I realize that a statement like “older is better” flies in the face of the norms in our youth-obsessed society. The reality, however, is that youth is sadly overrated in many cases. And “modern,” for which read “recent inventions,” often has short-term advantages with long term (and very negative) consequences. Take plastic for food storage. Yes, in comparison to glass it is less likely to break if dropped. But it leaches nasty chemicals into the food, stains easily and despite the hype, cannot really be recycled. Here are some examples of older is better.
Have you ever had the opportunity to compare the wood in an older home with modern lumber? If so, you’ll notice that the older wood is much more fine-grained, with dense, narrow growth rings. In the past, builders used old trees that were near the end of their life spans or that had just died. The lumber was heartwood, from the center of the tree. It was stronger and, because it was so dense, did not readily absorb moisture. Modern lumber is what’s known as spring wood, from trees hybridized to grow fast. It is more susceptible to rot and more likely to break when subjected to strain.
Bricks, Mortar and Concrete
Rain backed by wind is easily driven into brick walls; even more so with the brick veneers of modern homes. Older masons used a soft brick that would absorb the water before it got inside the wall. Once the rain stopped, sun and wind would pull the moisture back out, reducing the chance of mold and mildew. Made from lime and sand, older mortar was softer than today’s premixed materials, which meant walls were more flexible. Older mortar also absorbed water into tiny cracks and become soft – as it dried, the cracks mended into a solid surface again. Concrete (Portland cement and various aggregates such as sand or gravel) contained a higher proportion of Portland cement, which meant it lasted longer.
Yeah, yeah, I know – you’ve heard me say this lots of times. Heirloom fruits and vegetables typically taste better. They often ripen over a period of time, which gives the busy ranch wife the opportunity to process smaller batches in between other tasks. Since they are genetically diverse, you’ll get a crop no matter what the growing year is like, and they gradually become adapted to your garden conditions. And of course, you can save the seeds for next year’s crop.
Old tools would last – literally – for hundreds of years if well-maintained. They were better designed and less likely to break. Gene Logsdon talks about the difference between older and modern hoes in this post. The points he makes can be applied to a multitude of other old-fashioned tools. It was a lot easier to keep chisels and other blades sharp when they were made of good-quality steel. In the days when the blacksmith ruled, the smiths hammered (forged) high carbon steel into a strong, durable surface.
Animals and Poultry
Obviously, really old animals don’t have the endurance or strength of a younger beast. But compared to a two-year-old, a horse of seven to ten usually has more common sense, knows how to use its weight and is less likely to become injured. Horses are not fully mature until the age of six or seven (brains and bodies) which is one reason why race horses break down so easily. Older chickens have demonstrated their ability to lay and survive illness. Raising chicks from these hens improves longevity and hardiness in the flock.
And don’t even get me started on New Math and the Common Core…