Dateline: 31 July 2012
I’m In Tall Daisy Fleabane
|This is Leyland, at the top of our field.|
Now that I have a little farmland, I figured I could use a little tractor. I found one that is 40 years old, and it was made in Scotland. Well, I’m of Scottish ancestry, the price was right, and it works. So I bought it. As you can see from the picture above, it’s a Leyland.
Leyland and me have spent several hours together mowing my field (which is about two thirds of my 16 acres of land) using Leland’s sickle-bar mower. The field was a sea of white daisy fleabane in full blossom. Daisy fleabane is a weed, and I reckon it must have a deep taproot because, even though we were in a drought here for most of July, and the soil was getting rock hard, the daisy fleabane was tall and healthy. It was taller than Leyland’s tires, (which are 42”). In some areas of the field, the daisy fleabane was much taller.
If daisy fleabane was a crop worth money I’d be much happier about having a field full of it. As it is, I tell myself that deep-rooted annual weeds are useful for mining nutrients up to the surface, and for adding organic matter to the soil. That’s whatcha call thinking positive in a field of tall weeds.
The sickle-bar cuts from behind the tractor and to the right. Leyland’s sickle bar is seven-foot long. It connects to Leyland with a three-point hitch and operates off a PTO shaft. The sickle bar mower is old enough that it has a wooden arm that transfers power from the spinning PTO shaft to the back-and-forth action of the sickle bar cutters. I don't suppose that new sickle bar mowers have any wood parts in them at all.
I’ve never mowed with a sickle bar mower before and I’m learning as I go. For example, I’ve learned that if I lower the mower too far, daisy fleabane that I moved on the previous pass (and am driving on top of) will get caught in the spinning PTO shaft and twist up into a tight ball. Then I have to stop the tractor (“Whoa, Leyland!”) and cut the ball of weeds free.
I’ve learned that if the far end of the sickle bar, which rides over the ground, snags on a dip of land, and digs in, the bar stops while the tractor keeps going ahead. That disengages the PTO shaft. Then I have to stop, back Leyland up, and fuss with the mechanism to get it all reassembled. Fortunately, I’ve only had to do that once.
And I’ve learned to regulate the speed of Leyland ("Git up, Leyland!”) to the speed of the sickle bar cutting action. When everything is working as it should, the daisy fleabane falls in a wide swath, and it's a beautiful sight to behold.
Truth be told, I don’t much like complicated machines, like tractors, because they eventually break, and I don’t like fixing them. A scythe is more suited to my sensibilities. But a man would have to be insane to think he could subdue a ten-acre field of daisy fleabane with a scythe.
The reality of how big ten acres is comes when you drive over it with a sickle bar mower, especially with a mower pulled by Leyland. When I’m mowing, I’m moving along as fast as a couple horses would walk at a good clip. Leyland isn’t loud (but he is certainly louder than a team of horses) and the sickle bar doesn’t make much noise at all. It just clacks back and forth (I like that). So this work of mowing has been a good way for me to get acquainted with my land, just as I imagine the old timers got acquainted with their land while riding over it. The high spots, and low spots, the wet spots and bumpy spots, they all become more intimate to a slow rider in the open air (I like that too).
Unfortunately, I only mowed some of the field when the daisy fleabane was in the peak of flower. Then I hit a snag myself, so to speak. I was pulled away from mowing by other responsibilities (at my factory job) and work (at my Planet Whizbang home business). I just couldn’t spare the time to mow any more. But, after a nearly-two-week separation, I returned to the field. Leyland was waiting patiently for me, and started right up.
Once again mowing in my field, I noticed the daisy fleabane had matured such that it was coarser and did not fall so nicely when cut. Other weeds, like Queen Anne’s Lace and Mullein were more visible. The field was also much more alive with bugs this time. As I rode along, laying the weedy habitat low, leafhoppers, and grasshoppers and daisy fleabane hoppers, and all sorts of other bugs were flying about, bouncing off my arms and landing on my head. One little hopper landed on the rim of my sunglasses, over my left eye, and stayed there for an unusually long time. Then I noticed the birds...
