Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Solstice Greetings from Planet Earth!

Hello Resident Earthlings,

This is your planet writing here... Today's the day all of you in the northern hemisphere have been waiting for; the Winter Solstice! This is a perfect day for you to consider your place in this celestial party that I throw each year. I've done another lap around the Sun now, doing the same thing I have been doing since... well, for a really long time, let's say. You have trusted me to give you pretty much the same old stuff forever and for the most part I do that.

The shortest day and the longest night will be a memory tomorrow as the shadows will be shortening, imperceptibly at first, but cumulatively, as the weeks roll past, there will be a big difference.

Now is the time you'll be getting your seed catalogs in the mail and you will begin to count the days until you can get your hands back into the soil you have been nurturing in your garden beds.

Plant your gardens this year like it really matters, because it does. It matters now more than ever. I see more and more people are converting their suburban lawns to growing beds and adding chickens to their list of pets. There's nothing as good as having pets whose poop you can love.

That's a great step in the right direction to living a more sustainable life. So many of you are beginning to see the importance of adding high quality, home grown produce to your tables and understanding that it's your own responsibility to begin to take on your food security issues with your own two hands, quite literally.

Throughout human existence, there has been an effort put forth by most individuals to create their own food supply. In the last few generations, however, most people have begun to rely more and more on available and relatively cheap factory farmed foods to feed themselves. In that relatively short time, a lot of common knowledge about gardening has been placed in the dust bin of history as people got complacent about their food supplies and put a lot of faith in Governments and big corporations to make sure everything would be OK.

Well, things aren't really working out that well, are they?

Sometimes it seems daunting to take on a challenge like gardening. It's pretty simple, really and it's something you are capable of doing more easily than you might think. The residents of Catal Huyuk and Mesopotamia grew gardens and they were successful about 8000 years before the internet was invented. There's no reason you can't get started now.

Check out a few books from your library and pick up a few important tools that work well for you and get busy this spring.

Your Planet doesn't need you to survive, but you need me. Be good to me and I will return the kindness.

Good soil to you,


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

We're heading South!

Sometimes you just have to flee the frozen North. Sometimes it's even a business trip!

We are heading to Winston Salem, North Carolina to the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association's 25th annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference.

We'll be at the trade show booth with our friends at Earth Tools BCS. If you are planning on attending, please stop by and take a look at our broadforks and meet the people that made them.

Of course, you'll want to take a look at the Earth Tools collection as well. They have searched the world to bring you the best quality and most diverse selection of hand tools and walk-behind tractors available anywhere.

We hope to see you on the road!


Thursday, August 19, 2010

It's that time of year...

August is the beginning of the "BIG REWARD" time. The Gulland Garden occupies almost 4000 square feet in 3 planting beds around the house. We're starting to pull produce out now by the wagonload instead of the handful.

Those tomatoes and peppers are being transformed into salsa right now. We're putting it into jars on the shelves down in the cellar to the right of the 6 pints left over from last season. Hmmm... I guess we should have given more away. (Note to self; be more generous this year.)
The early beets were beautiful this year. Our neighbors Harald and Jeff got this batch. They like them pickled; I prefer them roasted with onion, carrots, sweet potatoes, turnips and the rest of the 'roasted roots' as we call them.
This year we went heavy on the fingerling potatoes. They are my absolute favorites. My wife makes a roasted fingerling potato salad that is the best I ever had. We'll have a few hundred pounds of them on hand this year from the most ambitious potato planting we have ever done.

Our onions are all done for the year now and the first carrots are close to ready.

We had a total crop failure on early spinach this year, likely because of the record heat, humidity, and rain in the region. The lettuce, however, did very well and we enjoyed quite a wide variety.

The weather was probably a factor in our pale green bean harvest, and the snow peas and sugar snaps performed unremarkably. We're replanting to give them one more chance to redeem themselves.

One stellar performer this season has been the okra. As a Southern guy, I do love my okra, and this year, it loved me. It seems the brutal heat and humidity of south central Wisconsin made our okra think it was in Alabama; the place it grows the best. We'll have lots of okra to fry this winter, and the unmistakable scent of gumbo will fill the brittle January air as we take our cold weather comfort foods to new levels.

As I sit here surrounded by piles of fresh produce overrunning our tiny kitchen, I begin to look ahead to the time when all this work really pays off. When the roads are buried in snow, a trip to the cellar brings back all the summer goodness. I'll remember probing the rich soil of Black Earth, Wisconsin with my fingers, searching for the fingerling potatoes in all their comical shapes and sizes. The scent of open soil and vine will be missed, but the goodness of the potato will be right there.

Thinking about the next season is a good practice for those who grow their own food. The jars of food in the cellar are just a few feet away from the seeds that the plants produced for the next season's garden. The stable atmosphere of the cellar can hold an eternity of food, one season to the next, if we do our part.

