At Home in Nature

  (Agate, Colorado)
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Make your own plow!

Tillage without machine operated or animal-operated tools can be difficult.  These tools can be very expensive, and the machines and draft animals that are used with them can be more so.  Yet with some home-made tools, a farmer or gardener can quickly break ground. 

Checking on craigslist will often yield a surprising amount of raw materials suited for making plows. 

Your home made plow will not be as nice as professionally made ones, but with lowered expectations, you’ll find that it will undertake the job well enough.

While disk plows are very much in vogue – and for good reason too, they perform excellent tillage – they are modifications of a 4 Coulter Plow developed by Jethro Tull, the father of modern agriculture.  Besides inventing the row, the aisle, discovering cures for most plant diseases, developing the first agricultural futures commodity market, domesticating sanfoin and the turnip, inventing the system by which animals may be penned, and other significant achievements, Tull also invented a better plow than the traditional moldboard which he called the 4 Coultered Plow.

Today, two plows have succeeded the 4 Coultered, including the disk plow and also the chisel plow.  Both work on the same principles of slicing the ground and minimizing the downward thrust of the blades by maximizing lateral forces.  The lateralization of downward gravitational thrust is easily accomplished with a disk or a chisel, but is also accomplished by a knife (or “coulter”), mounted at a less than perpendicular angle to the ground.  Curving the knife backwards results in a disk-like shape.

The mounting of the knives onto a frame is one option – this is typical for disk plows – but there is also the option of mounting consecutive knives on a single shaft. 

If you are not fortunate enough to find your materials on craigslist, do consider making your plow out of wood.  Wood had been used for thousands of years with success before metal became available, and long after metal was available, metal was too expensive for most farmers to use.  Wood has disadvantages – it does not last long, it shatters, but it largely gets the job done.

That said, finding blades to attach to a frame is easy enough.  Old pickaxes, hoes, heavy pieces of scrap steel, or other blades that will not bend or snap under the extraordinary pressure of tillage work wonderfully. 

When you attach them to the frame, you will have something that looks somewhat like a harrow, but designed for ground penetration.  Weighting the frame with old tires, cement blocks, or other heavy things will drive your blades into the ground and pierce the turf.  Dragging the implement with a truck or car is possible, if the chasis will hold, until you get used to it, pull gently and see if your beast will take it.

Or, use a real beast.  A cow or horse may be easily brought under the yoke, happy to help your gardening (hey they eat that stuff too!).  Or, a large team of dogs for light work. 

But if this exceeds your technical skill, you may also acquire rusted out farm implements from wealthy professionals who use them as lawn implements.  If you convince one that the rusted look is “out” this year, they might even give it to you for free if you haul it off their lawn. 


Spring flowers coming soon!

Today I saw some daffodils had finally emerged from their long sleep and were in full bloom.  The tulips and hyacinth, it appears, are not far behind.  Spring flowers are such a wonderful end to a cold winter!  Every year I decide I’ve not planted enough spring flowers the year before and plan for a bigger spring garden.

Spring flowers are usually planted the autumn beforehand, but can be planted in spring and summer as well.  I usually buy discount bulbs in the early winter, after the normal planting season.  However, you can buy some stunning bulbs from mail order catalogs or local nurseries: tulips, especially, come in an amazing variety of colors, patterns (stripes, for example), and other interesting characteristics such as having extra “double” petals or petal edges that look like they’ve been sheared with scissors.  You can even get imported tulips from Holland!


Raising good father birds

Shelving can be made into a convenient brooder by lining the outside of the shelving with chicken wire, and, using cardboard (which can be replaced periodically in good hygienic practices), lining the bottom of the shelves so that wood chips or shavings may absorb excess moisture.

Excess moisture and drafts are deadly to baby birds, whose feathers are generally ineffective at anything but helping them camouflage into the grasses of their natural home. 

If your birds begin to play in their water instead of drinking it (and they will – they have a self-destructive instinct), it is important to take a towel or papertowel and dry them off, and keep them very warm.  Eventually, they will grow too big to play in the waterer, and they will also grow out better feathers.  It is hard work being a mother bird, especially if you are a human farmer.

