God Speed The Plough

Dateline: 18 May 2013

I have long realized that a lot of very nice folks read this blog. One evidence of this is that several readers have sent me gifts. Such is the case with the mug shown in the picture above (and below).

This unusual agrarian-themed piece was sent to me by Roberta M. from Wisconsin. Roberta collects "God Speed The Plough" china. She wasn't sure if I'd like the mug, but as a long-time reader she knew I would appreciate the verse. Well, I am delighted to have both. Thank you Roberta!

You can click the pictures to see an enlarged view. The verse on the back says:

Let the wealthy and great
Roll in splendor and state
I envy them not, I declare it
I eat my own lamb
My own chickens and ham
I shear my own fleece and I wear it
I have lawns, I have bowers
I have fruits, I have flowers
The lark is my morning alarmed
So jolly boys now
Heres God Speed The Plough
Long life and success to the farmer

Near as I can tell, the mug was made in England in the early 1900s. Here are pictures of some other "Farmer's Arms" or "God Speed The Plough" china...

cider tankard

Finding & Eating Morels

Dateline: 16 May 2013

(click for an enlarged view)
My middle son, Robert, quit his job as a mechanic at an auto dealership after working there only a year. He was bored. So he went back to work for a local man who has a maple syrup operation. The guy makes maple syrup on a grand scale. This year he boiled down around eight thousand gallons of syrup. That's a lotta maple syrup, and it requires a lotta man-hours of work in the woods, installing and maintaining the sap lines. So instead of working indoors on cars, my son is in the great outdoors. This morning he told me he's working on installing a "main line" up through a gully. It's work that he enjoys.

Robert told me a few days ago that the man he works with loves morel mushrooms, and this is the time of year to find them in the woods. I told Robert that I didn't think morels grew in these parts because I've never in my life seen them. I used to roam the woods around here quite a bit in my teen years, and I knew about morels back then, but I never saw one. Robert insisted that his coworker was finding them. He said they grow where there are ash and elm trees (not maple trees). I said I'd be really surprised if he found any.

So I was working in my shop a couple days ago, in the late afternoon, making Whizbang chicken plucker parts, and Robert walked in to inform me that he had found a patch of morel mushrooms on our new land. I expressed skepticism and he produced his phone to show me pictures. I was amazed. "Show me where they are." I declared, and we headed straight away into the woods.

Sure enough, there was a patch of yellow morels right here in our own woods. And these pictures show them.

Last night Robert picked 4 morels and cooked them. He cleaned them, sliced them in half, coated them with flour and fried them in butter. He seasoned them with salt and pepper. Him and Marlene and I ate our first morels. Robert announced that they were "pretty good." I said they were "not bad." Marlene didn't say much. We ended up dipping them in Ranch salad dressing. They were better that way.

Last year Marlene and I cooked up our first puffball mushroom—a wild delicacy that many people rave about—and we decided that we didn't really like puffballs. Now we've had morels and, though they were, in our opinion, much better than puffballs, they aren't something we're real excited about eating again. But Robert has plans to cook more. Next time he intends to fry them longer, so they're a bit more crispy. 

Homeschooling Conviction
(some personal retrospection)

Dateline: 14 May 2013

Marlene and I went to our first homeschool meeting when she was pregnant with our first child. That was some 26 years ago. We didn't go out of curiosity, wondering if maybe we would or should educate our child at home. We went out of conviction, knowing full well that we never wanted our children to be exposed to or influenced by the anti-Christian, paganistic culture of government schooling.

Prior to the birth of that first child, Marlene worked full time as a secretary in a doctor's office. I worked for a local home remodeling contractor. I worked mighty hard, but Marlene actually made more money than me, though neither of us made a lot.

In addition to homeschooling our soon-to-come baby, we had a similar conviction that Marlene should leave her job for good, and be a full-time mother when the baby was born.

It was not a difficult decision for Marlene to leave work and focus on being a full-time mother, but it was a difficult reality. Our yearly income was cut to less than half. In addition to that, Marlene struggled with the significant "culture shift" that comes with leaving a busy full-time job to be a full-time mother. If you are a woman who has done this, you can probably relate.

But Marlene has never gone back to working a regular job, and, by the grace of God, we made it, though I can tell you it was not easy. Finances were always tight. 

