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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

Littlefield Notes Farm Log Summer 2017

Littlefield Notes Farm Log Summer 2017

LittleField Notes: Farm Log Summer 2017

text and photographs by Ryan Foxley of Arlington, WA

I find myself considering how the farmer/columnist, mired in the busiest season of the year can meet his deadline at no expense to the work of the farm or to the farmer’s own sanity. Perhaps it is by keeping a log: a sort of ship’s log- or farm log as it were, a daily record of the doings here on the farm, a snapshot of a week or so of work, with notes made sometimes in the field while horses rest, or at the barn while waiting for harpoons to be set, or other quiet in-between moments.

June 30, 2017

I’ve been watching the weather and not trusting it. A steady, sure flow of Pacific Ocean air has lately given us a low marine cloud layer that does not burn off until two or three in the afternoon. Gradually though, over the last couple of days the clouds have lessoned and temperatures have increased and now all of a sudden it seems time to mow. And true to form, the I & J mower sits in the shop with last year’s dull sickle sections caked with mud from a late season mole-hillinfested- wet-pasture mowing. It does seem to be a rule, despite my best intentions, that many jobs get pushed back and back and back until, with time run out and no place left to push, the task must actually be done because the work is at hand. So while the sun shines, I work on the mower to ready it for the field. How lovely it would have been to have done this last December when it was rainy and cold. Alas even in the depths of December there were plenty of other projects to keep me busy and July was a long ways off, as yet a figment of my imagination. And so the mower sat, unattended.

While pulling the twin sickles for the purpose of sharpening them, the bottom one hung up for a moment and it sliced my finger as easy as you please. I painfully reconsidered the need for sharpening. In that instant the knife sections seemed plenty sharp alright. It’s a tricky business, manipulating a sickle in or out of the bar with bare hands, teasing it into place, pushing and prodding firmly, but gently. Slicing a finger while removing a sickle is akin to the classic busted knuckle syndrome – when a stuck bolt suddenly comes free and bare knuckles collide at a high rate of speed with a nearby immobile chunk of iron – only when a stuck sickle lets go, instead of blunt iron, flesh and bone collide with keenly sharpened steel. You might reasonably suggest that I wear gloves, but I feel the same way about working on machinery with gloves that I do about playing the fiddle with gloves: simply unacceptable. I may change my mind someday when I slice my finger off and can no longer play the fiddle.

Because Donald is just recovering from a nasty and elusive hoof abscess on his right hind, I decided to put three fjords (well…two fjords and a fjordpunch) to the I&J mower this afternoon and mow a bit of hay. It was Stella’s first time in a three abreast hitch. Predictably, she did just fine. She’s game, she’s levelheaded, she’s hardworking, and for a two-year-old, I’m really liking the way she is progressing.

Littlefield Notes Farm Log Summer 2017

July 1

Today the cool marine cloud layer was back in spades and I was regretting the two acres I mowed the previous afternoon, though happily the clouds finally burned off around 2:30. I hitched Stella to the tedder and gave the mown hay a good fluffing; there may yet be hope. I naturally decided against any more mowing today.

Continued working on the tractor this morning while the gray clouds loomed: the beautiful big red Farmall M. She hasn’t run in four years (good thing we have horses), but with Donald out of commission, I decided that I had better try to get her fired up and running to use on the hay loader on the chance he didn’t make a recovery in time. Though it looks like Donald will be ready after all, now I am obsessed with making the old girl run again. Unfortunately, I’m not much of an engine mechanic, though these engines are fairly simple. I have now removed, monkeyed with and replaced the carburetor no less than five times, and I think there’s mathematically only one thing left I can tinker with, a suspect needle valve, which I will do tomorrow, after which, hopefully she’ll fire up and come to life.

July 3

By rights that hay should have been ready to pick up this afternoon, it felt dry and looked dry in the windrow but when the two boys and I hooked up to the hay loader and the crop started flowing onto the wagon we could see that there was still an unacceptable amount of uncured hay and a general dampness throughout. We left the wagon and loader in the field with a partial load and I hitched Stella to the tedder again and fluffed the hay in the windrow. We’ll try again tomorrow.

