Gene Logsdon and Friends

Archive for 2014|Yearly archive page

Searching For A Floodgate That Really Works

In Gene's Weekly Posts on December 31, 2014 at 9:55 am

fa floodgate that works…


There is nothing so lovely as a pasture field with a creek running through it, but you will pay for it a thousand times over.  If you have a pasture, you have livestock grazing there, and so where the creek enters and exits the pasture, you must have fencing decidedly different from what you have on dry land to keep your animals from wading out of the pasture and to keep your neighbor’s animals from wading in. We’ve always called them floodgates. So far as I know, no one has yet invented one that really works without spending a fortune.  I was certain, when confronted with the necessity of floodgates, that I could design one that would work without my constant attention. A hundred or so floodgates later, I admitted defeat.

Here is the situation. The gate or fencing over the creek should be able to rise as the water rises and then settle back in place when the water recedes. If you just run fencing through the creek, like three strands of barbed wire, the flooding creek will make short work of it. That’s because water is not the only thing that flows down the flooding creek: also tree limbs, corn stalks, dead grass, flotsam of all kinds and all this mish-mash tends to pile up against your floodgates and eventually they give way.  So what you need, as farmers for centuries have realized, is a gate than rises with the water.  Seems simple. Just stretch a pole or cable across the creek  and hang a swinging gate on it. As the water rises, it pushes the gate out and upwards and as it recedes the gate floats back down in place. Never is there an opportunity for animals to get past it. More…

Signs Of Change In Food Farming

In Gene's Weekly Posts on December 24, 2014 at 9:57 am


I attended the Acres USA conference a couple of weeks ago. The magazine, Acres USA, is often referred to as the voice of alternative agriculture, or at least used to be. It gets more mainstream all the time. It has been years since the last time I attended and I was struck by the change in tone and temper of the  attendees. People I talked to are convinced, utterly convinced, that the day of large scale industrial grain farming is coming to an end. The fact that big grain farms continue to get bigger does not impress them in the least.  The first conference I attended, in the 1970s as I recall, was a rather motley affair with lots of wild eyed devotees of various kinds of wild eyed notions and practices to improve soil health and fertility. At this 2014 version, however, there was a strong current of self assurance, cool success— quite a few ties and suits and fashionable dresses, speakers with all kinds of academic degrees, a general aura of having arrived.

Acres USA was founded by Charles Walters about 50 years ago. He filled its pages not only with what for me were strange new agronomic practices and theories, but with fiery rhetoric against conventional farming or anything else that might be displeasing him at the moment. Lots of fun to read. More…

What’s Behind The Pet Craze

In Gene's Weekly Posts on December 17, 2014 at 9:33 am


I thought I had heard it all with the ad on National Public Radio for pajamas for every member of the family, including the cats and dogs. But now on sale are coats for your pet chicken. Obviously, Henny Penny, not only is the sky falling but our collected social sanity. But then my wife, ever the practical one, pointed out that if your hen has a tendency to fly over the fence around her chicken run, a coat over her wings would solve the problem. Why didn’t my mother think of that instead of clipping the wing feathers of errant hens?

Even the most fervent pet lover has to agree that we are going a little bit overboard on pet love. An editorial in the New York Times editorial section (Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014) tells about a couple who keep two rabbits in their house and if one or the other pees on the floor or wherever, well, you clean it up and go on just like you would for a child. Some really imaginative ways to handle animal hair clogging up air ducts, or poop on the rug are being advertised on TV. Some cats can learn how to use the bathroom toilet. In ads, dogs are allowed to lick the faces of children. In one ad, the dog looks like it is about to copulate with its owner. Pet cemeteries are all the rage, and old horses are retired to green pastures at a cost I’m sure is almost as high as what is spent on low income humans in homes for the aged. More…

Shocking Stories

In Gene's Weekly Posts on December 10, 2014 at 9:26 am



Nothing I read or see in the news can shock me like the real thing: backing inadvertently  into an electrified fence. That is the ultimate wake-up call and it has been my bad fortune to have been awakened that way so often in my sordid past that I might have built up enough immunity to survive the electric chair.

