Gene Logsdon Blog – The Contrary Farmer

What Kind of Tree Do Acorns Grow On?

 

From Our Archives – October 2007
GENE LOGSDON (1931 – 2016)
The Contrary Farmer

A teacher friend called recently with a strange message. “I just found out that a lot of people don’t know what tree acorns grow on.”

He (I will call him John because that’s his name) first became aware of this strange phenomenon after another teacher asked him the question. The other teacher didn’t know. John got to wondering. So he asked one of his high school classes to raise hands if they knew where acorns came from. About two thirds did, so John, long experienced with high school students, asked one of them for the whereabouts of acorns. The student, embarrassed, said he didn’t really know. John addressed the class again: “Perhaps you didn’t understand the question,” and then he repeated it. This time, with the threat of being asked hanging over them, only a handful of the students raised their hands.

Perhaps this class was an exception, John thought. He had the opportunity a little later to ask the question of a larger group— about 250 people. Only a handful knew the answer. Asked John of me: “Are we supposed to believe that people are getting a good education?”

The truth is, many of us, perhaps most of us, are illiterate about the world of nature. Our attention in life is focused elsewhere. Perhaps the way to resolve this kind of ignorance is to make up computer games based on natural history. But electronic games might not be the remedy for this kind of illiteracy. The problem is that the knowledge achieved would be almost entirely virtual. You could have a game based on identifying bird species— call it “Guess The Bird” — but the knowledge gained would be like that of many birdwatchers. They can name the bird they see, or even hear, but they don’t know the least little bit about how that bird fits into the ecosystem, which is the most important part of learning about them. For instance, which birds depend on acorns for an important part of their food supply?

There is nothing wrong with not knowing something that ought to be common knowledge. It is only wrong when people don’t know that they don’t know. Everyone today likes to spout off about how we should manage nature but very few of us know enough about the issues (like population carrying capacity, like climate change) to discuss them intelligently. Not knowing where acorns come from is symptomatic of something very perplexing. A culture which is that ignorant is going to be unaware of a great many more facts about nature and that could lead to environmental suicide. A culture that doesn’t know where acorns come from obviously doesn’t know much about trees at all, and so will go heedlessly on destroying forests until it destroys the ecosystems of about half the earth. If you don’t know where acorns come from, you won’t know that acorn flour was once a staple food of native Americans, especially in California, and could be a staple food again. If you don’t know where acorns come from, do you know where oil and coal come from? Do you know where a healthy environment comes from? Do you know, for instance, that a mature shade tree gives off 60 cu. ft. of pure oxygen every day? Do you know where most of the building material for houses comes from? Where good furniture and tool handles come from? Where most fruit and edible nuts come from? Where rubber comes from? Where coconut, varnishes, nutmeg and turpentine come from? Where millions of acres of fertile land came from? Where hundreds of species of wild animals come from, some of which were probably our evolutionary ancestors? Where the life-saving fuel for many millions of people comes from?

Will a society that doesn’t know where acorns come from really know where humans come from?
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GENE LOGSDON: Easy Way To Start A Grove Of Trees (with Black Walnut Jam Cake Recipe)

 

Public Domain

From Our Archives – December 2007
GENE LOGSDON (1931 – 2016)
The Contrary Farmer

I spent an hour in late November planting two acres of bottom land to trees. If that sounds like a prodigious task to accomplish in such a short time, not to worry. All I had to do was walk back and forth across the plot, dropping black walnuts on the ground in rows about 25 feet apart. I dropped one about every two feet— too thick really but to take into account the possibility that some won’t germinate and that squirrels might eat a few. I had gathered the nuts, still in their husks, from under a mature tree along our creek. When finished, I drove my tractor’s tires over the walnuts to squish them into the soft ground a little so that they would have good contact with the soil. That was all the planting necessary. Next spring, the walnuts will swell and crack open and a root sprout will burrow into the soil so quickly you can almost see it in motion. I admire people who are busting their guts and their backs transplanting thousands of little seedling trees to renew woodland, backyard plantings or urban forests, but it is so much easier to just plant the seeds, and invariably they will surpass the transplants in growth.

In nature, all seeds, including weed seeds, grass seed, etc. fall on the surface of the earth in winter and sprout when weather conditions are right. In the grove of trees our house sits, thousands of maple seedlings that have fallen on the forest floor come up every spring without any help from anybody. Along our creek, black walnut and ash seedlings sprout and grow like weeds from a few old mother trees, also without any help. All oaks, hickories and just about any tree will do the same in their proper climate. Squirrels do bury acorns and nuts, but trees don’t need squirrels to increase and multiply.

