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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

Living With Horses

Living With Horses

by Paul Schmit of Teinten, Belgium

A LOOK BACK

The picture shown below has surely caught your eyes as you turned to this page of SFJ. You might have looked to the carthorse to determine its breed or you might have focused on the horsemen to find out the period this picture was taken. Take also the time to analyse the background of this photograph and you will see a rich countryside. A small farm building surrounded by a hilly forest, an orchard and a pasture full of various plants. Every living being here has found his place, from the people who cultivated the land to the small insect which flew from plant to plant to collect its nutrition.

Living With Horses

European farm works in the beginning of the 20th century.

The picture, which was taken before WW II, shows my grandpa François Lecomte, who was born in 1891 and who spent his life by farming and serving his neighbours as a blacksmith in a small village called “Téinten” located in the middle west of Luxembourg. He holds the jerk line of his carthorse harnessed to pull a two wheeled wagon, called a “Teimer”, which served many different purposes. This ranged from transporting the buckets full of fruits and big hay loads back home or the manure out of the stables. A single horse hitch was very common at this time as the farmers were very poor and beside the several cows and pigs they were only able to feed one horse.

If the work did require more draft power, a second horse had to be borrowed from a neighbour and hitched in front of the owner’s horse. In this case the traces of both horses were attached immediately to the shafts, however with a bad angle of draft, especially for the extra horse in front. When the farmers spoke about their horses, they mentioned the grey, the black or the bay horse. They didn’t worry too much about pedigrees and simply bought from the horse dealer what had an acceptable morphology and a clear head. The national stud book in Luxembourg, initially consisting only of the Ardennes draft horse breed, was established in 1921. Today it covers all kind of horses.

In the beginning of the last century, the vast majority of the 431 inhabitants of “Téinten” have been small farmers or worked as day labourers. Not every family, but also every house had its own name like “A Jounker”, “A Péiks” or “A Mäesch”. The house of my grandparents was called “A Schmatts” as “Schmatt” is the Luxembourg’s name for a blacksmith. The life was as hard as the soil in the Ardennes, the hilly countryside at the north-east of France. The south-east of Belgium and Luxembourg, was not of a great fertility. The local draft horse breed was a small horse and its conformation was far away from the show type horses of today, which stand high on their heavily feathered feet.

Today, the number of citizens in “Téinten” has nearly doubled, but there are only three farmers left who do their work on the fields full time. During the last century a lot of people left their rural milieu in order to find employment in the steel industry, which flourished at that time as some iron ore was found in the south of the country. The steel and finally also the slag, a by-product of the blast furnaces, which was used by the farmers as fertilizer on the fields, gave a certain prosperity to our nation.

Rural craftsmanship has changed into business. Not cultivating the land and harvesting what Mother Nature offers you does not guide the life of most of the people anymore, but making money is the name of the game. Finally, as you got some money, getting more money is what makes the challenge. If you leave your house at the morning by your air-conditioned car, closing the door of your garage by remote control, arriving after a more or less stressful drive to the underground car park of your company and being gently transported by an elevator to your office, you don’t have to worry about nature. It doesn’t matter if some rain helps grow the plants or if the sun helps to dry the hay on the fields.

Our villages and their surroundings are getting poorer from year to year. Not only by the modern agriculture itself, which becomes more and more an industrialized process, but also by the people who swarm out of the cities to the villages, where building land is still available at an acceptable price. The terrain around their small castles is kept clean by frequent acting motorized lawn mowers and large amounts of pesticides. There is definitely no place anymore for the elements shown in the background of picture #1.

OUR WORLD

We, my wife Cathy and I, still live in the village of my ancestors. Not at the farm “A Schmatts”, as this was given to my older brother. Our farm buildings are of recent time, while the main house is getting built, the barn and the stable are nearly finished. Even if everything is built with respect to the past and hosts a collection of old horse drawn farm machinery, we don’t look forward to opening a museum, nor do we think that we are one of the true references for doing farm jobs with horses in Europe. We both learned farming as a kid in the 70’s and the 80’s on different farms using tractor power. Today we try to put our farming methods in a more natural context. We don’t see our approach as a static one, with rules based on strong traditions, but we consequently adopt our methods.

