Gene Logsdon Blog – The Contrary Farmer

Gene Logsdon: Shipping Hay Overseas

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

The farm news is reporting that the amount of hay we are shipping overseas, mainly to China and Saudi Arabia, has doubled in recent years. The total is still only a small part of our hay production so it’s not yet earthshaking news, I guess, but for someone brought up in agriculture “before farmers went crazy” (my father’s pet phrase), that is an alarming trend. I grew up with the common saying: “sell the hay, sell the farm.” Selling off hay was a big no-no because it meant you were removing from the farm the soil nutrients tied up in that hay that should go back onto the soil as green manure and animal manure. The articles I’ve read so far on exporting hay do not mention this very important factor, so, even though I know most of you who read this blog are well aware of it, maybe it is time to review one of the basic fundamentals of sustainable farming.

Hay— or forage, speaking more broadly— is the foundation of economical farming. Corn and soybeans get all the glory, even as their production propels agriculture toward much higher input costs than is necessary to feed the world. I personally think that we started down the road to ruination when most farmers took legume forages out of their crop rotations. The main reasons that happened were that making hay requires lots of physical work and, in most heavily farmed regions, there’s a likely chance that rain will fall after the hay is mowed, making a good harvest a chancy affair. But both these concerns have been rendered rather minor by modern technology. New hay-handling machines take much of the work out of the job. And modern hay-handling methods along with much improved weather predicting have reduced at least by half the chances of getting hay ruined by rain before it can be baled and stored.

Gene Logsdon: Starting An Old Tractor

From GENE LOGSDON

I don’t know of a better argument in favor of farming with horses than trying to start an old tractor in the winter time. I have never thought I could afford a new tractor so I know quite a bit about starting old ones. Or rather I know quite a bit about new and more imaginative combinations of foul language when old tractors won’t start. Some will say that it is all a matter of science. A friend of mine, Roy Harbour, who ran a car dealership most of his life, was fond of saying that “if everything is right, you can’t keep a car from starting.” Maybe so, but to me the fact that a spark from a battery will ignite gas in a carburetor, and the explosion engendered will push pistons up and down to make a drive shaft spin round and round so that tires go forward and backward is sheer magic. To start that process sometimes requires mystic manipulations and incantations heavy on swear words. Once I disgustedly kicked the front tire on my WD Allis when it wouldn’t start, and wouldn’t you know, it fired right up when I tried again. After that, I would as a matter of course, kick the tire superstitiously before trying to start the obstinate thing. That worked for about a week.

Gene Logsdon: GM Stands For Genetic Muddle

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

I say I am against GM foods and even consented to be in that documentary making its rounds (“GMO-OMG”) declaring my opposition even though I hate the public stage. Then I turn around and write something supportive of genetically modified chestnut trees. I have to try to explain myself. I have read all your good responses last time about GM foods and looked at the links you all suggested and in fact have spent the greater part of my writing career examining and reporting on food safety. I am sure of only one thing. No one will ever solve the debate over which foods are safe and which are not. It is a fruitless (pardon pun) endeavor. The most dangerous foods in the world are alcoholic beverages and we embrace and glorify them.

Game Logsdon: Will Genetic Modification Save The Chestnut Tree?


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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

I am against Big Ag trying to use genetic modification to monopolize the food business, but I don’t damn all genetic modification. First of all it is useless to do so because there are a zillion possible applications of this biotechnology and science is not about to abandoned all of them. And there is good in it I think, although I am not knowledgeable enough to speak with any authority. For example, scientists have been experimenting for some time at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory to put a wheat gene (of all things) into the American chestnut tree that helps the tree to resist the blight that brought it to near extinction. The wheat gene keeps oxalate or oxalic acid from accumulating in the wood of the tree. Oxalate is a necrotic agent to which the tree is extremely susceptible, and if I am starting to sound erudite, I must add that I am just repeating what the news is reporting and don’t really know oxalate from oxbows.

