A Farmer’s Creed:

We believe in small farms and thorough cultivation; we believe that the soil lives to eat, as well as the owner, and ought, therefore, to be well manured; we believe in going to the bottom of things, and therefore deep ploughing, and enough of it, all the better if it be a subsoil plough; we believe in large crops which leave the land better than they found it, making both the farm and the farmer rich at once; we believe that every farm should own a good farmer; we believe that the best fertilizer of any soil is a spirit of industry, enterprise, and intelligence; without these, lime, gypsum and guano would be of little use; we believe in good fences, good farmhouses, good orchards, and good children enough to gather the fruit; we believe in a clean kitchen, a neat wife in it, a clean cupboard, a clean dairy, and a clean conscience; we believe that to ask a man’s advice is not stooping but of much benefit; we believe that to keep a place for everything, and everything in its place, saves many a step, and is pretty sure to lead to good tools and to keeping them in order; we believe that kindness to stock, like good shelter, is saving of fodder; we believe that it is a good thing to keep an eye on experiments, and note all, good and bad; we believe that it is a good rule to sell grain when it is ready; we believe in producing the best butter and cheese, and marketing it when it is ready.

Jacques and Little Pete

Today, after evening chores, Jacques, the adopted stray also known as “that dog”, broke his tether and ran off.  This was the tether that was preventing him from killing more poultry.  It was nearing dusk, so all the free range chickens were beginning to congregate by their tractor.  It was prime entertainment for a long confined dog.  Because he was a recent adopted stray, he had no reason to respond to his new name, nor the calls of Ariana and I as we labored after him when he ran down the driveway toward the field where the chickens graze.  He disappeared into the collapsed barn that was mostly roof and scrap, as the barn wood had been mostly salvaged for building shelves, or farm structures.  Ariana chased him in, and while I was heading across one of the upper paddocks to head him off, I heard one of the cows bellow.  Pausing in the search for Jacques, I looked north towards the new paddock I had set up this morning.  I could see that one of them was up in the corner, near the water.  They usually only bellow if there is a problem, so I wondered if one of them had gotten themselves stuck in the brambles.  Making note to check on them, I returned to watching for Jacques just in time to see a flock of chickens and two geese running north, away from their tractor, where they should soon be roosting.  Jacques ran across the field toward them, but then veered south, and stopped to lift his leg at the wooded edge of the field.  He disappeared into the woods heading south.

I knew it was pointless to continue the chase, as he had a 100 yard head start, and could easily navigate the woods.  So I sent Ariana back to the house and headed over to check on the cows.  The north most part of the pasture had a narrow strip between the electric fence and some wild rose, and the steer, Big Pete, was holding up the line to get through.  Nothing to worry about.  Eventually one of those nursing mothers would give him a good enough poke with their horns that he would get out of their way.  I stood and watched them for a short while, and the 3 week old bull calf, Little Pete, walked toward me and was watching me.  The calves are short enough to walk under the electric fence, but generally do not wander far from their mothers.  I turned to head back to the chickens to keep and eye out for Jacques, and was was halfway to the driveway when I heard hooves running my way.   I turned to see Little Pete running straight towards me, kicking up his heals as he ran.  I threw my hands wide and then clapped my hands and yelled “Hey! Hey!” and he stopped.  I chased him back to the paddock, and turned again to head back to the chickens.  I was almost to the driveway when I again heard Little Pete heading my way.  I again turned, clapped and shouted, and this time he slowed down, but veered around me and stopped in front of me for a split second before running toward the driveway.  I ran after him, thinking that he would get too far from his mother and turn around to head back.  He ran into the soy field, and then up and into the neighbors yard.  Last Friday after setting up a new pasture, but before electrifying it, the cows had gotten out, and ended up in the neighbor’s garen, tromping through the sweet corn and peppers.  We only knew this happened because the neighbor called and let us know that we would be paying for it.  We went round and herded them back, and quickly electrified the fence.  As soon as Little Pete leapt into their yard, I started picturing him prancing all over the rest of the garden, and braced myself for the looming conversation with the owners.  As I was finally able to see into their yard, I caught a glimpse of Little Pete running at top speed across their lawn, and around their house.  I started thinking about the conversation I would have, asking these recently offended neighbors to help me shoo the rambunctious calf from their yard.  He circled around and came back to the road and stopped.  I only momentarily considered my next move before I turned and started running down the road toward the farm.  It worked and he raced past me and headed back up the path to the pasture.  As I began to slowed my pace, relieved to have him back on our property, I noticed Jacques running up from behind.  I put on my best casual friendly voice and called him.  He slowed down enough to allow me to pick up his leash and lead him back.  I went and checked on the cows, confident that Little Pete would be unlikely to follow me again with Jacques by my side.  All was well, and I took Jacques back to the house and tied him up again.

