After Khoke and I married, the life we wove with farming and gardening kept us as busy as one could imagine. The summer and fall harvest would leave our small house feeling quite small indeed. As winter wore on, our potatoes and apples would shrivel in the dry air and some of my canned goods would pop their seals from being stored at temperatures much too warm. So began the conversation about building a root cellar.
When I was a child, my father cut all our wood by hand. A neighbor, standing by watching him one day asked, “Why don’t you get a chainsaw? Just think how much more wood you could cut in a day, the extra time you would have to spend with your family, and you could even read your Bible more.” The day did come when my father got a chainsaw, and he did cut many times more wood than before. As he reflected on the conversation he’d had with the neighbor of his youth, he noted that for all the wood he was able to cut with relative ease, he somehow spent less time than ever with his family and certainly didn’t find occasion to read his Bible more.
Laundry is one of those jobs that has been around since the dawn of time. The dawn of clothes at least. Electricity has taken a relatively labor intensive job and made it quite easy. All we need now is an automatic clothes folder. But when the power goes out and you are out of socks or you do something like me, crusade into off grid living, you need some alternatives.
How many times has the gardener, even the most seasoned of gardeners, been coaxed and tempted by the warm spring sun and breezes to chance the frosts and plant too early? Slightly crazed by cabin fever and beautiful seed catalogs, these Sirens have waylaid many a gardener who knows better into a garden of frosted tomato and pepper plants.
With what was best for Sarah now done, we had the foal to worry about. Isaac was nowhere near ready to wean and badly underweight already. He flat refused to take Foal Lac, a milk replacer for foals. He did eat some hay and grain which likely was what was keeping him alive. He was a sorry looking little horse now and we wondered, should we put him down too? Is he old enough to make it? A day or two went by and I laid awake thinking about him at night. About the sad little foal that walked around and around the barn all day long looking for his mother. Then I hit on an idea and went to talk to our neighbor Ammon Weeks the next day.
When I lived in Tennessee, I traveled to a lot of events selling the baskets that I made. This gave me the opportunity to meet lots of interesting people. At one event I met the band director of a local school, his students were performing at the street event. The conversation turned to neither baskets nor music but rather gardening. He said he grew some of his own grain in his backyard garden. It grew across one end of the garden and he harvested it by hand. I had never heard of anyone doing such a thing. In this century at least. I was fascinated.
The family milk cow has followed the small farmer through the ages and lives on yet today. She comes in many colors, sizes and dispositions. As with any animal, she comes with the dignity of her own personality and characteristics. Every cow I have ever had or milked has been unique in her own way. Some I have loved and some, well, not so much.
A few years ago we switched from tapping our maple trees with metal taps to wooden taps we make. There comes with it a feeling of independence and self-provision. Most of the elderberry canes we cut come from a thicket in the very woods we tap the maples. There are more canes every year, availing themselves in case we need replacements for taps that broke. Be sure to only select canes with live wood. Don’t worry about the plants, elderberries are very tenacious and will grow more canes to replace the ones you cut.
When you reach for a bottle or jug of maple syrup there’s nothing quite like the price tag attached to it to make you think twice. It is worth it, no doubt, in more than one way. But if you have maples in your neck of the woods there is no reason why you can’t make it yourself. It is always best to start small with a process that is easy for you to handle and increase each year as you gain experience and confidence. There are also lots of great books out there with guidelines, facts and information of all kinds. Just don’t let yourself become overwhelmed with it. Sometimes more information isn’t more, it’s too much.
Once upon a time there were no gas (or steam) powered motors. Necessity begets innovation and every discovery simply lays the foundation for the next. Mechanization arose, yet for a long time the only power sources were a person’s two hands or the four legs of a draft animal. An under appreciated amount of hand and draft powered machinery came to be. Among these were horsepower units. A set of gears set in motion by a draft animal walking a circular track pulling a tongue.
Once our cellar was done, meaning the shell, floor, doors, etc., then it needed shelves. The shelves needed to be rot or rust resistant (due to the natural cellar humidity) and strong. That set of shelves on the right, when completely full, would be holding over 2,000 lbs in jars and food, not counting the lumber itself. There is also a very finite amount of working space in that cellar for the construction of those shelves.
Ever wonder where all that seed comes from when you place your midwinter seed orders? Many seed companies (as in retail seed catalogs) buy at least some of the seed they offer from commercial seed growers who have a highly mechanized operation. This allows us to have inexpensive seed that is widely available. A lot of these catalogs also contract small farm growers to provide those hard-to-find specialty seeds we all love. There are also seed companies who do all their own grow-outs for the seed they offer. All these companies will also run seed trials to test the qualities of new varieties they want to offer.
This past year a phenomenon occurred I had not heard of before that brought me mixed feelings. In the face of the nationwide quarantines and shelter in place mandates, people everywhere put out gardens. People who had not gardened before, those who had not in many years, and the regular gardeners did even more. This resulted in seed companies everywhere running out of seed relatively early in the year. Many of these companies had surplus stock that was completely wiped out. And then it happened again this year. As I said this brought me mixed feelings. The first was “Wow! This is great, more people are gardening than ever!” The next thought was a little more somber and perhaps selfish, “I may not be able to count on getting the seed I want when I want it.”
Every bit of length, taper, angle, weight and sharpness contributes to how and for what the axe is used. The temper (hardness) of the metal must be hard enough to hold an edge and soft enough to file and not be brittle. A blunter maul with an abrupt taper blows the wood apart, or bounces off if it cannot penetrate. A sharp bit with a longer taper will cut in and penetrate easier before splitting the wood apart. If it doesn’t fully succeed one must pump the handle to loosen the head and hit it again.
To me, the raw versus pasteurized milk debate is easily settled in my mind. If I am going to drink milk from a cow with a number, lined up in her place in an industrial dairy, you’d better believe I want that milk pasteurized. For most of my life I drank milk from a cow with a name. When you only have a handful of cows, if that many, you do notice when something isn’t right. No one in their right mind knowingly drinks milk from a sick cow. I have never gotten sick drinking raw milk or personally known anyone else who did. I have every confidence in the farmer selling the same milk he or she brings to their own table.
When you watch a field of wheat turn from green to golden and wave lightly in the wind, see the shocks lined up in rows as you pass by on the road, watch a load of grain auger into the grain wagon, and then see the cycle begin again. It is beautiful and worth it all.