An old beekeeper, who taught me in younger years some tricks about handling bees, always said to me “As a beekeeper you will rest an apprentice for all of your life”. What he meant with this statement was that each year differs from the year before. One year, nature offers a rich harvest of honey, the next one the cups get only half full. In one colony you can find bees with a smart character, while opening the next hive some other individuals greet you. What the beekeeper has finally to do is to learn to adapt himself to the different conditions that nature imposes on him.

This approach is, in my view, not only valuable for beekeeping, but it is true for all that you do in relation with the nature. You have to learn consequently and think about your actions over and over. By this article, which I consider as a small support to this magnificent publication, I simply try to share our experiences with you and would be very delighted to get some feedback, positive or negative.

There is obviously no better way for farming with respect to nature than doing it with horses. Our farm is run on organic principles and is using draft horses with modern farm machinery, mainly manufactured in USA but also some of our own development. We strictly rely on ground drive implements as using a donkey engine on horse drawn forecarts is not an option for us. (I may only see a reason behind this approach within the structures of life of the Amish subculture, but surely not in Western Europe.) However, to be honest, I must add that some of the work on our farm is done by contractors using tractor power, for example to run the hay baler. Moreover, even if we get some financial income, through participating in different programmes supported by our ministry of agriculture and the EU for extensive farming methods, we don’t farm to survive financially, but we do it simply as a vocation. Improving the quality of life, not only of ourselves, but maintaining the biodiversity around us is our goal.

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Spotlight On: Crops & Soil

What We've Learned From Compost

What We’ve Learned From Compost

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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.

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.

Asparagus in Holland

Asparagus in Holland

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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…

Walki Biodegradable Mulching Paper

New Biodegradable Mulching Paper

Views of any and all modern farming stir questions for me. The most common wonder for me has been ‘how come we haven’t come up with a something to replace plastic?’ It’s used for cold frames, hotbeds, greenhouses, silage and haylage bagging and it is used for mulch. That’s why when I read of this new Swedish innovation in specialized paper mulching I got the itch to scratch and learn more. What follows is what we know. We’d like to know more. LRM

Cultivating Questions Ridge-Till Revisited

Cultivating Questions: Ridge-Till Revisited

Delay ridge building until early fall so that the cover crop on the ridge does not grow more than 12” tall before winter. The residues from a short cover crop will be much less challenging to cultivate than a tall stand of oats, especially if tangly field peas are mixed in. Waiting for the winterkilled cover crop residues to breakdown as long as possible before ridge-tilling in the spring will also make cultivation much easier until you gain familiarity with the system.

Carrots and Beets The Roots of Our Garden

Carrots & Beets – The Roots of Our Garden

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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.

Mullein Indigenous Friend to All

Mullein: Indigenous Friend to All

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Mullein is a hardy native, soft and sturdy requiring no extra effort to thrive on your part. Whether you care to make your own medicines or not, consider mullein’s value to bees, bumblebees, butterflies, moths, dragonflies, who are needing nectar and nourishment that is toxin free and safe to consume. In this case, all you have to do is… nothing. What could be simpler?

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.

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.

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.

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.

Raised Bed Gardening

Raised Bed Gardening

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Raised beds may not be right for everyone, and our way is not the only way. I have seen raised beds made from rows of 5’ diameter kiddy pools, and heard of a fellow who collected junk refrigerators from the dump and lined them up on their backs into a rainbow of colored enameled steel raised beds. Even rows of five-gallon pails filled with plants count as raised beds in my estimation. Do it any way you care to, but do it if it’s right for you.

Seed Quality from Two Perspectives

Seed Quality from Two Perspectives

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We are approaching this from a seed quality standpoint, not just a seed saving one. Saving seed is fairly simple to do, but the results from planting those seeds can be very mixed; without a basis of understanding of seed quality, people can be disappointed and confused as to why they got the results they did. Both the home gardener and the seed company must understand seed quality to be successful in their respective endeavors.

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