They were tree swallows. I know tree swallows when I see them. For many years I have had bird houses around my garden and, without fail, tree swallow couples move in every spring to raise their families. A gardener could not hope for any better neighbors than tree swallows.
Tree swallows eat bugs on the fly, looping and circling with remarkable grace and precision. There had to be a hundred of them and they had come to feast. They swooped around me and Leyland for the hour or so that we mowed. The birds were swooping as close as eight or ten feet from us, which is a polite distance for a tree swallow (if you get near their homes when they have young’uns, they’ll swoop within inches of your head).
The circling swallows reminded me of smiling porpoises following alongside a boat in the ocean, jumping and swimming about, enjoying themselves. I couldn’t see that close, but I’m sure the swallows had smiles on their faces. Like little porpoises of the air, the birds followed me through the daisy fleabane. It was a sight.
|An old turkey egg by Leland's sickle bar.|
And so it is that I like mowing, but I have less than half the field cut, and Leyland’s front right tire has a disturbing wobble, and there is oil seeping out of a seal around the PTO. I’m thinking it isn’t worth the gasoline and wear to finish the job. Besides, it is so late in the season that the weeds have mostly gone to seed.
Grazing animals would surely be more efficient mowers than me and Leland. I just have to find a grazing animal that eats daisy fleabane, and will stay in my field without a fence (fences are expensive), and that taste good.
In the meantime, I have located an old manure spreader, nearly forgotten and overgrown with weeds, and I’m thinking it might make a fine wagon for Leyland. Firewood cutting season is fast approaching...
The Agrarian Mind
The Industrial Mind
Mark T. Mitchell wrote an excellent article for the Front Porch Republic web site earlier this year. It’s titled Agrarian Hypocrisy and the Evils of Distributism. Mitchell draws on the clear-eyed agrarian understandings of Wendell Berry, a man who I believe has a Christian-agrarian worldview (though he does not use that term). With that in mind, the following excerpt is well worth reading, and embracing. I think it is so very accurate in its understandings and its conclusions. The Berry quotes come from his book, Citizenship Papers, a copy of which I have just bought, and look forward to reading.
Agrarians from the Twelve Southerners of I'll Take My Stand to Wendell Berry identify a fundamental tension between agrarianism and industrialism. According to Berry, these are the only real options, and the differences are profound. “I believe that this contest between industrialism and agrarianism now defines the most fundamental human difference, for it divides not just two nearly opposite concepts of agriculture and land use, but also two nearly opposite ways of understanding ourselves, our fellow creatures, and our world.” Where the model for industrialism is the machine and technological invention, Berry notes that
“agrarianism begins with givens: land, plants, animals, weather, hunger, and the birthright knowledge of agriculture. Industrialists are always ready to ignore, sell, or destroy the past in order to gain the entirely unprecedented wealth, comfort, and happiness supposedly to be found in the future. Agrarian farmers know that their very identity depends on their willingness to receive gratefully, use responsibly, and hand down intact an inheritance, both natural and cultural, from the past. Agrarians understand themselves as the users and caretakers of some things they did not make, and of some things that they cannot make.”
The agrarian is guided by gratitude. He recognizes the giftedness of creation and accepts the great and awful responsibility to steward it well. Such a recognition “calls for prudence, humility, good work, propriety of scale.” In the use of the land, soil, water, and non-human creatures, the final arbiter, according to Berry, is not human will but nature itself. But this is not to suggest that Berry is some sort of pantheist. Instead, “the agrarian mind is, at bottom, a religious mind.” The agrarian recognizes that the natural world is a gift, and gifts imply a giver. “The agrarian mind begins with the love of fields and ramifies in good farming, good cooking, good eating, and gratitude to God.” By contrast, the “industrial mind “begins with ingratitude, and ramifies in the destruction of farms and forests.” The implication here is striking. The agrarian begins with gratitude for the gifts of the natural world and this leads him ultimately to gratitude to God. The industrialist, on the other hand, begins with ingratitude, which precludes this upward movement. Where the agrarian mind is essentially religious, the industrial mind is essentially irreligious or even anti-religious. It is characterized by the will to dominate the natural world. This mind fails to recognize that humans are an intrinsic part of the natural world, and to be destructive of the natural world is to jeopardize human existence itself. Such a way of thinking seems patently foolish, but one must never forget the technological optimism lying at the heart of the industrial mind. If the agrarian mind is essentially religious, the industrial mind is animated by faith in technological innovation, which will solve the very problems brought on by the hubris of an ungrateful mind.