Gene Logsdon: Could King Corn Be Our Downfall?

From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

That is a perfectly ridiculous question, if you look at corn yields lately. Corn farming has never been so successful. Last year production soared to a new record high in the U.S., with an average yield of 171 bushels per acre. A new individual record-breaking yield was also set, an unbelievable 503 bushels per acre by a farmer in Georgia. He must have set the field up on edge and planted both sides of it. I’m sure that every agronomic aid known to science was scrupulously applied, every fertilizer and mineral added to absolute perfection as far as science knows, the crop irrigated so as never to suffer the least stress of dry weather, the soil used the very best available. What it cost to achieve that kind of yield didn’t matter; bushels per acre was everything. But that is still an achievement worth a gasp or three. Just how many bushels per acre are possible? Using estimates based on history, the experts say that corn production increases on a forty years basis about 1.8 bushels per acre per year on average. How far into the future will that be true?

Gene Logsdon: Out a Winter Window

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

I was sort of startled by the two foxes at the edge of the woods outside our kitchen window. Son-in-law Joe took the picture. Those are well-fed foxes, I can vouch, courtesy of our hens. A part of me wanted to shoot them but a part of me didn’t. The lazy part saved them. I’d probably have missed anyway, given the state of my eyes these days. Red foxes are so pretty. Worth a hen or four I guess. Coincidentally, I had just read in Poor Will’s Almanack 2015, by Bill Felker, a book that Brad Roof, a reader of this website, gave me: “As the sun starts to rise a little earlier in mid-January, mating time approaches for foxes. Watch for their playing and courting in the fields.” I think these two had sex on their minds because they were so preoccupied with each other that they did not notice us standing at the window.

Then I also remembered another reason I should not have been surprised by the foxes. We live far out in the country with lots of cover and woodland around. Visiting son-in-law Joe’s house recently, which has some woody area behind it but which is very suburban, I was staring out the window, as I so like to do, and a coyote came slinking across his yard. I’m telling you: wildlife is everywhere these days. I was talking to an old-time coonhunter recently who was lamenting the lack of skillful hunters these days. “I think squirrels are about to take over the world,” he said, shaking his head. I agreed. We have so many in our woodlot. I keep thinking that “our” foxes will start catching them and pay us for their chicken dinners. Maybe they are.

Gene Logsdon: Strawing Strawberry Beds

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

Here in our neighborhood, we’ve been arguing about when, if ever, strawberry beds need to be winterized with a covering of straw. There are enough different answers to that question that I am beginning to wonder about traditional ways as much as I doubt modern ways in gardening and farming. Here are the answers I’ve gotten to the question: should you straw your strawberry patch over winter?

1. Momma always did it so that must be the right thing to do.

2. I don’t do it and I get just as many berries as Momma did.

3. The reason you do it is to keep the ground from freezing and thawing repeatedly in winter warm spells, which heaves the plants out of the ground.

4. No, you do it to delay spring growth of the plants so they don’t bloom too early and get killed by frost.

Gene Logsdon: How Henny Penny Came To Rule the Roost

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but when reporters are interviewing people on the radio news, especially in so-called third world countries, there are often roosters crowing or hens clucking in the background. I think I know what’s going on. Chickens are using the airways to signal each other about the latest advances in their conquest of the backyards of the world. All that cockadoodledooing and clucketyclucking translates into “we shall overcome. No more egg factories.”

I got a huge kick out of what a respondent on this blogsite, Betty, wrote recently— that she had heard about cases of salmonella popping up from people kissing their hens. I can believe it. People kiss their dogs and cats, so why not their chickens. My only problem is where do you kiss a chicken?

