Ranch Laundry

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The man loves to play in the dirt (and the mud and the oil and the grease…)

I’ve never had a conversation with a ranch wife in which the issue of laundry did not eventually come up. That’s because ranch wives and farm wives are constantly dealing with all the tough stuff: ground-in dirt, mud, grass stains, blood, pig slop, milk, grease, gasoline, diesel, paint, oil and the every-present manure from various sorts of animals and fowl. Nor are you dealing with these in isolation, as substances such as mud, blood and manure are frequently found on the same piece of clothing and on top of each other. Of course, you’re also dealing with the usual ballpoint pen ink, sharpies, nail polish, food stains, wine and such common to many people’s laundry, especially if they have kids. I addressed the laundry issue in a previous post, but one thing I didn’t talk about then was the washing machine.
In the rush to be energy-conscious and conserve water, manufacturers have been tinkering with washing machines, developing a new style that doesn’t have an agitator – it has a plate in the bottom that moves the clothes up and down through the water. In addition, there are front-loading machines that use water friction to clean the clothes, and top-loading machines with agitators. They all seem to have a variety of electronic bells and whistles that perform tasks like sensing how big the load is and adjusting the water level for the load size, or figuring out if the clothes need a longer spin to get the water out. Many do not allow the user to override, adjust settings or leave the lid open while the washer fills, etc. In other words, “Honey, don’t bother your pretty little head – we know what you need to do the laundry.”
Got some news for you, pal – I know exactly what I need to do the laundry and it isn’t what you’re handing me.
First, I need a top-loading washer. Ranch clothes often need a long period of soaking to get out the really nasty stains before the clothes are actually washed. Front-loading washers often don’t have that option and you may or may not be able to manage it with a little creativity, depending on the brand and model. Some top-loaders without agitators will allow you to soak, but many limit the amount of water.
Second, I need a washer that uses plenty of water or that at least offers me the option to use lots of water on certain loads – like the coveralls hubby wears for mechanic work. Most of the low-energy washers base the amount of water on the size of the load, the theory being that if you get the clothes thoroughly wet, less water is adequate for getting them clean. Let me tell you, it ain’t happening with ranch laundry. The dirty stuff doesn’t look much different when you take it out, just wetter. Manufacturers go on and on about how much water and energy you’re saving when you buy their product. In the same breath, they tell you that for really dirty clothes, you will need more water. Their idea of more water is considerably different than mine. And, as I discovered when I tried to add more water with the hose, if the washer sensor discovers you’re cheating, it will just drain out the water you’ve added and start over.
Third, I need the ability to tinker with temperatures, water level and cycle length. If I have a bulky load that’s not too dirty (like sheets) they don’t need the longer agitation preset in the programming for a dirty load, but the way many of the newer machines are set up, the only way I can get enough water for the load is to go for the longer pre-selected agitation time. When I have a big and really dirty load, I need to be able to start a cycle, open the lid (or pause the washer) let things soak for a while and then finish the cycle. In some cases, I need to soak overnight, not for the period the manufacturer has decided is adequate.
In short, all you washing machine manufacturers out there, listen up: The ranch wife wants a lot fewer bells and whistles, more control over the process and MORE WATER. You’re missing out on an important market…

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IANS – Plowing

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The big garden (75X75) in the first year.

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. ~ Mark Twain

When George Gershwin composed the song It Ain’t Necessarily So, he was onto something. I’d love to have a nickel for everything I was taught or told or just accepted as fact in the course of my life. From food preservation to gardening to animal husbandry to medicine to finance, there have been a lot more ‘not-so’ things than ‘so’ things. A while back I did a post on not needing to waterbath jams and jellies; I got more than 100 comments corroborating my “not-so” position. At which point it occurred to me there are lots of other not-so things out there, and shazaam, I had an ongoing blog topic. Here’s the latest “it ain’t necessarily so” (IANS).

You have to plow, rototill or double dig your garden to ‘work up’ the soil.
Let’s just think for a minute, here. Does nature plow the soil year after year after year? Yes, with earthworms, gophers, pigs, moles and plant roots. Does that form of ‘plowing’ leave exposed soil? Maybe a little from the gopher and mole holes or the pigs’ rooting. Does plowing/rototilling, etc., disrupt the soil structure? Oh, yeah. Tilled soil erodes very easily. Tilling disrupts the insect and microbial life. Tilling creates hard pan, especially in clay soils — that solid layer of concrete several inches to a few feet down that becomes impervious to water and plant roots. While you might want to till the first time you start a garden or to plant a new pasture, after that, I think you should try to avoid soil-turning like the plague. Use mulch or compost and keep adding it on top of the garden to protect the soil and provide nutrients and humus. In pasture, use grazing animals in short rotations to keep the pasture healthy.

