Gardening & Agriculture Archive

Maybe Old Tractors Do Die

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

After the conversations we had here recently about old tractors, I began to hear about a problem that really does affect their longevity.  Ethanol in gasoline is not the wonder fuel it has been made out to be. It is causing problems when used in off-road vehicles— lawn motors, chain saws, boat motors, four wheelers, not to mention old tractors. Although I have had no cause to complain yet myself, I first heard rumors of these problems when 10 percent ethanol was added to gasoline (E-10 fuel. Now that the EPA has approved 15 percent ethanol in gasoline (E-15 fuel) the complaints are increasing. Ethanol corrodes plastic and rubber and even some metal not made to handle it. It also absorbs water into the fuel. You don’t want to leave a can of gas set around very long unused if it has ethanol in it.  And recently out of California came reports that E-15 gas pollutes the air more than pure gasoline (can you call gasoline “pure”?) — contrary to all the propaganda the champions of ethanol have been putting out for several years.

I called a local small engine repair shop whose proprietors I know and trust and asked them if the problem is serious. The mechanic’s first reply was a long drawn out groan. “Oh yes, unfortunately,” he finally replied. “Our carburetor repair work has at least doubled lately.”

Have you killed a tractor with ethanol lately? Mosey on over to Gene's blog where you can let him know what happened and read the rest of his latest missive from the fields of Ohio!

No Till Farming Not So Great After All

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

It was just a couple of handfuls of soil and a few drops of water, but for the world of modern farming, it might as well have been a bomb dropping on the staid headquarters of the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Washington. It actually happened, or at least first made the news, in Wilmington, Ohio, at the third annual Ohio Grain Farmers Symposium. In a news article about the meeting, in Farm and Dairy magazine, there’s a picture of a farmer and a scientist looking intently at a tabletop demonstration of soil porosity in samples of tilled soil and “no-till” soil. The result, and I quote: “The no-till samples provided more resistance to water infiltration while the tilled samples provided much less resistance and water moved more freely into the soil.”

I grabbed the phone and called Chris Kick, the farm reporter and journalist who broke the story, to make sure this was not a mistake and that I was interpreting the results correctly. “I think you’re telling me that tilled soil actually saves more plant nutrients and results in less water runoff and erosion than no-till soil,” I said. He sort of laughed. “Well, this is going to be open to various interpretations, I’m sure, but yes, that’s what the experiment was demonstrating.”

Is no-till farming really bad for the soil?! Say it ain't so, Gene! Read the rest of his latest blog and find out the inconvenient truth…

holyshit Gene Logsdon is the author of, most recently, Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind

A Barn Full of Bats

Monday, October 10th, 2011

Since I often think of my barn as my church, it is altogether proper to admit that I have bats in my belfry. The hayloft is full of these furry little phantoms of the night. It happened entirely by accident as is true of so many good things on our farm. When we built the barn, we nailed triangular plywood plates on both sides of all the rafters where they met at the peak of the roof. (See photo.) The space between these plates, which is the thickness of the 2 by 6 rafters, must be just right for Brown bats because they soon took up residence there which means we have about twenty bat houses across the whole roof peak. The bats hang in that space in clusters, usually upside down. Because of them, we’ve rarely suffered much from mosquitoes, even though the barn is surrounded by woodland. The rain barrel that catches water off the barn roof is almost always full of mosquito larvae in summer but only on rare occasion do mosquitoes swarm around my head, and never for any prolonged period of time. The bats get them.

Bats are the most effective control for mosquitoes we have, say entomologists. An interesting article about them in the current (Fall 2011) issue of the Draft Horse Journal by Judy Brodland points out how blessed bats are in horse barns since mosquitoes can drive horses nearly crazy buzzing and biting around their velvety soft noses. I don’t know how the experts did the counting, but a bat can eat some 3000 insects in one night, they say. That’s a lot of mosquito bites that never happen.

I am pleased to say, after thirty years of sharing our barn loft with twenty to forty bats every summer, that I have never once been attacked by a bat, let alone contracted rabies, nor has any farm animal gotten rabies or suffered any kind of poisoning from bat manure, nor I have ever seen a sick bat, nor has a bat gotten tangled in my hair (well, I used to have hair). How these myths continue despite so much expert literature to the contrary never ceases to amaze me. Bats look fearsome, and three kinds in Central and South America do suck blood (from animals not humans) so I guess the superstitions will go on. The incidence of rabies in bats is so rare that even cats get the disease more often and that is a rare thing too. Rabies usually shows up in wild animals like raccoons, skunks, foxes, coyotes and unvaccinated dogs. Bats do not “carry” rabies; they get it just like other wild animals do. Just for perspective, dogs kill about 32 people every year; bats account for about one human death per year. You are much more likely to die of lightning.

