Summer Vacation

I came home from work today to find my son, Robert, lighting firecrackers in the front yard. Firecrackers are something new around here. I never had them when I was a kid and, until this year, my kids never had them either. They are cheap. They make a big bang. What could be more fun. Yes, I know, they’re potentially dangerous too.

Robert puts one in a slingshot, lights it, and lets it fly. Then he showed me how he blows dandelions out of the lawn. He pushes the firecracker into the ground right next to the base of the dandelion so that only the fuse is sticking out. Then he lights it and stands back. It blows the whole top of the dandelion up in the air and leaves a little crater. Impressive. Dandelions are the Rodney Dangerfield weed—they just can’t get no respect.

I’ve been told that it was once common for farmers in these parts to have dynamite. They used it to blow out tree stumps and blast big rocks into small rocks. Those were the good ol’ days.


Yesterday was another farmer’s market day in Skaneateles. Marlene and James are the only ones doing the market this year. Marlene says James is a natural at the market. He’s a great help to her and does an excellent job interacting with the customers. He sold most all his cookies and quickbreads and made some good money for the effort.


I learned about Stephen Beck and his Family Ebiz web site over at Jim Bob Howard’s blog, Billy Joe Jim Bob. I ended up buying a video tutorial about how toTurn Recordings into a Profitable Source of Incomel. It wasn’t cheap but Jim Bob recommended it and if it can teach me how to do my own recordings, it will be worth it.

I don’t sing or play an instrument, but I’ve been told I have a “radio voice.” In fact, years ago, before we had children, Marlene and I attended a church in Whitney Point, New York (right in fellow agrarian Scott Terry’s neighborhood) and the church started a radio program. Because I had a “radio voice” I was asked if I’d do the canned introduction to the program. I spent a whole day with recording equipment getting it just right. That’s the extent of my work in radio.

The reason I want to learn how to record onto a CD is to do an audio reading of my new book, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian.

With that in mind, earlier this year Rick Saenz graciously sent me some equipment to use with my computer and told me about the free Audacity software that allows anyone to do their own recordings. Being computer challenged, I had a hard time figuring out how to use Audacity. But Stephen Beck’s tutorial has been a big help. Now, one of these days, I will get that recording done.


On Stephen Beck’s web site I found an excellent article about debt. Mr. Beck does not sugar coat what the Bible says about debt. Here’s the link to the article titled, Teaching Your Children About Debt.


Bloggers come and bloggers go. Some go for good. Some just take a vacation and come back. That’s what I’ve decided to do. I feel strongly convicted that I should focus more time on family and home for the month of July.

I’ve also decided to further limit my time on the computer by not reading other blogs for the month. That will be hard for me but, like I said, I feel strongly convicted about this. So I’ll see y’all back here on August 1st, and I’ll catch up on my blog reading then.


If you happen to have stopped by this blog for the first time, sorry I’m not here. I invite you to read a selection of my blog writings. You can find links to them at my web site. And please do stop back come August!


One last thing.... I’ll still be reading e-mails in order to take care of my book and plucker parts business so, if need be, I can be contacted by e-mail at

Marlene’s “New” Hearth Oven

We used to have an electric stove in the kitchen but, back in 1999, with the Y2k crisis looming, we bought a no-frills gas stove and put a 500 gallon LP tank in the side yard. if I remember correctly, it cost around 45 cents a gallon to fill it. Now, 6+ years later, it is, incredibly, still mostly full.

Our kitchen stove is the only gas appliance we have. I intended to install a gas water heater before the bug bit, and I bought one, but never got it installed. A few years later, I ended up making a Whizbang Chicken Scalder out of it.

So Marlene bakes her farm market breads and cookies in the kitchen stove. During the busy summer months, I hook up an additional gas stove for her. Two ovens has helped a lot but the problem with baking in a basic home oven is the uneven cooking action. Because of hot spots, Marlene could only bake six loaves of bread at a time, using only one shelf, and she had to rearrange them while baking so they would cook evenly and not burn. Cookies often burned on the bottoms or cooked too far and were too hard. The same thing happened with granola.

Such baking problems are not an issue with a hearth oven, or so I’ve been told. Hearth ovens consist of some form of masonry mass (i.e., bricks, stone, concrete) that is heated up by some form of fire (i.e., wood or gas). The baking heat comes from the masonry mass and, as a result, the cooking action is steady and even and gentle. Hot spots are not a problem.

Marlene found a company that sells lightweight masonry liners made to fit inside home ovens. The liners are supposed to duplicate the baking action of a hearth oven. The only problem with the liners is that they are kind of expensive.

Then Marlene read in the King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook that you can achieve similar results by putting a layer of unglazed quarry tiles on the bottom of the oven. So she bought sixteen 1/2-inch thick tiles for $10. It took 12 of them to cover the bottom of the oven. I had to cut three of them to get a good fit. The remaining four tiles were placed on top of the others for additional mass.

The result of this simple $10 modification has been remarkable. Hot spots are gone. The oven takes longer to heat up but the cooking action is steady and gentle. Marlene can now bake 10 to 12 loaves of bread at a time, using both shelves. Cookies come out moist and soft every time. It is hard to ruin a batch of granola anymore. It is, of course, still possible to burn something in the oven but you have to be especially negligent to do so.