Not much is made of the fact, but without electric fence, today’s rotational grazing would not be so easy and inexpensive— hardly possible at all. But ’twas not always so. l began getting electrified way back in the 1950s when my father and I decided that we could replace real livestock fences with one wispy strand of electric wire and hold in a hundred head of hungry Holsteins. I still have nightmares of our thundering herd  disappearing into standing corn and exiting out the other side into Aunt Stella’s garden, dragging a fourth of mile of high tensile wire behind them.

I hold that the history of farming can be told in the history of fencing. The main reason there was such a wholesale move to large scale tractor farming was not because farmers could make a better living that way but because smaller farms required animals to make a profit and animals required fences. Farmers hate fences, no matter how much they might deny it. More…

When Herbicides Fail

In Gene's Weekly Posts on December 3, 2014 at 11:56 am


If you follow the agribusiness news, you know that the good old days are over when all you had to do was spray Roundup on your Roundup resistant crops to control weeds. Weeds are becoming immune to Roundup.  Chemical companies are rising mightily to the challenge, coming up with new herbicides or new combinations of old ones, while stacking more herbicide resistant genes into their crop varieties. Weed control is becoming so complicated that even a seasoned farmer needs to get help to keep track of which new weedkillers plus which new varieties he needs to use and how to diversify them in alternate years so the weeds don’t become immune to them. That’s the new word in weed control: diversify, diversify, diversify. If we can’t control weeds with chemicals, Big Ag will die.

I haven’t read yet of anyone in the industry wondering out loud whether this strategy will really work.  It might slow down the process by which weeds learn to enjoy a sip or two of a herbicide with its meals, but isn’t it quite possible that if they are clever enough to immunize themselves to Roundup, they will also figure out a way to handle a cocktail of herbicides too, even if they only get exposed to each of them every other year or so? Or if science finally conjures up a corn plant that can stand increasingly stronger and varied herbicides, then isn’t it reasonable to wonder if in time no animal or insect will eat it, or if it does, something dreadful will happen to its digestive tract? And all the while, the weeds will keep building up resistance until More…

Gene Logsdon Appears in GMO OMG video and Interviewed on NPR…

In Around The Web on November 25, 2014 at 10:20 am

Available now on Netflix



From NPR: We introduce you to the Contrary Farmer – Gene Logsdon – who’s facing his own mortality in his new book Gene Everlasting: A Contrary Farmer’s Thoughts on Living Forever.

How Much Does Soil Influence Taste?

In Gene's Weekly Posts on November 19, 2014 at 10:05 am


I had no more finished the post two weeks ago about improving vegetable taste, when I read an interesting interview with Eliot Coleman, a name you all recognize, in the November issue of Acres U.S.A. Eliot has been a leader in perfecting year-round, organic farming— in Maine of all places. One of his most popular crops is “candy carrots” and how he grows them is pertinent to our discussion.  He plants carrots, around the first of August, and when winter cold arrives, he slides a movable greenhouse over the carrots so that the ground doesn’t freeze. He has learned that with a double cover, or a cold frame under a fabric greenhouse cover, the ground, though plenty cold, doesn’t freeze.  In the interview, he says: “When you leave carrots in the ground like this, they protect themselves against the cold by changing some of their starch to sugar, sort of like antifreeze. These are known locally as candy carrots.  We’ve been told by parents that our carrots are the trading item of choice in local grade school lunch boxes.”