There were times over those lean years when Marlene suggested that she could get a part-time job to make some money. But that never happened. I discouraged every thought of it. It was more important to me (and to Marlene) that our children (two more would be born) have a full-time mother.

Living in a state of perpetual financial difficulty and lack was not hard to bear, knowing that our sacrifice was part of fulfilling what we saw as a higher calling. A truer poverty in my mind would have been to see my wife working a regular job and our children without their mother at home for them. A truer poverty would have been to take the easier path and let my children be cared for each day by the Babylonian educational system. 

In the final analysis, conviction is a powerful force. People will endure tremendous hardships (far more than we had to deal with) to do something they are strongly convicted of—especially when it comes to their children.

In retrospect, Marlene and I have some regrets about some of the ways we homeschooled our children, but we haven't a single regret that we chose to homeschooled them. The biggest regret I have is that we sent our oldest son to two years of a "Christian school" and then to two years of public vocational school. But we learned from that— the two younger boys never experienced a single day of "Christian" or government schooling, thank God.

The lion's share of educating our boys fell on Marlene. She is the heroine in our homeschooling story. There is no doubt about that. Maybe someday my sons will truly understand the sacrifice and commitment their mother made in educating them at home. Maybe not. But she has my eternal gratitude for such selfless dedication to our children's education.

Mothers who take on the task of homeschooling their children, out of conviction, are remarkable people. It is a selfless act to commit to educating your children at home. It is contra-industrial. It is not easy. I have tremendous respect for homeschooling mothers.

As for me, I was 100% supportive but I was not the teacher Marlene was. I was more consumed with trying to make enough  money to keep the bills paid. Had I to do it again, I would do things a little differently. 

All of this is a roundabout way of introducing you to a documentary movie I recently bought, and watched, and really liked. It is called IndoctriNation: Public Schools and the Decline of Christianity in America

The movie sets out to answer the question.... Should Christians send their children to the government schools? 

The movie makes it abundantly clear that no right-thinking Christian should ever  submit their children to pagan indoctrination through the government school system. The film makes it's point in an entertaining way, but this is a very serious documentary.

Though my children are now beyond school age, I have younger Christian friends who are just starting to homeschool their children, or they are thinking about maybe homeschooling them. I bought the movie to lend to them. 

And, beyond that, I now have a grandson. He is a year old. 

Here's the trailer to "IndoctriNation"...

IndoctriNation Trailer from indoctrination on Vimeo.

People who are not Christians and read this may not fully understand the conviction that so many Christian parents have for homeschooling their children. That is understandable. And, no doubt, there are professing Christian parents who will disagree with my beliefs about homeschooling, asserting that lots of Christian children go to government schools and come out just fine. 

That is, I'm sure, true, just as it is true that many people survive airplane crashes.

My purpose with this essay is not to condemn or to be dogmatic. It isn't to start an argument. It is to give my testimony and my opinion. It is to encourage any Christian parents out there who are considering the home education of their children.

If you are a Christian who thinks government schools are a good place to send your children, I dare you to get the IndoctriNation video and watch it.

Mother's Day Reading

Dateline: 12 May 2013

My great great grandmother's life as a farm wife was not easy....

A little over six years ago I established the web site, Diary of an 1892 Farmer's Wife. It presents one year of entries from my great, great grandmother's line-a-day diary. It doesn't take long to read through the whole year of entries and if you do you will get a glimpse into the life of a farmer's wife 121 years ago. 

This morning I had notice of a comment left at the web site by a woman who had read my great great grandmother's 1892 diary entries, and I thought it worth sharing here:

"Just a random place to say thank you for sharing this wonderful piece of history. I am enthralled with the stories of our American past, and although personally caught up in all the modern conveniences can appreciate the idea of a time when "simpler" did not mean "easier". At the end of the day, these ancestors gained satisfaction from the work they did, which was almost exclusively the work of home and family. Today the "busy-ness" of life mostly has to do with non-essential tasks. I can't imagine the work involved in laundry, cooking, and planting as they did then, but know that I would have gone to bed glad for the rest. Thanks again for sharing your families history."

If you are a wife and mother, I think you will especially appreciate Josephine Jordan's diary.