In a natural situation, where seed-producing trees are present, seedlings grow thick enough that they will self-prune and prune each other into a stand of nice, clear trunks. Without human labor, they shade out smaller seedlings, their own and each other’s lower limbs and eventually competing weeds and bushes. All that pruning advice that forestry handbooks wax so earnestly about will only gain you about three years, hardly worth the labor for trees that need 50 years to grow to marketable maturity.

GENE LOGSDON: The Lovely, Life-Saving Virtue of Laziness

 

From Our Archives
GENE LOGSDON (1931 – 2016)
The Contrary Farmer

Surprise, surprise. The work ethic, before which our culture bows down in adoration, can result in failure perhaps as often as it does success. I came to that conclusion after many years of trying to follow an ecologically-sustainable lifestyle out on the ramparts of society, and after reading hundreds of letters from others trying to do the same.

Real success in this endeavor (if not all endeavors) comes more often from a healthy dose of shrewd, laid-back laziness. We Americans are just too ambitious for our own good and in an effort to gain success (tranquility being the best measure of a successful life) we carry the habits of the commercial workplace into our private lives and over-extend ourselves with activities that are really unnecessary and even harmful. The only cure for it, at least in my case, was getting older and running out of all that eager energy I once possessed. Nowadays, my first order of business in all homestead endeavors is: “Do nothing you can put off until tomorrow. It might not need to be done at all.” In other words, there are times when “work ethic” is an oxymoron.

Gene Logsdon’s New Book Is Out: Letter to a Young Farmer

 

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Gene Logsdon 1931 – 2016

 

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From Filmers to Farmers

Yes, I’ve read the headlines, and once again – although perhaps a bit more so than previous iterations – the previous year (2016) was one for fawning over many-a-departed pop stars. David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, and many others. Pop stars aren’t really my thing, but if that stuff floats your dinghy, well, all the best with that. In the meantime, 2016 was also the year that several luminaries with a more agrarian bent also bade their farewell, beginning with the co-founder of Permaculture, Bill Mollison. Just a couple of weeks ago one of Permaculture’s most respected and more recent practitioners and teachers, Toby Hemenway, also made an all-too-early departure. But along with these, 2016 also saw us lose an agrarian outside the world of Permaculture, that somebody being the aptly named Contrary Farmer, Gene Logsdon.

I’ll admit that I’m nowhere near as familiar with Logsdon’s writing as I am with others of the American Agrarian Crew (as I call them) – Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, Gary Paul Nabhan, etc. – or what Logsdon referred to as “the five musketeers, a quintet of somewhat radical thinkers and doers coming together in opposition to the steady consolidation of farming into an international mega-agribusiness monopoly” – Berry, Jackson, Maurice Telleen, David Kline, and himself. Having gone through a heavy and prolonged dose of the aforementioned and other agrarian authors a few years ago, I’d somewhat overdosed on said writing and had to take a break from it all, just as I was getting to Logsdon. I did however read just enough – to go along with a bit of a recent nudge – that I’ve been able to realize that Logsdon left us all with a rich treasure trove of writing to discover.

The first of Logsdon’s writings that I (unsurprisingly?) read – and thoroughly enjoyed – was his book Good Spirits: A New Look at Ol’ Demon Alcohol, but it was then with (misplaced) disappointment that I soon thereafter discovered his book Gene Logsdon’s Practical Skills: A Revival of Forgotten Crafts, Techniques and Traditionsin a thrift shop. “Seriously?”, I asked myself. “Did Logsdon actually write one of those hokey ‘101 Ingenious Ways to Using Baking Soda’ type books?” I of course bought it anyways (I probably paid $2.50 for it), and after languishing on my book shelf for a couple of years I one day found myself with nothing to read and so pulled it out.

GENE LOGSDON: The Adventures of Uno the Chick

 

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From Our Archives
GENE LOGSDON (1931 – 2016)
The Contrary Farmer

The odds were against Uno ever coming into existence. With the cost of chicks from hatcheries getting higher, we decided to try to get one of our hens to hatch the few chicks we needed every year to replenish our little flock. But the commercial breeds of chickens we were raising have had the hatching instinct all but bred out of them. Egg factories do not want hens that quit laying every year to hatch out a clutch of eggs as nature intended hens to do. So we started experimenting with old fashioned breeds that still carry the mothering instinct. We tried Plymouth Rocks, Rhode Island Reds and finally Buff Orphingtons but not with much luck. A hen might start to set on eggs, but grow disinterested before the 21-day hatching period was up. Or if I separated a setting hen and eggs away from the other hens to keep them from bothering her, she would get antsy for company and not stay on the nest.

