Small Farmer's Journal

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Everyone should have a piece of land to care for.

news bits and squirming crumbles

from Lynn Miller and Paul Hunter

6-24

The news trickles down to us in a predictably confusing warp and weave: the latest incarnation of a federal farm bill has been “hot-potatoed” into something the US senate passed. Now the Congress is asked to get it through its mill before mid September – this on the heals of a House leadership which says, openly, that it wants to see how it fits in the shifting winds of this political season. On the surface, people we normally side with say this bill is a good thing. Deeper down, we have enough experience with this process to know it is nigh on impossible even for the experts to assess how such complicated legislative stuff can ever be fully understood until its seen in messy action.

Meanwhile the consequences of inaction are millions of starving children worldwide and lost opportunities to get good, prepared and willing people back on productive small farms. It is hard not to be ashamed of what humanity has made of political expediency. This “stuff” , the very workings of government, doesn’t work.

You’d never be able to harvest the broccoli or the hay or milk the cows or make the cheese if it were subject to government process. Not only are our industrial farms too big, so also are our governments and our committee-molested collective assumptions.  Get small real soon. LRM

 

6-20-12

PLANET EARTH does not belong to corporate interests, nor to governments, nor to the fashionable collective conscience of the moment. She belongs to herself, with a delicate but critical nod to biological life – all of it! Humans have taken for themselves a temporary leasehold on the planet. Somehow that was allowed over these last 100 years to slough off to the corporate boardrooms. This is not a good thing.

To earn the right to continue living on this planet, we need to find simple, direct solutions to human interaction with all other forms of biological life. We need to find ways that our time on this planet is beneficial for all. Wresting control of the land, air and sea from corporate interests is vitally important. It can start by accepting as axiomatic that every one should have a piece of land to care for. And by ‘every one’ we are speaking of individual human beings. LRM

 “There is so much war in the world, evil has so many faces, the plough has so little honor, the laborers are taken, the fields untended and the curving sickle is beaten into the sword that yields not.” – Vergil, the Georgics

Another bedrock proposition is that farmland is open, vulnerable, so needs protection against human marauders and predators. Farming on a sustainable, caring scale presupposes a society that does not let bandits and paramilitary groups roam at large, taking what they please. And farming needs protection from upwind and upstream influences that pollute soil and water. PH

 

6-18-2012

Nature’s balance shuffles in predation and disaster to hold the mix. Since the inception of the industrial age, man falsely believed he had no predator to fear save other men but such has not been the case. Man created artificial lives we know as corporations and computers and both have been eating away at the hearts and souls of people for a very long while. Corporations have all but dissolved human culpability. Within the next few decades we will no longer be at immediate fault. And computers have eaten away the range and elasticity of the human mind. Soon “thought” will be a curiosity of the past. Humans are devolving into a vegetable form. The question of the age? Can we put those two, computers and corporations, back in the can?

The planet is trying not to die. It is struggling against the destructive and denuding human foot print. There are horrible paradoxes  in all of this. There are also magical and healing paradoxes plain to see.

Wresting the control of the land, sea and air from industry and placing it all in the “care” of individuals to steward this environment with a goal of increasing fertility, biological diversity, and healthfulness – this is what can and will save the earth. Sweet paradox: taking a step backwards towards the empowerment of the individual WILL result in the only sure step forward to save human life on earth. LRM

 

6-15-2012

Some would argue that the U.S. is slipping into a third world status, forfeiting its position as world leader. We might reasonably ask “world leader” in what regard? When it comes to questions of world hunger, environmental degradation, and appropriate farming the U.S.A. has been woefully behind the curve for decades.

What the world needs NOW, today, are millions of new small farmers enjoying independence of operation and having the opportunity to employ the full range of intriguing, exciting, vital and fertile new approaches to intensive agricultural pursuit. YES, you can farm. YES, you should farm. YES, we need you farming TODAY! LRM

A Matter of a Raincoat 

The difference between farmers and other people is not just a matter of a raincoat. It’s not just how they watch the weather reports and seasonal changes with care. Farmers have to act on the conditions they see, and live with the consequences of their actions. You could say they don’t have to if they have crop insurance, which the large-scale operators do, courtesy of the federal government, but in the long run there is no crop insurance. The big picture is made up of accumulated good guesses and bad guesses. Like the hot dog vendor outside the ballpark, who has to know how many hot dogs to have on hand, and how many to cook in time to make any difference when the rush comes, before and after the game. That’s how you make a living. Inside the ball park with a captive audience forced to wait in line to buy a dog at inflated prices, or curb their hunger, with the game blaring all around, it’s a different story, with less risk and more profit to be shared more ways with a large and assertive management. One thing about scale: it makes you either an insider or an outsider, and defines how you get to play the game. – PH

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Spotlight On: Farming Systems & Approaches

The Best Kept Secret, Revisited

The Best Kept Secret, Revisited

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At the same time that U.S. commercial beekeeping is circling down in a death spiral, hobby beekeeping is booming and almost every beekeeping club in the country has at least twice as many members as it did twenty years ago. What this means is that if you are fortunate enough to live in a place with relatively clean and varied sources of pollen and nectar, the potential for a successful family-sized commercial apiary is better now than it has been for many decades.