I am thinking about taking Jacques with us on the morning and evening chores, so he can get familiar with what his masters think is important.  He could be a good farm dog, if he can learn to protect, rather than “play” with the livestock.  As for Little Pete, I wonder if this is an indication of his future personality.  A rambunctious and willful steer could be a real challenge when he is over 900 lbs.

The Age of Healing

The Age of Plunder is nearly at an end.
The Age of Healing is ready to be born.

And whether it arrives or not depends upon two people: you and me.

The Age of Plunder was the natural successor to the so-called Age of Reason: the Age in which humankind decided that it knew better than God. For 200 years now the greedy and ruthless have been plundering the planet but their time will soon be up. The whole thing is going to come crashing down.

It could not have gone on much longer anyway – because soon there will be nothing left to plunder. The forests have almost gone from the Earth, the fish of the sea are all but exhausted, the air surrounding us and the waters of the Earth will soon be able to take no more poisonous wastes and, most serious of all, the soil is going. For we soil organisms this could be terminal. As long as the oil reserves last agribusiness will be able to produce the agrichemicals needed to keep some sort of production of vitiated food going from the eroded soil, but the oil deposits – that Pandora’s Box of evil things – will soon be exhausted and then the final account, long deferred, will come up for payment. The bailiffs who present it will have strange names, like Famine, Pestilence and War.

But, thank God, maybe the old Earth will not have to wait for this to happen. The whole great edifice of international trade and finance – the whole mighty plunder-machine – is quite likely to burst like a balloon that has grown too big. The whole thing is becoming unsustainable: it has grown too huge to manage.

Owing to the incorrigible tendency towards cannibalism by the huge industrial corporations – the tendency of the bigger ones to swallow up the smaller ones – these molochs are becoming too large for humans to control or the planet to support. Ten years ago no economist would have predicted the complete collapse of the mighty Soviet machine that had engulfed half the Earth. International capitalism will follow.

It is in the nature of a limited company that it can have no responsibility either to the environment around it or to the people who work for it. It is no use blaming the directors – if they do anything that might reduce profits for the shareholders they will quickly be replaced. And the shareholders not only have no liability for debts incurred by the company – but they take no responsibility for the world of nature around them. If the directors can secure bigger profits by dumping poisons into the nearest river – they have to do this. If they do not, they will very quickly be replaced. If they can make more profit by halving the work force – they will have to do so or again they will be replaced. If both shareholders and directors suffer from that most uncapitalist thing – a conscience – to the extent that it interferes with profits – that company will be swallowed up by another giant that has no such inconvenient scruples.

One of the most dramatic effects of the Age of Plunder has been to drive most of the world’s population into vast conurbations. These huge assemblies of uprooted people, called cities, are not only ugly but also dangerous. The billions who live in them can only be kept alive by an enormous system of transport which brings water, food, power, fuel and all the necessities of life, often great distances. Any breakdown in the supply of all this would be disastrous. And the great plundering molochs of companies which run it all get fewer and fewer, and bigger and bigger, and more and more people find themselves out of work, not needed, redundant and disempowered.

And meanwhile the tiny scattering of people left on the land, which is the only source of true wealth, have been forced by their paucity of numbers to resort to more and more destructive methods of producing the huge amount of food needed to sustain these billions. They have been forced to ignore the laws of husbandry, which could have retained the fertility of the soil as long as the world lasted, and farm instead with chemicals and huge machines. The soil is becoming poisoned and eroded. The only beneficiaries of this have been the huge chemical companies but they will destroy themselves in the end because they are killing the goose that laid the golden eggs.