But this Spring, Buffy, one of our Buff Orphingtons, finally got serious about hatching some eggs. She took over one of the three nests in the coop and would not budge off the eggs in it. Other hens squeezed in beside her and laid more eggs and Buffy appropriated them too. I thought about marking the first dozen eggs and taking out the rest, but I didn’t want to bother her and since we had more eggs than we needed anyway, I just let nature take her course, hit or miss. Eventually Buffy got so cross that the other hens went to the other nests to lay their eggs. By then there were 18 eggs under Buffy, laid over a period of a week or so. Obviously, not all of them were going to hatch at the same time if they hatched at all. How would Buffy handle that?

In the prescribed time, one of the eggs hatched. I knew when I discovered Buffy down on the floor of the coop guarding that one tiny chick from the other hens. How the chick got to the floor, three feet from the nest, I don’t know. The other eggs were in various stages of development, but Buffy was totally taken up with her one chick and no longer interested in them. Out of 18 eggs, one chick. So I named it Uno. Turned out it was a she.

Uno was still in a precarious situation, what with a dozen hens not at all appreciating a cheeping baby in their midst. Uno stayed under Buffy most of the time for the first two weeks, warm, snug, and obviously happy. Often she stuck her head out Buffy’s protective feathers and occasionally, just for fun it seemed, she would dart out and streak around the coop, dodging hens and cheeping piercingly if one of them threatened to peck her. The cheep would bring Buffy to the rescue, her feathers ruffled up threateningly. Uno, back in the safe refuge under Buffy’s wings, seemed to be almost sticking her tongue out at the other hens. I decided to put Buffy and Uno with the pullets separated from the hens in the other side of the coop. The younger chickens were a little more accommodating.

GENE LOGSDON: Oh Deer, What Can The Matter Be?

 

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From Our Archives August 2007
GENE LOGSDON (1931 – 2016)
The Contrary Farmer

Thirty years ago, if I saw a herd of twenty or thirty deer grazing in grain fields in our neighborhood, I would have thought seriously about going on the wagon and I don’t mean a hay wagon either. There were no deer in our county then. Today such a sight is common.

Deer are becoming a very big problem but the general populace doesn’t think so yet. Have you ever been at a public meeting where hunters ally with wild animal lovers to lash out against homeowners, biologists, farmers and insurance companies who want to reduce the number of deer significantly? I have. It is not pretty. These people really get angry, shouting and cursing at each other. Ted Williams, my favorite wildlife writer, described in Audubon magazine a couple of years ago a confrontation where a biologist was trying to tell hunters about the depredations that deer were causing to the wild. They “interrupted him by stomping and jeering, … cursed and spat at him, … pushed him and threatened to kill him.”

GENE LOGSDON: Just What We Need, Faster Tractors

 

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From Our Archives
GENE LOGSDON (1931 – 2016)

Ohio’s politicians are considering a bill that would allow giant tractors to go 40 miles per hour on the highway. At present farm tractors are not supposed to be driven over 25 mph on public thoroughfares. The State House of Representatives has passed the bill unanimously and I presume the senators will do about the same. This really cracks me because of a fond experience of my wild oats days. But the law also amuses me considerably just on the basis of its own merits or demerits. For those urbanites who might not divine the reason for this law (if the politicians know, they aren’t spelling it out publicly), farming has become such a wide-ranging enterprise that farmers often rent land far from the home place. The old saying of “trying to farm the whole county” needs to be updated to “trying to farm the whole state.” Getting to the next field sometimes takes more time than getting it planted. Therefore tractors must move faster on the road, (not to mention in the field) or America might starve to death. If that’s not amusing to you, you need to improve your sense of humor.

I wonder if the lawmakers have thought this 40 mph rule through. When behemoth tractors could travel “only” 25 mph, it was easier to pass them in a car than it will be now that they are scooting along at 40. And if they are allowed to go 40, you know for sure they’ll be going 45 or 50 soon enough. That’s one thing but not the whole of the problem. It is daunting enough to see a machine big enough to straddle your car approaching you on the highway at 40 mph., but what if it is pulling some monstrous piece of farm equipment as it certainly will be. Today’s 30 and 40 row planters (or more) take up at least four lanes of highway when fully extended, so of course they have to be swiveled around sideways by the miracle of hydraulic power to be transported over a road. To pass something like that on a highway might take fifteen minutes at legal speeds. Disks and other cultivating rigs are even more daunting. Fully extended, these “tools” are also several lanes wide, so they fold up hydraulically, one wing or arm over the other for road travel. Today’s farm machinery has more hoses on it than a fire truck.