Sharpening and other updates

sharpening 384


It’s been a super busy spring! If you follow this blog you may have noticed that recently there are even fewer posts than usual. I’m working hard on getting the Our Table CSA established in Sherwood, Oregon, but I’m still trying to add content here when I can.

I’m also teaching a class on farm tools at Clackamas Community College and my intention is to put a few of the class materials up here on the site. To that end I’ve reposted an article on sharpening that I wrote for Growing For Market back in 2010. Sharpening is fundamental to tool care and functionality of many hand tools. The article is linked to in the Q&A section of the site.

I made some minor edits to the Links page here. Mostly I added two books to the list. When I did a workshop at MOSES last winter they gave me an excellent book on farm business, Fearless Farm Finances, so I’ve added that to the links page.

Another book I added is Greenhorns: 50 Dispatches from the New Farmers’ Movement, which just won a Nautilus Gold Award! I have an essay on tools in there, and there are a lot of other essays that really talk about the realities of what it’s like to be a young farmer. Check it out if you haven’t already.

Growing Farms Podcast



John Suscovitch interviewed me back in December for a new podcast he was working on. In January the podcast went live but I didn’t have a chance to actually listen to it until today while I was doing some chores around the house. It’s actually pretty good. Normally I can’t stand the sound of my own voice but I think I must have had a cold or something because my voice sounds a bit different, and John must have done some good editing because I sound fairly coherent as well. Check it out here along with his website or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. I don’t actually come on until minute 13 so you might want to skip ahead if you don’t want the longish intro.

We talk about the model I had at Slow Hand Farm (which has now moved to Our Table Cooperative), bicycle delivery including a lot on electric assist, and farm planning. I don’t mention them by name, but the bike shop I keep referring to in the interview is Splendid Cycles, which has been an incredible supporter/enabler of my bicycle delivery of the CSA shares.

It looks like there might be some other interesting episodes as well. I just subscribed to the podcast so I’ll have a chance to listen to the rest of the episodes while I do more chores.

New articles to go with carts

carts 380


This winter we made up a few hand carts for Our Table Cooperative, where I’m farming now, and also sold a few to farms in the area. During the course of a few presentations at conferences in other parts of the country I let folks know about the carts and also the tools I use with them. I’ve been meaning to write up instructions on how to build the rolling bed marker so I finally got around to doing that. You can read about that here, and you can read about other types of rolling bed markers here.

Plans for a simple version of the cart are available at You can also order carts there, although there’s a bit of a long lead time because we need five orders to make a batch. I’m continuing to develop tools for the carts. In the works is a cultivation frame, and also a mount for flame weeders.

Lazy Sunday Afternoon (repost)



Here’s a repost from my old blog. This was originally posted Sunday, September 14, 2008


Last Sunday I was up visiting my good friends at Foxglove Farm on Salt Spring Island in BC.  It was a beautiful weekend, sunny and warm, with that low, late summer sun.  After working a long market day on Saturday, as well as sun up to sun down every other day the previous week, Michael declared Sunday a lake day.  We had a leisurely breakfast of blueberry pancakes, with strawberries and melon.  How much better does it get than fresh fruit right off the farm.  Well, then we headed off to the lake for an afternoon of sunning on the banks, eating fresh goat cheese and home made bread, punctuated with intermittent dips in the perfect lake.  Incredible, so beautiful and relaxing.

The next part might not sound amazing, but to me it really fit in well with that afternoon.  To top things off we headed back to the farm to do a little harvest of bunched beets and carrots for Tuesday market before making dinner.  In a world where major efforts have been made to shorten the work week to most it would seem anathema to work another hour.  I’ve questioned this kind of work week myself ever since I started farming, worrying that it must be a sure road to burn out and beyond that exploitative.  Recently I’ve come to think that it’s less about the number of hours worked than the spirit in which they are worked.

In the language of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) there are four skills:

1.Differentiating observation from evaluation

2.Differentiating feeling from thinking

3.Connecting with the universal human needs/values

4.Requesting what we would like in a way that clearly and specifically states what we do want

In defining the fourth skill there is no particular wording that goes with a request, it is simply that the intention behind the request needs to genuinely be a request:

 a request that is truly a request and not a demand (i.e. attempting to motivate, however subtly, out of fear, guilt, shame, obligation, etc. rather than out of willingness and compassionate giving).

Labor laws and conventions attempt to create universal definitions that are objective and easy to regulate.  An industrial society where owners and managers are far outnumbered by employees necessitates some protection for workers rights.  When the workers are the owners and especially when the work is done in an atmosphere that is supportive and open enough that the workers may meet their needs without overworking themselves, then there is no motivation “out of fear, guilt, shame, obligation, etc.”  The work is truly done out of willingness and is also truly rewarding in the way that only compassionate giving can be.

This is complicated.  It is difficult to assess ones own feelings and thinking without evaluation and perhaps impossible to do so with other people.  In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the most significant text on yoga, there are eight components of Yoga, the first of which is Yama, or our attitudes toward our environment.  In Desikachar’s translation of the the second pada (chapter), line 30,

Yama comprises:

1. (Ahimsa) Consideration for all living things, especially those who are innocent, in difficulty, or worse off than we are.

