Macon County Chronicle

Opinions and Blogs

Time to Move and Move We Did

We did not complain about the rain, but our spirits fired up when it finally dried up. After the wettest spring in many years, and a bit of consternation over all the seeds still in their packets, the weather cleared and the sun came out. It’s time to move and move we did.
First things first. The spring crops (Onions, potatoes, carrots, beets, lettuce, swiss chard, parsley and celery) all get hoed and cultivated before we can plant. The rows are laid off for the summer vegetables. The extra day or two helped dry the soil out a little more, but some spots were still damper than I like.
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Sowing Seeds

Sowing seeds is the climax of the spring preparations. Cover crops are mown, tons of well-aged, biodynamic compost have been spread, the fields are plowed, rebroke and harrowed a few times, adequate rock minerals, like limestone, have been incorporated, and it’s finally time to plant. I like to say that most of the garden work happens before I plant, but I am simply implying how important it is to do those other jobs correctly.
We sow and transplant everything by hand. Furrows are usually made with the tractor. Or the very small seeds, we will make shallow furrows with a hoe. A seed is usually covered with soil about four times it’s own thickness. For instance, a half-inch long pumpkin seed would be planted two inches deep.
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Blackberries

Blackberries are another great crop for Tennessee. All you have to do is pick them, for they grow wild on many farms. Briars, as we call them, can be a thorn in your side. And hands, and arms, and feet. But blackberries make up for the scratches with abundant fruit in July.
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Apprenticeship Program

Long Hungry Creek Farm has an apprenticeship program, sort of. In an effort to expand interest in local food production, we encourage young folk to experience life on a working organic farm. People come and go through regularly. Some of our apprentices have gone on to start their own farms, and some realize that farming isn’t for them.
How will you know if you don’t try? Farm life offers great lessons even if you don’t take it up as a career life calling. The demand for local, organic produce is greater than the supply, so there is a huge opportunity here for enjoyable employment. We have a lot of fun growing vegetables. We have never used grant money; that farm pays it’s own way.
For 30 years, friends and visitors have helped on the farm. Eventually I hired a few friends, and we work on something most days. We don’t depend on labor from others, but appreciate when it happens. It frees us up a bit to either get extra stuff done, or relax a bit more than we would otherwise.
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Spring Garden

Our spring garden is finally out of my mind and in the ground. We had to work some soil before it was thoroughly dry, and are now dealing with the subsequent clods. They got raked away from the row and into the middles, where the tractor tire and cultivators can break them up.
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Farming Practices

Good farming practices require that we believe in the future. Our soils are a precious but perishable asset on our farms, and can be improved or impoverished. Thinking in the long term helps.
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Rain

I won’t complain about the rain. It takes a bit of imagination to farm without irrigation. The rain that’s coming down will soak deep into the ground, and the humus will save it for later to give to our ‘maters and ‘taters. The summer crops are willing and able to take advantage of a full water table.
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Cold Frames

New cold frames have sprouted up near the garden and are now full of seeds. Like many new things on this farm, they look old. The window sashes are old, I got them real cheep at farm auctions. The design is old, too, I remember this style when I was a kid, and it is commonly depicted in old farming and gardening books.
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Belly of the Farm

The soil is the belly of the farm. If we feed the soil properly, our plants and animals grow well and stay healthy. If we don’t, not only do the plants and animals suffer, but our own health declines as well.
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“As early in the spring as possible,”

“As early in the spring as possible,” is when you can plant many crops. These are the frost hardy vegetables, like lettuce, carrots, beets, radishes, swiss chard, parsley, peas and onions. This instruction misled me into planting too early. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
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Onions the first crop

Onions are the first crop to go out in the fields. Four boxes of bunches arrived via UPS, and I knew it was time to get busy. I loaded the manure spreader and quickly had a breakdown. So I unloaded it by hand. The other spreader flung three loads out before it messed up and I unloaded the last load by hand. I tiredly ran the chisel plow though the field at dusk.
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Hidden Alchemy

“For there is a hidden alchemy in the organic process. This hidden alchemy really transmutes the potash, for instance, into nitrogen, provided only that the potash is working properly in the organic process. Nay more, it even transforms into nitrogen the limestone, the chalky nature, if it is working rightly. The fact is that under the influence of hydrogen, limestone and potash are constantly being transmuted into something very like nitrogen, and at length into actual nitrogen. And the nitrogen which is formed in this way is of the greatest benefit to plant-growth.”
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Nitrogen

It is disheartening to see a garden with a yellowish hue, denoting a lack of nitrogen, or an abandoned, ungrazed pasture begging for manure. Nitrogen has to be available for plants to grow, but luckily it’s everywhere. Air is 79% nitrogen, it is in every breath you take. Steiner has a lot to say about nitrogen.
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Manure Connoisseur

I’m a manure connoisseur. Good quality manure is not offensive and I’m happy to see a field full of cow pies (so are the earthworms). Manure has too much nitrogen to rot properly; we can smell this as ammonia. So we look around the farm for carbon to add to the manure, and we find old hay and rotted forest products. Along with good garden soil to guide the composting process, we create the stable humus that our livelihood depends upon.
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A Farm Needs Cattle

“A farm needs cattle,” Dad informed us. It was 1974, and we’d just settled into our new (old) Tennessee homestead, which had obviously revolved around livestock. Dad had experienced the deterioration of the soil, and the local rural economy, in the Midwest during the previous decades, and attributed this to the removal of livestock from cropland. Nitrogen from cow manure or clover was not the same as nitrogen from a bag. Cattle and the crops they graze can improve the soil’s humus content, and manure is the best fertilizer (except for the proverbial farmer’s own footsteps).
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Bell’s Bend

I finally got a job, and it’s right up my alley. I’m managing three new biodynamic gardens in the Bell’s Bend neighborhood, near Nashville. A tight-knit group of conscientious folks have banded together in an effort to keep their community rural and clean, and their next step is to feed themselves. We’re going to grow a few acres of vegetables.
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Hog Time

Cold weather is good for something. When the temperature drops below freezing, but not too far below, it’s hog killing time in Tennessee. This is one job I can’t do by myself. Thank goodness for my community once again. A bunch of neighbors can make gruesome work enjoyable.
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Homemade Wine

People have been brewing alcoholic beverages for thousands of years. It’s a way to preserve the summer’s harvest of fruits, but it has its pitfalls. Anyone drinking alcohol will inevitably have to deal with the fact that is addictive and can make you act really stupidly. The right amount can enhance a gathering, too much can spoil one. Alcohol can be a poison, an inebriant and a medicine. Please be careful with it.
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Wood Ash

Wood ashes make a valuable contribution to the soil. A tree’s root goes deep into the earth to pull up the nutrients it needs. Many years of growing have left minerals in the wood. These are not destroyed by fire, but are still in the ash.
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Nature, All Things are in Mutual Interaction

“In Nature, all things are in mutual interaction; the one is always working on the other. We must take the finer interactions into account. Otherwise we shall make no progress in certain domains of our farm work. Notably, we must observe those more intimate relationships of Nature when we are dealing with the life, together on the farm, of plant and animal.
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