Friday, April 22, 2011

The Six-Month Farming Plan (circa 1946)

While I believe a six-month farming plan (using the "off" months to still work, but at a slower pace) may not be quite as possible now as it was in 1946 I think there is some wisdom in the plan found in Success on the Small Farm. I know quite a few market garden/CSA's in the area and the surely do have their SUPER BUSY seasons, but I also know that they are beginning to do more and more with season extension that may take those six months and turn them into eight months or more. Nevertheless here is the plan ::
"The plan offers six months of leisurely living and six months of hustle.
Basically, the Plan is this. The corp program is laid out so that cash comes in from early May through October. The program is also laid out so that the peak demands of the farmer's own efforts are spread over the same season.
The best plan which the writer knows comprises a crop schedule of the following type: asparagus, strawberries, raspberries, sweet corn, melons, tomatoes, and squash. The asparagus starts in May; the last of the squashes should be sold in October. In between May and November are days of hustle, long hours of labor, perhaps surpluses for which a market has to be found, bad weather days when you'll watch dollars disappear. But all this is part of farming. There'll be rainy days when you'll bless the Weather Man for giving you a day or two to rest tired muscles. There will be days when you'll have to work 16 or 18 hours -- but not too many of them."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Annual Mud Post ...

It seems like every year I have to site down and vent my "mud frustrations" on the blog. If nothing else it gets them off my chest! But, this year seems to be extra frustrating ... I'm sure there are many factors that have contributed to that fact. For whatever reason the winter had me frustrated and now the cool weather and the recent mud (and the 10-day forecast doesn't look promising) just seems to be continuing that trend. Maybe it is the "beginning" nature of my farm, but mud just makes me want to throw in the towel sometimes.

The wild combination of the normal spring mud, more feeder pigs than ever on the farm, the rising feed prices, lack of gravel on the drives, lambing season (for the first time), and the fact that I have no completely weather proof buildings (besides the house) has me wishing that I had more. Every morning and evening as I drive to and from town I find myself envying the buildings I drive past. Especially the abandoned ones or the buildings that are just part of a homestead where no active farming occurs. I would love to have the time to just tear them down and place them at my farm!

For now I just need to take the steps that I can. I need to remind myself that I can only advance slowly and that I can't have everything at once! I do believe that I need to figure out something for these muddy spring months though. I'm not overly concerned about the cattle and the sheep seem to be doing okay, but I would love to figure out a better solution for the pigs. A place for feeding and watering that doesn't become a bog (I do try to get those spots off of the ground). I'm beginning to wonder if a hoop house wouldn't be a good idea for these winter/spring months where they can't be on the pasture/woods.

Lots to think about ... major financial choices to make ... and plenty of mud to deal with. As I was quoted in the Des Moines Register a few weeks ago, "I get stuck getting things unstuck."

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Money Savings on the Farm ...

Building advice from a 1946 farming book ...
"Many farms do not have running water. Naturally this will be one of the first major improvements a farmer will make; but until running water is available, here's the way to construct a practical shower bath for less than a five-dollar bill. 
Choose a corner of the shed, ell, or a back room. Have a sheet metal pan made at the local tinsmith's. It should be 4 feet long, 3 feet wide, and the sides should be 6 inches high. At one end, flush with the bottom, have an inch hole. Have a pipe from the hole go through the side of the shed or house.
Set the pan on a sufficient slant so the water will drain out and carry most of the dirt with it. Then at the high end of the pan, set a two-by-four or a peeled oak post three inches in diameter. The post must be firmly nailed at the top and fit tightly against the bottom of the pan. At about 5 3/4 feet from the floor of the pan, drive a spike into the side of the post. On this spike hang a 12-quart garden watering can with the spray-type nozzle. Twelve quarts will give a person an ample bath. as the water runs out, the can turns slowly downward so the shower keeps going.
Around the whole thing hang a regular shower curtain or oil cloth. The writer has been using this type of shower for 13 years and knows how it works. When one comes in sweaty and dirty from the field, there's nothing so refreshing as a good shower. The water necessary for tempering cold water is heated on the kitchen oil stove. In very hot weather an extra pail of cold water may be appreciated.
If one has this shower in a small room or a section closed in by canvas, it would be possible to use it the year round by warming the nook with a portable oil heater or an electric sunbowl."
I bet you are wishing you hadn't gone to the expense of installing that fancy shower in your house. All you needed was a 12-quart garden watering can! Of course it's only funny now because of the advancements we have made ... I'm sure in 1946 it was helpful!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Four "Don'ts" for the Beginning Farmer

Yes, I'm still working my way through Success on the Small Farm by Haydn S. Pearson. I can only imagine that all of you reading this are searching the book sites for your own copy of this classic (it's out there and it is relatively inexpensive). Last night as I was reading I came across a lot of interesting quotes, but I thought I would focus on a fairly informational one list of "don'ts" now ... as long as I can share a great section tomorrow that makes me completely rethink home construction!