Littlefield Notes Farm Log Summer 2017

July 4

So it’s Independence Day today and everyone is taking the day off, in fact because it falls on a Tuesday this year, many folks are taking a long four day weekend and going boating or camping or suchlike. I was thinking that I maybe have never taken a Fourth of July completely off. The work of a farm doesn’t lend itself well to taking days off in the middle of the week. It’s hard enough to lay off on Sundays. Back when I was playing a lot of music I always had a gig at a party or a wedding or dude ranch campfire on the Fourth as well. Today we are picking berries because they’re ripe, and picking up loose hay because it’s dry. We are freezing some berries and making jam with others. The hay we are stuffing in the old barn because that’s what we do. I don’t feel sad that I’m not “taking the day off. “ And really, what else would I rather be doing than picking berries and making hay? There will still be burgers, kids lighting off fireworks and general merriment this evening.

Back in the hayfield this afternoon…we had been rolling for about 10 minutes when all of a sudden the hay loader seemingly grabbed hold of the ground, quit moving, kicked forward on locked up front wheels, and everything came to a screeching halt. The culprit: a broken drive chain wedged between drive wheel and frame. So it’s run to the shop for flat chain anvil, punch, hammer, the roll of extra number 62 flat chain links. I’ve been here before; I know the drill and work quickly. An hour later and the hay is flowing again like a waterfall, cascading down in sheets onto the wagon.

July 5

Pretty routine day: tedded one field, raked another, and mowed a third. With no breakdowns, solid horses and perfect weather I could not ask for more. However, after sauntering down to the barn in the evening to tie up a few loose ends, I saw on my way back something slinking across the road in front of the pump house. Given the time of day and that I had just been wandering around the barnyard not being particularly quiet, I was a bit startled and it took me a moment to realize what I was seeing: a big grey coyote in broad daylight slinking along between the house and me. After the recent deaths of our old rooster Rex, our long tenured peahen Luna, and the brazen broad daylight killing of Dolly the fluffy brown Dachshund, coyotes are not on my current list of favorite people. I will be watching for him.

Littlefield Notes Farm Log Summer 2017

July 6

Saw Slinky (I think I’ll call him Slinky) again this morning, this time in the field up behind the house. He knows I’m on to him, since he bolted as soon as he saw me. He didn’t know I’d left my heat in the truck and I was only opening the greenhouses.

Dragged out the old Oliver dump rake and got it lubed up today. I used it to rake the scattered hay (scatters) left after the hay loader picked up the windrows day before yesterday. The dump rake is certainly one of the most iconic pieces of antique farm machinery. Probably it, along with the walking plow were the two most common implements on North American farms 100 years ago. They are ubiquitous even today rusting in people’s yards. I enjoy using it, with it’s simplicity and quietude. I also like the clean and tidy look of a field after the scatters have been raked into windrows and gathered. I left a lot of hay in the field before I started using one.

July 7

Liz thinks Slinky is a female and she’s trying to feed her pups and I’m not to shoot her, even if she did kill Dolly. There are saints among us turning the other cheek and loving their enemies. I respect the saints in my life, so I put my grandpa’s old Winchester back in the gun safe and locked it.

This afternoon while driving the fjords on the rope pulling up a nice load of hay into the mow I heard the load release early. I could hear the trolley go flying down the track 90 miles an hour where I later found that it knocked off my improvised preventers (two c-clamps) and gone all the way to the end of the track where it fell halfway off. The track and trolley are at least 100 years old and probably more like 120, and the last section of track is almost half gone in places due to corrosion from pigeon guano. I’ve known this for sometime, but repairing it is a big deal, and as of yet I don’t actually have a spare piece of track. Knowing this, I always try to dump the hay in the front 3/4 of the barn and never allow the trolley to roll all the way back.

I raced aloft up the board ladder at the north end of the barn, and after a quick survey decided this time it was serious. It was too much for my weary mind and body to tackle after an already long day. In the morning I’ll go up when I’m fresh and see if I’ll need to resort to buying an old baler (Heaven forbid!) to get through this season.