Marlene wants me to say that she is still learning how to work with her “new” oven. It heats so much differently that it takes some getting used to. But she is very pleased with the gentler cooking action and hearth oven effect she has achieved by adding the quarry tiles.

Marlene also says the quarry tiles hold and release heat long after the stove is shut off. That isn’t a good thing on a hot, humid summer baking day but she is looking forward to the extra heat in the kitchen this winter.


One more thought: The King Arthur Flour company gives classes around the country. Marlene took a day-long baking class in Syracuse N.Y. (about an hour from our house) last year and she really enjoyed it. She also took Robert and James with her. They were the only kids there. James ended up winning the cookbook as a door prize. He also learned how to make braided breads and I was amazed when he showed me what he learned.

Chickens & My New Blogging Style & Other Stuff

Strawberries are in peak season here on our little homestead. Last Sunday, for breakfast we had strawberry shortcake with lots of berries. What a treat!


My stiffneck garlic plants are sending up scapes. A scape is the curled central stalk with a seed pod on the end. If you leave the scape on the plant, the curl will straighten out and stretch up to five feet high. Most garlic growers pull the scapes off so the plant’s energy is directed into making a bigger bulb.

I used to pull the scapes and throw them away. Someone said you can put them in stir fry and they are good. I didn’t think so. But a couple of years ago, garlic grower Fred Foresberg sent me a couple jars of his dill-pickled garlic scapes. They were remarkably good! Now, after pulling the scapes, we cut them up, pack the upright lengths into pint jars and pickle them. They are a family favorite.


We now have 65 Cornish X chicks under a heat lamp in my shop. They will be the one and only batch of meat birds we raise this year. Eight or nine weeks from now we’ll be processing and putting them in the freezer.

The first time we processed our own chickens (8 years ago), the job was difficult and offensive. I couldn’t imagine that I would ever get used to it, or be able to do it very quickly. But now, odd as it may sound, I’m looking forward to processing day. I hope to process this batch of chickens faster than ever.


Having the right tools for the job makes processing easier. I have a Whizbang Plucker, which I consider a necessity for processing birds. I also have a Whizbang Scalder. The automatic scalder is a luxury for only 65 chickens a year. But, from the beginning, we’ve considered raising meat birds for sale to others. We do not have the land with pasture to do this now but still hope to someday.


A couple years after writing the book, “Anyone Can Build A Whizbang Chicken Plucker”, I started making and selling featherplates and a few of the other, harder-to-find plucker parts. My featherplates are made of 3/4” HDPE plastic. I have a system and several jigs I use to fabricate the plates in my little workshop outside my home. I love to work in my shop and to put my boys to work helping me make the featherplates. It is a sweet taste of the way home life was meant to be with the father and his sons working together. Unfortunately, it is only a taste.


The other day I had a pile of made-and-packaged featherplates fall over and two of the plates were ever-so-slightly damaged. There is a small chip on the backside edge of one and a scratch on the edge of another. The damage in no way detracts from the functionality of the plates and won’t even be seen once they are installed. But they are not perfect and I am selling them for $20 less than the usual price. Contact me by e-mail ( if you are interested in plucker parts and would like to get one of these discount featherplates.


Keith Bradshaw over at Allelon Farm is the latest person I know of to blog about his newly made Whizbang Plucker. The photo he provides at this link shows one of my fetherplates in action. The spinning circular disc at the bottom of the tub is the featherplate. It’s what does most of the plucking.


Yesterday Marlene made 20 mini loaves of “Nutty Grain” bread to include in a friend’s CSA delivery. They were a free sample. Joel Salatin is a big believer in giving free samples to get new customers.


The Lovely One also bought me a paper shredder for five bucks at a garage sale last weekend. I've been thinking of getting a paper shredder but have held off because I didn't want to spend the money. I firmly believe that, if you are patient and shop at garage sales, you'll find anything you want. And it'll be cheap.

Now I can shred all the paper waste that I generate at the computer writing books and filling orders. And I can shred junk mail too! And when I get a pile of "shreddings" I can use them for packing books and plucker parts. In other words, I can send my junk mail and scrap paper to other people! :-)


Those of you who have read this blog for awhile may have noticed something different lately. Gone are the long, thoughtful postings that I used to make. I have had to change my style for one big reason... lack of time. I just don’t have enough hours in the day to write like I once did. I am extremely busy with my family, our homestead projects, my regular job, and various part-time, home-centered entrepreurnial enterprises, and I know many of you out there have the same problem. I’ve also decided to save the longer stories for another Deliberate Agrarian book that I may write one day in the future (but not any time soon).


One last parting thought—Do you know what the average GPH (Guns Per Household) in Alaska is? I’ve been told it is 16.

Here's The Future of Food Share List

Many folks responded to my offer to borrow and view The Future of Food documentary movie. Several of those people did not, however, have an internet blog, and a couple people said they had blogs but I just couldn’t get to them from my computer, and I’m very sorry but I would rather keep this little film-share experiment within the United States, at least on this go around.

That said, the following list of bloggers will be getting the film, in the order I have them listed here. I’m looking forward to seeing how this idea works and I’m looking forward to the bloggers here helping to spread the word about this excellent movie by mentioning it at their blogs.

By the way, the first two bloggers listed are brand new to the world of Christian-agrarian blogging. I encourage you to visit their blogs and welcome them to the community. In fact, please do visit all the bloggers here who are new to you and see what they are writing about.

