Small Farmer's Journal

Facebook  YouTube

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Traditional Agriculture in Siberia
Traditional Agriculture in Siberia

The Kurka river valley.

Traditional Agriculture in an Old Believer’s Village in Siberia

by Effie Elfer of Vermont

Note: Any words in italic are Russian words spelled phonetically in the Latin alphabet.

Russia is a vast country. The northern city of St. Petersburg sits some 7000 miles from the Green Mountains of Vermont, where I grew up on a small subsistence farm. From St. Petersburg to the city of Irkutsk is an eight-hour flight, like flying across the United States. In Irkutsk, a train skirts the southern tip of Lake Baikal, the “Jewel of Siberia,” bringing one into the Autonomous Republic of Buryatia, stopping in its capital, Ulan Ude. Someone must meet you at the station, because since the fall of the Soviet Union, the bus runs only three times a week. An hour-long car ride brings you 43 miles east, from the city of Ulan Ude, through rolling hills of steppe, by way of once thriving villages, past a Buddhist Datsan, to the Old Believer’s village of Ynegetai.

Ynegetai is a Buryiat word meaning “place of the fox.” The village itself was settled in a wide river valley bordered on the east and west by mountains and rolling steppe. Today about 2,300 people populate the village. The seasons of this region, though at a similar latitude as Montreal, Quebec, are marked by long winters and short, hot summers.

Though the daytime temperature in May rises well above 77 degrees F, nights are well below freezing — a pattern driven by the effect of clear skies. During the day the sun warms the earth, but once the sun sets, the temperature plummets. The lack of radiant solar heat, combined with meager amounts of rather dry winter snows, make the land of this region cold well into spring. Without insulating snow, frost penetrates deep into the soil. Most people’s land remains unworkable until late April.

Traditional Agriculture in Siberia

Main Street of Ynegetai, Siberia.

History

Russian Old Believers settled in Ynegetai at the beginning of the 17th century. The Old Believers are populations of Russians who did not accept reforms made in the Russian Orthodox Church in the 15th century. These reforms split the church. Those choosing to keep the old traditions took the name “Old Believer,” in Russian, “Cemeskee,” and were subsequently heavily persecuted. Large numbers of Old Believers were exiled to Poland, Belarus and the Ukraine almost 300 years ago.

Old Believers have a strong cultural heritage to agriculture and working the land. During the 18th century, Catherine the Great came to rule Russia, and her policies toward the Old Believers were less harsh than those of former tsars. Knowing of the agricultural heritage of the Old Believers and their reputation as hard workers, she asked them to return from exile and settle in Siberia to grow grain for western Russia.

Large numbers of Old Believers resettled in Siberia, bringing their seeds and agricultural knowledge from the west. They had to adapt their agricultural system to a new landscape and to a colder climate and shorter growing season.

Traditional Agriculture in Siberia

Village transportation.

Many aspects of Russia’s traditional agricultural system have been preserved in the Old Believer villages of Siberia, particularly in Ynegetai. For 200 years, the people have changed little in the way they work their land and structure their daily lives around agricultural activities. Few villages in Siberia were untouched by Soviet collectivization, and during the past century, the people of Ynegetai witnessed rapid change and development under the Soviet system. The village became restructured, land was taken and redistributed, state farms were built and run with incredible inefficiency. Yet through such transformation, the Old Believers maintained one thread of stability in their lives: that is their personal homesteads, their hozyastva.

The agricultural system of the Old Believers in Ynegetai encompasses two areas: work with dairy cows, and with their agarod, or kitchen gardens/ potato fields. Both areas depend on one another, and aspects of both allow the Old Believers’ agricultural cycle to regenerate itself every year.

Traditional Agriculture in Siberia

Morning chores, Larissa milking her cow. Ynegetai, Siberia, Russia, April ‘03.

Cows

The Old Believers of Ynegetai have an incredible relationship with their animals, in particular their cows, which are respected and treated with kindness. In return the cows give plenty of milk and are happy to come home every evening after being turned out to graze for the day. The Old Believers of Ynegetai know and understand that without their cows they could not survive in Siberia.

SmallFarmersJournal.com is a live, ever-changing subscription website. To gain access to all the content on this site, subscribe for just $5 per month. If you are not completely satisfied, cancel at any time. Here at your own convenience you can access past articles from Small Farmer's Journal's first forty years and all of the brand new content of new issues. You will also find posts of complete equipment manuals, a wide assortment of valuable ads, a vibrant events calendar, and up to the minute small farm news bulletins. The site features weather forecasts for your own area, moon phase calendaring for farm decisions, recipes, and loads of miscellaneous information.

Spotlight On: Crops & Soil

Asparagus in Holland

Asparagus in Holland

by:
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.

Cabbage

Cabbage

by:
from issue:

Cabbage is the most important vegetable commercially of the cole crops, which include cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, kohlrabi, collard, broccoli, and many others. It also ranks as one of the most important of all vegetable crops and is universally cultivated as a garden, truck and general farm crop. The market for cabbage, like that for potatoes, is continuous throughout the year, and this tends to make it one of the staple vegetables.

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.

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.

Wild Potatoes and Calcium

Wild potatoes bring increased calcium for better tubers.Have you ever cut into a potato to find a dark spot or hollow part? Early research shows that these defects are likely the result of calcium deficiencies in the potato — and that tuber calcium is genetically linked to tuber quality.

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.

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.

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…

Apple Cider Autumns Nectar

Apple Cider, Autumn’s Nectar

by:
from issue:

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.

Soil, Vegetation, and Acidity

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

Swallow

Rotation As A Means Of Blight Control

Every farmer knows that when a crop is grown on the same field year after year, it becomes inferior in quality and the yield steadily diminishes.

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.

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.

Low Tillage Radish Onions

Low Tillage Radish Onions

by:
from issue:

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.

Of Peace and Quiet

LittleField Notes: Of Peace and Quiet

by:
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.

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.

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.

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