Since the agrarian mind and the industrial mind represent two fundamentally different ways of viewing the world, it is possible for a farmer to possess an industrial mind just as it is possible for an urban dweller to possess an agrarian mind. Indeed, there are examples of both in every city and in every farming community. Once this basic fact is acknowledged, simple mischaracterizations are far more difficult to entertain.
|National Monument to the Forefathers, in Plymouth, Massachusetts.|
I bought a DVD copy of Monumental, the new movie by Kirk Cameron. It is about how to right the course of America, a nation clearly in decline and headed for the ash bin of history. Cameron asserts that the way to restore America to its former greatness is found in the message of an obscure, 81-foot-tall granite monument in Plymouth Massachusetts.
It’s called the National Monument to The Forefathers and it is purported to be the largest freestanding solid granite monument in the world. I have been to Plymouth numerous times in my life. I’ve absorbed the history of that place. And I never heard of this monument until I saw the movie. That’s what I mean by obscure.
Kirk Cameron says that the monument is a national treasure. I agree. In the movie, Cameron brings Marshall Foster with him to visit the 123-year-old monument. Foster explains its meaning and the message it has for our present generation.
Marshall Foster was the guy who, some thirty years ago, by way of a large set of cassette teaching tapes, fueled within me a profound appreciation for the Separatist Pilgrims of 1600’s England. These people were hated, reviled, and persecuted, not so much for what they believed, but because their actions followed their beliefs. They refused to conform to a dominant, antichrist religious-governmental system that demanded their conformity.
Monumental, the movie, retells some of the Separatist story. It is truly a remarkable story. I commend Kirk Cameron for making this movie. It is a movie full of wisdom and hope. I recommend Monumental to you, without reservation.
Now, that said, I would be remiss if I did not also make the point that I believe this movie misses the mark in a very significant way. Monumental, fails to point out the fundamental error of a nation departing, not only from its Christian and Biblical foundations, but from its agrarian foundations too.
What the vast majority of modern Christians fail to understand is that the decline of Christian America has paralleled the rise of Industrial America. This is not an unrelated coincidence. The pseudo-religion of Industrialism that now dominates American culture has emasculated and subdued Christianity.
Modern Christianity has allowed itself to be reshaped by the industrial meme. The mainstream Christian church in America has become syncretized with the industrial culture. In order to syncretize, the church has compromised.
Modern Christianity has allowed itself to be reshaped by the industrial meme. The mainstream Christian church in America has become syncretized with the industrial culture. In order to syncretize, the church has compromised.
Monumental is a movie that celebrates individual freedom, personal responsibility, and self-government. Those are Christian virtues, and they are virtues that are also firmly ingrained in the agrarian paradigm. But Industrialism does not celebrate or foster any of those things. Industrialism fosters irresponsibility, dependency, and slavery. Worst of all, Industrialism fosters national apostasy.
Have you noticed that government and industry are now, more than ever, at war with people who hold to Christian and agrarian ideals? Government does not like parents to homeschool their children. Government tells parents they must have their children immunized with government-decreed immunizations. If you are a small-scale farmer who wants to sell raw milk or homemade food products, you must get government approval. And so on.
Thus it is that the pseudo-religion of industrialism has allied itself with government much like the church-and-government power structure of 1600’s England. Separatists of today—those who refuse to conform to the dominant cultural demands—are reviled and, in many instances, they are persecuted for their beliefs.