The Midwest Southener

The Junior Agrarian

Billy Joe Jim Bob

Allelon Farm

KS Milkmaid

Straining Onward

ND Homekeeper

Homestead Herbs

Adventures in Amateur Agriculture

Hopeful Agrarian

Vita Familiae

Garden of Yizreel

A Whizbang Poem

Dateline: 23 June 2006

Earlier this month, fellow Central new Yorker Mike Miller contacted me by e-mail to see if his 11-year-old doughter, Clara, could interview me for a school science project on inventors. The Miller family raises and processes their own polutry with a homemade Whizbang plucker which, as many of you know already, I developed and published plans for. I did not actually invent the plucker. I took the mechanical concept employed by expensive commercial plucking machines and figured out how to make an inexpensive homemade version using common materials and basic handyman skills. So I invented the Whizbang design. Anyway, I agreed and Clara e-mailed six questions which I promptly answered.

A few days ago, Clara wrote to thank me for answering the questions. She said: “I ended up getting 100% on my report and my teacher is a hard grader! Plus, I had to write a poem to go along with my report and I thought you might want to hear it.”

Well, I certainly did, and with the author’s permission, it’s my pleasure to share with you....

The Whizbang
by Clara V. Miller

We grab a chicken from the pot,
Toss it in while it’s still hot!

Spray some water and pull some levers,
Pretty soon there’re no more feathers!

So stop by our farm if you get a chance,
and you can see the chicken dance!

After you enjoy our chicken dinner,
you’ll say this plucker is a real winner!

So thank you Mr. Herrick Kimball
for making our plucking job so simple!

Thank you Clara Victoria Miller for such a thoughtful and delightful little poem!

About The Future of Food

Dateline: 21 June 2006

In my book, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian, I have a chapter titled, "Industrial Providers", in which I explain the vast control that an oligopoly of enormous corporations have over the world’s food supply. The average person in America doesn’t understand this, nor do they much care to understand it. All they really care about is cheap, plentiful food. When you add to that our modern culture’s preoccupation with pleasure and leisure and amusements, you have a modern version of Rome’s bread and circus which was employed to keep the masses occupied as the empire crumbled. But I’m starting to digress....

What I really want to tell you about is The Future of Food, a DVD documentary that I recently purchased and will be sending out to any agrarian-minded bloggers who would like to view it (as explained here).

The movie is about the genetic modification of seeds, the history and politics of patenting such newly created life forms, and the very serious dangers of the science and business of genetically modified (GM) technology. It is an expose of the selfish, shortsighted actions of the powerful food oligopoly. The Future of Food will inform you and tug at your emotions. It is, in my opinion, very well done. After seeing the movie, Marlene and I thought of many friends who we wanted to share it with. But I will be sharing it first with my internet blogging friends, as explained here.

In the movie, you will see and hear from Percy Schmeiser, the Canadian farmer who saved and developed and replanted his own seed for 50 years, only to be informed one day by Monsanto that he owed them a patent fee. Why? Because his canola fields had been contaminated with some Monsanto Roundup Ready GM canola. Schmeiser had never bought a single canola seed from Monsanto. He fought the company (spending his life savings in the process) all the way to the Canadian Supreme Court. And he lost.

The bottom line is that Monsanto owns what they patented—no matter where it goes. They developed and released their new GM technology into the environment uncontrolled and unconfined, yet they bear no responsibility for where it goes. But the farmers do. Any plant that cross pollinates with Monsanto’s GM creation becomes Monsanto property, as do all succeeding generations of that plant. That is so bizarre that it is hard to believe, but it is true. According to Schmeiser, there is probably not a canola field in Canada that isn’t contaminated by GM plants.

Monsanto tests farmer’s fields for the presence of their GM genes. If they find them, and the farmer did not purchase Monsanto seed, their attorneys send a letter to the farmer demanding a patent fee. This is not just a Canadian thing. It is happening in the U.S. and the movie interviews North Dakota Farmer, Rodney Nelson, who has been targeted by Monsanto. Most farmers pay to avoid a lawsuit. They see what Monsanto did to Percy Schmeiser and others and are intimidated into never saving and planting their own seed ever again. This is the kind of total control the Oligopoly wants, and is getting. They want to own and control and profit from all species on earth. Animals too.

Did you know GM food was approved in the U.S. over the concerns and protestations of the FDA? How could this be? The movie tells you and it’s an eye-opener.

Have you heard of the terminator gene? This devious GM technology ensures that all seed produced by a plant is sterile. So farmers must purchase seed from the Industrial Providers every year. The Terminator gene is co-owned by the U.S. government. What happens if it spreads to other crops, as Monsanto’s Roundup Ready gene has done?

There is much more to this movie but that gives you some idea of what it’s about. Marlene and I and our three boys sat down to watch it. Marlene and I were very interested in the whole movie. The kids were only mildly interested but the visual elements of the movie were good enough to keep them watching. Then, around the middle, things got a bit technical and they lost all interest. To tell you the truth, my mind wandered a bit during the technical discussion because, frankly, I just don’t understand how those molecular biologists can do what they are doing. But the technical stuff was only for a few minutes and the movie got back on track. In the end, after being downright discouraging, the movie became encouraging as it talked about sustainable agriculture. The grassroots fight against GM food is not yet lost to the powerful Oligopoly. It must continue. There is so much at stake. This movie will give you facts and information and inspire you to do what you can to fight this Industrial terror.