Here is an interesting little list from chapter four ::

  1. Don't go into poultry as the major line -- hens or turkeys.
  2. Don't specialize at first on one or two crops.
  3. Don't try to do too much and neglect everything.
  4. Don't think you can run a real farm and hold down a part-time job.

Like I said ... a very interesting list of don'ts. Obviously we could argue whether or not these are valid "don'ts" for the beginning farmer, but for the moment I just want to see how I've done with the list and think about how that impacts the farm.

Luckily I didn't get in to poultry as my major line ... although I know quite a few that have and that Joel Salatin's book Pastured Poultry Profits makes a case for poultry being the centerpiece of a farm. Unfortunately in this chapter Mr. Pearson does not share why he includes each item on the list. Maybe the reasons will show up later in the book. So far so good though ... I did not start out with poultry as my major line!

The second point is a little iffy ... On one hand I didn't do that because I'm not working with a market garden (which is the main focus of the book), but I did kind of focus just on my cattle and hogs. In my mind livestock is partially exempt from this "don't" though because it is a whole different animal for the beginner (pun kind of intended). There is a possibility though that in the 21st century Mr. Pearson would include "Don't begin a livestock based farm ... period!"

Don't try to do to much ... guilty. Don't neglect everything while trying to do to much ... guilty. I think this is actually a great point and wonderful advice for the beginner. It is important to rein yourself in from time to time in order to let your physical surroundings catch up with your mind. I'm working on that one ... and failing from time to time.

Finally the last "don't". Yes, that is very true. Don't think that you can work part-time/full-time in town and make the farm go ... or at least go very quickly. I'm not saying that trying to do both is a bad idea, I'm just saying that it will take time and you need to be prepared for it to take time. In some senses I think working in town and on the farm has benefits for the beginner ... just take your time commitments into mind when you are planning your goals and thinking about farming ventures.

Overall I don't think I pass the Haydn S. Pearson "Successful Farming Test". But, it's my first time through the book, so give me some time to work on things ...

Monday, April 18, 2011

1946 Farm Statistics ...

I may or may not be addicted to my new book, Success on the Small Farm, but one thing is for sure ... there are a lot of quotes from this book that jump out at me and just scream that they want to be shared and commented on. Here are a couple I came across last night ::
"Statistics tell the story. Only 25 per cent of the farms of the United States have telephones; 40 per cent have no bathtubs; 56 per cent have no mechanical refrigerators; 83 per cent have no running water; 69 per cent have no electric lights."
It is mind boggling how much can change in about 60 years. Now the statistics would have to be about high-speed internet connections, smart phones, satellite television, and iPads! The point though that Mr. Pearson (that's the author) is getting at is that farmers don't have to live without those "luxuries" just because they are farmers. Of course I can't ever think of time when I thought of electric lights as a luxury!

That quote was just for fun though. It shows how much things have progressed and gives an interesting historical glimpse into the farming of six decades ago. This next quote hit much closer to home and should probably be included in every book, article, blog, tweet, or anything else directed at a beginning farmer!
"It's an odd quirk of human nature that once a man has made up his mind to be a farmer, he wants to get into action quickly, irrespective of the doze and one factors involved."
Yes. That is an odd "quirk". And, for my experience it is completely and totally true. At least for me it was and is true and I'm constantly have to try and hold myself back and slow down in order to make intelligent decisions instead of hasty excited decisions. I've written about this subject before, but it is always nice to get a pleasant reminder of the realities of farming and of starting a farm.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Quotes for the Beginning Farmer ...

From Success on the Small Farm by Haydn S. Pearson (published in 1946).

"Farming is a business. Its success depends upon an adequate cash profit. In recent years there has been undue emphasis on farming as 'a way of living.' If one likes farming, it is a satisfying way of life -- provided there is sufficient income to enjoy the comforts that modern science has made possible."

"Never was the opportunity brighter to make a good living on a small farm. The opportunity is especially great for a one-man farm based on diversified crops. A small acreage with several high-priced specialty crops sold at retail through a roadside stand or through a high-class wholesale market can provide a cash profit income of between $2,000 and $3,000 a year. This amount of money, plus the home raised food program outlined, will allow a family to live in comfort."

Just some pearls for your weekend from nearly 65 years ago ...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Poetry :: For the Farm and Ranch ...