Gene Logsdon: Front Porch Garden

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

We are fortunate to have Jan Dawson and Andy Reinhart, who operate Jandy’s Farm Market near Bellefontaine, Ohio, for friends. Nearly everything they do or say has potential for my scribblings. The photo above is a picture of their front porch. Need I say more?  I tease them that they have turned their porch into a garden simply because they are addicted to gardening and can’t quit just because winter is here. But actually there is plenty of method to this winter madness when you can saunter out on your porch without bundling up or wading through snow and gather your salad for the next meal.

Gene Logsdon: Searching For A Floodgate That Really Works

fa floodgate that works…

From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

There is nothing so lovely as a pasture field with a creek running through it, but you will pay for it a thousand times over. If you have a pasture, you have livestock grazing there, and so where the creek enters and exits the pasture, you must have fencing decidedly different from what you have on dry land to keep your animals from wading out of the pasture and to keep your neighbor’s animals from wading in. We’ve always called them floodgates. So far as I know, no one has yet invented one that really works without spending a fortune. I was certain, when confronted with the necessity of floodgates, that I could design one that would work without my constant attention. A hundred or so floodgates later, I admitted defeat.

Here is the situation. The gate or fencing over the creek should be able to rise as the water rises and then settle back in place when the water recedes. If you just run fencing through the creek, like three strands of barbed wire, the flooding creek will make short work of it. That’s because water is not the only thing that flows down the flooding creek: also tree limbs, corn stalks, dead grass, flotsam of all kinds and all this mish-mash tends to pile up against your floodgates and eventually they give way. So what you need, as farmers for centuries have realized, is a gate than rises with the water. Seems simple. Just stretch a pole or cable across the creek and hang a swinging gate on it. As the water rises, it pushes the gate out and upwards and as it recedes the gate floats back down in place. Never is there an opportunity for animals to get past it.

Gene Logsdon: Signs Of Change In Food Farming

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

I attended the Acres USA conference a couple of weeks ago. The magazine, Acres USA, is often referred to as the voice of alternative agriculture, or at least used to be. It gets more mainstream all the time. It has been years since the last time I attended and I was struck by the change in tone and temper of the  attendees. People I talked to are convinced, utterly convinced, that the day of large scale industrial grain farming is coming to an end. The fact that big grain farms continue to get bigger does not impress them in the least.  The first conference I attended, in the 1970s as I recall, was a rather motley affair with lots of wild eyed devotees of various kinds of wild eyed notions and practices to improve soil health and fertility. At this 2014 version, however, there was a strong current of self assurance, cool success— quite a few ties and suits and fashionable dresses, speakers with all kinds of academic degrees, a general aura of having arrived.

Acres USA was founded by Charles Walters about 50 years ago. He filled its pages not only with what for me were strange new agronomic practices and theories, but with fiery rhetoric against conventional farming or anything else that might be displeasing him at the moment. Lots of fun to read. When I finally met him, I was surprised at how amiable and good-natured he was. I worked up enough brass to ask him why he published so much information on whacko farm practices. He smiled and responded: “New ideas are always perceived as whacko when they are first introduced.”

What’s Behind The Pet Craze

From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

I thought I had heard it all with the ad on National Public Radio for pajamas for every member of the family, including the cats and dogs. But now on sale are coats for your pet chicken. Obviously, Henny Penny, not only is the sky falling but our collected social sanity. But then my wife, ever the practical one, pointed out that if your hen has a tendency to fly over the fence around her chicken run, a coat over her wings would solve the problem. Why didn’t my mother think of that instead of clipping the wing feathers of errant hens?

Gene Logsdon: Shocking Stories

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

Nothing I read or see in the news can shock me like the real thing: backing inadvertently  into an electrified fence. That is the ultimate wake-up call and it has been my bad fortune to have been awakened that way so often in my sordid past that I might have built up enough immunity to survive the electric chair.