If you are an agrarian-minded blogger (which doesn’t mean you have to be an agrarian—being sympathetic to agrarian issues like how food is produced is sufficient enough) and you have an interest in seeing this movie, and will then mentioning it to readers of your blog, I’d like to put you on the viewing list. This is completely free—no strings attached.

E-mail me your name, address, blog, and blog address to me ( and I will put you on the list. You have until this Friday at midnight to contact me. I will compile the list, post here who it will be going to (just your name and blog—not addresses) and send the DVD out on Monday.

Marlene in The Garden

Dateline: 20 June 2006

A few days ago, Marlene and I were working in the garden together. I was hoeing and weeding and Marlene was planting more tomatoes. It was a beautiful, peaceful afternoon, and as I stopped to gaze upon my wife working away at her task, it occurred to me that I should take a few pictures....

This first picture of Marlene with the shovel is looking into the west. It is late in the day. The sun is setting behind the trees. Our house is in the background. We are actually planting on my neighbor’s land.

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Here’s a view looking east. The mowed field beyond the garden was cut by yours truly with my scythe. We will pasture our chickens there (they come this week) instead of in our front lawn as we’ve done in past years. My neighbor’s house is at the top of the hill. It is the only house in sight from our property. The field across the road is planted to wheat. Behind Marlene in the garden is my garlic. The greenery in front of her is onions, which are doing well. At the end of the onions, I’ve planted the Giant Red Mangle Beets that David Taylor sent me.

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Marlene is sitting down on the job in this photo. The white material on the ground behind her is Agribon shadecloth & insect barrier that I bought from Johnny’s Seeds. I put it over a double row of greenbeans to keep the rabbits from making a meal of them. I’ve seen the rabbits from our bedroom window upstairs in the house. The day after this photo was taken, James shotgunned a rabbit up there. The Agribon is reusable. Beyond the garlic, you can see a fence line of grapes. The grapes are on our property line. On the other side of the grapes is more garden.

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New Idea For The Agrarian Blogging Community

Dateline: 17 June 2006

In response to a recent blog post here, Marci Bulbaugh (a.k.a., Farm Girl) posted that she had read my book, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian, and liked it so much that she recommended it to many friends & customers. She also recommended a documantary movie called The Future of Food.

Based on Marci’s recommendation, I went to the Future of Food web site and bought a DVD copy. Last night I stayed up way too late watching a portion of the movie. Farm Girl is right. It is a movie worth seeing. I hope to gather my whole family to watch the whole movie together soon. That’s hard to do at this time of year because it stays light until past 9:00 and we have lots to do outside. But maybe it’ll rain or we’ll all get exhausted from working and need a break.

In any event, when we have watched the movie, I’d like to try something kind of unique. I’d like to compile a list of agrarian-minded bloggers who would like to see this movie and send it your way. This is how it will work...

If you would like to view the DVD, e-mail your name and postal address to me. I will take the names and addresses and compile a list. Then I will send the movie to the first person on the list. That person can watch the movie and then send it to the 2nd person on the list, and so on.

What I would like is for every person who is on the list to mention the movie on their blog when they receive it in the mail and then after viewing it. You can write a full review if you are inspired to do so, or just say a few words and provide a link to the movie’s web page. This will help spread the word about this excellent movie and the important subject it addresses (which I'll have more to say about after I watch it all).

For this idea to work, I ask that you watch the movie and send it to the next person on the list within a week. If that is not possible, then please watch it and get it in the mail within two weeks. Don't keep it more than two weeks.

If this movie sharing concept actually does work out, I’ll buy the video about Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm and do the same thing. I’ve seen that video and it is very inspiring.

So if you like this idea and would like to get on the list to view it, send me your name and address (and your blog name and address) and I will get the list together. I want to get it together by next weekend, so please e-mail me before then. Here’s my e-mail address:

And if you’d like to view the Blubaugh Family’s web site, here is the link to Amazing Graze Farms.

My Sincerest Thanks
And Some Other Thoughts

Dateline: 15 June 2006

I was at the post office a few days ago and a fellow I sort-of know and always say “Hi” to told me he was reading my new book, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian. I was surprised to hear this because I thought I knew every person hereabouts who had a copy of the book, and I have not yet donated one to the local library. It turns out Marlene’s sister gave him her copy to read.

Beaming his usual friendly smile, he had this to say about the book:

“It’s very... (pause as he searches for the right word)... interesting.

I took it as a compliment and thanked him.


Which brings me to some other, much more eloquent, book reviews that I must tell you about.....

A sincere thanks! to Emily for this wonderful review of my book at her blog, Straining Onward.

And thank you so much to Pastor Thomas McConnell for this fine review at his blog. (By the way, do check out Pastor McConnell’s recent post about learning to work with mules!)

And last but not least, I thank Jeff Culbreath over at his Hallowed Ground blog for this great book review. For those who do not know, Jeff is a Catholic agrarian and recommends my book even though I am, as he puts it, “unfortunately a Protestant.”


I enjoyed reading and seeing this chronicle of Whizbang Plucking exploits at Susan Wise Bauer’s blog.


I got the impression that some of those who commented about Susan's family Whizbanging chickens were a lottle, shall we say, turned off by the whole idea of processing poultry. I wonder what they would think of eating raccoon, which was the subject of this recent post at Kansas Milkmaid's blog.