Cultivating Questions Winterkilled Cover Crops for a Mild Climate Part 2

Cultivating Questions: Winterkilled Cover Crops For A Mild Climate Part 2

Finding just the right cover crop-tillage combination for crops planted the last half of June has always been a real challenge in our location. While surface-tilling mature rye and vetch in May works well for fall crops established in July and August, this cover crop-tillage combo does not allow enough time for decomposition and moisture accumulation for end-of-June plantings.

Useful Birds

Useful Birds

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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.

LittleField Notes Hay

LittleField Notes: Hay

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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.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 5

You might think that your new farm is fenced all wrong, or that a certain tree is in the wrong place, or that a wet area would be better drained, or that this gully would make a good pond site, or that a depression in the road should be filled, or that the old sheds should all come down right away. Well maybe you’re right on all counts. But maybe, you’re wrong.

Organic To Be or Not To Be

Organic: To Be or Not To Be

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How do our customers know that we’re accurately representing our products? That’s the key, the reason that a third party verification system was created, right? I think this is the beauty of a smaller-scale, community-based direct market food system. During parts of the year, my customers drive past my sheep on their way to the farmers’ market. At all times of the year, we welcome visitors to our farm. In other words, our production practices are entirely open for our customers to see.

Traditional Agriculture in Siberia

Traditional Agriculture in Siberia

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The agricultural system of the Old Believers has long been one of hand labor. Their homesteads (hozyastvas) were not intended for tractors or horses, with the possible exception of their larger potato fields. Traditionally the small peasant hozyastva has its roots in hand labor, and this has helped maintain the health of the land. Understanding the natural systems is easier when one’s hands are in the soil every day as opposed to seeing the land from the seat of a tractor.

Cultivating Questions Going Single

Cultivating Questions: Going Single

Going single did not occur to us until we began receiving questions from prospective teamsters who felt it would be more manageable and economical to get started with a single horse than a team. After 29 years of market gardening with two or more horses, our impetus to try out one-horse farming was not a question of management or economy, but due to the radically diverging horse temperaments on our farm.

Birth of a Farm

Birth of a Farm

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“Isn’t it nice?” I offer to my supper companions, “to see our beautiful horses right while we’re eating? I feel like I’m on a Kentucky horse farm, with rolling bluegrass vistas.” I sweep my arm dramatically towards the view, the rigged up electric fence, the lawn straggling down to the pond, the three horses, one of whom is relieving herself at the moment. “Oh, huh,” he answers. “I was thinking it was more like a cheesy bed and breakfast.”

Congo Farm Project

Congo Farm Project

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I was at day one, standing outside an old burnt-out Belgian plantation house, donated to us by the progressive young chief of the village of Luvungi. My Congolese friend and I had told him that we would need to hire some workers to help clear the land around the compound, and to put a new roof on the building. I thought we should be able to attract at least 20 workers. Then, I looked out to see a crowd of about 800 eager villagers, each one with their own hoe.

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.

Cultivating Questions

Cultivating Questions: Follow-Up On Phosphorus

We like to think that the bio-extensive approach to market gardening minimizes the risk of overloading the soil with nutrients because the fallow lands make it possible to grow lots of cover crops to maintain soil structure and organic matter rather than relying on large quantities of manure and compost. However, we are now seeing the consequences of ignoring our own farm philosophy when we resorted to off-farm inputs to correct a phosphate deficiency.

LittleField Notes Seed Irony

LittleField Notes: Seed Irony

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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 the next summer?

Cuban Agriculture

Cuban Agriculture

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In December of 1979, Mary Jo and I spent two weeks traveling in Cuba on a “Farmer’s Tour of Cuba”. The tour was a first of its kind. It was organized in the U.S. by farmers, was made up of U.S. farmers and agriculturally oriented folks, and was sponsored in Cuba by A.N.A.P., the National Association of Independent Farmers. As we learned about farming we also learned how the individuals, farms, and communities we visited fit into the greater social and economic structure of Cuba.

LittleField Notes Fall 2011

LittleField Notes: Fall 2011

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There is a certain set of skills and knowledge that tend to fall through the cracks of your average farm how-to book. Books of a more specialized nature are also abundant but often seem to take a fairly simple subject and make it seem daunting in scope and detail. What follows are a few tidbits of knowledge that I have found useful over the years – the little things that will inevitably need to be learned at some point in the farmer education process.

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.

Evolution of a Permanent Bed System

Evolution of a Permanent Bed System

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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.

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.

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