Littlefield Notes Farm Log Summer 2017

July 8

After ruminating on my breakdown du jour while trying to fall asleep last night, I realized that I would have one chance to get the trolley back on the good part of the track. It was going to be touch and go when the trolley had to traverse the track with one side almost completely gone. One false move and the whole outfit would fall to the barn floor. It fell completely off one other time and required a Herculean effort involving blocks and tackles and several people and more trouble than I care to go through again without fixing the track properly. So I thought it through, and thought it through some more, then I very carefully gathered my tools and placed them in a bucket, took some rope and a small pulley and went aloft. Threading the rope through the pulley and attaching it to one end of the bucket I drew it up behind me and secured it from the barn rafters. What followed felt like a sort of barn brain surgery. There was me, perched precariously on a couple of shockingly thin boards some 28 feet above the barn floor tying knots and loosening bolts, moving slowly, ever so carefully, acutely aware of my one-chance opportunity. Get this right.

I removed the last track hanger and temporarily suspended the track with rope, removed the safety stop at the end of the track, carefully lifted up the trolley and slid it on from the back. Then I re-bolted the track hanger and stop and ever-socarefully inched the trolley as far out as I dared until it was suspended, minutely balanced, over the yawning pigeon poo crevasse. I could only push it so far or I would be unable to remove the fall-preventer rope which I had affixed to the trolley itself. The fateful moment arrived: I had a helper pull the haul-back rope gently from outside, and while I held my breath, the trolley slid right across the gaping hole and onto solid ground. Just like that we were back in business. We finished unloading the wagon and went immediately back to the field for another load. I made the decision today to only fill the front half of the barn for the remainder of this season. Over the winter I will be hunting up another piece of track, erecting scaffolding and doing a proper repair job. There is an old barn of the same vintage as ours just up the road, and I have a good idea that it’s the same F. E. Meyers track and trolley system that we use in our barn. If that indeed is my good fortune, I already have permission from the owners to commandeer parts as needed.

July 9

Sunday. Sabbath. It was a beautiful thing yesterday afternoon when the last load of hay slipped through the hay mow door, especially after the recent hay trolley trials and tribulations. After the horses were un-harnessed , brushed and turned out, I walked to the house with a sense of accomplishment and anticipation of a day of rest. Even God himself needed a rest on the seventh day, and indeed it is good for us and good for the horses as well. For the work is hard, and the work is long; and with long hard work comes the need for good rest. Of course there’s still chores on Sunday, and other little odds and ends to tend to, but it is really the spirit of the day that is important: take a walk, a deep grateful breath, sit under a tree, sing a song, say a prayer. The weeds will still be there tomorrow, as will the reaping and the sewing and the mowing. Today though, we rest.

As I look back and consider the little successes and failures of the week, I note with a smile that the tractor remains broken in the shed, refusing to start, while the horses have willingly and predictably started every day and put their hearts into the good work of making their own feed. Bravo! I say, let’s do it again next week. Maybe I’ll get that old tractor fixed next winter…

Littlefield Notes Farm Log Summer 2017

Spotlight On: Farming Systems & Approaches

Back to the Land

Back to the Land

by:
from issue:

Tired of living in a crowded urban environment with its deafening noise and bumper-to-bumper traffic and eager to escape what they saw as an economy bent on destroying the planet, Matt and Tasha left their home in the Washington, DC metropolitan area in March 2014. In doing so, they became modern-day pioneers, part of a wave of Americans who have chosen to go back to the land over the past decade, seeking to reclaim and rebuild their lives and to forge a deeper connection to the earth, the animals that inhabit it, and to each other.

Week in the Life of D Acres

Week in the Life of D Acres

by:
from issue:

D Acres of New Hampshire in Dorchester, a permaculture farm, sustainability center, and non-profit educational organization, is a bit of a challenge to describe. Join us for this week-in-the-life tour, a little of everything that really did unfold in this manner. Extraordinary, perhaps, only in that these few November days were entirely ordinary.

Henpecked Compost and U-Mix Potting Soil

We have hesitated to go public with our potting mix, not because the formula is top secret, but because our greenhouse experience is limited in years and scale. Nevertheless, we would like to offer what we have learned in hopes of showing that something as seemingly insignificant as putting together a potting mix can be integrated into a systems approach to farming.

Planting Calendar and Other Diagrams

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

A Short History of the Horse-Drawn Mower

A Short History of the Horse-Drawn Mower

Book Excerpt: The enclosed gear, late model John Deere, Case, Oliver, David Bradley, and McCormick Deering International mowers I (we) are so fond of had a zenith of popular manufacture and use that lasted just short of 25 years. Millions of farmers with millions of mowers, built to have a serviceable life of 100 plus years, all pushed into the fence rows. I say, it was far too short of a period.