Personally, my family (us males, specifically) have been considering the possibilities of woodchuck. They are grassfed so I suspect the meat is very good. If you read this Scott Terry, can you give us any advice on woodchuck?


The red mangle beet seeds from Heirloom Acres that I wrote of here awhile back have sprouted and emerged. The tiny seedlings are looking small and vulnerable. They have a way to go before they become 2ft long, 15 to 20 pound mangel specimens—but they are on the way.


Seems like most everything else in my garden, except the garlic and peas, is looking small and vulnerable. The abundance of rain and cold have set everything back. And Slugs are wreaking havoc on some things. They chewed many of my tiny but promising carrot seedlings to the ground. Oh, how I hate slugs!


And if slugs are not enough to make me angry those caterpillars that are decimating entire tracts of forest around me are now on my trees. Robert and I spent an hour today squishing thousands of them that were moving up the trunks and clustering together before moving out to consume the leaves. We hit the caterpillars with a stick and their insides splurted out their ends like toothpaste out of a tube when you stomp on it (try it on a tube of toothpaste and you'll see what I mean). We used a stepladder to get as high as we could and then resorted to a garden hose to blast the clusters that are up out of reach. When we got done, we were covered with specks of caterpillar guts.They are evil creatures, those caterpillars.


Today was the first day of farmer’s market. Marlene and James worked all morning baking and getting ready. It was not an especially good day at the market but it was not especially bad either.


Robert and his friend, Andrew, (another home schooler) worked about six hours today picking rocks for our neighbor who is a farmer. Tomorrow he will be baling rye straw and Robert will be helping with that.


A friend of mine has recently been though a bout with salmonella. He is quite certain he got it from a batch of chicks he ordered from a well-known hatchery. He said it was a very bad experience. I don’t know much about salmonella but I’m inclined to do some internet research on the subject.


Thanks again to all you great folks who have taken the time to write a review of my new book!

Preparing To Celebrate

Dateline: 14 June 2006

Last Saturday my son, Chaz, called from the lumberyard where he works to let me know there were lots of free pallets for the taking. So me and Robert and James hooked up the trailer and headed to Moravia. Pallets make great bonfire wood. We want to have a bonfire at the 3rd of July afternoon and evening get-together we will be having at our place. It’s not a big event—just a few friends and their children for food, fellowship, and fun, of which the bonfire is one element. We did this last year. The kids had a great time and we adults did too. Afterwards, we all agreed that we should do it again this year. So here’s a few photos I took of the pallet pile we made...

This picture shows James about to toss the last pallet up onto the stack. I’m telling him to hold the pose until I get the camera ready. He has been holding that thing over his head like that for a long time.

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Of course, after you make a tall pile of pallets, you must climb it. Robert was the first to the top. James followed and finding it was not very stable up there, he grabbed ahold of his brother’s leg for support.

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Wow, it sure is a long way up there!

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Sharing The First Fruit

Dateline: 12 June 2006

The Lovely Marlene and I were picking weeds out of the strawberry rows last night just before dark. There are many unripe berries waiting for some sunshine to hasten them into glorious scarlet maturity. Amidst all the lush greenery of berry plants and weeds, I caught a glimpse of red. 

Sure enough, there was a lone, plump, picture perfect, Ozark Beauty strawberry. In two 50 foot rows of strawberry plants, this berry was the only one that wasn’t green— it was fully-ripened-red, clean and sparkling bright. Of course, I picked it.

I said, “Look at this Marlene! It’s beautiful! Here, you can have the first strawberry of the season.”

She said, “No, you can have it.”

I said, “How about I take a little bite and you can have the rest?”

She said, “How about you take a big bite and I’ll eat the rest?”

So I bit the end off (about 1/3 of the berry). It was tender, fresh, sweet, and heavenly good.

“Oh, Marlene. You gotta taste this!”

I held the partial berry out to her. She popped it in her mouth, closed her eyes and savored the incredible flavor.

All of which led me to the realization that the only thing better than experiencing the flavor of a sweet, ripe, organic strawberry, just five seconds after plucking it from the plant, is sharing that experience with someone you love.

Stinging Nettle, Scything,
And Plagues

Dateline: 10 June 2006

It is turtleneck cold here in central New York State. And we continue to get lots of rain. My sandy, well-drained soil takes the rain nicely. The garlic is thriving. The rest of the garden is doing okay. A little sunshine and it’ll take off.


“It’s like a plague.” That’s what Robert said to me as we were driving home from Moravia today and I pointed out to him the full-grown maple trees without a single leaf on them. Caterpillars are eating them. Acres of hardwood forest are being stripped of foliage with maniacal efficiency. Portions of the wooded hillsides near our house are brown when they should be green. The devastation is in pockets. It has not reached our property. I am praying that it will not. Can a tree without a single leaf on it survive? I don’t know. It is a plague.


My dad called today and asked me to help spread some fertilizer on his lawn. His health is not the best and he doesn’t ask me to do much. Robert and I headed right up. A friend had loaned him a push spreader. The stuff he wanted me to spread was fertilizer and herbicide! The bag of little pellets proudly proclaimed that its contents would kill “200+ different weeds, including dandelion and clover.”