I heard this poem last night on the radio as I was driving up and down the slightly rolling hills of Southern Iowa. It resonated with me ... Plus, it made me wish that I could write poetry and have a cool poetry reading voice! You can follow this link to listen to a little background of the poem and then hear the reading.

Oh ... the poem is titled ... "Things of Intrinsic Worth" by Wallace McRae. I think it is great stuff ... great stuff! The poem speaks of something that is missing ... at least that is how I heard it.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Time/Money Conundrum

Yesterday as I was tackling the days chores and trying to get things ready for the summer growing season (getting the pigs in woods and cows in the pasture) I was thinking about the conundrum facing the beginning farmer. When you are beginning (even though I'm over three years in I still am very much a beginner) like I am without the benefit of family/shared land, facilities, or equipment everything has to come from somewhere. Many of the things I have acquired through extended family or borrowing, but there are other things that I have just needed to buy ... or at least felt the need to buy.

Let me give you an example ... If you are a regular reader of the blog you will know that I purchase my pig feed two tons at a time and it is bagged. This is a time consuming process which includes a stop at the feed store to load 80 bags of feed into my trailer and then a trip back to the farm where I either load each bag one-by-one in to the bulk feeder or feed by hand each day taking the feed to the pigs. I don't mind doing the manual labor ... even when I didn't have a working tractor and I filled the bulk feeder one bag time climbing up and down the ladder. The labor isn't a big deal, but the time can be an issue. If I only have a limited amount of time to get the work done I sometimes feel the need to use/purchase labor saving devices ... that is where the time/money conundrum comes into play.

In the ideal farming world I would have the feed store deliver to the farm in bulk purchasing about 5 tons at a time. I could have them fill up my bulk bin and then fill up the feeder. If I had the bulk bin filled the next obvious piece of equipment would be an auger wagon to use when refilling the feeder. This would be a huge time saving method of doing things, but it is also a little spendy and if I'm going to make the farm work I need to be able to cut every corner I can and substitute my labor for equipment.

I think the solution is to ... well, I guess I'm not sure what the solution is. But, what I'm going to do is continue to try and grow slow and use my labor as much as I can. From there I think I can just keep my eye open for the types of things that will help the farm now and in the future. What I really need to do is be able to go slow ... even though I just want to race ahead!

Friday, April 08, 2011

Encouragement & Hope

Sometimes I need encouragement and hope on the farm. One of the places I like to go for that is the book A Bountiful Harvest: The Midwestern Farm Photographs of Pete Wettach, 1925-1965. For whatever reason those pictures just offer up some of what my heart and mind needs from time to time. I was looking at that book tonight and that led me to looking up a few things on-line, which is how I found the picture above. Those are some pigs at the Iowa State University research farm circa 1940 (I believe). I liked the picture ...

If you're looking for some encouragement I suggest the book below ... you can click on the link to find it on Amazon.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

I Went for a Walk ...

I worked late in town last night, but it was still beautiful when I made it back to the farm. So beautiful in fact that I decided to just leave the evening chores for after dark and go for a walk ... or should I say that I decided to go for a hunt ... Yes, hunt is the better description because what I was really doing is trying to hunt down my wayward sheep. And, by the wayward sheep I mean all of the sheep! Lately they have decided that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, and in their defense it is, so they have been taking off. I should also point out that it really is my fault that they have a wandering eye because I don't have my hi-tensile perimeter fence on yet.

This past winter was a little more rough on the fence than I had hoped. Not that anything major happened, but the deer popped the fence staples out of the wood posts and there are a few shorts along the line that I need to take care of. When the snow was on the ground nobody was really interested in leaving the comfortable confines of the winter lot, but now things are a little different and the sheep are ready to go (even if the pastures aren't ready for them yet).

I thought I had solved the problem by adding some Gallagher electric netting around the perimeter, but I guess the sheep aren't to impressed by the non-electrified netting. You have to get up pretty early in the morning to put one past them! So, tonight after my evening stroll through the neighboring fields I decided it was time to get electricity to the fence ... even if it was only a little bit of electricity.

One of the major "problems" that occurred this winter was that the pigs got ahold of the electrical cord on my good Stafix fencer. Luckily it wasn't a major breakdown and I'm in the process of ordering a replacement now. But, my back up fencer is much less than half as powerful. Right now though it will have to try and do the trick. I fixed the perimeter in the most needed places and threw on the back up fencer ... it's going ... kind of ...

Now it is time to get the real fixes done. Part of the reason that I hadn't attacked the fence yet is that I was hoping to take care of a few things on the fence that just weren't quite up to par. When I put up the fence I was trying to rush and save money ... both of which didn't really work out. This spring I'm going to have to add some extra support posts in the corners especially to help shore everything up and try and reduce the pull on the corners. Since I need to do this I hadn't gone around yet this spring to tighten up the fence and fix a few of the insulators. I realize now that I just need to find the time and the money and get it done! 