That's what it's all about: We have to do our part. Get busy out there. There's still plenty of time to plant again in most of the country. Greenhouses and simple row covers can greatly extend the growing season. We're trying spinach again, and maybe this time we'll be eating it fresh, deep into winter. We'll see. That's part of the fun.

Good soil to you,


Thursday, July 8, 2010

More Ox Talk

Gulland and Marco (photo by Karen Stack)

I had a comment on the last post, and I thought I should answer it in a separate post.

Barb said she'd mention to Steve that they should consider the possibility of getting a pair of oxen instead of buying an old tractor for their new farm/home. Following are my thoughts on the subject.

You know, an old tractor will never come up to the fence to meet you. We're opting for the long term thing with the oxen. It'll be a few years before they're full grown, but at the scale we'll be operating, I think it's the best way to go. We'll grow our production as the animals grow in ability; slowly and steadily. It makes sense to me.

There's something more about draft cattle than just production. The teamster creates a working relationship with the animals and finds that they are curious and always interested in what you're doing.

Mostly they take care of themselves with grass and water and sunshine. The largest proportion of cattle are just kept for slaughter or for milking, and they never get a chance to get to know their owner. The relationship between ox and handler is very unique.

The biggest difference, I believe, is the impact on the Earth. The manufacturing process involved with the ox is as old as time itself. Boy meets girl in the pasture... well...

The line of transportation can be as limited as your own back yard. The training will teach you as much about yourself as the ox learns in the process. There are no repair parts made of (think carbon) cast iron, steel or rubber to send around the globe to an implement dealer to be distributed. Your local veterinarian should be able to do any repairs needed, and that vet may very well be a neighbor. There are no petroleum products required at all.

An ox requires no mortgage, and the monthly payments are worked out in pasture grass and true human labor. As far as equipment goes, a chain or two should last the rest of your life. You can learn make a new yoke to fit the animals as they grow, and you should learn how to work with wood at least that well. Other than that, you can buy a 100 year old sickle bar mower that will last another 100 years after you're done with it, and other implements as you need them.

The ox works at a human pace and puts life into work, changing it from a chore to a social event. He puts you in touch with blood and sweat, muscle and bone, and wood and steel; one can never be in touch with those elemental things enough, I believe. You work with him, tire with him, and rest with him; the connection is indescribable.

Draft oxen aren't for everyone, and not every day is going to be as romantic as I have described. They grow to be great big animals and have their own personalities and moods that can be challenging if they aren't worked properly and often. So many times the problems actually lie in the human, and that can be difficult for us to deal with. I have always walked away from a team of oxen with a deep abiding respect for them at their trust and willingness to work for me. They tolerate my uncertainty and lack of depth of understanding of them and still do what I ask them to do. I don't know how else to say it, but it's really a sweet deal for me.

As we begin to try to increase our food production on a very necessary personal level, I believe the ox will become important again for the small scale grower. Even if you don't have your own team, you'll be able to call me in a couple of years and I can bring my team over for the day and work with you. It's something to consider that you have most likely not considered before.

This crazy world is throwing things at us daily that we never had to think of before. For generations before us people thought nothing of using what was at the time, 'the latest technologies'. It worked then, and we have to remember that.

My friend Royce, a dairy farmer, half laughs when he says, "We always go to town for lunch so we can pick up parts we broke before lunch."

What's gotten into us?


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Things I Like

This is Marco the ox in the blacksmith shop at Tillers International in Scotts, Michigan.

There's just something right about anvils and oxen being in the same room. They are both symbols of things that have ultimate utility, yet there are very few people that understand them and their place in the modern world. After spending 25 years around anvils, I feel I understand blacksmithing pretty well. I only began studying draft animal power 4-5 years ago when I started to consider options for working larger and larger gardens for more food production.

I wondered how much land would need to be cultivated to feed a family or a small group of neighbors. An acre is essentially the size of an American football field, and I thought I would choose that as an approximation of my needs. Working by hand is slow and brutally labor intensive. Often there is a week of soil work to do, and just 2 days of good weather, so something has to be added to the equation to make it work.

Of course, the first thought goes to tractors. Common 21st century thinking offers that nothing can make things go more smoothly than the addition of petro-energy to a project. The energy density in tractor fuel provides more work per pound than anything this side of a nuclear reactor, and it's no wonder that the ox has pretty much been swept into the dustbin of farming artifacts.

Part of the attraction I found in oxen was the fact that they were around long before the use of petro-energy came onto the scene. There was a lot of work done with draft animals prior to the availability of tractors, and they still can work today. Oxen were everywhere 150 years ago, and now there are only a relative handful of people that have ever seen a working team; far fewer have actually worked with draft cattle.