How can the restoration of a godly and moral republic come about if modern Christianity is at peace with the antichrist industrial system that now dominates Western culture? How can a godly and moral republic be restored if modern Christianity does not see and rebuke the evils of its own syncretism with Industrialism? How can a godly and moral republic be restored if modern Christianity does not repent of its love for Industrialism?
As I’ve noted here in the past, the amazing material prosperity that America (and the world) experienced for the last 400 years has come to an end. This essential historical truth that was so well explained by professor Walter Prescott Webb in his book, The Great Frontier, is completely missed by the majority of modern Americans, and especially modern Christians.
Material prosperity, ease, and comfort are the three great hopes of those who worship and serve the god of industrial culture. I wonder if modern Christianity, so tainted by the industrial mindset, can imagine a future America that is restored to it’s Biblical foundations, without the prosperity, ease, and comfort that it has been accustomed to?
I fully accept the message within the National Monument to the Forefathers as the proper blueprint for saving any nation hellbent on destruction. But I also think that modern Christianity must reject the false faith of industrialism and embrace not only the biblical foundations of our nation, but the biblical-agrarian foundations too.
In the Monumental movie there is a short clip of Os Guinness talking to Kirk Cameron. Mr. Guinness makes the point that we have to go back culturally as a nation. He states that there is no problem that can’t be solved by going back to America’s first principles.
Well, I’d like to point out that America’s first principles were rooted and flourished in an agrarian culture, not the industrial culture that now dominates our nation. And I can’t help but think (in keeping with my thoughts above), that it is a great mistake to go back to any first principles without understanding and going back to the way of life that sustained those principles.
I decided to look up who Os Guinness is, and in so doing, I found my way to an online interview about his newest book, The Last Christian on Earth. The words “industrialism” and “agrarian” are not used in the interview, but they easily could have been without changing any of the meaning.
For example, when Guinness mentions “systems and spirit of the modern world,” he is clearly speaking of industrialism and the industrialized culture we live in. And when he states that the “Global South,” where the church of Christ is growing the most is “largely pre-modern,” that’s just another way of saying it is agrarian.
Os Guinness comes very close to promoting the contra-industrial, Christian-agrarian worldview (something he may not even know exists). In any event, what Mr. Guinness says is powerfully insightful. Here are a few quotes from the interview (which you can read at This Link)...
“...the church is exploding in the Global South, while failing badly in Europe and faltering in the US. But the church in the Global South is largely pre-modern, and the major reason for the weakness of the church in the West is captivity to the spirit and systems of the modern world. Put differently, much of the church in the West is in a profound Babylonian captivity. It has become deeply worldly...”
“What The Last Christian on Earth does is describe the structures and spirit of the modern world, and show how they are the shoals on which much faith is foundering because it is not aware of them. This means that, contrary to many of [my] good Reformed friends, theology alone is not the answer. Nor is having a “Christian worldview” the answer by itself, because that ignores the social context in which the worldview is lived. If “sound theology” and “thinking Christianly” lack an understanding of the distortions of the modern world, they simply will not be effective in the way their proponents hope. We must recognize the distorting structures of our modern world, and then with God’s help, overcome them with powerful Christian living inspired by deep Christian theology and thinking."
“...the Christian faith is the single strongest contributor to the rise of the modern world, yet the church has fallen captive to the modern world it helped to create. So as the church accommodates to the world uncritically, it becomes its own gravedigger. There are parallel versions of the same idea in Cotton Mather as well as Karl Marx. For Mather, early Puritanism created prosperity, only for prosperity to undermine Puritanism. I would argue that only such a wide-ranging analysis does justice to the full raft of problems we are facing today. Without taking such cultural analysis into account, other proposed remedies will always fall short of our hopes and prayers.”
News From Planet Whizbang
|Organic zucchini blossoms, with a honeybee (click to see an enlarged view)|
In last month's blogazine, I showed pictures of the solar pyramid idea I developed and have been using in my garden. I showed you a zucchini plant I started in the solar pyramid. The picture above is of one of those zucchini plants a few days ago. It is a picture of health and vitality. If you can get your plants off to a healthy start in a protected environment, nine times out of ten, they will do okay out in the real world.