Not much is made of the fact, but without electric fence, today’s rotational grazing would not be so easy and inexpensive— hardly possible at all. But ’twas not always so. l began getting electrified way back in the 1950s when my father and I decided that we could replace real livestock fences with one wispy strand of electric wire and hold in a hundred head of hungry Holsteins. I still have nightmares of our thundering herd  disappearing into standing corn and exiting out the other side into Aunt Stella’s garden, dragging a fourth of mile of high tensile wire behind them.

Gene Logsdon: When Herbicides Fail

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

If you follow the agribusiness news, you know that the good old days are over when all you had to do was spray Roundup on your Roundup resistant crops to control weeds. Weeds are becoming immune to Roundup.  Chemical companies are rising mightily to the challenge, coming up with new herbicides or new combinations of old ones, while stacking more herbicide resistant genes into their crop varieties. Weed control is becoming so complicated that even a seasoned farmer needs to get help to keep track of which new weedkillers plus which new varieties he needs to use and how to diversify them in alternate years so the weeds don’t become immune to them. That’s the new word in weed control: diversify, diversify, diversify. If we can’t control weeds with chemicals, Big Ag will die.

Gene Logsdon Appears in GMO OMG video and Interviewed on NPR…

Available now on Netflix

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http://www.ideastream.org/applause/entry/65857

From NPR: We introduce you to the Contrary Farmer – Gene Logsdon – who’s facing his own mortality in his new book Gene Everlasting: A Contrary Farmer’s Thoughts on Living Forever.
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How Much Does Soil Influence Taste?

From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

I had no more finished the post two weeks ago about improving vegetable taste, when I read an interesting interview with Eliot Coleman, a name you all recognize, in the November issue of Acres U.S.A. Eliot has been a leader in perfecting year-round, organic farming— in Maine of all places. One of his most popular crops is “candy carrots” and how he grows them is pertinent to our discussion.  He plants carrots, around the first of August, and when winter cold arrives, he slides a movable greenhouse over the carrots so that the ground doesn’t freeze. He has learned that with a double cover, or a cold frame under a fabric greenhouse cover, the ground, though plenty cold, doesn’t freeze.  In the interview, he says: “When you leave carrots in the ground like this, they protect themselves against the cold by changing some of their starch to sugar, sort of like antifreeze. These are known locally as candy carrots.  We’ve been told by parents that our carrots are the trading item of choice in local grade school lunch boxes.”  

That’s the kind of detail about growing food for better taste that is so intriguing to contemplate. Do we know very much about soil in terms of health and food taste even with all the scientific effort that has been put to it? Does better taste mean better nutrition in the first place? I recently read about Lakeview Organic Grain Farm in upstate New York, known for its flour made from emmer, an old form of wheat.

Gene Logsdon: Keeping Prejudice Alive

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

Some of the latest thinking on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (just getting those letters all out in correct order is enough to give me ADHD) argues that the condition is not really a bodily or mental affliction but a natural state for some people, especially children. Being fidgety, having a short attention span, not being able to concentrate for long on anything in particular— these traits are more or less brought on by the over-regulated, prescriptive world we live in. That sounds plausible to me. But then the learned scientists who are arguing this way go into examples (“A Natural Fix For A.D.H.D.” by Richard A. Friedman in the New York Times, Nov. 2, 2014). They suggest that  ADHD people would be right at home in a hunting and gathering society, like in Paleolithic times, when daily life shifted rapidly from one exciting, dangerous situation to another. It was not until humans settled into the boring routine of sedentary agriculture that such people became estranged and out of touch with the rest of society and started suffering from what would later be diagnosed as ADHD.

Once more farming is depicted as boring. After a lifetime of being subjected to this kind of stereotypical thinking,  I know I should just ignore it.  Anybody who has had the least bit of experience in agriculture knows it is one of the most  exciting ways in the world to lose your money or your life. But when the stereotypical thinking comes from places like the Weill Cornell Medical College, I must protest.