The old stud horse – he’s 30 this year – likes his green grass.

Now, a couple of caveats here. First, this no-till method works best if you’re growing in beds, raised or otherwise (although Ruth Stout mulched the whole darned garden with eight+ inches of straw and didn’t worry about paths at all). Second, the paths between the beds shouldn’t be in grass, because the grass will quickly invade your beds (especially a grass like Bermuda, which spreads by underground stolons). Third, this system isn’t going to work if you’re growing multiple acres of corn or similar crops. If, however, you keep your animals on pasture and hay rather than trying to raise corn, grains and soybeans for their feed, the small amount of tillage in a crop rotation is less of a problem than the thousands of acres currently under cultivation in the Midwest. The Midwest could convert to a similar system of pasturage and solve a lot of the problems we have with the current system.

Chicken house cleanings to add to the kitchen garden beds. The shavings add carbon and the chickens provide the nitrogen.

In days gone by, it was common to rotate growing areas – first, a leguminous mixed pasture such as clover with various grasses (this kind of pasture is known as a ley) would be planted and used as pasture and/or hay for several years. In some cases, the farmer would then turn pigs onto the ley, allowing them to get a head start on the plowing while adding manure to the plot. This would be followed by a thorough plowing and a planting of corn; corn has high nitrogen demands, so it should follow legumes. Next, a rotation of common garden vegetables, with the addition of a little compost or fertilizer if needed. Originally, the vegetable rotation was turnips, fodder beets and similar root crops that were used to feed meat and milk animals in the winter. Finally, another plowing and a rotation of small grains such as oats, barley or wheat. These have the lowest fertility needs of all the rotations and in fact will lodge (fall over) if grown in soil that is too rich. The following year, the field would be replanted to pasture. Other fields (the majority of the land) would be left in pasture for five or six years, and then one of them would become a rotation field for a few years.
On the other hand, it might be possible to eliminate plowing entirely. Japanese farmer Masanobu Fukuoka, author of the One Straw Revolution, simply scattered seeds over unplowed fields. His yields were lower, so take that into consideration. The key is to keep as much of your ground covered with either pasture or compost/mulch as you possibly can. If you have 10 acres, for example, plowing one acre is not so much of a problem, especially if you rotate your plowed area periodically. The real problems occur when you have 100 or 1,000 acres and plow 99 percent of it.

Take a Missouri Approach
Missouri is the “show me” state. The mental attitude of “you’ll have to prove it to me” is a good one. Use your common sense. When your experience or that of people you trust is contrary to accepted scientific wisdom or expert recommendations, odds are very high the scientific wisdom and the experts are out to lunch. Ask the old homicide lawyer’s question, “Cui bono?” Loosely translated as “Who benefits?” what it actually means is “To whose profit?” When big bucks, company survival or professional reputations are on the line, ethics quite often take a back seat. Circus entrepreneur PT Barnum was the one who coined the sucker-born-every-minute rule. Don’t be a sucker and remember: it ain’t necessarily so.

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Transition

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A five-minute picking round first thing in the morning; about as local as it gets.

About this time of year, things start to shift. We’re a month past the solstice – the plants in the kitchen garden are moving into fruit and seed production.
The other morning I was harvesting the early potatoes with the “assistance” of Radar the BatCat. He thought he was helping, anyway, and far be it from me to disillusion him. At the same time, I’m succession planting fast-growing crops like lettuce and snap beans. It’s almost time to start the plants for the winter garden. The summer apples are ripening in the house orchard and a few blackberries are starting to turn dark. This is going to be a banner year for blackberries – the berries are not too big, as far as I can tell, but there are zillions.

Blackberry cobbler in my future.

Hubby is decimating the blue jays, which think I grew those tomatoes and peppers in the kitchen garden just for them. I’m pretty sure they were responsible for the overnight disappearance of the almost-ripe apricots as well. The ground squirrels are also coming under the gun (literally) as they had grown so complacent they would sit a couple of feet from you and take a dust bath. Ground squirrels are really hard on crops like squash and pumpkins, and their tunnels mean we have trouble keeping irrigation water flowing where it’s supposed to.

Ground squirrel damage in summer squash.

Yellow Delicious apples ripening in the north orchard (as opposed to the house orchard).

The wild plums will be ripe in another week or so. Apples, pears and grapes will follow, then the main crops of pole beans, tomatoes and peppers. Before we know it, fall will be here, and the shelves will be full of tomato sauce, grape juice, applesauce and pear nectar. I usually freeze blackberries, but since there are so many this year, I might try juicing them the same way I do grape juice.
Transition – time to stock the larder. Winter will be here before we know it.

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