Pop on over to Gene's blog to read the rest about his favorite, flying, furry skeeter eaters!

holyshit Gene Logsdon is the author of, most recently, Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind

No Two Garden Years Alike

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

I kept reassuring Carol this year that we would get plenty of beans, and for once I was right. I am presently sick of breaking beans. I break them in real time and I break them in my dreams. We have them by the bushel. All of a sudden the vines just exploded. Unlike Russ’s situation, we have had plenty of rain all along, so the sudden bean deluge is even greater than Beth’s. A couple of the poles are breaking over in fact, and there is no way we will ever use even half the crop….

Read the rest over at Gene's blog, and find out more peculiarities of his growing season.

holyshit Gene Logsdon is the author of, most recently, Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind

Licking Inflation The Homestead Way

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

One of the biggest laughs of the last decade or so has been the way our vaunted economy has “licked inflation.”  Every time we took another lick off of the delicious ice cream cone, the price of farm land leaped another lick higher. Every time the Federal Reserve licked interest rates lower, the price of houses jumped another lick up. Every penny “saved” on interest meant two or three pennies spent on construction that became a colossal loss when the owner could not make payments. We licked inflation so well that the price of corn went to historic highs this year, dragging food prices up with it. Fertilizer costs have spiked 18 percent recently according to the latest report.

Even when manufacturers purportedly “hold the line” on prices, inflation wins. The hoe you buy today for nearly the same price as the one you bought fifteen years ago will need repair or replacement twice as soon which means that the inflation occurs not only in your wallet but in the increasing height of the landfill.

Or, what is very prevalent right now, the manufacturer holds the line on the price, but when you check the package, it holds somewhat less than it did previously.

However, I think inflation is good because otherwise I could not have survived as a writer but would have had to find an honest way to make a living.

Read the rest of Gene Logsdon's post on inflation, and find out more about why he likes inflation!

holyshit Gene Logsdon is the author of, most recently,

Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind

Burning Off The Asparagus Bed

Monday, May 16th, 2011

We are overwhelmed right now with asparagus. We eat it steamed, creamed, and teamed with morel mushrooms, omelet, pasta, and salads. Nothing vegetative tastes better to me and in my opinion nothing makes a safer or more effective diuretic. I even have a theory that asparagus can slow down, if not reverse, enlargement of the prostate  if you eat lots of it. Lots of it is every day from mid- April to mid- June, and at least twice a week the rest of the year.

We had our first asparagus this year on April 5, which is very early for northern Ohio. I have another theory (I am full of theories) that suggests we can enjoy asparagus  this early because of our spring ritual of burning off the asparagus bed on some dry, windless day in March. The dead, brown stems and stalks of last year’s crop lie thick over the patch at that time, and make a brief, cheery blaze that warms up the soil a little and leaves a black film on the surface to absorb heat on subsequent days.

Burning off the old plants has another good effect for sure. Since we have been doing it, there are fewer asparagus beetles. Evidently the fire kills overwintering eggs.

Burning also discourages rabbits from making their nests in that old residue, which they love to do.  Rabbits have been displaced for us however, by deer, a far worse scourge.  Since deer have become part of everyday life on the farm (I’d rather say part of  everyday death) we have to put netting over the bed when the asparagus spears first start coming up. After the crop really gets going, we remove the netting since it is difficult to harvest through it, and (so far) the deer by then have other plants they apparently like better. Some organic growers tell me that sprinkling wood ashes on the asparagus deters the deer.

Weeds are always a problem in asparagus for organic growers.  After the soil has warmed up well and the spears are coming up rapidly, I cover the entire bed with six inches of tree leaves that I piled nearby the previous fall. The asparagus shoots come right up through the mulch, but most weeds won’t.  Then in June, at the end of the asparagus season, I crawl alongside the bed and pull any weeds (especially tiny volunteer asparagus seedlings) that have had the nerve to grow, at the same time stirring and turning over the leaf mulch with my hands. This is a bit tedious, but not as bad  as it sounds because the soil after years of heavy mulching,  is very friable and loamy, easy to churn with your fingers.  Except for a few redroot (wild amaranth)  lambsquarter, sow thistles and an occasional tree seedling, all which have to be pulled later in the summer, that’s the end of weeding for the year.  And of course, the really diligent survivalist knows that amaranth and lambsquarter make good salad too.