Baby birds rely on you to be their mother (or father).  Like human infants, they require you to provide them food, water, medical care, keep them dry and warm.  A brooder should be located in a place where you can absolutely control the environmental temperature, humidity, and other factors, as well as a place that is very easy to keep hygienically clean.

Most baby birds will suffer from pasted anus, a condition which requires you to wash off dried fecal matter from their anus.  This should be done gently and in warm water, allowing the fecal matter to dissolve off: scraping can cause damage to their intestines, bleeding and death. 

Birds are difficult when young because they are very hardy when older: nature’s unbroken rule is that the more indestructible an animal is when an adult, the more fragile it is when it is younger.  This is a “natural check” against overpopulation, and a safety mechanism for the ecology if the predator species suffer  a catastrophe and cannot contain the populations of prey. 

The excessive work that baby birds require may be alleviated by entrusting the work to mother and father birds, especially geese and chickens, who are excellent mothers and fathers – even to baby birds of other species.  Some breeds of birds have been caused to have better mothering and fathering instincts, and any bird with good mothering or fathering instinct should be kept and bred.  It is fairly apparent when the baby birds are young which ones have good instincts – it is a genetic trait, not an acquire d one.  We had an excellent father rooster who, as a baby, defended weak baby birds, and sang to them… and a superior mother chick who would even put her little wing over her weaker companions in a mothering gesture.

Mothers and fathers increase production in numerous ways.  They correct self-destructive and flock-destructive behavior in other birds, prevent and cure cannibalism, help ensure an even distribution of food and other resources, defend their flock against predators (often successfully) and, fathers especially, actually increase food intake by the females in their harem (by constantly encouraging them to eat and finding them more food).  In experiments done on the Coastalfields farm, good fathers increased egg production as much as 15%.

LJ Columella suggests retaining at least 20% fathers in a flock of chickens, and 40% in water fowl.  And this is consistent with economic data collected in modern times, and is close to the economic maximal efficiency.  But economic analysis of managed flocks will indicate in typical situations that even 50% males will result in greater production than the food the males eat.  So, even without using the males for meat production, the dairy farmer will find better profitability with a straight run than with no males at all.

While fathering instincts are largely inherited, there is minimal acquired traits.  For good fathers, play to the birds music constantly to train their songs: they will sing weeks earlier, and this is the largest source of their control over their harem.  Bach, Mozart, Elvis and other melodic classical artists have, in Coastalfields and other trials, have been shown to improve production better than non-melodic music (such as heavy metal or rap).

As the father birds mature, look to good dancers: the dancers are better at exerting control over their harem.  To be a good father, he must be able to sing and dance better than the rest.

Pasture rotation improves production

Pasture rotation is key to the success of your animals.  Animals will selectively graze, eating their favorite foods and leaving what they don’t like.  This is how good pastureland turns into good yucca plantations!  The cattle eat everything but the yucca, and the yucca remains.  Then, all that is left to do is till up the soil and start over. 

However, the rancher may rotate their animals through pastures faster than they destroy the grass.  By allowing the grass time to recover, they may keep their pastures in good condition. 

Another option, which works better on small and micro farms and ranches, is to preventively till up and reseed pasture every year.  By establishing three pastures, the rancher ensures that their animals have plenty of pasture to eat. 

The first pasture is for springtime, and the animals graze on it until midsummer.  Then, the animals are moved to winter pasture, while the spring pasture is tilled and reseeded.  The third pasture, rested for the entire year, becomes next year’s springtime pasture, while the winter pasture is brought to rest… the first year’s spring pasture is next year’s winter pasture. 

The pasture that rests actually can be hayed in the autumn if the rancher uses quick growing grasses, especially rye, or other animal feeds (like sunflowers).  But most ranchers prefer turf, and turf means grass.  Let the rye mature, and harvest both grain and grass for a high energy supplement.  Or, if you don’t like rye, plant crops that overwinter, like wheat.  Wheat needs less water than rye, too.

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