Personally, I don’t have anything against dandelions or clover or, for that matter, any other kind of plant in my lawn. And spreading a pellitized chemical killing agent on the earth is antithetical to everything I believe in. And I don’t think my dad has ever spread herbicide on his lawn before. But his friend told him it was the thing to do and I really didn’t want to make an issue of it with my dad.

So, I’m sorry to say, I spread 96 pounds of manmade plague on the lawn. I wasn’t happy about it but if I didn’t do it, he would, and he’s really not in any condition to do that right now.


On the brighter side..... I picked a big batch of spearmint and it is in the dehydrator now. Our house has a powerful minty-fresh smell. Marlene will use the dried herb in her soaps.


Marlene visited with our friend and organic market gardener, Rose Ryan, yesterday. Rose picked some stinging nettle and made a batch of nettle tea for Marlene and herself. What a coincidence. Just last week I ordered some nettle seed from Johnny’s. Rose spaded up a bunch of nettle for me and I planted it in a bed in the garden this evening.

I grew nettle a few years ago and dried it. It is very good for you. Once dried, the stinging action is no longer there. The nettle leaves can also be cooked like spinach.


I spent part of an afternoon last week scything the tall grass in my neighbor’s field. I scythe for fun and because there is something deep inside of me that yearns to cut grass with an ancient, razor sharp tool. It is very satisfying work.

I have a European-style scythe. I have had it for several years and have taken very good care of the blade. I’ve kept the blade sharp. I’ve never hit a rock. And I’ve never let anyone else use the tool.

Last week, James (my 11-year-old) used it. He hit a rock. He put a divot in the paper-thin, carefully-honed, razor-sharp blade. When I discovered the damage, I was upset. I could have really lost my cool. It was close—I was on the edge. But, thank God, I didn’t. I worked out my emotions with myself before I spoke to James about it. I told him I was glad that he wanted to use the scythe (which I was) but that it is a delicate instrument and the sharp blade is fragile and if the tool is not used properly, it can get damaged. I told him I did not think he was old enough to use my scythe properly. I told him that I wanted him to use the older, American-style scythe that I bought years ago (the one that I don’t care about any more because the European style is so much more superior). He knew I was upset, even if I didn’t loose my cool. Marlene was there. She told me later that I handled it well. There have been times, in years gone by, when I did not handle such things well. And my children suffered as a result.

So I got on the internet that night and bought a peening hammer and an anvil made for sharpening and repairing scythe edges. They came in the mail today. I watched a man peen a scythe blade at the Common Ground Country Fair in Maine two years ago. I’m pretty sure I can do it too, now that I have the right tools. has everything you need to get into scything.


It appears that several women are buying my book, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian, to give their husbands and fathers for Father’s Day. What a great idea!

The New Pantagruel

Dateline: 9 June 2006

In the introduction to Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian, I mention that even for someone like me , who is not a particularly deep thinker, the riches of agrarianism can be clearly seen and easily grasped.

After reading the book, Marlene’s sister, Barb, told me she very much enjoyed it, but disagreed with the part about me being a deep thinker. She thinks I am a deep thinker. Well, I guess I’ve got her fooled. What I am is someone who enjoys reading the deep, insightful writings of others and then bringing elements of basic truths found therein down to my level where I then incorporate them into my writings.

With that thought in mind, I’d like to tell you about The New Pantagruel. It is a web magazine that offers some great examples of the deep, insightful writing that I like to read. It is the kind of writing that I really have to think about and put some effort into understanding. But when I do, I usually come away with some choice fruits.

Caleb Stegall edits The New Pantagruel. He recently e-mailed me about my Deliberate Agrarian web site and my new book. I think I went to The New Pantagruel web site once in the past when surfing the web. But the odd name, curious subtitle, and strange graphics did not draw me in. However, Mr. Stegall’s e-mail introduction to read some articles led me to return and take a closer look.

If you would like to check out The New Pantagruel, I recommend the following articles:

Agrarianism by Jeremy Beer

Localism by Allan Carlson

Community by Caleb Stegall

Welcome to The New Pantagruel

Blackstrap Molasses

Dateline: 8 June 2006

I was on my hands and knees weeding around my garlic yesterday evening and James came walking out of the house towards me with a glass of some sort of beverage in his hand. It looked like—and I hoped it was—a glass of iced tea for me.

As he got closer, I asked him what he had. He told me it was milk with molasses. That didn’t sound very appealing to me, especially since I was expecting iced tea.

“Here. Try it. It’s good.” he said to me as he held the drink out. I took a tentative sip. It wasn’t bad. So I quaffed down some more. Seeing that, James quickly reached out to save what remained in the glass.

“I thought you brought it for me.” I said, just a little disappointed.

“I just wanted you to try it.” he said as he walked back to the house.

“How’d you come up with that idea?” I asked after him.

“I dunno.” he replied.

I grew up putting stuff like Ovaltine and Nestle’s Quick chocolate mix in my pasteurized, homogenized, store-bought milk. My son is putting unsulphered blackstrap molasses in raw milk from Esther Thornton’s cow. What a contrast.


I did a little research on blackstrap molasses. It is what’s left after the third boiling of sugar cane when it is refined into crystallized white sugar. White sugar is downright bad for you but blackstrap molasses (unsulphered) is downright good for you. In fact, it’s considered something of a health food because it is packed with iron, calcium, copper, manganese, potassium, magnesium, and even selenium. You can get organic unsulphered molasses, which would be even better.