The carbon police frown on my practice of burning the asparagus bed. I am contributing to global warming, they say. Never mind all those jets flying high overhead, each of whose engines contributes more carbon emission in one minute than my burning asparagus patch does in a couple thousand years. Those very important people riding around in jetliners are doing the Lord’s work (like dropping bombs on people), while I am just a heathen dancing in this lovely May weather while I scarf down fresh asparagus.

Read the original post on The Contrary Farmer.

holyshit Gene Logsdon is the author of, most recently, Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind.

A Wallet Full of Scrambled Eggs

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Something happened to me recently that I’m willing to bet is new to the annals of farming.  All of us “country folk” know that carrying eggs in your pockets, especially in tight jeans, is not a good idea. Should you bend over, the eggs are very likely to break. But I was not thinking. We had just come home in early evening from two strenuous days on the road and I just wanted to go to bed for about two years. But being a country folk, I had farm animals to look after first. I had left enough feed and water in the coop so I could leave the hens penned up while we were gone to keep them safe from raccoons, mink, foxes, and various other dragons of the woods. Now, running on empty, I staggered zombie-like to the barn to let the hens out to roam a little before dark after two days of imprisonment.

I decided to gather the eggs too. Having been penned away from their favorite nesting sites in the barn, the hens had laid 14 eggs, 8 in the nest boxes and 6 in a corner on the floor. I did not spy the 6 on the floor until I was about the leave the coop, with four eggs in each hand. Usually I am wearing a jacket with ample pocket space for that many eggs but not now. Instead of being smart and leaving the 6 on the floor until I came back up later to close the hens in for the night, I decided to stick 6 of the 8 eggs in my hands in my jean pockets and pick up the other 6 on the floor. When I bent over, the eggs in the right pocket popped because, with my wallet also in residence, it was a tight fit all around.

My only thought was to try to get the cracked eggs out of the pocket before slimy yokes seeped down through the pocket lining, through pants leg, through underwear, rolling like a minor tsunami toward my ankles. In panic, I first emptied the eggs out of the left pocket to prevent further breakage and dropped them on the floor. Two of them broke in the process. Then, as I tried to fish the cracked ones out of the right pocket, they caved in completely and the yolks and whites soaked through my clothes.

For some reason, no doubt because I am a child of the money economy, my biggest distress was over my billfold. It was covered in yellow slime. I hurried over to the machine shed where I knew some rags were hanging, and commenced to clean up my proud symbol of capitalism. Then I tried to wipe the yokes and white stuff out of the pocket although by now much of it was all sliding lasciviously down my leg. The odd part of the whole affair was that I did not boil over with cursing and swearing. I was too tired even for that.

The penetrating power of egg goo is something to behold. Back at the house, I spent a half hour cleaning egg yolk out of the billfold and off of eight dollar bills and two twenties. Had I not done that, the paper money would have been stuck together forever. So I ask you: has anyone else ever had to clean egg yolk off his or her hard earned cash?  I also had to painstakingly wipe off my driver’s license, Medicare card, a credit card and several photos of very cute grandkids.

The good news is that egg yolk or white or a combination thereof seems to have a beneficial effect on leather. The outside of the billfold now shines like a new one. Maybe the next time I am stupid enough to put eggs in jeans pockets, I’ll just let the goo slide on down my leg to give my shoes a good shine.

Read the original post on The Contrary Farmer.

holyshit Gene Logsdon is the author of, most recently, Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind.

Tired of Tires

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Do you know how many pneumatic rubber tires you own? I bet when you count them up, you’ll be surprised. Even on my little one horse farm, there are 40 tires in use, not counting the ones on the car. And ten percent of them are flat at any given time. This is partly because most of my tires were vulcanized in the late Middle Ages or thereabouts. But it is also because there is something unsustainable and unnatural about riding around on air wrapped in a substance that comes from trees that grow half a million miles away.

This is the time of year when I fare forth to another season of mowing and planting. I know without looking, that my first chore, after getting all the motors (6) running, will be fixing flats. I thought maybe this year would be an exception. The green tractor started right up and the hydraulic system on it worked fine. I backed up to the disk to hitch up and the hole on the disk tongue lined up with the drawbar hole perfectly on the first try. Oh perfect joy.

One pass across the field and behold, the left tire on the disk was as flat as a pancake. I pumped it up (by hand) and proceeded on to the gardens which were actually dry enough to disk (the corn ground wasn’t) and worked up two of the plots before the tire went flat again. Pumped it up again and it lasted until I had finished the other two plots. I would not have been so stubborn about it except rain was threatening and it might be another two weeks before the soil was dry enough to work again.

