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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

LittleField Notes Farm Log

LittleField Notes: Farm Log

by Ryan Foxley of Arlington, WA
photos by Joe D. Finnerty

Snow – November 22

As I write these words I have the distinct feeling that I have been placed in a snow globe and turned upside down. Huge white flakes are swirling, twirling and rapidly turning our perennial green to a blanket of white. It is beautiful, made all the more so by its rarity. It is possible I’m told, to go through a whole winter in Western Washington without snow, though I have not yet witnessed it, so I have my doubts. This winter though, is supposed to be cold and wet. La Nina is busy out in the Pacific cooling things off and sending loads of moisture our way. After the ease with which we coasted through last year’s mild winter I don’t expect anything less than a humdinger this year, full of cold, damp and snowy conditions.

With grazing all finished for the year, the decision has been made to feed the cattle out in the field rather than in the barn. If we are meticulous we can gradually move the feed line each day so the entire field will be easily manured by spring without ever lifting a manure fork. Let the cattle spread their own, I say. Daily winter-feeding is also a great way to keep a team fit and tuned up over the long winter months.

Cold – December 1

With the snowstorm passed and clear skies above, bitter cold temperatures have settled in. It was 9 degrees F as measured out my back door on the day before Thanksgiving. Very cold and unusual for here, especially this early in the year. You may rightly say “Nine degrees? That’s nothing! The mercury routinely sinks to 40 below here in Northern Minnesota” or Western Wyoming or any number of other chilly northern climes. I agree that we enjoy relatively mild, if damp winters here. But the important thing when considering extremes of temperature is to bear in mind what is normal for a particular area. Expectations, standards and methods of winter readiness are necessarily different for different parts of the country. At Crow Creek Farm back in Wyoming, 9 degrees would not have been cause for any concern whatsoever. It would’ve been just another routine winter day. Of course certain preparations would have been carefully made: potatoes and carrots tucked away in the root cellar, frost free hydrants buried to 6 feet, hoses disconnected, garlic beds mulched and everything picked up and put away so as not to be lost in a perpetual blanket of snow.

So for our maritime locale a dip down into the single digits was ample cause for consternation. The cold dished up many surprises and challenges. The mangel crop, which grew so well last summer and was so productive, was hard hit, though fortunately not a total loss. Only about half of a fully-grown mangel root is in the soil; the other half extends up above ground level. The roots exposed to the air froze solid, turning from a lovely pink to a mushy white. Most of the tops were killed and drooped down over the beets like a damp bedraggled wig. Those few mangels that survived will be dug and grown out next year for seed. Hopefully we can capitalize on the incredible cold hardiness demonstrated inthe handful of survivors. Carrot tops also froze down though the roots developed an extra sweetness and were no worse for the wear.

I grow a sizable pumpkin patch each year with plenty for the kids to carve into jack-o-lanterns, a few for baking into pies and soup, and the rest to feed pigs. I simply throw a pumpkin or two in the pigpen and chop them up with a shovel. The pigs are wild for them and the seeds are beneficial for controlling internal parasites. I had a fairly impressive front porch display of pumpkins large and small when the cold hit. A pumpkin can take a fair amount of frost and not be any worse for the wear, but three days of prolonged subfreezing temperatures won’t do it any favors. Like the mangels, the pumpkins froze as solid as a brick of ice. Once the temperature crept back above freezing they quickly began to turn to a sickly yellow and orange mush on my front porch. I hurried them down to the barnyard where they became the base for a new compost pile. With a compost heap nothing ever need be a total loss.

One goes into winter with a certain set of expectations. I expect to be able to store pumpkins in the barn or even on the porch well into the winter without experiencing temperatures so cold as to cause the loss of an entire crop. I expect to be able to leave beets and carrots in the ground and harvest them as needed all winter. Because of this expectation I really had no contingency plan, nowhere to store a ton or more of pumpkins, or half an acre of mangels against a severe single digit cold snap.

