Ida Livingston

Building a Root Cellar

Building A Root Cellar

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.

Cooking and Heating with Wood

Cooking and Heating with Wood

What I love about wood cookstoves is the large flat cooking surface with variable surface temperatures. Something that needs high immediate heat is positioned over the firebox but the pasta now boiling can get slid to the right onto a slightly cooler surface over the oven. The closer I slide it toward the side reservoir, the cooler the stovetop surface. Sometimes if I am canning and my canner is taking its sweet time to get up temperature, I will pull out the eye of the stovetop and put the canner directly on open flame.

Cutting Firewood

Cutting Firewood

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.

Doing Laundry Without Electricity

Doing Laundry Without Electricity

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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.

Duke the Best Bad Horse

Duke – the Best Bad Horse

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Duke had been broke to harness but couldn’t pull himself out of a paper bag. He wasn’t very experienced and didn’t know his strength yet. Soon after Duke came to us, Dad brought home Mary. She was an old red Belgian mare that Dad used to teach Duke how to work. Mary had come from an Amish farm and had spent her life plowing and other field work. Her calm and ready responses educated Duke much quicker than a person could as he followed her lead.

Four Seasons in the Strawberry Patch

Four Seasons in the Strawberry Patch

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Many of my childhood memories were made in the strawberry patches that my father, Paul Edwards, was gifted at growing. Even for that, he would never eat them. The texture of their seeds was too much and for all the decades that he grew them, and grew them well, I never saw him raise a berry to his mouth. He sure loved to grow them though.

Frost

Frost

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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.

Gardening 101

Gardening 101

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If we had to buy all we eat there is no way we could afford it. And I like having my husband home too much to give him up to a high paying job half my life just so we can eat well. Good food is expensive. Grass fed beef and dairy, free range chickens, organic and non-GMO fruit, vegetables, grain, honey, and maple syrup. So, we skip the high paying jobs and live on less, spending our lives in each other’s company and growing what we eat.

Gardening in the Weather You are Given

Gardening in the Weather You are Given

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Every year finds some new unexpected battle with the elements. Seems like if I lay drip tape as I plant my rows then I am in for a wet year that needs no irrigation. If my memory is still smarting from last years’ wet summer and I plant my rows in hills, seems like the weather takes its cue to be dry. There’s wind storms and hail, rain in sheets and scorching heat. It can all happen and I don’t know when. In the meantime, we take what we get, cope with the weather extremes as best we can and are grateful for the crops we have. Although there is little we can do about the weather, we are not entirely helpless when contending with it. There are things we can do to help protect our garden.

Grafting Isaac

Grafting Isaac

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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.

Grinding and Using Whole Grain

Grinding and Using Whole Grain

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.

Ground Driven PTOs

Ground Driven PTOs

One of the ways tractors both gained and maintained their appeal is from the wider range of machinery they can power with the PTOs they carry. This definitely gave them the advantage over draft power. But is it going to stay that way? It may not have to be on a small farm. During the horsepower road trip Khoke and I went on a couple years ago, we got to see some examples from folks who knew which side of the fence they were on. We saw a number of machines that were reworked and reinvented to make them run off the power source of their choice, namely horsepower.

Horsepower Units

Horsepower Units

When I wrote about Khoke’s grandfather rebuilding a 7-sweep rotary horsepower unit, I wrote briefly about some technical issues we ran into. To this, we got a response from John Brubaker, the community mechanic for the Winchester Mennonite community near Hillsboro, Ohio. John suggested we come to see the five 2-horse treadmills connected to power the silage chopper in the fall. He also suggested that it might be worth our time to check out the Scottsville Horse and Buggy Mennonite community in southern Kentucky. This community is only 50 miles west of the Vernon community near Hestand, Kentucky, where our longtime friends, the Bye family, lives. Before our travel plans were finalized, they also included a stop at the Delano Mennonite community in Tennessee as well.

How To Keep and Milk a Cow

How To Keep and Milk a Cow

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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.

Make Your Own Elderberry Taps

Make Your Own Elderberry Taps

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.

Make Your Own Maple Syrup

Make Your Own Maple Syrup

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.

Old Threshers Reunion

Old Threshers Reunion

Old Threshers Reunion is a 5 day Labor Day weekend event that hosts a series of horse demonstrations. Among the demonstrations were a Case thresher run off of a 6-sweep horsepower, a smaller thresher run by a 1-horse treadmill, a buck rake and Jayhawk swivel stacker, a grain auger and horse powered sawmill, and more. We were definitely interested in checking these out, so we rode along with Jordan who nabbed Ammon Weeks to ride along as well.