I also tried planting tomato seeds directly in the garden in a solar pyramid. I got them planted much later in the season than I could have, but they have grown very well. They are now getting blossoms. I’m quite sure I can plant tomato seeds directly in my garden in early spring using the solar pyramids, and completely eliminate the need for starting seeds inside and transplanting the seedlings. I’ll be experimenting with that idea next year.
As noted last month, I’ll be publishing plans for making solar pyramids in my next book, The Planet Whizbang Idea Book For Gardeners, which I hope to have in print in the spring of 2013. I started putting the book together last winter but it is currently in limbo until next winter, when I will have more time to get back to it.
The idea book will also tell how I make granulated biochar....
|Homemade granulated biochar!|
Biochar is a soil amendment that intrigues me and I’ve been refining my biochar-making approach for a couple of years. I’ve mixed biochar in with my compost, but next year I intend to make a couple of concentrated biochar beds in the garden and compare them side-by-side with garden plantings in beds with no biochar.
It is my hope that, once the plan book is done, I will then establish a Planet Whizbang gardening blog that focuses on the various ideas presented in the book, and other ideas that spin off of those ideas.
If you would like to get a copy of The Planet Whizbang Idea Book For Gardeners (at a reduced prepublication price) I invite you to Sign Up For The Planet Whizbang Newsletter (click the link to subscribe). My plan is to announce the book to my newsletter subscribers and provide a special link to order a prepublication copy. That won’t happen until next year, when I deliver the book to the printer, but you can get on the mailing list now.
Planet Whizbang newsletters will provide links to other products I hope to bring to market, and to new information that I post on the internet. For example, this last month I posted a photo tutorial about how to use Planet Whizbang poultry shrink bags (made to hold whole chickens) for shrink-bagging smaller cuts of meat (and even blueberries) for the freezer.
I also posted an essay at my Whizbang Cider web site about how to make a proper cheese for pressing apple cider in the Whizbang cider press.
And I have certainly not forgotten the American-made clothespins I will be bringing to market one of these days. I have 50,000 clothespin springs in stock, waiting for me to do something with them.
|Just a few of my 50,000 custom-made stainless steel clothespin springs|
I am now six months away from leaving my wage-slave factory job. Lord willing, I’ll coming home to work my land and my home business full time.
If I can do it, there is a good chance you can do it too.
Like They Used To Make
|They don't make garden hoes like this anymore!|
I’ve written here in the past about the annual N.Y. State Route 90 Garage Sale that my family attends every year. We used to travel the route of the sales with three little boys in the back seat. Now that the boys are grown, they drive themselves.
I’m always looking for a good garden hoe, and this year I found the two pictured above. Most people would not see those as good garden hoes, especially the one that needs to be bent back into shape. But those hoes are made in a way that hoes are no longer made. The blade, neck, and handle socket on both of them is one solid piece of forged steel.
I have yet to find any company in the world that still makes hoe heads of one forged piece of steel. The DeWitt Garden Hoes say they are “hand forged” but they are not one solid piece of hand-forged steel from the blade, through the neck, and including the socket. I called the Earth Tools company and asked to make sure if their DeWitt hoes were one solid forged piece of steel. The man I spoke with looked and told me they were welded.
I bought a DeWitt hoe anyway, and I can tell you the company makes an excellent garden hoe. I think they may make the best garden hoes currently on the market. But the blade is welded to the neck, and the neck is welded to the handle socket. They are not hand-forged.
Those old, truly-forged garden hoes can be restored and put to work again, and that’s what I intend to do with those in the picture.
Keep a lookout for good ol' forged-steel garden hoes...
|Here is a parting picture for you. Marlene and I have been picking lots of blueberries at a pick-your-own farm. She would like to have a pick-your-own blueberry operation on part of our new land. I think it's a fine idea.|