If we open our eyes, we will realize that all this is bound to come crashing down in the end. Then, in the ashes of the Age of Plunder, a new age could arise. The real New Age: the Age of Healing!

We will set about it, just you and me, to heal the ravaged Earth. If we do not – if we fail – then there will not be an Age of Healing: there will be an Age of Chaos and it will not be nice.

And we do not have to wait for the end of the Age of Plunder to start the work. We must start now.

And how can we – just the two of us, you and me, who are so few and disempowered – start this great work by ourselves?

Firstly, say to yourself, and I promise I will do the same, the following resolution:
“I am only one. I can only do what one can do. But what one can do I will do!”
Then consider what you can do.
Refuse to work for the plunderers. Refuse to buy their shoddy goods. Give up the ambition of living like a Texan millionaire. Boycott the Lottery, not because you think you won’t win it, but because you don’t want to win it!

Refuse to shop in the plunderer’s “supermarkets”.

Work, always, for a decentralist economy. Support local traders and producers – try to get what you need from as near your home as you can.

Take part in your local politics – boycott the politics of the huge scale, the remote and far-away. The current non-violent defiance of the law by people protesting against the export of live animals from Britain is a fine example of citizen-power.

Work for an economy in which land and property are fairly shared out among the people so that “everybody has enough and nobody has too much”.

We must withhold our work, our custom, and our investment from plundering industry. This may cause us “financial hardship” : then we must endure “financial hardship” .

Road transport is the most destructive thing of all. If you live in a city, you do not need a car. (When you go to the country you can hire one – it’s much cheaper than owning.) If you live in the country, you may need one – use it as little as possible.

Boycott most goods brought from far away. Take some trouble to find locally produced goods and buy them. Heavy road transport is enormously polluting.

Oppose new road building. Building new roads never relieves traffic congestion – it simply generates more traffic. The only way of solving the traffic problem is to have less traffic.

If you possibly can, do not work for huge organizations. If we withhold our labour from them, they will wither away. (Do not be afraid that this will lose “jobs”. It will create more jobs – a multitude of small firms create more “jobs” than a few big ones).

Support local cultural activities. Boycott mass “culture” coming from countries far away.

Encourage, support, and initiate, local credit and finance organizations.

Buy, if you cannot grow, organically produced food. Thus you will help destroy the polluting chemical industry – and you will be healthier. Boycott, absolutely consistently, all products that have involved cruelty to animals.

Support the local and the small-scale.
I will do the same as I ask you to do.
The tiny amount you and I can do is hardly likely to bring the huge worldwide moloch of plundering industry down? Well, if you and I don’t do it, it will not be done, and the Age of Plunder will terminate in the Age of Chaos. We have to do it – just the two of us – just you and me. There is no “them” – there is nobody else. Just you and me. On our infirm shoulders we must take up this heavy burden now – the task of restoring the health, the wholeness, the beauty and the integrity of our planet. We must start the Age of Healing now! Tomorrow will be too late.

John Seymour from: The Age of Healing published in Resurgence

Mid summer update

There has been a lot going on this summer, but not much motivation for writing about it. The garden is doing well, and producing a good amount of food for our table, but it is clearly too small. But then again, we have still not really hit the tomato season yet. We have had a few handfuls off the vines, but the cool June, and cool nights for the last month or so have slowed down production. This cooler weather trend has affected the curcubits as well, and so far we have had only two cukes off the vine. I can see that we may not end up with a very good harvest if the nights continue to be so mild. My dreams of pickles lining the walls of our basement are fading. On a positive note, the small chilies, Hungarian Hot Wax, and Jalepeños have produced well so far, and are drying, pickled, or frozen (respectively). The kale is continuing to produce, and we have harvested 3 cabbages, one of which was enormous at 10 1/2 inches across and I am guessing around 7 pounds. Bea found that she is allergic to the bean vines by harvesting several pounds last week. She will need to wear sleeves and maybe gloves for the next round of picking. The leeks are still getting taller, and are around 3 feet at the moment. While the last minute potato experiment seems to be doing alright, the corn experiment right next to it does not look too promising. We have ears and tassels, but everything looks stunted and yellow. The variety has bantam in the name, but I don’t think it means the entire plant stays under 6 feet tall. A fun surprise was the hops! We planted it and let it go where it wished this year, not knowing how well it would do. It has produced quite a few cones, and the first harvest is drying now. I am not exactly sure what I will do with them, but I know people who brew, so I might send them directions west.