It’s interesting to note that molasses (imported from the Caribbean) was a common & popular sweetener in the U.S. until the late 1800’s. These days, most of it goes into animal feed. Isn’t it ironic that we humans feed cattle the mineral-rich blackstrap while we consume the sugar, which has no nutritive value at all!

Advice For
Aspiring Agrarians

Dateline: 7 June 2006

I often hear from people who admire the agrarian good life I have written about in My Book and on this blog. And they tell me how they want to live an agrarian lifestyle too. This is a good thing. As I say in the Afterword of my book:

“Christian agrarianism is a great and noble and ancient adventure. Seek this good life with prayer, hunility, wisdom, gusto, vigor, and resolve—and don’t look back.”

If you happen to be one of those who see the beauty and wisdom of agrarianism, and you look upon the agrarian life with a longing heart, yet this good life seems so far away and unattainable, I’d like to offer these additional words of wisdom:

“Embrace agrarianism right now by doing what you can, where you are, with what you have.”

Start by reading and informing yourself. Start by visiting and supporting small-scale sustainable farms around you. Start by using basic, wholesome foods to cook and prepare meals for your family. Start by growing something even if it’s one tomato plant in a plastic pail. Just start right now by doing what you can, where you are, with what you have.

Grow HUGE Red Mangle Beets!

Dateline: 5 June 2006

Photo from Agrarian Nation

David Taylor, down in Georgia, mailed me an order for Whizbang chicken plucker parts and he thoughtfully enclosed some long red mangle beet seeds, which are something I've never grown. I have heard of mangle beets but never knew anything about them.

Dave wrote that “These beets grow up to 15—20 pounds. They are great chicken feed/supplement and great for winter chicken feed if you skewer a few on some nails. The birds will just peck them till gone.”

Wow! The thought of growing enormous beets that I can store and feed my chickens absolutely thrills me! I will be planting the seeds tomorrow.

If you’d like to grow some of these mangle beets too, you can get the seeds from R.H. Shumways

Here’s what Shumway's web site has to say about the beets:

"Equal in nutrition to grain and produced at half the cost! Relished by livestock, particularly milk cows. Roots frequently grow 2 ft. long, about half growing above the surface, weighing up to 15 lbs. each. Skin is bright, rich red. White flesh with pale rose hue."

Thanks David Taylor, and thanks R.H Shumway.

A Funny Thing Happened
On The Way To The Grange Hall

Dateline: 3 June 2006

This blog is, in part, a continuing chronicle of my family’s real life exploits and aspirations. It is a story that unfolds every day, often with surprises. Recent developments with the Grange hall are a perfect case in point. Those of you who have been reading here for awhile know of our intention to buy the old grange hall. The land would be used for growing garlic and other marketable crops. The building itself would serve as the international headquarters of my humble home publishing company, Whizbang Books. The kitchen would serve as a place for Marlene to bake her bread (which she sells) and have her soap business. Plenty of extra room would remain for other possible functions. I wrote about the details of the purchase in a previous blog titled, “My Agrarian Family Vision, Part 2.” In order to purchase the property, we had decided to do something we had never done before—get a mortgage from a bank. Not a big mortgage. Just a little one.

That said, we had every intention of purchasing the Grange hall... up until 10 days ago.

It was a Wednesday. Marlene called me at work to let me know that the loan lady from the bank had called and was finally going to process the loan that afternoon. But the terms had changed. The bank wanted 1.5% more interest. Or, we could have the same interest rate originally agreed upon if we put our home up as collateral and paid some sort of extra fee of $600. I told Marlene that was a significant change and we would have to think about it. She said the loan lady needed to know right away. Oh, really!.......

The bank had strung us out for over five weeks. Then, at the last minute, they presented us with what appeared to be a bait & switch scam. This new development renewed my long and deeply-held cynicism about banks. I knew the moment Marlene told me the new details that there was no way I would ever borrow a cent from this small, hometown bank that we had always thought so highly of.

That evening I called the Grange lady we have been communicating with to let her know what happened. She was very understanding. I told her I might check with another bank, and we were going to give the whole thing some serious thought over the Memorial Day weekend.

Then I spoke with Marlene’s brother who is in the banking business in Rochester. He said what happened was not typical and was probably due to an inept loan officer or one that is overworked. He explained that most banks would want us to get a home equity loan to buy the Grange. Then he commented that being completely debt free, as Marlene and I currently are, is a unique situation. He said that most people are, in his opinion, way too far in debt—so far that they will never be out of debt and will never be able to retire, and the American taxpayers will probably have to take care of them in their old age. He said he knew of several people who carried a credit card balance of six figures. And he told me he was very concerned about the debt problem that exists in this country. I questioned whether such a situation was sustainable. He said he didn’t think so.

Before the bank called us on Wednesday, we were planning to move Marlene’s soapmaking supplies in on Friday (two days later). The Grange had already given us a key to the place! That’s how certain we were that we were going to be buying the property. But when the bank changed the terms, that stopped us in our tracks.