The ox is not a separate breed or species of cattle; it is simply a castrated bull that has been trained to work. Training begins as soon as possible, but the young team must develop their bodies before any real work can be done with them. This young team below is only a couple of months old, and with a week of training by a beginning class at Tillers International, they were already responding well enough with commands that they were able to complete the obstacle course pulling a light wheeled wagon at the Midwest Ox Drovers Association (MODA) meeting last weekend at Tillers in Michigan. Each year, a pair of calves is trained by the Tillers Oxen Basics class the week prior to the MODA meeting, and the trained calves are raffled into the oxen community as a fundraiser for MODA. This year's team are named Thomas and Jefferson, or Tom and Jeff. They were the nicest team of calves I have seen in my 3 year association with the event, and they will find their new home in North Carolina.

A solo ox can be used for lighter tasks, or for more delicate jobs like pulling a weeding cultivator through corn rows. A single yoke is attached to the implement by way of chains on either side of the ox. This is Will, a Dutch Belted ox about 10 years old weighing in at about a ton. Will's partner, Abe, couldn't make it to the event due to a leg injury, but Will seemed to enjoy himself pulling the weeding cultivator through the corn and sorghum fields.
This team is being led by a Tillers intern from Mozambique. Zacharias is learning the draft oxen techniques from Tillers so he can go home and teach new ways of making agriculture more efficient. He is driving Herschel and Walker and pulling a disc cultivator through a freshly plowed field. A pair of oxen can pull a tremendous load and do a lot of field work in a day. The heavy double yoke is attached to a chain that pulls the implement as Zacharias leads the team with verbal commands and taps from the goad. This team has been working the fields at Tillers for a long time, and seem to know what is expected of them. Watching them cooperate through the universal language of the ox drover is magic. 'Gee' and 'haw' are 'right' and 'left' around the world, and the oxen know their names, regardless of the accent the drover might have. I hope Herschel and Walker enjoyed working with Zacharias as much as I did. His enthusiasm was contagious, and his love and understanding of the animals was strong.
My wife and I had a great time at Tillers last week, and hope to be adding a couple of young calves to the yard next month. If you're interested in finding out more about oxen, here are the links to Tillers and MODA.

As we reach a place in time when we must all begin to be more mindful of the delicacy of our balance in the availability and consumption of petro-energy, we should consider options to the sources of power and energy we have taken advantage of for so long now. The broadfork business has introduced me to so many people that see the writing on the wall that the days of cheap and easy petro-energy are in their twilight times. If you believe in the broadfork, you believe in a very old concept that still works as well today as it ever did before. Oxen fall into the same category, and I believe it was my attraction to them at first.

This is a link to some more photos from our time at Tillers last week. Click here. All photos by Karen Stack.

"The ox is slow, but the Earth is patient."

Good soil to you,


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hi There

It's been a long time since I have posted anything here, and I would like to thank you for making that happen. You see, if I am busy making broadforks, I have no time to do this.

In fact, I have been very busy making broadforks, and I would like to thank all of you that have put me in that very enviable situation in recent months. I have even sent a couple of broadforks to Fairbanks, Alaska this spring. When I started this little business, I never would have thought I would be shipping broadforks to the permafrost zone, but I did.

A wonderful customer in California sent me a picture of a garden 'bed' he did with his broadfork this year.
Tom told me that he never even cranked his rototiller this year; he did it all with the broadfork he got last year. He also said that he would never have to use the rototiller in any of those beds again.

That's heavy stuff to me; I have created a business that provides an implement that allows people to step back from the use of fossil fuels to do the 'heavy lifting' in their gardens. Because of my broadfork, there is one less rototiller running in California this year!

Tom, I have to say that your email and photos have made me know that I am doing the right thing. Thank you for turning the lights on for me.

I am an Alabama native, and lived my first 42 years there. The Gulf of Mexico was in my backyard, and I loved visiting that coast.

The point of this blog was to inform people about the utility of the broadfork and give some insight into the man that makes them. I never wanted to be political, or controversial. I must say, however, that the disaster that has occurred with the deep water drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico has made me feel that any time I can steer someone away from the use of fossil fuels to good old fashioned hand labor, I have done a good thing. The reason you are reading this is that you believe the same thing that I do.

We need to lessen our need to use petroleum products. The low hanging fruit has all been picked, and the rest of the crude oil that is available is in the inhospitable places where it is probably best to just leave it alone.

Step by step we can lessen our need, and step by step we should.

The news from my beloved Gulf is dark. It has a deep effect on all of us, and should. We are all responsible for the need to stretch our luck in the drive to fill our need and desire for the most dense form of energy the world has ever known.

By picking up your broadfork and using it in your garden, you have made a choice to lessen your impact on this ever more vulnerable planet. The impact of your actions will be felt by future generations, perhaps even your own children, as you teach them the importance of doing the right thing, right now.

