Country Traditions

November 9, 2010

Composting 101 | Real Simple

Filed under: composting, family, farming, gardening, rain water, weather — Tags: , , , , , , — dmacc502 @ 7:03 pm
better compost

Image by normanack via Flickr

Composting 101 | Real Simple.

via Composting 101 | Real Simple.

It’s not just for people in the sticks anymore: Composting is great for all gardeners because it improves soil, which in turn prevents plant diseases. And it can even reduce harmful greenhouse gases. “Organics that break down in a landfill produce methane gas, which is about 120 times more harmful than carbon dioxide,” says Cary Oshins, assistant director for programs at the United States Composting Council, in Ronkonkoma, New York. So why not help the planet and your yard by piling it on?

How to Get Started

Choose a container that’s made of wood (or some other sturdy material) and no smaller than three by three feet. Place it in your yard in a shady spot with good drainage. Start adding waste in a ratio of three “browns” to one “green.” Browns are carbon-rich materials and include wood chips, straw, branches, and leaves. Greens provide nitrogen and include grass clippings and kitchen scraps, like eggshells and carrot tops. When you’re adding new material, Oshins suggests, dig a hole in the pile and stir the new stuff in so it gets coated with the old mixture.


October 6, 2010

Captured: America in Color from 1939-1943

Filed under: farming, photography — Tags: , , — dmacc502 @ 8:30 am
Mrs. Bill Stagg with state quilt, Pie Town, Ne...

Image via Wikipedia

Color AmericaThe Faro Caudill family eating dinner in their dugout. Pie Town, New Mexico, October 1940. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Russell Lee. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Color America
Garden adjacent to the dugout home of Jack Whinery, homesteader. Pie Town, New Mexico, September 1940. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Russell Lee. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Color America

A store with live fish for sale. Vicinity of Natchitoches, Louisiana, July 1940. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Marion Post Wolcott. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

September 16, 2010

The Homestead Act 1862

Filed under: farming, laws — Tags: , , , — dmacc502 @ 12:18 pm
The first page of the Homestead Act.

First page of the homestead act.

The Homestead Act

President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act on May 20, 1862. The act provided settlers with 160 acres of surveyed public land after payment of a filing fee and five years of continuous residence. Designed to spur Western migration, the Homestead Act culminated a twenty-year battle to distribute public lands to citizens willing to farm. Concerned that free land would lower property values and reduce the cheap labor supply, Northern businessmen opposed the act. Unlikely allies, Southerners feared homesteaders would add their voices to the call for abolition of slavery. With Southerners out of the picture in 1862, the legislation finally passed.

John Bakken sod house
John Bakken Sod House, Milton, North Dakota,
John McCarthy, photographer, ca. 1895.
The Northern Great Plains, 1880-1920: Photographs from the Fred Hultstrand and F. A. Pazandak Photograph Collections

The Homestead Act postage stamp
The Homestead Act, 1862-1962 Commemorative Stamp, 4 Cents, U.S. Postage,
Charles R. Chickering, designer, Matthew D. Fenton, engraver, 1962.
The Northern Great Plains, 1880-1920: Photographs from the Fred Hultstrand and F. A. Pazandak Photograph Collections

The Homestead Act commemorative stamp, based on a photograph by John McCarthy, was released at Beatrice, Nebraska, on May 20, 1962. The picture also was used by Norway on its 1975 postage stamp commemorating the sesquicentennial of Norwegian emigration to America.

By 1900, homesteaders had filed 600,000 claims for 80 million acres. Most pioneers settled in the Western Plains states. Experienced farm workers from other states or Europe, they abandoned family and community ties for the isolation of pioneer life gambling that conditions would favor prosperity. Louise Lane Trace was sixteen when her family arrived in Nebraska. After navigating a series of disasters, they reached their homestead in the spring of 1866. Over seventy years later, WPA interviewer George Wartman recorded Mrs. Trace’s memories of that difficult time:

Mr. Lane had arrived at his homestead with 30 head of cattle and several horses. He put out sod corn which gave all indication of being a wonderful crop, but the grasshoppers took the entire crop. There was an abundance of wild grass, but no way to harvest it. After winter set in with no feed for the stock they commenced to suffer. The horses became so weak from starvation [that?] they were not fit for traveling so Mr. Lane would walk 15 miles to what they called the “Dutch Settlement” and now known as Swanton, pay $2.00 per bushel for corn and carry a sack full on his shoulder making a thirty mile-round-trip for one sack of corn.”Mrs. Wm. Trace,” Lincoln, Nebraska, November 29, 1938.
American Life Histories, 1936-1940

Charity Couch and her husband filed their homestead claim near the South Platte River in western Nebraska nearly twenty years later. Yet, the prairie remained an isolated place. Her WPA interviewer noted:

Mrs. Couch says she scarcely dared step outside the yard because there were so many long horned cattle and there were no neighbors between their place and Ogallala except the old Searle Ranch. There was no school for a year or so as their were no children in the district, and no social gatherings at that time such as church, Sunday school, literary, or dances, as people lived too far apart. There were a few buffalo, deer, antelope and gray wolves, and also large numbers of wild fowl such as prairie chickens, grouse, geese, and ducks.”Charity B. Couch,” Ogallala, Nebraska, November 16, 1938.
American Life Histories, 1936-1940

Longhorn Cattle
Longhorn Cattle, Ninety-Six Ranch (Home Ranch), Paradise Valley, Nevada,
Carl Fleischhauer, photographer, May 1978.
Buckaroos in Paradise

Prosperous ranchers, the Couch family added to their original homestead, eventually accumulating 1,800 acres. Like farming, successful ranching required hard work and more than a little luck. Nevertheless with ready access to railroads and a rising demand for beef, ranches proliferated across the Plains states. Between 1860 and 1880, cattle in Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Dakota increased from 130,000 to 4.5 million head.