I believe things happen the way they happen for a reason. And I’m particularly sensitive to the Lord’s leading when something appears to be falling into place but it really isn’t. Why had it taken so many weeks for the bank to process a simple loan? Why, right out of the blue, at the last moment, did the bank change the terms of the loan? Why was it going to cost us a few thousand dollars to get a perfectly fine kitchen up to county health department standards (something we only found out a couple weeks ago)? Why were we buying this place, anyway? Did we really need it? Could we get along without it? Was it really right to be borrowing money for this thing? Were we jumping the gun and trying to short-cut God’s provision for us in this matter of our family’s agrarian family vision? And wasn’t I, Herrick Kimball, the guy who, since he was16 years old, has been strongly convicted that debt is bondage and that I should never borrow for anything unless it was an absolute necessity?

Those are some of the questions Marlene and I asked ourselves. And then I remembered what I read in a Harvey MacKay business book years ago. He said something to the effect that there is no business deal so good that you can’t say no to it and walk away.

When we went to bed that night, my mind was pretty much made up, but I kept it to myself. I would see what developed in the next few days. But a few days were not necessary. Marlene had an uneasy sleep—she stayed awake thinking and praying about the matter. In the morning she informed me that she did not think we should buy the Grange. So we both felt the same way. That settled it. We would move on and not look back.

So I guess that ends the “Grange Hall chapter” in our family’s life story. We are not disappointed at the outcome. On the contrary, we are relieved. We will continue to be grateful to the Lord for His blessings and provision in our lives. We will continue to live simply and be even more productive on the 1.5 acre homestead God has blessed us with. We will continue to work hard, spend less money than we earn, and save the difference. And we will continue to trust that the Lord will provide for our agrarian vision of family farm land, debt free, in His time.

Stay tuned....

The Bad Cut

Dateline: 1 June 2006

I was working in my garden yesterday afternoon, preparing the soil so I could plant tomatoes, when my son, Robert, called out to me from the kitchen window...

”Hey Dad! James cut his finger. It’s pretty bad. I think you should come in.”

I stood up, straightened out my stiff back and marched toward the house, wondering what I was going to encounter. Just how bad was the cut going to be? Would I have to take my 11-year-old son to the emergency room? I wished Marlene was not away running errands.

James was waiting for me just inside the door. He was clutching his finger. There was a very concerned look on his face. “”How did you cut it?” I asked.

”On the top of a can,” he replied.

”Let me see it.”

He extended his right hand, and let off his grip around the finger. The cut was in the fleshy thumb-side of his middle finger, between two knuckles. It was a bit over an inch long, and deep. But not to the bone. It was hardly bleeding and that surprised me. I shook my head and pronounced in mock seriousness, "Well, it looks like we’re going to have to amputate.” James managed a weak smile.

I took my work boots off and walked into the kitchen with my wounded son following, and clutching. ”Tell me again how you did that.” He showed me an empty can of Bush's Baked Beans on the counter. The round top, held to the can by a small section of rim metal, was hinged straight up. James had reached into the cabinet over the counter for a drinking glass and brought his hand down on the sharp lid.

It so happened that James and Robert were hungry. Marlene wasn’t there to feed them so they opened the can and satisfied their empty stomachs with the beans. I like it when my boys fend for themselves, but I stated the obvious: ”You shouldn’t leave the lid up like that. Next time, fold it down into the can and throw the can away.”

”It’s starting to hurt a little now,” James said, looking at his finger.

I replied, ”Oh it’s gonna hurt all right! I expect you’ll be screaming in pain in a few minutes.” He didn’t say anything.

”I’m going to have to wash it real good,” I announced. ”Because if I don’t wash it out, it could get infected and swell up and turn green and ooze pus and gangrene will spread up your arm and they’ll have to cut yer whole arm off.”

He protested with a frown... ”That’s not a nice thing to say. It doesn’t make me feel good.”

I quit the kidding, grinned, and told him, in all seriousness, ”You’re going to be fine, Buddy. Dr. Kimball’s going to fix you up real good.”

My hands were soiled from working in the garden. I made a big show of sudsing, scrubbing and rinsing up to my elbows, with him waiting patiently by the sink. Once clean, I regulated the water to a comfortable warm, worked lots of fresh soap suds into my hands and gently washed his hand in mine. Then I rinsed his hand off and patted it dry with a clean towel.

The gaping wound showed meat and was, frankly, a little unsettling to me but I didn’t tell him that.

”That’s a good one, James. Did I ever tell you about the time I cut myself bad and your Mom sewed it back together for me?”

He responded by showing me a diagonal scar on the base of his left index finger, where he had cut himself with a knife a couple years ago. I had never noticed the scar before, but it sure did look familiar. I looked at the same spot on my own left index finger and there it was.

”Look at that, James,” I said, proudly showing him the scar on my finger. ”That’s the one Mom sewed up. You and me got the same scar!”

I reached for a bottle of Betadine in the kitchen cabinet.

”Is that going to sting?”

”No, it shouldn’t sting.

I flooded the cut with the solution and told him to wait while I went to my shop. There, in a file cabinet drawer, I keep a bunch of first-aid supplies, including a selection of military surplus sutures....

But I did not get any sutures. I got the next best thing—little butterfly bandages. Butterfly’s will hold most cuts together very well, especially if they are not bleeding too much. They are, to my down-home, self-sufficient way of thinking, a satisfactory substitute for stitches. I always keep a supply of butterfly bandages.

One butterfly, carefully placed, pulled the wound together very nicely. To keep it clean, I applied a couple of oversize Band Aids. Then I told my patient not to get the hand dirty or wet for at least a couple of days, and not to put a lot of stress on the finger— Doctor’s orders.