Opening a Round Bale

Opening a Round Bale

One day, a couple winters ago, Khoke was in a hurry at feeding time and tried his hand at the hay knife again. Soon reminded of his previous dissatisfaction, he reached for his limbing ax that he happened to have with him. Still shiny from a sharpening, this ax benefited from the density of the round bale and worked well to open it up. It has become Khoke’s standard bale opening method.

Processing Chicken Feet

Processing Chicken Feet

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Chicken feet. Sure, I know it is done, either in other parts of the world, or in commercial production where in the pursuit of monetary profit, nothing is wasted but the squawk. But, Deanna? I didn’t know that I might have preconceived ideas of what a person who cooks chicken feet looked like. Maybe a person who comes in from the yard with dirt under her fingernails and a pencil stuck through her hair for a hairpin, like me. I somehow didn’t picture someone as put-together and beautiful as Deanna canning chicken foot broth. Yet, there she was and there I wasn’t.

Rebuilding a 7-Sweep Horsepower Unit

Rebuilding a 7-Sweep Horsepower Unit

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.

Root Cellar Update

Root Cellar Update

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.

Rotary Horsepower Units

Rotary Horsepower Units

Living off grid is a fascinating way of life that captivates large audiences with varying degrees of reservation. Here in Southern Iowa, Khoke and I carve out a life on the land that omits many modern amenities that electricity in any form is counted among. A couple of the most common concerns people ask about include, how we manage without refrigeration, and how we do laundry. To say we do laundry with horses only begets more questions. Setting aside the mental image of horses treading washtubs full of laundry, our laundry house consists of more than one wringer washer powered by an old cast iron single sweep rotary horse power unit that Khoke rebuilt.

Saving Seed for a Seed Company

Saving Seed for a Seed Company

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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.

Seed Saving for the Home Gardener

Seed Saving for the Home Gardener

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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.”

Setting Hens

Setting Hens

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When a hen wants to set she orients herself to a location. Bantams often try to find a location outside the coop somewhere. All of a sudden, one day she is missing. She laid herself a nestfull on the sly and now is into full-time sitting and only comes out to eat and drink. It is a good idea to try to find that nest. Usually one has to follow her back to the nest when she is off for lunch break. Some hens won’t go while you are obviously watching them and you have to do it discreetly.

Splitting Firewood

Splitting Firewood

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.

The Farmstead Dairy A Domestic View

The Farmstead Dairy, A Domestic View

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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.

The Harvest of Grain

The Harvest of Grain

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.

The Summer Harvest

The Summer Harvest

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The principle here, shared by both flowers and most vegetables, is that plants bloom and fruit to set seed to further their species. If this attempt is thwarted, it stimulates the plant to produce more flowers/vegetables. Whereas if it fully succeeds in seeding the next generation, then it has no drive to remain productive. Vegetables need to be picked regularly to remain productive. Not only does the plant need motivation to keep growing, but having over ripe vegetables promotes disease, spoilage and attracts insects. Let’s walk through the garden and talk about some of the vegetables and their unique needs. Most of this you’ll already know, but everyone likes to visit the garden this time of year. Especially for a watermelon.

Treadmill Horse Power Units

Treadmill Horse Power Units

Since the art of working horses has been around since their domestication, one tends to think that what can be accomplished with horsepower has surely plateaued. That we are just relearning and reusing what has been established in time past before it is lost. A subconscious belief that what can be learned, has been done, that the horizon has been reached. An arrogance that threads through each new age. Yet just as surely as machinery developed over the course of time, it continues on today. The mainstream use of draft animals may have subsided, but in the circles where they continued, the machinery they are yoked to has continued to develop as well.

Tweety A Legendary Setter

Tweety: A Legendary Setter

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One summer afternoon, I heard a commotion up the hill behind the house. Running around the house I was too stunned by what I saw to respond in time to help. There was Tweety in an out-and-out ground battle with a hawk! Evidently the hawk dove for one of her half grown chicks and she dove for the hawk. There they were in a feather flying fight. Dad’s dog Curly wasted no time in breaking it up.

Wild Peaches

Wild Peaches

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Wild peaches and other wild tree fruit used to be much easier to locate. They were sought out and sometimes deliberately replanted in more convenient locations. A number of factors have come together to contribute to the scarcity of some of these unique wild fruits. One factor is that most people are out of touch with the seasonal availability of foragable food. Another factor is the aggressive mowing and spraying of the roadsides. Fruit that once advertised itself on the roadsides, and invited foragers to find them, are now oft mowed or sprayed away and one must seek them out without the cheerful roadside reminder.