On the animal front, we picked up 9 more chickens from a retiree that had too many bantams. He just loves birds, but was getting to old to move all the cages indoors in the winter, so he switched to the smallest bantams he could find. The population got a little out of hand, so he he asked my friend Jason at Tractor Supply if he knew anyone who would take some, and Jason gave him our number. These little Dutch Bantams are only 7-9 inches tall, and the 4 roosters were full-grown and feisty. They are slowly integrating with “the ladies”, who now seem like amazonian giants. We don’t think we will keep them all, but at the moment, they are producing eggs and entertainment, so they are earning their keep. Ah, eggs. Our ladies just started laying last week, and their eggs are the same size as those from the mature bantams, only brown. They will start laying larger eggs in a few months, but right now we have the novelty of feeling like giants eating 3-5 eggs in the morning with our toast. We also have the 3 rabbits, but I am leaning towards shipping them off. They may be soft, but they sure are not doing anything to pay for all the feed they eat. We have contact with a girl that raises meat rabbits, so maybe we will give away some that we have in favor of some that can “make meat”.

Our freezer is slowly filling with harvested produce and berries. When apple season comes around we will look for windfall apples for making applesauce and cider, and stock up on vegetables that can be stored. We have been drying chilies, chamomile, hibiscus, hops, mustard seeds, coriander, and oregano. Our perennial bunching onions have grown in nicely, so they may be next. The bulb onions are all pulled out and hanging in braids in the carport, thanks to Ariana. She already knew how to braid them! We have noticed that we are missing garlic, so we will be putting that in this fall for next year, along with lots more onions.

I could keep rambling on and on about the garden, and plans for the homestead… but I won’t. We will be pretty busy the next several weeks with family arriving back, and visiting, as well as some serious camping. Things won’t settle down again until near October, which is feeling too soon at the moment.

Planning for spring

As the temps have dropped, and outdoor activities have come to a halt, I am finding that I am thinking more and more about the spring activities. For the first time, I have requested seed catalogs. I poked around on the Internet, looking for companies that sell organic and/or heirloom, heritage, non-hybrid varieties. So, I have catalogs from Johnny’s, Seed Savers Exchange , and Park Seed on their way, and I downloaded the catalog from Fedco. I also started thinking about how we would lay out the garden(s) and how I should go about making a “master plan”. I started looking around for software for laying out a garden (freeware/open source, of course). For OS X I found GardenSketch, which I have used before. It is still in beta, but includes a extensive database of plants, and grabs updates an photos from the MSU (Michigan State University) plant database. I found it worked well, and had great features for planning and logging a garden, but for planning out a 1.6 acre lot, it was a little clunky. It would work very well for individual garden plots within the master plan, but not for the master plan itself. On the Windows side, there were not any good finds that were specific to gardening. I resorted to looking for CAD software, and downloaded several. I must say, some CAD software is infernally frustrating to try to use if you never have before. It is also difficult to find a simple 2D CAD program; most seem to be geared toward 3D drafting. So I did finally find free2Design and found that will a little time, I was able to do what I wanted.

So what exactly did I want to do? I want a accurate aerial view drawing of our property, including buildings and trees. So I went to our county GIS site, found our plat, took a screenshot, cropped it down to an approximate likeness to the actual property lines (209′ x 335′ 6″), imported it into free2Design, and began tracing out the features. When I was done, the image can be hidden, and I have myself a nice drawing to work with. Once I have all the “permanent features”, I can divide the lot into areas, and label them. For instance, we will have a garden area around our carport that will have herbs. That particular section of the yard is area 7 and can have more detailed plans. Same with the shed, the “orchard”, and so on. Now I can develop a master plan, and maybe use GardenSketch for individual areas. Exciting!

