Lots of apples this year. Tom and I picked my pickup about half full from just a couple of neighbors trees.

We pressed them tonight, ending up with about 16 gallons of cider.

Pickup load o' apples
Pickup load o’ apples
Hillary's saying, "are you taking a picture?"
Hillary’s saying, “Are you taking a picture?”
Tom pressing smarter, not harder
Tom pressing smarter, not harder

We ended up with about 16 gallons of cider. We’re going to ferment around 13 gallons of it, and drink the rest fresh. Fresh cider is so incredibly delicious, pasteurizing may make it safe, but it also kills all the taste.

We also had some nice grapes and ended up with a half gallon of grape juice that I’m going turn into red wine vinegar.

My Dad (Tom’s Grandpa of course) built that press about 40 years ago. 3 generations of pressing apples and good times.

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Lessons not learned

I broke my cell phone on Monday. I was rassling the straw spreader off the combine and the cell phone lost a battle with the large chunk of iron that is the straw spreader.

After a long wet spring and a long wet summer, we’re finally in the wheat fields. No time to deal with the mind-boggling incompetency that is our modern wireless industry to get my phone replaced. So I’ve been 5 days without a cell phone [1] now.

Surprisingly the world has continued to turn.

I’ve missed the convenience of being constantly connected. Today Tom came roaring across the field on the ATV to tell me what the mechanic said about fixing the sprayer, unable to call me and tell me. Although that was more of an inconvenience for Tom than me.

And it was my birthday this week, so I didn’t receive a single birthday greeting via phone. That was kind of sad. [2]

But I haven’t missed the constant interruptions. It’s wheat harvest and I’ve spent hour after hour in the combine, totally uninterrupted. It was serene. [3]

The wheat is harvested. Going to get a replacement for my broken phone tomorrow.

Guess I didn’t learn a thing these last 5 days.

1. Or a landline either.

2. I try not to think about that as far as I can tell, I only missed a single birthday greeting via phone.

3. The A/C failed after half a day, so it was also mind-bogglingly hot. That’s a whole ‘nother story.

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It’s just common sense

According to Herman Daly, an early pioneer in the sustainability movement, sustainability means three things:

1) For renewable resources, the rate of harvest should not exceed the rate of regeneration;

2) for pollution, the rates of waste generation should not exceed the assimilation capacity of the environment (sustainable waste disposal) and

3) for nonrenewable resources, the depletion of the nonrenewable resources (that is, fossil fuels) should require comparable development of renewable substitutes for that resource.

Achieving such sustainability will enable the Earth to continue to support life. Thus, teaching sustainability is common sense. It is our responsibility; it is not a “plot” to brainwash students.

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Turtle Days

This is the week of Turtle Days in Churubusco. Back in the 1940’s a farmer in the Churubusco area said he saw a turtle the size of “the roof of a car” in a small lake on his farm. Despite heroic efforts, including trying to pump the lake dry, the turtle was never found. The legend lives on and we celebrate it to this day.

So it’s appropriate as I working in the fields this week that I came across a huge snapping turtle laying eggs.

Momma Turtle
Momma Turtle

It’s hard to tell scale from this picture, but she’s the size of a watermelon. I was putting nitrogen on a corn field right along Blue River when I came across her.

Fortunately I happened to be looking to the left and saw her, because she was right where I would’ve hit her with the front tire of the tractor and then with one of the rear duals.

I slammed to a stop and looked at her. Nothing to do about it. I couldn’t move her, no way am I trying to move a snapping turtle with my bare hands. So I cranked the steering wheel, ran over some corn, and jogged around her.

If you know me, you know nothing grieves me more than to run over corn I’ve planted.

I hope momma turtle appreciated it.

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You Never Know

We were out shooting a tile line today that crossed properties owned by 3 different people. Everyone whose land the tile is on is agreeing to fix it [1].

Our tile contractor brings his dog along on the these jobs. Another farmer whose land this tile crosses and I were helping shoot the tile line, mainly by watching the dog [2] run around and griping about the weather.