Or I could always just learn to enjoy the evening walks ... 

Monday, April 04, 2011

A Beginning Corn Farmer's Shopping List?

If I'm going to do this whole open-pollinated corn experiment I need to start getting serious ... and fast! Of course I'm going to need to get some corn (if I can even find any this late in the game ... I remember some suggestions in previous comments), but I've also been thinking about the "shopping" list of equipment that I'm going to need in order to pull of this feat. As I build my shopping list it becomes very evident that there are really two lists that I could build. A list based on my labor/patience/time and a list based on a more mechanized approach. I thought I would share both lists and see if anyone had any suggestions. Before I get to the lists though I thought I should share what I'm working with. I'm thinking of planting in two areas that will total roughly five acres of ground I believe. Both areas have been winter lots or "sacrificial areas in  the past and don't have very much grass covering the ground right now. But, they both should have some good nutrients to work with. Now for the lists ...

Small-Scale :: More Labor

  • Soil Preparation ~ Rear-tine garden tiller (I have one, but it would require lots of time/patience)
  • Planting ~ Simple one row garden planter (Again, I have this one ... see above for requirements)
  • Cultivating/Weed Control ~ Rear-tine garden tiller
  • Harvesting ~ I've got two hands right and a wagon right?
  • Storage ~ Haven't quite figured that one out yet ... open for suggestions ...

Small-Scale :: More Machinery (less time needed)

  • Soil Preparation ~ 2-bottom plow (I have this one and plowing might not be a bad idea to take care of some of the brush) ... and then disc/harrow (I don't have a disc ... probably can get a harrow without much trouble)
  • Planting ~ 2/4-row planter (Don't have and would need to do some shopping or asking around)
  • Cultivating/Weed Control ~ Cultivator (Again, I don't have one ... I would think if I could locate a smaller three-point cultivator it wouldn't cost too much)
  • Harvesting ~ Two hands and a wagon still sounds fun, but I know a guy with a two-row picker ... maybe I could work something out
  • Storage ~ See above list ...

As you can see the "more machinery" list is also going to be the "more money" list, but is it also the "more practical" list considering a town job and all the other demands of life? I would love some input ... or even leads on equipment ;)

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Wikipedia :: The French Revolution :: Farming

Sometimes I find it amazing when I see mentions of farming in "out of the way" places, but then I need to take a second and step back realizing that farming has to be one of the main pieces of our foundation. Without farming our food would have to come from hunting and gathering (or something like that) ... and that might not be very sustainable for everyone ... at least not these days. But, just the other day the crazy thing that is my mind found farming at the totally logical intersection of 18th century naval warfare, the French Revolution, and of course Wikipedia (it's completely believable because it's on the internet right?).

Please allow me to explain how I ended up at farming the other night. As I mentioned in a previous post I'm currently reading The Line Upon a Wind: The Great War at Sea, 1793-1815. This book details the naval engagements and background surrounding the late 18th century and early 19th century. Obviously this meant that I needed to find out more about that time period and the events that were shaping the European navies. That is how I landed on the Wikipedia entry for the French Revolution ... more specifically the "Causes" section of that page. Within that section I read this ::
Economic factors included hunger and malnutrition in the most destitute segments of the population, due to rising bread prices (from a normal eight sous for a four-pound loaf to 12 sous by the end of 1789), after several years of poor grain harvests. The combination of bad harvests (due to abnormal/severe weather fluctuations) and rising food prices was further aggravated by an inadequate transportation system which hindered the shipment of bulk foods from rural areas to large population centers, contributing greatly to the destabilization of French society in the years leading up to the Revolution.
Of course I had to ask myself after reading that ... how does this relate to the 21st century world and what can we learn? Does this mean that if food prices begin to rise in the United States (which they are and they are predicted to keep rising) we will have a revolution on our hands (and heads rolling everywhere ... literally)? Does it mean that Earl Butz and his high-production ideas are the best way possible to farm in order to keep us from experiencing hunger and malnutrition? Does it mean that a food system based on import/export is ideal because it helps us deal with weather fluctuations? Does it mean that maybe a system based on transportation and centralized areas of agriculture is a system that in some senses is destabilizing for a country?

I don't really know what it means, but I do know that it is part of history and that there is something we can learn from it. I am also glad that Wikipedia (and a book about really cool sailing ships) helped remind me just how important farming is in the big picture. And, I am thankful for my mind that never misses an opportunity to head down a rabbit trail ... sometimes there are big things at the end of those fun little side tracks!
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