2. (Satya) Right communication through speech, writings, gesture, and actions.

3. (Asteya) Non-covetousness or the ability to resist a desire for that which does not belong to us.

4. (Brahmacarya) Moderation in all our actions

5. (Aparigraha) Non-greediness or the ability to accept only what is appropriate.

Looking through this lens on the work that we do provides a more meaningful assessment of it’s appropriateness and sustainability than any labor law can.  If we could all follow these guidelines for ourselves, and not worry about the next person there would be no conflicts and no need for labor regulation.

Even labor law acknowledges that farming is different, and small scale farms are more different still.  There is probably nowhere that the sense of ownership, reward from giving, and satisfaction from accomplishment is more tangible.  This is not to say that there aren’t moments of burnout on small farms as well, but to say that the idea of what work is in farming reflects the difference between a farm which is wholistic in it’s work and an industry which is specialized.

What it all comes back to for me, personally, is that I have to clearly look at each moment and ask myself if I am doing the right thing at that moment.  So, on this lazy Sunday afternoon, I’m sitting down to write, and then I think I’ll go work in the garden, because the difference between work and leisure is mainly one of attitude in my mind, and both can be enjoyable or not, you decide.

Crop Planning Files Available



For years I’ve been meaning to figure out a way to make my crop planning files available on line. Actually, one of the things that has been delaying me is that I didn’t really want to put them up without some instructions on how to use them. The files themselves are probably interesting to some, but the process of creating them, editing them, and using them effectively isn’t completely self evident just looking at the files themselves so I’ve been wanting to write up some tips to go along with them.

Last week I was at the Future Harvest -Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture annual conference and one of the workshops I presented was the basics of how to use this planning system. I offered to email folks these sample files  but I decided, after years of emailing individuals copies that it would be good if I just put them up in a public place for people to access.

There are four files I’m making available. The first is a PDF version of the slides from my presentation. These give a very rough outline of the process.  There is also a sample harvest plan, sample “master” which is basically the full planting plan, and sample maps. All three of these files are .xls files and have tons of bad data in them, don’t trust the data. They are simply a sample of the kinds of sheets that I produce for different projects and they contain examples of the kinds of formulas that I use in the planning process, examples of how I format different cells and one way to layout the information needed in a season for planting out a diverse bunch of vegetables.

Feel free to download these files and let me know if you have questions. My intention is still to put up more information on this site on how to use them, and also examples of other sheets, maybe even some with good data in them. I’m currently using Apple’s Numbers more than Excel, and to be honest the sample sheets were created in NeoOffice, or maybe OpenOffice, I can’t remember which. Numbers makes things look nice and simplifies some of the sorting, but it’s less flexible and powerful than Excel, or the open source options.

Lots of folks have asked me if I sell these spread sheets and the short answer is that I don’t. I would love to have folks who find these useful donate to the site and let me know what works for them and what doesn’t, what they’d like more information on. I’d also like to hear if folks make improvements they think are significant. If you’d like to have a training on how to use the sheets that’s what I sell. I can do trainings for individual farms, or for groups and typically the basics take about 3 hours to go through in a group.

Keep an eye on this site for more information on the sheets. The next conference I’ll be talking about the sheets at is MOSES’s Organic U (linked to below).

MOSES Organic Farming Conference


MOSES Organic Farming Conference

Usually I reserve this blog for updates about the site, but today I wanted to point out an update to the site. I just updated the workshops page for the site with workshops from January into March in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Oregon. The MOSES folks in Wisconsin asked me to put up the “badge” above. If you click on it it’ll take you to their site. I love having the opportunity to travel around the country, and even internationally, and having the opportunity to talk to farmers who are doing amazing things. I feel really lucky to be able to be a connector in that way, bringing back ideas to the Northwest, but also spreading ideas as I travel.

On that same workshops page you can also see a list of most of the workshops I’ve done for the past four years. There are already a few more in discussion for 2013 so keep an eye on the page, and this blog, if you’re interested.

Strawberry and Asparagus Approaches


Usually I just post about my own experiences but today I added two pages to the Q&A section that are responses to my own questions that I asked my good friend Zoë. Zoë and I worked together for several seasons a bunch of years ago before she moved home to the South Coast of Oregon and started farming there on her mom’s land. I love visiting her amazing operation, tucked in a beautiful valley just up from Highway 101. She, her sister, and her mom all combine their marketing efforts under the name Valley Flora Farm.

My questions were about her use of weed cloth, also called weed mat, in strawberries and asparagus. Her answers were concise and very helpful for me. I thought they might be helpful to others as well so I asked if she minded if I posted them and luckily she didn’t.

Foxglove Workshop Resources

I just got back last weekend from another great edition of the Growing For Market workshop that Michael Ableman and I have been teaching together for the past four years. David Cohlmeyer joined us this year and added some great perspective from production methods in the Eastern part of the Country, as well as strong business fundamentals. Every year I’ve put up a little web page with a few web resources for the students and this year I’m making it public so if you’re interested the page is here.