Have you ever stopped to think just how dumb it is to have pneumatic tires on a disk? They are only in use when the disk is not disking and that would mean, in my “operation”, about three hundred feet a year at a speed of not more than two miles per hour. Those tires could easily be made out of metal or even some high grade plastic. I should never have gotten rid of my really ancient disk which had no tires at all, but an adjustment to swivel the disk blades straight enough so they wouldn’t cut into the dirt as they rolled along.

Yes, I know, I know. Modern farming requires many acres scattered over ten townships or so, with more time spent moving on the road than actually working in the field. But how about us small timers and slow timers, or how about garden tillers and lawn mowers that will never move off the homestead and rarely move faster than 3 mph?  How about my two-bottom plow once owned by Daniel Boone’s grandfather, or my manure spreader, wheelbarrows, and pull-type sickle bar and rotary mowers? The only piece of farm implement I own that exhibits intelligent design is a side delivery rake. It mercifully has steel wheels.

None of my garden and farm implements need tires made of rubber with air inside them. Nor my tractors. Sometimes I even wonder why science has not found better things for cars and trucks to ride on than air. We had to replace all four tires on our 2005 car because of faulty valve stems. I hear other people complaining about car tires too— they refer to “bad batches” of tires where the outer tread slips loose from the inner tread.

The most ludicrous of all are pneumatic wheelbarrow tires. They are, in my experience, very cheap and go flat almost before you get them home from the hardware store. I have seriously thought of sawing off nice round discs from a red elm log of the right size to make wheelbarrow wheels. Or why does a rear end garden tiller need pneumatic tires? My tiller’s tires like to annoy me by taking turns going soft. They could be made out of metal easily enough.

I am very much in accord with those Amish sects which allow their members to use tractors so long as they aren’t equipped with rubber tires. One Amish community I know decided it was okay to cover their steel wheels with rubber mat treading so they wouldn’t tear the road up too much. When the bishop was teased about this minor transgression of the rule (I tell this story in one of my books), he replied:  “We prayed over the matter and finally decided it was not the rubber itself God was against, but riding on air. Only angels should ride on air.”

During spring flat tire fixing time, I heartily agree. And the next time someone tries to get me on an airplane, that’s going to be my answer.

Read the original article on The Contrary Farmer.

holyshit Gene Logsdon is the author of, most recently, Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind.

What’s Your Game Plan As Corn Prices Skyrocket?

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Forgive me for returning to this topic again, but history is being made in the corn market and the mainstream press isn’t paying attention. Corn prices hit an all time high last week. As you pull on your boots and head for the garden or fields for spring planting, what are your plans? Are you ready for some seismic changes in food prices? Do you feel too helpless to do anything much but keep on hoeing? Am I overreacting?

Corn recently made it well into the $7.00 plus per bushel range, to an historic high, and a rise of about a dollar a bushel from the week before, indicating how eradicate the market has become. As I write this, the market is bobbing up and down around $7.50 like a basketball during March Madness. The USDA just came out with a report in which it said, much to the surprise of nearly everyone, that corn stocks remain unchanged. But then the experts came on with a litany of “it depends” about how one should interpret the meaning of “unchanged.”

We’ve heard for months now that corn was in short supply. There are a number of reasons, supposedly. The demand for ethanol was going up, supposedly. The ethanol plants were buying more corn, supposedly. Other countries were importing more corn, supposedly. Weather outlooks are iffy, supposedly.  I can write more sentences ending with the word ‘supposedly’, but what’s the use. Even the grain traders are saying they don’t know what’s happening.

You can read all this stuff in the farm news yourself. I don’t really care to hear any more ‘supposedlies’. I just want to know the what of it, not the how or why. At the livestock auctions in eastern Ohio last week, buyers and sellers were talking glibly of ten dollar corn by this summer, lamb prices over four dollars, and heaven help the cattle market. If you happen to be raising your own calves for meat right now, you could not have a better investment IF you aren’t feeding them seven dollar corn.

Others at the auctions were convinced there is going to be crash. Even farmers who still have last year’s corn to sell (not many), looked at me and said: “this is not good.”

The National Corn Growers Association and food wholesalers and retailers are at each other’s throats over the way ethanol appears to be driving up the price of food. The chairman of Nestle’s has been particularly strident in his criticism, really ripping the corn growers and the ethanol suppliers and especially the government’s generous subsidies to the ethanol plants, insisting that the world needs all its tillable land for human food, not car fuel. I think he’s right, but the corn growers are lashing right back, declaring that the food industry’s attacks are inaccurate, unwarranted, etc. etc.

This much I know from history. During the Irish famine, the landlord farmers of Ireland continued to sell their oats to England where they could get a better price for it than from the starving Irish, until the government stopped them. I am way too pessimistic to think that could not happen again. There are plenty of people who would choose to use corn to feed their cars, boats and airplanes rather than starving people.