Fjordworks A History of Wrecks Part 2

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 2

It is always fascinating and at times a little disconcerting to watch how seamlessly the macro-economics of trying to make a living as a farmer in such an out-of-balance society can morph us into shapes we never would have dreamed of when we were getting started. This year we will be putting in a refrigerated walk-in cooler which will allow us to put up more storage-share vegetables.

Cane Grinding

Cane Grinding: An Age-Old Georgia Tradition

by:
from issue:

Most sugar cane is processed in refineries to give us molasses, brown sugar, and various kinds of white sugar. However, some South Georgia farms that raise sugar cane still process it the old way to produce the special tasting sweetener for their own food. One such farm is the Rocking R Ranch in Kibbee, Georgia. It is owned by Charles and Patricia Roberts and their sons. The process they use has not changed in the past 100 years. This is how it is done.

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

We own a 40 jersey cow herd and sell most of their milk to Cobb Hill Cheese, who makes farmstead cheeses. We have a four-acre market garden, which we cultivate with our team of Fjord horses and which supplies produce to a CSA program, farm stand and whole sale markets. Other members of the community add to the diversity of our farm by raising hay, sheep, chickens, pigs, bees, and berries, and tending the forest and the maple sugar-bush.

LittleField Notes Hay

LittleField Notes: Hay

by:
from issue:

Farming never fails to dish up one lesson in humility after another. Despite having all the weather knowledge the information-age has to offer, farmers will still lose hay to the rain, apple blossoms to frost, winter wheat to drought… If we are slow to learn humility in Nature’s presence we can be sure that another lesson is never far off.

The Farmer and the Horse

The Farmer & The Horse

In New Jersey — land of The Sopranos, Jersey Shore, and the Turnpike — farmland is more expensive than anywhere else. It’s not an easy place to try to start a career as a farmer. But for a new generation of farmers inspired by sustainability, everything seems possible. Even a farm powered by draft horses.

The Woodfired Bottom-heated Greenhouse Bench

Cultivating Questions: The Woodfired Bottom-heated Greenhouse Bench

It took several incarnations to come up with a satisfactory design for the bottom heated greenhouse bench. In the final version we used two 55 gallon drums welded end-to-end for the firebox and a salvaged piece of 12” stainless steel chimney for the horizontal flue. We learned the hard way that a large firebox and flue are necessary to dissipate the intense heat into the surrounding air chamber and to minimize heat stress on these components.

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.

Evolution of a Permanent Bed System

Evolution of a Permanent Bed System

by:
from issue:

After three or four years we could see that the nature of our farming practices would continue to have detrimental effects on our soils. We were looking for a new approach, a routine that would be sustainable, rather than a rescue treatment for an ongoing problem. We decided to convert our fields to permanent planting beds with grassy strips in between where all tractor, foot and irrigation pipe traffic would be concentrated.

New York Organic Grazing Dairy

New York Organic Grazing Dairy

by:
from issue:

Our farm, here in the center of New York State, consists of 101 acres, about 90 in grass, the rest some woods and swamp. It is inhabited by forty-six jersey cows, twelve breeding ace heifers, one bull, and because it is calving season — an increasing number of calves. Also, four Belgian mares and a couple of buggy horses. Last, and possibly least — the farmer, farmer’s wife, and five grown children.

Portrait of a Garden

Portrait of a Garden

As the seasons slip by at a centuries-old Dutch estate, an 85-year-old pruning master and the owner work on cultivating crops in the kitchen garden. To do this successfully requires a degree of obsessiveness, the old man explains in this calm, observational documentary. The pruning master still works every day. It would be easier if he were only 60 and young.

Sustainable

Sustainable

Sustainable is a documentary film that weaves together expert analysis of America’s food system with a powerful narrative of one extraordinary farmer who is determined to create a sustainable future for his community. In a region dominated by commodity crops, Marty Travis has managed to maintain a farming model that is both economically viable and environmentally safe.

Useful Birds

Useful Birds

by:
from issue:

Whether a bird is beneficial or injurious depends almost entirely upon what it eats. Birds are often accused of eating this or that product of cultivation, when an examination of the stomachs shows the accusation to be unfounded. Accordingly, the Biological Survey has conducted for some years past a systematic investigation of the food of those species which are most common about the farm and garden.

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