I suppose the greatest lesson here is that we are, after all, at the whim of Mother Nature. We are in a dance with her and she gets to lead. We may think we are outwitting her with our cleverness only to be slapped down again and again. If she makes a change, we must change with her. With global climate change well under way our weather in general is getting more and more unpredictable. The new normal is that there is no normal. We must be observant and adaptable. Perhaps I’ll need a root cellar here after all. Perhaps the mangels will need to be stored in a protective heap, the pumpkins in the loft of the barn, the carrots mulched.

Much of successful farming, not unlike other enterprises, involves considering risk/benefit analyses. A cropping plan may follow this line of thought: Planting green beans earlier may give an edge at the local farmer’s market, or it may mean replanting after a surprise late frost. Using floating row covers may have saved the beans from the frost, but when added labor and row cover costs are figured in may not have been compensated for by the earliness at the market.

Good farmers make decisions on an on-going daily basis. A good farmer is flexible and adaptable, willing to make adjustments and refinements as climate and markets dictate. The good farmer will always be asking what is the cost? What is the return? What is the risk? How can I mitigate the risk? What will the climate allow? What will my soils allow? A farmer who demonstrates flexibility, adaptability and a willingness to throw out long held notions in the face of new information will find success. Keep records, be vigilant and remember, “The best fertilizer is the farmer’s footsteps.”

Flood – December 12th

Snow to cold to flood. Today the Stilliguamish River, half a mile of which borders the northern edge of the ranch, left its banks and flowed into our lower fields turning green pasture into grey lake. Where I fed the cows yesterday is now completely under water. Fortunately there is still plenty of high ground for the cows and the house and barn were wisely located on a shelf well above flood level. We watched in awe as enormous trees, ripped violently from their terrestrial moorings somewhere upstream, whipped past, bourn by roiling waters at a furious pace, bound for Puget Sound some twelve miles distant. The river crested this afternoon at more than seven feet above flood stage. Yet another 100-year flood; the third in five years!

“Fine weather we’re having,” or, “How ‘bout them Mets?”

My starting every column with a discussion of the weather set me to thinking about that old clichéd idea of talking about the weather; how it is all old men talk about downtown at the local coffee shop; how they sit for hours telling endless lies about how the snow was deeper, the nights colder and the hills steeper when they were young. However, clichés have basis in truth, and it is true that weather is a wonderful conversation opener. We all talk about the weather because it is the one thing in life that happens to all. Weather, quite simply, happens: to old and young, rich and poor alike. We can safely talk about the weather without risk of offending carefully guarded sensibilities or raising too many hackles (with the notable exception of whether or not global climate change is caused by human activity). Most of us know that it’s best to avoid politics, and likewise religion, unless you are sure of the company you are keeping. But weather is typically a fine topic equaled only in stature by baseball. Baseball, of course, is played in the summer when the weather is mundane, while the most exciting weather events occur in winter when baseball is but a distant memory. Weather and baseball make a nice conversational complement to each other, unless of course you are the one who asks, “Who are the Mets, anyway?”

LittleField Notes Farm Log

Spotlight On: Crops & Soil

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.

Bamboo A Multipurpose Agroforestry Crop

Bamboo: A Multipurpose Agroforestry Crop

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The bamboos are gaining increased attention as an alternative crop with multiple uses and benefits: 1) domestic use around the farm (e.g., vegetable stakes, trellis poles, shade laths); 2) commercial production for use in construction, food, and the arts (e.g., concrete reinforcement, fishing poles, furniture, crafts, edible bamboo shoots, musical instruments); and 3) ornamental, landscape, and conservation uses (e.g., specimen plants, screens, hedges, riparian buffer zone).

