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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: Equipment & Facilities

McCormick-Deering Ensilage Cutter No 12B

McCormick-Deering Ensilage Cutter No. 12B

from issue:

IMPORTANT TO McCORMICK DEERING OWNERS: This pamphlet has been prepared and is furnished for the purpose of giving the user as much information as possible pertaining to the care and operation of this machine. The owner is urged to read and study this instruction pamphlet and if ordinary care is exercised, he will be assured of satisfactory service.

McCormick-Deering Potato Digger

McCormick-Deering Potato Digger

from issue:

McCormick Deering (eventually International Harvestor) made what many believe to be one of the outstanding potato digger models. This post features the text and illustrations from the original manufacturer’s setup and operation literature, handed to the new owners upon purchase. This implement, pulled by two horses or a small suitable tractor, dug up the taters and conveyed them up an inclined, rattling chain which shook off most of the dirt and laid the crop on top of the ground for collection

John Deere Model HH Spreader

John Deere Model HH Spreader

from issue:

Check the adjustments on your spreader and make sure they are in proper operating condition. Hitch your team to the empty spreader to limber it up and see that it is working properly before loading. If you will turn the beaters over by hand before starting to the field, the spreader will start easier and will prevent throwing out a large bunch of manure when starting.

McCormick-Deering Tractor Disc Harrow No. 10-A

McCormick-Deering Tractor Disc Harrow No. 10-A

Small to mid-sized disc-harrows are a most useful tillage implement. Some farmers consider them indispensable. Discs such as the McD 10-A may be used with either tractors or big hitches of work horses. This tool will cut both plowed and unplowed ground. Ahead of the moldboard plow, the disc harrow is a valuable tool to cut up and free tough sod. When employed in tandem with spring tooth harrows, a great deal of work can be accomplished in much less time.

Mini Horse Haying

Mini Horse Haying

by:
from issue:

The first mini I bought was a three year old gelding named Casper. He taught me a lot about what a 38 inch mini could do just by driving me around the neighborhood. He didn’t cover the miles fast, but he did get me there! It wasn’t long before several more 38 inch tall minis found their way home. I presently have four minis that are relatively quiet, responsive to the bit, and can work without a lot of drama.

Between Ourselves & Our Land

Between Ourselves & Our Land

by:
from issue:

Since being introduced to the straddle row cultivator last year in hilling our potatoes, I have been excited to experiment with different tools mounted under the versatile machine. Like the famed Allis Chalmers G or Farmall Cub my peers of the internal combustion persuasion utilize on their vegetable farms, this tool can help maximize efficiency in many ways on the small farm.

Mowing with Scythes

Mowing with Scythes

by:
from issue:

Scythes were used extensively in Europe and North America until the early 20th century, after which they went out of favor as farm mechanization took off. However, the scythe is gaining new interest among small farmers in the West who want to mow grass on an acre or two, and could be a useful tool for farmers in the Tropics who do not have the resources to buy expensive mowing equipment.

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 3

by:
from issue:

In parallel with making hay on the ground, nearly every year I have also made some hay on tripods. The attraction of this method is that it only needs one day of good weather to dry the grass sufficiently before it is put on the tripods, and then the hay takes very little harm no matter what the weather, usually coming out green, dry and smelling of hay two weeks later when it can be baled or stacked.

Cockshutt Plow Found in Alberta

Cockshutt Plow Found in Alberta!

Dale Befus introduced me to a plow I had not set eyes on before, most unusual affair though Dale assures me not uncommon in Alberta, this implement is a beam-hung riding plow (wheels hang from the beam) as versus the frame-hung units (where the beam hangs under the wheel-supported frame).

Farm Drum 27 Case 22 x 36 Threshing Machine

Farm Drum #27: Case 22 x 36 Threshing Machine

by:

Friend and Auctioneer Dennis Turmon has an upcoming auction featuring a Case Threshing machine, and we couldn’t wait when he invited us to take a look. On a blustery Central Oregon day (sorry about the wind noise), Lynn & Dennis take us on a guided tour of the Case 22×36 Thresher.

Haying With Horses

Haying With Horses

If the reader is considering the construction of a barn we encourage you to give more than passing thought to allowing the structure of the gable to be open enough to accommodate the hanging of a trolley track. It is difficult or impossible to retrofit a truss-built barn, which may have many supports crisscrossing the inside gable, to receive hay jags. At least allowing for the option in a new construction design will leave the option for loose hay systems in the future.

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.

Choosing a Gas or Coal Forge for the Small Farm Shop

Choosing a Gas or Coal Forge for the Small Farm Shop

by:
from issue:

After you’ve built a small farm blacksmith shop, one of the first decisions that you’ll need to make is which type of fuel you’ll be using. Most people choose either gas (propane) or coal, however, wood fired forges are also an option. All three fuel types have pros and cons. The final decision will likely be based on the type of forging that you plan to do and the local availability of the fuel.

The Cutting Edge

The Cutting Edge

by:
from issue:

In the morning we awoke to a three quarters of a mile long swath of old growth mixed conifer and aspen trees, uprooted and strewn everywhere we looked. We hadn’t moved here to become loggers, but it looked like God had other plans! We had chosen to become caretakers of this beautiful place because of the peace and quiet, the clean air, the myriad of birds and wildlife! Thus, we were presented with a challenge: how to clean up this blowdown in a clean, sustainable way.

Is This Mower Worth Rebuilding

Is This Mower Worth Rebuilding?

If you are in a position to choose which make and model of mower you might wish to work on might I put in my vote for either the McD/Internationals #7 & #9 or the John Deere Big Four. These were the last and most plentiful models made and some parts are still available with a fair measure of aftermarket cutter bar parts which are interchangeable.

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.

Delivery Wagon Plans

Delivery Wagon Plans

from issue:

While the low down delivery wagon is an improvement, the objectionable features are increased. But with all those objections the low down wagons increase every year. Their convenience outweighs all other objections. They are handy for country delivery and are fitted up inside to suit either grocers, bakers, butchers or milk delivery, or a combination of the four.

Planet Jr Two Horse Equipment

Planet Jr. Two-Horse Equipment

from issue:

This information on Planet Jr. two horse equipment is from an old booklet which had been shared with us by Dave McCoy, a horse-logger from our parts: “Think of the saving made in cultivating perfectly two rows of potatoes, beans, corn or any crop planted in rows not over 44 inches apart, at a single passage. This means double work at a single cost, for the arrangement of the fourteen teeth is such that all the ground is well tilled and no open furrows are left next to the row, while one man attends easily to the work, with one team.”

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