Jersey Cabbage

Dateline: 11 May 2013

I have recently learned about the giant cabbages grown on the island of Jersey. The cabbages grow very tall, as the picture above shows. In years past, the cabbages were an important part of the island's agricultural economy. Leaves were stripped off and fed to cows or sheep. The dried stalks were used to make walking sticks.

This Link explains more about Jersey cabbages. 

This Link provides some more historical perspective and growing advice.

This Link takes you to the web page of some folks in Jersey who make cabbage walking sticks. They also sell seeds. 

I couldn't resist ordering a packet.

Starting Tomato Seedlings
"Cherokee Tomato Will Survive"

Dateline: 10 May 2013

Homegrown tomato seedlings (click to see an enlarged view)

Starting plants, like tomatoes, from seed is something that we have done for years. I say "we," but in the division of labor in our family economy, my wife, Marlene, has been the primary plant starter. This year, however, Marlene went to Oklahoma for our grandbaby's first birthday, and I decided to get the tomato seeds started myself. I planted the seeds on April 7th.

The picture above, taken on May 9th, shows one of two flats of home-grown tomato transplants. Twelve days earlier I took a picture of the seedlings in a Whizbang solar pyramid and posted it to my April 2013 monthly blogazine. Here's those same tomato plants 12 days ago...

As you can see, the plants have really grown, and they're not tall and spindly. The stems are thickening up nicely. We have a cold front with rain coming over the next few days and I'll get the tomatoes planted in my garden shortly thereafter. I will plant them in solar pyramids or some other kind of cloche so they will get off to a great start once in the soil.

I started numerous kinds of tomatoes. They are all indeterminate varieties and will all be planted along Whizbang tomato trellis spans. The trellis will allow them to grow to 5'6" high. The smaller tomato varieties (Tommy Toe and Juliet) tend to be much more vigorous and will be planted on 7'6" high Whizbang trellis spans. I'll chronicle the progress of these plants through the gardening season.

By the way, solar pyramids and Whizbang trellis spans are discussed in The Planet Whizbang Idea Book For Gardeners.

I decided to plant a trellis span of Cherokee Purple tomatoes this year. I've never grown that variety before. Unfortunately, I didn't get the Cherokee Purple seeds started when I started all the other tomatoes. But with the solar pyramids, they will grow quickly and not be much behind. 

I'll explain how we start tomatoes from seed with the following pictures. Our objective is to get the plants started without grid-dependent electric grow-lights, or an expensive greenhouse structure.

We begin by planting some seeds in a shallow container. We typically do this in cardboard milk or juice containers cut in half (the long way). For the Cherokee Purple seeds, I used a shallow yogurt container (as you can see below). Marlene said that she saw on the internet where people were using those small Keurig coffee cups to start seeds. Our kids bought us a Keurig coffee maker a couple years ago and I think those cups would be perfect for getting seeds started.

The picture above shows the Cherokee Purple seedlings. We have grown them on a windowsill. The first true leaves have begun to form. I will use the knife to slice out  a seedling, with some soil, and transplant it into the much larger plastic cups with moistened potting soil in them. 

The little jug to the left in the picture is an organic liquid seaweed concentrate (0-4-4). I put a very small amount of the concentrate in the water that I used to moisten the potting soil in the big cups. No fertilizer was used prior to this.

The plastic Snapple jug in the background is a significant part of the tomato seedling operation. I don't buy Snapple, or other factory-prepared drinks (except an occasional six-pack of Woodchuck hard cider) but my kids do, and I end up with the empty containers. Marlene took it upon herself to drill a bunch of holes in the screw-on Snapple container lid and made a watering jug out of it. I wasn't overly impressed at first, but it turns out to be a very handy tool for keeping the seedlings watered.

In the picture above you can see a Cherokee Purple seedling, sliced out of the shallow yogurt container, about to go into the more roomy plastic cup (and there's that handy Snapple watering jug in the background).

As I was transplanting these Cherokee Purple seedlings, Cherokee Nation, that old Paul Revere and The Raiders song, came into my head. I couldn't help but start singing it to myself. And before long I was changing the words...

"Cherokee tomato will survive, will survive, will survive....."

