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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 Seed Irony

LittleField Notes Seed Irony

LittleField Notes: Seed Irony

by Ryan Foxley of Arlington, WA

Seeds are little miracles of potential, waiting as if in cryogenic suspension until the moment when the collected influences of water, soil temperature and light are aligned just so; then begins the journey from seed, to leaf, to flower, to fruit and back to seed again.

They say to preserve them properly, seeds should be kept in a cool, dark place in a sealed, dry container. Yet the circumstances under which seeds in a natural environment store themselves (so to speak) seem so far from ideal, that it’s a wonder plants manage to reproduce at all. But any gardener knows that plants not only manage to reproduce, they excel at it. Who hasn’t thrown a giant squash into the compost heap in the fall only to see some mystery squash growing there (or someplace where the compost was spread) the next summer? It never ceases to amaze me that a tomato can fall off the vine in August, lay pulverized and rotting on the ground, be exposed to three season’s worth of rains and frosts and perhaps even (like this year) an early hot spell — and still germinate. Come spring, baby plants from last years crops will be seen growing hither and thither all by themselves, without the slightest help or encouragement from me. Just this week I’ve noted the sprouts of mangels, cilantro, dill and tomatoes, all from last year’s flowering plants, seeds of which I neither harvested, threshed, winnowed, stored nor planted. And yet there they are, carving out a nice home for themselves in a quiet corner of the garden, the wrong corner of course, since I try to practice decent crop rotations by not planting the same thing in the same plot year after year. And though it pains me, these little volunteer progeny must be hoed out, for at this point they are little better than ordinary weeds.

Why then, when left to their own devices are seeds so hardy, yet become so fragile under our care? I know that if I accidentally left a seed packet out in a bucket for even a couple of hours and a surprise rain shower sprinkled them I’d be lucky to get 15% germination. I would cuss myself for my carelessness and maybe have to replant, or risk suffering a poor, thin crop. There are two sets of rules at play here: one for us, and one for Nature. Our rules are strict and narrowly defined, while Nature’s are broad and flexible. Mother Nature does her work remarkably well. Our best efforts are but feeble attempts at imitation that at times seem more like mockery.

LittleField Notes Seed Irony

Hat Conceit

Time was a farmer wouldn’t have been seen without a practical hat on his head, “a good lid,” as my Dad likes to say. In the summer it would likely have been a wide brimmed straw hat providing shade from the hot summer sun. When dipped in the water trough before going back to the field it functioned like a human radiator, cooling through evaporation. In the winter he would don a good wool cap, perhaps with earflaps that could be folded up when his labors produced an internal warmth exceeding that of the chill in the air. For in-between seasons, on cooler summer days, and certainly for going to town, a good felt hat would answer, always a good bet for both sun and rain and general purpose wear. Or perhaps in certain conditions, especially cool, but not cold weather, the classic Irish wool flat cap or fisherman’s cap would answer. I find this to be a particularly appropriate type of hat for our cloudy cool maritime climate (not unlike Ireland) on days when there is neither steady rain nor blazing sun.

Before automobiles, garages and office jobs were invented, people used to work out in the elements more than they do nowadays. Perhaps that is why everyone, men especially, used to wear hats when outdoors. It is said of my wife’s grand-father that he would not step out onto the porch to get the paper without first putting on his hat.

It is true that most farmers still wear hats, but the modern hat of choice defies all logic. The ubiquitous mesh ball cap with the John Deere logo, or the logo of the local feed mill has become standard issue. It’s as if you took all the design elements and materials that are most functional, did away with them, and instead chose an impractical design utilizing impractical materials. To do away with straw, felt and wool and replace it with plastic and polyester, or even cheap cotton and eliminate three quarters of the brim just doesn’t make sense. I know because I myself have stood in a ball cap while the rain dribbled miserably down my neck. I’ve also nursed sunburned ears and neck because I lacked proper headwear. I’ve laughed heartily (inwardly, mind you) at some dude standing there shading his eyes from intense summer sun with his cap on backwards, the brim 180 degrees from useful. But never mind — he was COOL! I guess nowadays it’s Non-function follows form, or form at all costs.

I suppose enclosed, air-conditioned cabs on large tractors, and the elimination of diversity and livestock from most farms has only hastened the shift away from brimmed hats. If this seems like too big a leap in logic, just compare the differing labor requirements of the small, diversified farm with those of the large mono- culture farm and you can easily see the connection. Fixing fence, hoeing corn, checking cows, and picking kale and cucumbers in all weather and in all seasons requires direct contact with the elements, dictating the need for a proper hat. Commodity crop farming, on the other hand, has become largely an indoor activity, making what you put on your head much less important. In fact, a skullcap would be perfectly adequate headgear for sitting for days on end in a sealed, air- conditioned tractor cab planting 5,000 acres of soybeans. Now imagine taking the cream cans five miles to town in the buckboard through a steady rain with a mesh feed store hat on your head. You’d only do that once!