We all weep for the environmental maelstrom in our Southern Coastal Waters. We can begin to repair the damage when begin to lessen our need for fossil fuels.

It's time to take that step.

Press that broadfork into your soil again and again. Get in touch with the way your body works with a good hand tool and let that be enough. Put matters in your own hands and become the difference you want to see in the world.

Good soil to you,


Thursday, March 25, 2010

The sun is setting on an old friend

In October 2008, I had the need for a website to let the world know that I had broadforks for sale. Knowing nothing about the 'World of Websites,' I called in a pro.

Tashai Lovington got that call and designed the website that I have used since then. My instructions were simple; I wanted a single page website linked to paypal, and I wanted it to be as simple as a kid's lemonade stand. We sat down at a table at Sjolinds in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin, had coffee and chocolate, and hashed out the details.

Tashai is an independent filmmaker, partnered with Robert Lughai, and their company is called Tarazod Films. We met several year ago when they were filming Mad City Chickens. Our chicken story was featured in their film, and in that process, I got to know an amazingly talented and artistic couple.

The first call I made when I figured out I needed a website was to Tashai. I told her that I trusted her implicitly, and that she could do anything artistically that she wanted to with the website. If you have seen the original website, you know I did the right thing. Her artwork was wonderful, and that little website impressed a lot of you enough to purchase a broadfork from me.

Thank you, Tashai. It worked.

There's a new site coming, Broadforkers! It'll be up and running in a day or so, and like our gardens, it'll be continually growing and changing, and providing us with more than we would have ever dreamed. I'll miss the old one and it's simplicity, but I am finding that I have a lot more to say, and I need more room to say it.

From very humble beginnings, this little company has begun to take root in the rocky soil of the stormy US economy. It's working out because I have chosen to give you your money's worth, and you have chosen to shop for the best. It's the way business ought to be done, and it's the way it will always happen here.

I am deeply grateful for each of you. Without you none of this would have been possible. The business has grown to the point that I needed a second pair of hands to help me with production. I chose the most capable hands I knew, and they happened to be attached to my wife, Karen. She has built the new website, and is the 'soil scientist' on staff. She now does all the handle work, fitting and finishing each and every select ash handle that goes out the door.

Now I have to say that four hands touch your broadfork before yours touch it. Four very grateful hands.

Good soil to you all.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010


I know the official holiday is long past, but tonight I wanted to talk about a day I set aside each year as my personal day of Thanksgiving.

In the winter of 1979, I was in Worland, in northern Wyoming, living with a cousin there, working, traveling, skiing, and checking out my boundaries. On the 10th of February, I set out from the end of the plowed road in Grand Teton National Park at Colter Bay. I parked my car, shouldered my pack, and set out on a solo cross country ski camping trip for the night.

By 9PM I had set up the tent, had eaten, and had written a letter to a girlfriend back in Alabama by candle lamp light at 20 below zero. Content, full, and warm, I zipped up tight in my bag and enjoyed the quiet; the light of stars on snow was illuminating the tent after a while like daylight. My thoughts were on the day ahead and what the mountains would look like at sunrise.

The quiet changed into an otherworldly wump, wump, wump WUMPWUMP!!

I sat up, and the hoof of a moose tore through the tent wall and to the floor, right where I had been. It went left and ran through the guy lines I had secured the tent with, tied to a ski. With a crack and a shrill ripping sound, another wall of the tent disappeared, and in the starlight a silhouette of the moose was unmistakable, just 6 feet away.

There I was, zipped in a sleeping bag, trying to open the zipper and assess the damages to my all of a sudden, tiny, tiny world. I had gone from blissful slumber to terror in 2 seconds flat.

The wump, wump, wump had faded, and there was a ringing sound in my ears and a deep pounding in my chest.

The line from the tent to the ski had gotten tangled in the moose's feet, and the ski was gone. I fashioned a snowshoe out of my pack, put on the other ski and followed the trail of the moose to try to find the lost ski, knowing that if I wanted to survive, I had to leave, and soon.

In the darkness of the night, with the thought that someone might eventually find my bones and get my letter off to Maria, I made a promise to myself that if I survived, I would forever proclaim February 10th as my personal day of Thanksgiving; it would be my Celebration of Life Day.

It's been a long time since that night, but I still celebrate. I always try to find something for which I am thankful, and this year it was easy.

Broadfork #176 shipped today, and will soon be working the soil for many years after I am gone.

My wife is incredible, and every day is an adventure with her.

The sun was out on fresh snow today, and nothing is as beautiful as that.

Spring is coming, and the promise of the soil thawing comes again this year. The sun is stronger every day, and winter is heading for the history books, like the story of the moose in Colter Bay, Wyoming.

I hope you all had a good February 10th.

Celebrate Life.

All good things,