That’s the kind of detail about growing food for better taste that is so intriguing to contemplate. Do we know very much about soil in terms of health and food taste even with all the scientific effort that has been put to it? Does better taste mean better nutrition in the first place? I recently read about Lakeview Organic Grain Farm More…

Keeping Prejudice Alive

In Gene's Weekly Posts on November 12, 2014 at 9:48 am



Some of the latest thinking on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (just getting those letters all out in correct order is enough to give me ADHD) argues that the condition is not really a bodily or mental affliction but a natural state for some people, especially children. Being fidgety, having a short attention span, not being able to concentrate for long on anything in particular— these traits are more or less brought on by the over-regulated, prescriptive world we live in. That sounds plausible to me. But then the learned scientists who are arguing this way go into examples (“A Natural Fix For A.D.H.D.” by Richard A. Friedman in the New York Times, Nov. 2, 2014). They suggest that  ADHD people would be right at home in a hunting and gathering society, like in Paleolithic times, when daily life shifted rapidly from one exciting, dangerous situation to another. It was not until humans settled into the boring routine of sedentary agriculture that such people became estranged and out of touch with the rest of society and started suffering from what would later be diagnosed as ADHD.

Once more farming is depicted as boring. After a lifetime of being subjected to this kind of stereotypical thinking,  I know I should just ignore it.  Anybody who has had the least bit of experience in agriculture knows it is one of the most  exciting ways in the world to lose your money or your life. But when the stereotypical thinking comes from places like the Weill Cornell Medical College, I must protest. More…

Another Kind of Baby Food

In Gene's Weekly Posts on November 5, 2014 at 9:01 am



As a society, we strive valiantly to get people to eat more vegetables. That always brings up a question in my mind: why don’t we have to strive valiantly to get people to eat more filet mignon, chocolate, and whipped cream? Answer: Obviously, these foods taste good while vegetables still often taste like seaweed floating in the backwaters off New Orleans. I know, I know. Vegetables can taste good too, but the fact is that more often than not, even today, they don’t live up to the good taste that they are capable of. The skill and especially the knowledge involved in coming up with a really good plate of vegetables is still rather rare and there’s no excuse for it. Small scale garden farmers can take advantage of the situation and squeeze a lot more market opportunity out of it. Most short order restaurants don’t know diddily about good-tasting vegetables because their customers don’t either, so why bother. Mass production won’t work because in many cases the vegetable, to taste really delicious, has to be harvested before it can be handled by field machines. Even pricey restaurants have a hard time getting the good stuff which is why some have started their own gardens next to their restaurants. But in most cases the demand isn’t there yet because the consumers don’t know what they are missing. Too many of us merely tolerate vegetables going back to childhood when, if we didn’t eat the stuff, we wouldn’t get dessert. We’ll pay $30 a pound for a restaurant steak quicker than they will pay half that amount for a succulently fresh salad. Just as happened with breads and beers More…

Practical Skills: Wooden Combs

In Practical Skills Series on November 3, 2014 at 11:09 am

comb photo

Excerpt from Practical Skills 1985

My son has been making wooden combs in his workshop. They are strikingly beautiful, and they do comb hair. They also make excellent letter or note holders on a desk. Much of the beauty comes from the wood itself. Since only scraps are needed to make the combs, one can use black walnut, rosewood, zebra wood, and other exotic woods without denting the pocketbook. Or one can use unusual woods generally available only in small widths or pieces, like pear, peach and sassafras. The block of wood needed for a comb rarely exceeds 4 to 6 inches wide, 5 or 6 inches long, and 3/8 inch thick (never more than 1/2-inch thick).

The teeth must run in the same direction as the grain or they will quickly break off, but other than that, the design is up to you. Cut the teeth in the block first, then taper the block and teeth to the proper shape. You can cut the teeth with a table saw, handsaw, or bandsaw. The table saw makes it easier to cut straight and uniform teeth, since you can use the saw fence as a guide. But the saw kerf should be no wider than 1/8-inch and preferably smaller. Most table saw blades leave a kerf a bit large for a comb. My son uses a band saw because the blade makes a smaller kerf. But some skill is involved in making a band saw cut a perfectly straight line. A wavy cut shows up clearly in a comb. More…