A Whizbang T-Post tomato trellis span accommodates four tomato plants, so I grow five transplants. I'll plant the four healthiest ones and give the extra to a gardening friend.

Once the seedlings are transplanted into the bigger cups, they will stay on the windowsill for a day or two before going outside, in the solar pyramids (weather permitting) for the daytime hours. We bring the plants indoors at night, especially in the early spring when the nights get cold.

In the above picture, you can see the Cherokee Purple cups on the windowsill. The tomatoes in the foreground are the ones I started earlier. The picture was taken in the morning. The flats of tomatoes were on our kitchen table for the overnight hours. When the weather warmed, they were put outside for the day.

You can start your own tomatoes without grow-lights or a greenhouse, or big south-facing windows. We've done it for years. Some sort of "solar appliance" is, however, a necessity. We used to use clear plastic draped over a garden cart, but the solar pyramids are easier and better. 

Another thing that's needed to get your seedlings off to a good start is some careful attention. They really need to be nurtured, getting them outdoors and taking them indoors, and making sure they are watered and so on. That sort of thing takes time. I don't think I could start seedlings as well if I was still working my factory job. That's why Marlene has done the seed-starting in previous years—she was at home. But seeing as I'm now a full-time, home-based worker, I have the time to properly nurture these seedlings.

Raising a few transplants for your garden from seed is a soul-satisfying pursuit. You can get very attached to your plant "babies." They're special to you. They're a delight.

As for Marlene, she can now focus on nurturing her beloved little pepper-plant seedlings.

"Wheel Hoe" deemed profanity by U.S. Postal Service

Dateline: 9 May 2013

The picture above is a screen shot off my computer (click to see an enlarged view). I was in the process of getting online postage to ship a Whizbang wheel hoe parts kit in a U.S. Postal Service Priority box. I typed in the message to the wheel hoe buyer on the bottom right. In case you can't see it, the message says:

"Wheel hoe parts kit is on the way. Handles will ship via UPS Ground. Thanks!"

When I hit the button to proceed to the next step in the postal process, the message in the upper left came up. I was not allowed to go to the next step. In case you can't see it, the message from the U.S. Postal Service says:

Profanity found in note.

I edited my message to say that a "wheelhoe" (one word) was on the way.

But the US Postal Service objected to that too

Profanity found in note.

This takes the proverbial cake. 

There is something seriously wrong when "hoe"— one of the most fundamental, ancient, useful and revered of agrarian tools—is hijacked and twisted by modern culture to mean something it has never even remotely meant in thousands of years. 

And now "hoe" is deemed a profanity by government censors.

I edited the message to say, "Parts kit is on the way," and was allowed to finish the transaction.

The end is near.......

A Simple Homemade
Compost Riddle

Dateline: 8 May 2013

Hand-crafted riddles

Last fall I happened upon this audio slideshow featuring Mike Turnock, the last riddle maker in the UK. That's Mike in the picture below, and he made the riddles in the picture above. 

Mike Turnock with one of his riddles.

Since the slideshow link above was published to the internet, Mr. Turnock has found someone to pass the craft and business on to. The company has a web site HERE.

Old handcrafts appeal to me. When I watched that slideshow last fall, I wanted to make riddles to. I wanted to be the only handcrafted wooden riddle maker in the United States. There is an opportunity right there for some enterprising American.

But I'm crafting products every day in my small rural workshop. And I still intend to start up an American-made wooden clothespin company, like I've talked about here in the past.

But I still wanted to make a small compost sifter/riddle for myself. As much as I'd like to make a round riddle, I just didn't have the time to do that for one sifter. So I made the sifter shown below.

My homemade compost riddle

My riddle measures 16" square. The sides are 3" high. The strips of wood on the bottom that hold the 1/4" hardware cloth in place are 1/4" thick.

Note the four support wires

Mike Turnock's round riddles have support wires under the screen mesh. Those support wires make a lot of sense and I made sure to put similar support wires under my screen, as you can see in the picture above (click to see an enlarged view).

I used common pine for the wood. And I coated it with a liberal amount of homemade beeswax-turpentine-linseed oil paste. 

I used my new riddle for the first time the other day. I needed just a little sifted compost. It worked really fine. Maybe not as well as a round riddle, but good enough.