Tractor Cultivation

I just added an article on basic tractor cultivation to the q&a section of the website. This is a version of an article that was first printed in Growing for Market in 2008. All of the articles that I’ve written for GFM are available in their online archives, which are accessible with an online subscription.

Three Sisters (reposts)

Reading a blog post from a friend of a friend’s farm this morning I was inspired to repost these two entries from 2009. The weather hasn’t been as conducive for these crops since that year (read, the weather has been downright terrible for those crops since 2009), but I have still had some success. I don’t really have enough space to play with this technique the way I’d like to, but I really think it has a lot of potential. Unlike the Kerr Center example linked to in the blog referred to above, I have been able to use the standard seeders and cultivating equipment and so there really isn’t much in the way of drawbacks, mostly just benefits.


The Three Sisters July 16, 2009

Pretty much every american grower it seems has heard of the three sisters: corn, beans and squash.  Andy Griffin mentions this planting scheme in his recent excellent post “Corn,” in the ladybug letter.  Earl, the chef at Meriwether’s, convinced me that we should try growing a block this way and we had some space so we are.  We’re doing it a little different that the “milpa” system that Andy talks about, everything for us is in rows.  We seeded the corn first, a type of popcorn actually.  A few weeks later we came back and seeded the beans, five types of pole beans.  Then a week or so later the winter squash was seeded, lots of trial varieties.

We’re also trying to grow these crops with no supplemental irrigation.  The property has limited water but abundant land and soil that holds water well and is deep.  So far everything has germinated beautifully, despite the lack of any rain and a stretch of hot sunny weather for several weeks before the winter squash was even seeded.  We’re raking the soil to keep weeds down and to create a dust mulch to prevent surface evaporation.  I’m hopeful that the crops will do well – meaning they’ll produce a modest harvest with minimal work.  I’m fairly confident but it’s still a long way to harvest in late summer.  I’ll let you know what happens.

Dry Farming August 11, 2009

Two months ago I wrote a post on the “Three Sisters.” Take a look back at those photos and then look at the one above.  Same field, and this field has seen no irrigation this season, we’ve had no significant rain since early May, and the above photo was taken a week after the week long 100+ degree heat wave.  All of the crops were direct seeded in this field but we also have melons in another dry section that were transplanted in June, and are ripening fruit now (pictured below).

The vine growth is not quite as vigorous as I would expect with irrigated vines, but there is good fruit set and so we’ll see how the yield and flavor turns out.  Part of the reason for experimenting with dry farming, meaning growing crops in a rain free summer without supplemental irrigation, was because we didn’t have much irrigation water so we wanted to save that for the crops that really need it, like greens.  I’m certain that we won’t get top yields per space, but I hope that we’ll still get top quality and we have definitely had to do very little cultivation and weeding, and no irrigation work.


   Besides the three sisters section and the melons, we’re also dry farming tomatoes, potatoes, dry peas and beans, spelt, flax, several corns and quinoa.  We’ve harvested half the potatoes with very good results, not a record yield, but respectable and good quality spuds.  The tomatoes are just starting and everything else is looking good with no real signs of water stress and very little weed pressure.  The corn pictured above is popcorn and the beans were a late seeding of flagolets, seeded in mid June to available moisture after a month of no rain.

One of the things that I think is allowing us to do this is the impressive water holding capacity and depth of the soil we have.  Even though the site is on a ridge top, 1000’ above Portland, Oregon, there also seems to be a few natural seeps so I suspect there are areas of the field where water naturally flows subsurface late into the spring.  On top of those things we have given the crops slightly more space than we would have if they were irrigated and early on we concentrated on cultivating out even very small weeds and leaving the surface soil loose to reduce weed seed germination and surface evaporation.

2012 Notes

A few follow up notes are appropriate here. My feeling on the three sisters planting is that it works best when it’s a corn that is for drying (popcorn, dent corn, flint, etc, not sweet corn), pole beans for dry beans, and hard squash. None of these crops require entry into the field while the other is fully filled out for harvest. Letting the squash fully cover the ground is one of the benefits, and that makes harvesting the corn and beans impractical before the vines start to die back.

Also, the terrible weather we’ve had the last two years has been cold, wet springs and early summers (and cold through the summer). In 2009 I did notice that the corn and squash we grew together did very slightly better than those that grew separately, the beans seemed to not do quite as well, but the there was absolutely no work done to trellis them so that was a huge labor and materials savings, and there is far more row feet of corn than we’d usually plant in beans so there’s no problem in seeding extra beans to make up for the difference. in 2010 and 2011 none of those crops did well anywhere for us. Also, the beans are essentially in the same space as the corn, so they are bonus income from the same space, not requiring any additional costs over seeding and harvesting – no extra field prep, no extra cultivation, no extra fertilization. They also didn’t interfere with hand harvesting the corn, and the squash was harvested before either of those two crops.

I also experimented a little in my garden and actually seeded the corn and beans at the same time. it seemed like the beans would outstrip the corn, but actually the corn was always just a hair ahead of the beans. I wonder if the beans were forcing it to grow higher by continually shading the lower parts. I’ve also been surprised that I’ve had no trouble with lodging.