And then my neighbor said, “We had to have our dog put down last night.”

“Aw, geez, I’m sorry,” I said.

And he told me about their dog, how he was old and sick, and they’d been to vet and then late last night to the emergency vet clinic. And that the dog was a rescue and they’d had him for 7 years.

Then he blinked and looked over the fields and said, “It’s sad.”

Our families have farmed side by side for over 60 years that I know of, and I realized I hardly knew him, and I wished that I knew him better.

1. Other neighbors whose land drains into this tile, but the tile doesn’t actually cross their land, are choosing not help repair it. So the 3 of us will pay 5 figures each to fix it, and they’ll get a free ride. What you gonna do?

2. Leon. A Springer Spaniel. He’s a Good Dog.

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We Must Kill Every Bug

Two years ago at the National No-Till Conference an entomologist named Jon Lundgren got up to give his talk and launched into this incredible reenactment of a fascist dictator, complete with pounding on the lectern [1], shouting, “we must kill every bug!”

It was vastly entertaining, and of course his point was the exact opposite. Trying to kill every bug is a terrible decision. If we spray a field with insecticides we not only kill the pests we’re to trying to rid of, we also kill all the beneficial bugs in the fields. We destroy the natural balance in the field and open it to attack by other bugs.

We try to avoid using insecticides on our fields. I was out walking in our wheat fields this week and saw this.


Everywhere I looked in the wheat field I saw ladybugs and crickets, and wild bees [2], feeding on the wheat pollen. Ladybugs, despite being so cute and so cutely named, are actually vicious predators, devouring aphids and other bad bugs. Likewise with crickets. These bugs, the beneficials, keep the bad bugs in check. If we sprayed our fields with insecticides we’d kill these good bugs too.

The chemical companies push us to apply insecticides. “It’s inexpensive”, they say, “apply them as insurance against a potential insect outbreak.”

I prefer to let the ladybugs do it for me.

1. I’m 57 years old and I just recently learned the difference between a podium and a lectern. And I took Latin in high school too. Sorry Mrs. Hontz, I should’ve paid more attention.

2. The wild bees are tiny and I wasn’t able to get a good photo of them. I’m not better as a photographer than I was as a Latin scholar [3]

3. From the Latin scholaris, “of a school”

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Planting Soybeans

We were planting soybeans today into a field with a beautiful cover crop of cereal rye. We planted the rye last fall. It grows until winter sets in, then goes dormant and begins to grow again in the spring. By late May the rye is 4 feet tall. The rye keeps the soil from eroding and takes up nutrients from the soil. When we plant the rye dies and returns those nutrients to the soybeans.


We just plant right into the living rye. The rye roots make the soil crumbly and soft, perfect for planting.

This side of the field has been planted.


And this side hasn’t been planted.

Not Planted
Not Planted

That’s what we’re after, to disturb the soil as little as possible. Walking over the planted field it just looks like we drove over the rye and knocked it down. But if you dig in the soil [1] you’ll find soybeans an inch deep in loose crumbly soil.

Running over the rye kills most of it, a very light application of herbicide will finish off the rest. Dead rye is straw, the same thing you’d use to mulch grass seed when you plant a new lawn. It serves the same purpose in our fields, as mulch it holds moisture and smothers the weeds.

Ray Archuleta, a government conservationist, says, “A tilled field is naked, thirsty, and running a fever.” When you till a field you leave it bare to erosion from wind and water, you dry it out, and you burn up the organic matter in the soil.

Planting into a field of rye is planting into a field that is healthy and bursting with life. And clothed:

“Consider the lilies of the field … even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.”

It’s that beautiful.

1. As I do, obsessively.

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Good Karma

I blasting home with the planter, well, blasting is an exaggeration, on our county roads that’s 0 to 12 mph as we navigate the potholes and half-hearted road repairs.

Anyway, blasting along and I came over a hill and there was a turtle in the road!

Turtle in the Road!
Turtle in the Road!

