May 19, 2010

Threshing 2.0

Grains were one of the first crops to be domesticated some 10,000 years ago, and since that time have remained the centerpiece of almost every cultures' food supply: wheat in the Western World, rice in Asia, corn in the Southwest and Mexico, barley in parts of South America and mountainous regions of Asia. Unlike fresh vegetables, grain can be stored with relative ease, easily transported, and feeds livestock as well as people. It has a nice balance of protein and carbohydrates making it a natural choice for a staple crop..."give us now our daily bread."
The challenge has always been figuring out efficient ways to extract the tiny kernels of grain from the seed heads. Also, once separated, the loose grain still had to be separated from the remaining straw and chaff. One time-honored way involved the use of the flail: two sticks connected by a piece of leather. Beating the grain out with a flail, and then tossing the loose grain and straw up in a stiff breeze allowed the chaff to fly away and the heavier grain to fall to the ground to be collected. An alternate method was to drive livestock round and round on a threshing barn floor. The hooves of the cattle or horses did an admirable, if sometimes messy job of beating the kernels out of the grain heads.
In the middle of the nineteenth century mechanical threshing machines began to be developed. Most relied on a revolving drum with fingers which removed the grain. Gradually a series of fans and screens were added so as to accomplish the threshing and winnowing in the same operation. Hand-cranked and horse-powered versions eventually gave way to steam and gasoline powered tractor driven machines. All threshing machines at this point were stationary, with power being transfered from the power source to the thresher via belts and pulleys. In the 1950's the modern combine put nearly all the old stationary threshing machines out of business. The combine, as the name implies, combines the reaping and threshing operations into one. It is basically a threshing machine which powers itself and cuts and separates the crop in one operation.
Our machine is a 1950 McCormick-Deering stationary thresher, operated for the first time at Littlefield Farm just last week. More to come on our threshing adventure. Stay tuned.

May 9, 2010


I wanted to make a note about the Small Farmer's Journal auction I attended back in mid-April. Madras, Oregon was the setting, and a more eclectic gathering of folk you are not likely to find anywhere. Tractor farmers, horse farmers, gentlemen farmers, wannabe farmers, market gardeners, cowboys, hippies, yuppies, college kids, conservatives, liberals and everyone in between; all with a common interest in human scaled, animal powered farming.
People came to buy, sell, or trade most any small farm item imaginable; everything from horse drawn plows, mowers and discs, to horses, wagons and windmills. Some stuff looked as good as when it came fresh off the assembly line back in '25, and some looked like it was parked in the fencerow in '25 and someone just drug it out of the weeds.
My main interest was in finding a good, restored, field-ready, horse drawn mowing machine, particularly a McCormick/Deering #9 or John Deere Big 4. There were two excellent number nines up for bid. I got in on the action but bowed out when the bidding went up to the $4,000 mark- nearly twice what a mower of that quality would normally bring! Instead, I came home with a couple of mowers, a #9 and a Big 4, both very sound fundamentally, though not as pretty as the showroom model, and for less than half the price. Both require a bit of work to get up and running: a new tongue and pitman stick, some oil and grease, a good sharpening and we should be ready to cut hay.
While at the auction I also played a benefit concert for the Small Farms Conservancy (see link). I really enjoyed watching the older folks teach the younger, hipper crowd how to waltz. People of all ages enjoyed setting aside the bidding for a few hours to relax and socialize. This was an element of the auction that I felt was missing at past events. The bidding would end and everyone would quietly make their way back to hotels and campgrounds and go to bed. The auction becomes much richer and more important with the addition of this element of social camaraderie, where relationships are fostered, and connections made. We feel alone and isolated at times, working our little farms, while all around the world zips by. It is a comfort to know we are not alone in our endeavors.

May 8, 2010

Big John and Princess

Here we have the cattle royalty of Littlefield Farm.  Big John is a four-year old Dexter bull and the sire of most of the current generation on the farm.  For a bull, he has a fairly mellow temper, but has been known to indulge in the occasional hot-blooded bender, tearing up fences and gates, as well as anything foolishly left out in his pasture.  His consort is the venerable Princess (or Princess Georgina), a female Hereford of indeterminate age, who, to my knowledge, has never been bred and is long past that capability today.  She has had her share of unfortunate medical issues in the past, and to put it gently, is not the most attractive cow in the pasture.  She is cross-eyed, lumpy, and her "moo" sounds something like a broken foghorn.  But I am obviously no judge of bovine beauty since Big John seems to think that Princess is the finest cow to ever chew her cud.  He can be very territorial around her, and he follows her everywhere...which is quite useful when it comes time to move to a new pasture.  Somehow, Princess always knows when it's time to move, and she leads the way with Big John and everyone else in tow.

May 1, 2010

Galinas in the Greenhouse

We've moved about twenty tomato plants (and their soil blocks that were started back in March) from the small greenhouse into the new portable greenhouse and directly into the garden soil.  Here are a few plants of the Galina variety, a small yellow tomato from Siberia with amazing flavor.  An early variety, they mature in sixty days or so.  We've also planted Amish Paste, Glacier, and Sasha tomatoes (the Sasha variety, also from Siberia, have an interesting story you can read at:

The space in the bed for each plant was prepared with some crushed egg shell and a little compost.  When watering, I try to avoid spraying the plant itself, even though in this photo, if you look closely enough, you can see drops of water on some of the leafs.  I'm going to blame it on condensation.