So here it is, the map of the piano lot, with trees and buildings, divided into areas:

The areas are really only intended to break up the space into manageable chunks, so there are a few places that the break-up seems illogical. I will still do some tweaking to get it to look more thought out… There are also overlapping areas and areas that consist entirely of other areas in order to provide a unified plan for a certain feature.

Anyway, I am on the road to a master plan, which will also include list and lists of specific plants, which ones don’t get along, and which ones attract bees, repel pests, or attract natural enemies of pests. It is a long term project (years and years), and it feels nice to be able to think that far ahead.

Busy bees

Last weekend we were the glad recipients of 14 inches of snow! Our neghbor stopped by to let us know that we were not snowed in, and that he would plow out our driveway. Very nice! He has an old ford tractor with 4 ft. tires and snow chains. While he was telling us that he would release us from our welcome snowy bondage, he also mentioned that one of the trees that they cut down in the hedgerow a few fields over had some bees and honey, and that we should go have a look. So the kids and I bundled up, grabbed a sled, and trudged over to see. We pulled some of the comb out, and there were a lot of dead bees, many smashed from the tree falling. Once we pulled out the easily accessible pieces, we could see live bees, and hear their hum ans they worked to keep the hive warm. Off we slogged, back to the house with our harvest of wild honeycomb.

There was quite a bit of it:

And it was just oozing honey:

I wrapped sections of the comb in a piece of old tee-shirt, and squeeeeeeezed…

It was a rather sticky and messy affair (I felt like Winnie the Pooh), and my fingers made regular trips to my mouth.

But it did indeed work, and in the end we had around 2 quarts of raw wild honey and lots of beeswax that was made about 500 feet from our house!

Later in the afternoon, after all the squeezing and cleanup, I took a jar over to the neighbors. After all, it was their tree, fields, and bees that made the sweet stuff.

Fields get a haircut, family plays in droppings

Over the last few weeks, all the fields have been trimmed, and it was finally time for those around our place to have their turn. Fortunately is was during daylight, and we got to watch. It is not always during the day. In September a hay field across the road and down one field was mowed and bailed during the wee hours and I went out to get a few shots. They did not turn out so well. In any case, I would not want to be caught wandering through a corn field on a moonless fall night and meet a combine.

We watched from a safe distance.

It is a durn big machine. This combine is heading back to unload the corn in a truck.

I guess we did not always maintain a safe distance. These machines are crazy.

They are called combines because they combine the functions of a harvester, husker, sheller, and mulcher. You can see the disadvantage of being downwind of this beast. Is shoots all the non-corn out the back.

It leaves the air rather dirty.

It is also the time of year that our yard stops being green in the front, and instead is covered in tree droppings. Grandpa came over and helped put together a nice pile to play in.

Man I love fall.


Now that we have the barn available to us, we are shifting things around. I migrated my coffee roasting operation into the barn and setup a worktable that Bea’s parents gave us that her grandfather designed and built. It is all plywood, nails and screws but it is rock-steady, using a platform as a base that puts tension on all the connected parts.

There is plenty of power in there, with a 15, a 20, two 30 (for the 220 outlets) and two 50 amp breakers. What would use two 50 amp breakers? There is also plenty of shelving and a workbench with peg-board. Now I might need some tools…

As the barn was getting cleaned out, we found several nests of mice, so I am now a little worried about the safety of my coffee beans. Do mice like coffee?

Ah, the colors of change

The pasture and corn field across from the jersey dairy farm on my way to work.

Winged Wahoo bushes (also known as Burning Bush) on our Sunday hike. This is an invasive species, but is still sold at most nurseries because of it’s brilliant fall foliage. We have one next to our house, and it is indeed brilliant!

A wild flower’s end of life. It was golden, Rod.

The trail is over-arched by old (and Ethan says creepy) shrubs.

A trail we did not take, yet admired.

The trail we did take.

The hay field down the road, just after dawn.