Our planter tractor has terrible brakes but I got it stopped in time. The turtle stopped too. We had a standoff.

I looked at the turtle and I looked at the tractor. The tractor is dualled up, 4 tires across, each 18 inches wide. I was pulling our drill, which has 4 flotation tires across the back, each of them over a foot wide and not lined up with the tractor duals. No way was I going to be able to proceed and not hit the turtle with one of those tires.

I looked behind to make sure no one was barreling down the road and about to get a surprise when they came over the hill. The drill is over 20 feet wide and blocks the entire road. The way was clear, I hopped out of the tractor and picked up the turtle and carried him across the road. He was not grateful.

I was feeling grateful though as I headed home. Grateful that I didn’t smash a turtle. Grateful that one of my neighbors didn’t smash me while I was stopped on the blind side of a hill. Good karma.

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Mud Time

We slogged around in the mud all day today on the farm. Where we have a good layer of stone it is just squishy underfoot, anywhere else is a sloppy mess that quickly proves (or disproves) your boot’s claim to waterproofness.

The mud is a nuisance but I love the change in seasons. By afternoon today we’d shed our coats and were sweating in the thin sunshine. It felt great.

The mud reminds me of one of my favorite poems. It’s good to muse over it while relaxing after the first day’s work in the mud time.

Two Tramps in Mud Time by Robert Frost

Out of the mud two strangers came
And caught me splitting wood in the yard,
And one of them put me off my aim
By hailing cheerily “Hit them hard!”
I knew pretty well why he dropped behind
And let the other go on a way.
I knew pretty well what he had in mind:
He wanted to take my job for pay.

Good blocks of beech it was I split,
As large around as the chopping block;
And every piece I squarely hit
Fell splinterless as a cloven rock.
The blows that a life of self-control
Spares to strike for the common good
That day, giving a loose to my soul,
I spent on the unimportant wood.

The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.

A bluebird comes tenderly up to alight
And fronts the wind to unruffle a plume
His song so pitched as not to excite
A single flower as yet to bloom.
It is snowing a flake: and he half knew
Winter was only playing possum.
Except in color he isn’t blue,
But he wouldn’t advise a thing to blossom.

The water for which we may have to look
In summertime with a witching wand,
In every wheel rut’s now a brook,
In every print of a hoof a pond.
Be glad of water, but don’t forget
The lurking frost in the earth beneath
That will steal forth after the sun is set
And show on the water its crystal teeth.

The time when most I loved my task
These two must make me love it more
By coming with what they came to ask.
You’d think I never had felt before
The weight of an axhead poised aloft,
The grip on earth of outspread feet.
The life of muscles rocking soft
And smooth and moist in vernal heat.

Out of the woods two hulking tramps
(From sleeping God knows where last night,
But not long since in the lumber camps.)
They thought all chopping was theirs of right.
Men of the woods and lumberjacks,
They judged me by their appropriate tool.
Except as a fellow handled an ax,
They had no way of knowing a fool.

Nothing on either side was said.
They knew they had but to stay their stay
And all their logic would fill my head:
As that I had no right to play
With what was another man’s work for gain.
My right might be love but theirs was need.
And where the two exist in twain
Theirs was the better right — agreed.

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For heaven and the future’s sakes.

We dug a posthole today. About 14 inches down we hit the “lurking frost” in a very real way.

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I’m a Lumberjack

I love cutting wood.

The Big Load
The Big Load

When you get done cutting a load of firewood you sure enough know you’ve done something. You’re soaked in sweat, despite it being winter. Your arms ache, and if you’re an old guy like me, your back does too. You have sawdust in your ears, and they’re ringing from the howl of the chain saw. Your face is scratched from being tagged by branches.

And you have a big old pickup load of wood to show for it. Next year when that wood’s seasoned we’ll put it in the fire and enjoy it all over again.

There’s not a much better way to spend an afternoon than with a chainsaw[1].

1. And it’s even better when it’s your dad’s chainsaw and you can remember him. Lord, could he swing an ax.

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