Of Peace and Quiet

LittleField Notes: Of Peace and Quiet

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from issue:

Walk with me for a moment to the edge of the Waterfall Field. We can lean on the gate and let our gaze soak up the mid-summer scene: a perfect blue sky and not a breath of wind. Movement catches your eye, and in the distance you see a threesome hard at work in the hayfield. Two Suffolk horses, heads bobbing, making good time followed by a man comfortably seated on a mowing machine. The waist high grass and clover falls steadily in neat swaths behind the mower. What you can’t help but notice is the quiet.

Barnyard Manure

Barnyard Manure

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The amount of manure produced must be considered in planning a cropping system for a farm. If one wishes to manure one-fifth of the land every year with 10 tons per acre, there would have to be provided two tons per year for each acre of the farm. This would require about one cow or horse, or equivalent, for each six acres of land.

Beautiful Grasses

What follow are a series of magnificent hundred-year old botanist’s watercolors depicting several useful grass varieties. Artworks such as this are found on the pages of Small Farmer’s Journal quite regularly and may be part of the reason that the small farm world considers this unusual magazine to be one of the world’s periodical gold standards.

Soil, Vegetation, and Acidity

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

Asparagus in Holland

Asparagus in Holland

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from issue:

The asparagus culture in Holland is for the majority white asparagus, grown in ridges. This piece of land used to be the headland of the field. The soil was therefore compact, and a big tractor came with a spader, loosening the soil. After that I used the horse for the lighter harrowing and scuffle work to prevent soil compaction. This land lies high for Dutch standards and has a low ground water level, that is why asparagus can grow there, which can root 3 foot deep over the years.

Rice as a New Staple Crop for Very Cold Climates

Rice as a New Staple Crop for Very Cold Climates

by: ,
from issue:

If you were visiting Earth from some other planet and had to describe its inhabitants upon your return, you might say that the average person eats rice, and grows it as well, usually on a small scale. You’d be accurately describing the habits of over a quarter of the world’s population. Rice has a special story with an exciting chapter now unfolding in the northeast USA among a small but growing group of farmers and growers.

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.

Prairie Grass A Jewel Among Kernels

Prairie Grass: A Jewel Among Kernels

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Years ago, my brother advised against plowing the patch of prairie on the back forty of our Hubbard, Iowa farm. “Some day,” he predicted, “that prairie will be as valuable as the rest of the 40 acres. We know how to grow corn; but that prairie was seeded by the last glacier.” Left untilled by generations of my family, the troublesome treasure has now become a jewel among a cluster of conventional crops on the farm.

How to Grow an Acre of Potatoes

How to Grow an Acre of Potatoes

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Heretofore potato production in this country has been conducted along extensive rather than intensive lines. In other words, we have been satisfied to plant twice as many acres as should have been necessary to produce a sufficient quantity of potatoes for our food requirements. Present economic conditions compel the grower to consider more seriously the desirability of reducing the cost of production by increasing the yield per acre.

Low Tillage Radish Onions

Low Tillage Radish Onions

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The radishes came up quick, filling the garden canopy completely that fall, and the following spring we found the plot was clean of weeds and rows of open holes were left where the radish roots had been growing. Well, we had a few extra onion plants that spring and decided to plant them in these holes, since we already had very clear lines laid out for us and a clean seedbed. What we got were the best looking onions that have ever come out of our gardens.

An Introduction To Farm Woodlands

The farm woodland is that portion of the farm which either never was cleared for tillage or pasture, or was later given back to woods growth. Thus it occupies land that never was considered suitable, or later proved unsuitable, for farm enterprises.

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.

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.

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.

Apple Cider Autumns Nectar

Apple Cider, Autumn’s Nectar

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While autumn’s beauty is food for our souls, autumn’s harvest provides food for our tables. Along with the many hours and days of canning and freezing our garden produce, harvest time also means apple cider making for our family. We have been making apple cider, or sweet cider as it is commonly called, for six years. Beginning slowly, the demand for our juice has resulted in a production of over six hundred gallons this year.

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