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Spotlight On: Crops & Soil

Prairie Grass A Jewel Among Kernels

Prairie Grass: A Jewel Among Kernels

by:
from issue:

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.

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.

Bamboo A Multipurpose Agroforestry Crop

Bamboo: A Multipurpose Agroforestry Crop

by:
from issue:

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).

Cultivating Questions Winterkilled Cover Crops for a Mild Climate

Cultivating Questions: Winterkilled Cover Crops For A Mild Climate Part 1

Our mild climate makes it too easy to overwinter cover crops. Then the typically wet springs (and, on our farm, wet soils) let the cover put on loads of topgrowth before getting on the soil. Buckwheat is the only crop that I can be certain will winterkill. Field peas, oats, annual rye and crimson clover have all overwintered here. Any suggestions?

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.

Ginseng Culture

Ginseng Culture

U.S. Department of Agriculture Farmer’s Bulletin No. 1184 Issued 1921, Revised 1941 — The evident preference of the Chinese for the wild root and the unsatisfactory state of the general market for cultivated ginseng have caused grave doubts as to the future prospects of the industry. These doubts will probably be realized unless growers should strive for quality of product and not for quantity of production, as has been the all too common practice in the past.

Beating the Beetles – War & Peace in a Houston Garden

Blooming that is, unless the cucumber beetles arrive first.
And arrive they have … “At first I thought they looked like big, yellow lady bugs.” Paul said, “Then I looked…

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

by:
from issue:

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.

Cultivating Questions

Cultivating Questions: Concerning the Bioextensive Market Garden

One of our goals when we first started farming here was to develop the farm as a self-contained nutrient system. Unlike the almost complete recycling of nutrients which can take place on a livestock operation, we are always amazed – even a little disturbed – to see how many tons of fertility and organic matter leave the market garden each year with so little returned to the good earth.

An Introduction Into Plant Polyculture

An excerpt from What’s Wrong With My Fruit Garden
Companion Planting for Beginners

Syrup From Oregons Big-Leaf Maple

Syrup From Oregon’s Big Leaf Maple

by:
from issue:

There is a great potential in establishment of a seasonal “sugarbush” industry for small farmers of the northwestern states, particularly western Oregon and Washington. Five syrup producing species of maples are found mainly east of the Rocky Mountains. The Box Elder and the Big-leaf Maple are the only syrup producing maples of the Pacific Northwest. Properly made syrup from these two western maples is indistinguishable from the syrup of maples of the midwestern and northeastern states.

Lost Apples

Lost Apples

The mindboggling agricultural plant and animal diversity, at the beginning of the twentieth century, should have been a treasure trove which mankind worked tirelessy to maintain. Such has not been the case. Alas, much has been lost, perhaps forever. Here are images and information on a handful of apple varieties from a valuable hundred year old text in our library.

What We've Learned From Compost

What We’ve Learned From Compost

by:
from issue:

Our compost piles will age for at least a year before being added to the garden. We have learned that the slow aging is more beneficial to the decomposition process as well as not losing nearly as much nitrogen to off-gassing as happens with the hot and fast methods. Another benefit is the decomposition is much more thorough, destroying weed seeds, pathogens and any unwanted chemicals much better in a slower composting setup.

Carrots and Beets The Roots of Our Garden

Carrots & Beets – The Roots of Our Garden

by:
from issue:

Carrots and beets are some of the vegetables that are easy to kill with kindness. They’re little gluttons for space and nutrients, and must be handled with an iron fist to make them grow straight and strong. Give the buggers no slack at all! Your motto should be – “If in doubt, yank it out!” I pinch out a finger full (maybe 3/4” wide) and skip a finger width. Pinch and skip, pinch and skip, working with existing gaps and rooting out particularly thick clumps.

Starting Seeds

From Dusty Shelves: A WWII era article from Farming For Security

Onion Culture

Onion Culture

The essential requirements of a soil upon which to grow onions profitably are a high state of fertility, good mechanical condition, properties – that is, if it contains sufficient sand and humus to be easily worked, is retentive of moisture and fertilizers, and is capable of drainage – all other requirements can be met.

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes

This is the account of how one farm put more horse power into the planting, cultivation, and harvesting of its potato crop. Ever since we began farming on our own in 1994 one of our principle aims has been the conversion of our farm operation to live horse power wherever feasible. This has meant replacing mechanized tools such as tractors and rototillers and figuring out how to reduce human labor as we expanded upon the labor capacity of our work horses.

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