What if food shortages really do develop, even temporarily? What are we supposed to do in anticipation? Maybe everyone who knows how should plant their backyards to corn. No, I don’t have seed for sale— I’m not trying to take advantage of the situation. I am just thinking that if corn goes to ten dollars a bushel, I could plant and harvest five acres by hand real cheap, and at 200 bushels per acre, have $10,000 worth of corn.  Farmers, for sure, are planting more corn according to reported government planting intentions, so why not the rest of us.

Well, not all of them. One of my favorite contrary farmers, who farms about 800 acres near me, called to tell me that he was once more going against the flow. He is planting all soybeans this year, no corn it all. I’d accuse him of reading my novel, “Pope Mary” who did the same thing, but I don’t think he’s ever read a book in his life.

Read the original article on The Contrary Farmer.

holyshit Gene Logsdon is the author of, most recently, Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind.

Pasture Plants That Poison

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

I was thrown from a horse twice and tried to stop a runaway once when I was a boy, so I am not particularly enamored by the equine breed. But I worry about horses. I’ve been reading about plants that poison livestock and was surprised to learn that for as big and strong as horses are, they are rather fragile when it comes to eating their vegetables. Among the things that are supposed to be toxic to them are onions. Yep, says so right here in this scientific report I am reading. Also, red maple leaves, acorns, yew foliage, avocadoes (no wonder I don’t like them), hairy vetch, and many others, some of which really raise doubts in my mind, like black walnut foliage, black locust bark, and alsike clover. Alsike clover causes slobbers— excessive drooling— in horses. I sure wish my grandfather was around so I could ask him about that. He grew a lot of alsike clover because it survived on poorly drained soil and his landlord was too cheap to put in tile drainage. I remember when he still farmed with horses. Wonder what he did about slobbers?

There are many other plants that can poison farm animals. We all know that if a wild cherry limb blows down in a storm, it needs to be removed pronto from pastures because the wilted green leaves have cyanide in them in potent amounts. But I would argue that the danger to farm animals from wild plants is being overstated. Maybe red maple leaves when they are first falling from the trees in the autumn are toxic, but I’ve got red maples all over and our livestock have never been poisoned.  Acorns and oak leaves? My sheep love acorns, even red oak acorns which are very bitter, and devour any little oak seedling they find. Mine have access to black walnut foliage too but have never suffered from it as far as I know. The juglone in black walnut is toxic in some ways and veterinarians say that the trees and horses don’t mix. But my neighbor’s draft horse roams all summer in a woodlot full of black walnut trees. In fact, an old remedy for internal parasites in livestock is to soak black walnut hulls in their drinking water. If you think that sounds far-fetched, a much publicized control for internal parasites in humans is black walnut tincture, made from soaking particles of black walnut hull in vodka. Think I’m kidding, don’t you. Google it.

One toxicity study describes cases where horses sickened from gnawing the bark off of black locust fence posts. And black locust foliage is supposed to be slightly toxic too. I know of several instances of cows and black locusts living together without problems, but my main argument comes from my wife’s memories. Her home farm pastures were studded with black locusts and she can’t remember of cows or horses being affected. In fact when the black locusts all died of disease (they are making a comeback now) her father was upset. He liked his black locusts. Nothing makes better firewood or a more endurng fence post.

Seems to me the first question to ask in this case is why a horse would be hungry enough to eat fence posts. I wonder in fact if the problem of toxicity in farm animals comes mostly from forcing them to graze pastures long after all the good grass is gone. They are forced to eat and over-eat toxic plants they normally would avoid.

Also, there are many examples of plants that are actually medicinal in small amounts but toxic in large amounts. Foxglove is poisonous, for example, but science has concocted a heart medicine using the digitalis in it. Poison hemlock supposedly killed Socrates, but when I noticed that my sheep would take a little nibble or two occasionally from plants that had escaped my trusty hoe, and seemed no worse for it, I decided to take a nibble myself. I can vouch that there is nothing in nature as bitter as poison hemlock. The taste alone could kill most of the philosophers I know. No animal is going to eat more than a nibble at a time unless it is starving or wants to die. I have a hunch that the occasional nibble is another way sheep control internal parasites naturally. Or maybe a nibble a day keeps the doctor away.

Anyhow, I don’t think old Socrates was very smart. If he wanted to die, why not choose a more pleasant way… like maybe a big overdose  of walnut hulls and vodka.

Read the original post on The Contrary Farmer.

holyshit Gene Logsdon is the author of, most recently, Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind.