you better maneuverability and turning dynamics.

A Hidden Treasure

A Hidden Treasure

When David and Gus visited Mr. Hemmett they had an unexpected find. Not only was there the small tip-cart but other full sized farm wagons. The first that David looked at was a double shafted Lincolnshire wagon designed for the flat lands of that county and too big and heavy for his Suffolk mare of 16.2 hands. But tucked at the back under a tarpaulin was the ideal vehicle – a Norfolk wagon that could take either a single or double shaft and was suitable for the smaller draught horse.

Cultivating Questions The Cost of Working Horses

Cultivating Questions: The Cost of Working Horses

Thanks to the many resources available in the new millennium, it is relatively easy for new and transitioning farmers to learn the business of small-scale organic vegetable production. Economic models of horse-powered market gardens, however, are still few and far between. To fill that information hole, I asked three experienced farmers to join me in tracking work horse hours, expenses and labor over a two-year period and to share the results in the Small Farmer’s Journal.

The Milk and Human Kindness A Look At Butter Churns

The Milk and Human Kindness: A Look at Butter Churns

by:
from issue:

Finding an old butter churn at a flea market, one that is still usable can be a lot of fun, and because there are so many types, it’s good to know a few tips to help you find one that works well for you. For one thing, the size of your butter churn must match your cream supply so that your valuable cream gets transformed into golden butter while it’s fresh and sweet, and that your valuable time is not eaten up by churning batch after batch because your churn is too small.

The Farm & Bakery Wagon

The Farm & Bakery Wagon

by:
from issue:

The first step was to decide on an appropriate chassis, or “running gear.” Eventually I chose to go with the real deal, a wooden-wheeled gear with leaf springs rather than pneumatic tires. Wooden wheels last forever with care and are functional and look the part. I bought an antique delivery wagon that had been left outdoors as an ornament. I was able to reuse some of the wheels and wooden parts of the running gear.

New Buggy Gear Design

New Buggy Gear Design

by:
from issue:

As long back as most of us can remember, the plain people were using buggies for transportation. Buggy frames were mounted atop wood wheels that turned on large solid steel axles. Today, more new technology is available for buggies. Torsion axles, fiberglass and steel wheels, hydraulic disc brakes, LED lights, and sealed batteries — the list could continue.

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 4

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 4

by:
from issue:

Over the last few years of making hay, the mowing, turning and making tripods has settled into a fairly comfortable pattern, but the process of getting it all together for the winter is still developing. In the beginning I did what everyone else around here does and got it baled, but one year I decided to try one small stack. The success of this first stack encouraged me to do more, and now most of my hay is stacked loose.

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.

Portable A-Frame

Portable A-Frame

by:
from issue:

These portable A-frames can be used for lots of lifting projects. Decades ago, when I was horselogging on the coast I used something similar to this to load my short logger truck. Great homemade tool.

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