Gene Logsdon: Another Kind of Baby Food

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

As a society, we strive valiantly to get people to eat more vegetables. That always brings up a question in my mind: why don’t we have to strive valiantly to get people to eat more filet mignon, chocolate, and whipped cream? Answer: Obviously, these foods taste good while vegetables still often taste like seaweed floating in the backwaters off New Orleans. I know, I know. Vegetables can taste good too, but the fact is that more often than not, even today, they don’t live up to the good taste that they are capable of. The skill and especially the knowledge involved in coming up with a really good plate of vegetables is still rather rare and there’s no excuse for it. Small scale garden farmers can take advantage of the situation and squeeze a lot more market opportunity out of it. Most short order restaurants don’t know diddily about good-tasting vegetables because their customers don’t either, so why bother. Mass production won’t work because in many cases the vegetable, to taste really delicious, has to be harvested before it can be handled by field machines. Even pricey restaurants have a hard time getting the good stuff which is why some have started their own gardens next to their restaurants. But in most cases the demand isn’t there yet because the consumers don’t know what they are missing. Too many of us merely tolerate vegetables going back to childhood when, if we didn’t eat the stuff, we wouldn’t get dessert. We’ll pay $30 a pound for a restaurant steak quicker than they will pay half that amount for a succulently fresh salad. Just as happened with breads and beers, there needs to develop a market for specialty boutique vegetables and that means dedicated and enlightened garden farmers and cooks to spread the word.

A good case in point is shelling peas.

Gene Logsdon’s Practical Skills: Making Wooden Combs

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer
Excerpt from Practical Skills 1985

My son has been making wooden combs in his workshop. They are strikingly beautiful, and they do comb hair. They also make excellent letter or note holders on a desk. Much of the beauty comes from the wood itself. Since only scraps are needed to make the combs, one can use black walnut, rosewood, zebra wood, and other exotic woods without denting the pocketbook. Or one can use unusual woods generally available only in small widths or pieces, like pear, peach and sassafras. The block of wood needed for a comb rarely exceeds 4 to 6 inches wide, 5 or 6 inches long, and 3/8 inch thick (never more than 1/2-inch thick).

The teeth must run in the same direction as the grain or they will quickly break off, but other than that, the design is up to you. Cut the teeth in the block first, then taper the block and teeth to the proper shape. You can cut the teeth with a table saw, handsaw, or bandsaw. The table saw makes it easier to cut straight and uniform teeth, since you can use the saw fence as a guide. But the saw kerf should be no wider than 1/8-inch and preferably smaller. Most table saw blades leave a kerf a bit large for a comb. My son uses a band saw because the blade makes a smaller kerf. But some skill is involved in making a band saw cut a perfectly straight line. A wavy cut shows up clearly in a comb.

Gene Logsdon: Marking Time On The Farm

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

Like most of you, I’m sure, I’ve developed ways to tell time by eyeing up the sun with various fixed features on the farm. When I’m hoeing in the garden in the summer,  I know it’s about time for lunch when the farthest reach of tree shade from the woods brushes the garden boundary. This changes a bit every day so it’s a little tricky but Swiss watch precision is not necessary. As a boy, cultivating corn in rows running north and south in early June, I knew that when the shade of the muffler top sticking up above the tractor hood reached the third corn row over to the east, it was about five o’clock and time to go home for chores. Who needs watches?

When I left the city office environment, I stripped off my watch and put it in a dresser drawer where it still resides. I think of a wristwatch as a manacle chaining me to a way of life that reckons time as money. Not for me. I want to live where work is so interesting that I don’t care what time the clock says it is. At the office I was constantly glancing at my watch wondering if it was time to go home yet. On the farm in somewhat younger years I could hardly believe how fast the time went by before Carol was calling me in for supper. Or I might get a notion between the corn rows to go sit under a shade tree beside the creek and watch the water flow by. No boss was going to hound me to get back to work. The worst thing to happen to farmers was headlights on tractors which made time seem more like money. Then we felt compelled to work all night and owe the bank more than ever.

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