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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: How-To & Plans

Homemade Ground-Drive PTO Forecart

Homemade Ground-Drive PTO Forecart

by:
from issue:

As we start, consider a few things when building a pto cart. Are big drive tires necessary? Is a lot of weight needed? Imagine the cart in use. Try to see it working where you normally go and where you almost never go. Will it be safe and easy to mount or dismount? Can you access the controls of the implement conveniently? Is it easy to hook and unhook? Where is the balance point? I’m sure you will think of other details as you daydream about it.

Blacksmithing Secrets

Blacksmithing Secrets Part 2

by:
from issue:

One of the main advantages of having a forge in the farm shop is to be able to redress and make and temper tools like cold chisels, punches, screw drivers, picks, and wrecking bars. Tool steel for making cold chisels and punches and similar tools may be bought from a blacksmith or ordered through a hardware store; or it may be secured from parts of old machines, such as hay-rake teeth, pitchfork tines, and axles and drive shafts from old automobiles.

A Horse Powered Round Bale Unroller

A Horse Powered Round Bale Unroller

by:
from issue:

We had experimented with unrolling the bales the year before and had decided to make a device that would let us move them with the horses and then unroll them. I used square tubing to make a simple frame with two arms attached to a cross piece which connected to a tongue. Small diagonal braces made the arrangement rigid and the arms had a right angle piece of square tubing on their ends which allowed a pin to be driven into the middle of the round bale from each side.

Sack Sewing with Wayne Ryan

Sack Sewing with Wayne Ryan

by:
from issue:

Watching Wayne’s sure hands it was easy for me to forget that this is a 91 year old man. There was strength, economy, elegance and thrift in his every stroke.

Posts

Driving Fence Posts By Hand

Where the soil is soft, loose, and free from stone, posts may be driven more easily and firmly than if set in holes dug for the purpose.

Box Jaw Tongs & the Cow Poop Theory of Blacksmithing

Box Jaw Tongs & the Cow Poop Theory of Blacksmithing

by:
from issue:

Making a pair of tongs was a milestone for a lot of blacksmiths. In times gone past a Journeyman Smith meant just that, a smith that went upon a journey to learn more skills before taking a masters test. When the smith appeared at the door of a prospective employer, he/she would be required to demonstrate their skills. A yard stick for this was to make a pair of tongs.

Disc Harrow Requirements

Disc Harrow Requirements

by:
from issue:

One of the most important requirements is disc blade concavity, that is, correct concavity. Further along we set forth the purposes of disc concavity. We feel it is important enough to devote the extra time and words in a discussion of the subject, because seldom is disc concavity talked about, and very few know that there is difference enough to cause good and bad work.

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.

Livestock Guardians

Introducing Your Guard Dog To New Livestock And Other Dogs

When you introduce new animals to an established herd or flock, you should observe your dog’s reactions and behavior for a few days. Since he will be curious anyway, it is a good idea to introduce him to the new animals while he is leashed or to place the new animals in a nearby area.

Homemade Beet Grinder

Homemade Beet Grinder

by:
from issue:

This is my small beet grinder I built about 6 years ago. It has done nearly daily duty for that time. The beet fodder is added to my goat and rabbit rations which are largely homemade. Adding the pulp to the grain rations has aided me in having goat milk throughout the winter months. My beets are the Colossal Red Mangels. Many grow up to 2 feet long. I cut off enough for a day’s feed and grind it up each morning. Beets oxidize like cut apples. Fresh is best!

Pulling A Load With Oxen

an excerpt from Oxen: A Teamster’s Guide

The Milk and Human Kindness Caring For The Pregnant Cow

The Milk and Human Kindness: Caring for the Pregnant Cow

by:
from issue:

Good cheese comes from happy milk and happy milk comes from contented cows. So for goodness sake, for the sake of goodness in our farming ways we need to keep contentment, happiness and harmony as primary principles of animal husbandry. The practical manifestations of our love and appreciation are what make a small farm. Above and beyond the significant requirements of housing, feed and water is the care of your cow’s emotional life, provide for her own fulfillment. Let her raise her calf!

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.

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.

Swallow

Rotation As A Means Of Blight Control

Every farmer knows that when a crop is grown on the same field year after year, it becomes inferior in quality and the yield steadily diminishes.

Lightning Protection for the Farm

Lightning Protection for the Farm

by:
from issue:

Lightning-protection systems for buildings give lightning ready-made lines of low resistance. They do this by providing unbroken bodies of material that have lower resistance than any other in the immediate neighborhood. A protection system routes lightning along a known, controlled course between the air and the moist earth. Well-installed and maintained, a lightning-protection system will route lightning with over 90-percent effectiveness.

The Milk and Human Kindness Wensleydale Cheese

The Milk and Human Kindness: Wensleydale Cheese

by:
from issue:

Like all ancient British cheeses, Wensleydale, a Yorkshire dales cheese was originally a sheep milk cheese. It’s been made for centuries in Yorkshire, shifting from sheep milk to cow milk as cows became more prevalent and more productive, into the 19th century. It is in a circular form, more or less cubic in proportion. Wensleydale is a very classy, delicious vibrant creation when all goes well on cheese making day.

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