Man holding gun
Daniel Freeman Standing, Holding Gun, with Hatchet Tucked in Belt,
The “first homesteader” to settle in Beatrice, Nebraska, 1863, copyright 1904.
Prints and Photographs Division

September 15, 2010

Homesteaders: Preparing for a New Life

Filed under: animals, candles, curing meat, farming, tools — Tags: , — dmacc502 @ 4:09 pm

Written by Christopher W. Czajka

Wooden trunks such as this one were used to pack personal belongings.

lanning a cross-country move, even today, is no minor feat. With boxes to be packed, movers to be hired, travel arrangements to be made, relocating is always stressful. But the stresses faced by cross-country emigrants 130 years ago — weeks (or months) of grueling travel, rough (or nonexistent) roads, and few amenities — were monumental by modern standards. Homesteaders traveling to Montana in the 1880s had to abandon the majority of all their material possessions, bid farewell to family and friends who they would often never see again, and prepare supplies that would last not only for the long journey ahead, but for the first few months in their new home.

View Fergus’ complete list.

s a first step, homesteaders planning to “jump off” into the West had to choose their mode of transportation. Travel options to Montana in the 1880s were not as limited as we may be tempted to think. Unlike travelers on the Oregon and California Trails in the 1840s and 1850s, Montana homesteaders had several transportation choices available to them as they headed for the frontier. In 1859, the first steamboat reached Montana, after traveling 2,200 miles up the Missouri River from St. Louis. Commercial traffic began the following year. Cabin fare for the trip was around $300, with a rate of 12 cents a pound for freight — prohibitively expensive for families seeking to farm once at their destination. Aside from the costs of steamboat travel, the journey itself was extremely perilous. The Missouri was navigable for only a few short weeks each summer, and the boats frequently ran aground, sank, or burned after their boilers exploded. However, the lure of the frontier was strong, and between 1860 and 1888, more than 40,000 passengers made the treacherous trip.

frontier fact Conestoga wagons were pulled by teams of six to eight horses and could haul up to five tons of freight on wheels reaching as high as six feet tall.

The steamboat trade, with its expense and limitations, dropped off sharply in the mid- 1880s, as the first railroads reached Montana and opened up to passenger service. “Emigrant cars,” specially designed for the prospective settler, afforded dismal and cramped accommodations to those with enough money to pay for the cost of trip. Passengers in emigrant cars were often forced to spend their journeys sitting upright on uncushioned, backless benches. On many trains, the management offered thin straw mattresses (at a cost of $3.00 each), which could be laid on the floor beneath the benches. One settler remembered, “My mother had a real hard time getting any sleep on the train. Anytime she laid down under the benches, her feet stuck out into the aisle, and the conductor would come along and kick her.”

Donner Lake Encampment

Lithograph of Donner Party encampment at Donner Lake

by C.W. Burton, courtesy California Digital Library.

Wagon and horses. Western History/Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library.
frontier fact
Some stretches of overland trails were so rough thewagon would bump along hard enough to churn the milk into butter for the evening meal.

rivacy in the cars was minimal, with no dividing partitions and a common toilet and cookstove for as many as 30 emigrants. Wealthier settlers could rent out entire boxcars, in which to transport not only their family members, but also their household goods, farming equipment, and up to six heads of cattle.

The most common means of transport of families to Montana (and elsewhere) was, by far, the covered wagon. In lieu of the huge and bulky Conestoga wagons used in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to transport freight, emigrants west of the Mississippi opted for the lighter and more easily managed “prairie schooner,” a converted farm wagon so named because it looked like a boat crossing the “sea of grasses” that made up the Great Plains.

The typical prairie schooner weighed about one ton, was 14 feet long, 4 feet wide, and 2 feet deep. Built of seasoned wood such as maple, hickory, or oak, schooners’ only metal fittings were their iron tire rims and reinforcements on their wooden axles. Most schooners had double floors that concealed two foot-deep storage compartments. The wagon box itself was caulked or covered with hides to make it watertight, which was particularly crucial when crossing unbridged rivers and streams.

View Fergus’ complete list.

The canvas top, or “bonnet,” of the wagon, was a tawny double-ply homespun cotton that was treated with linseed oil or tallow to make it waterproof. Often, settlers sewed pockets into the bonnet to maximize their storage space. The bonnet was supported by hardwood bows that were soaked in water until they became pliable enough to bend into a U shape. Openings at the front and back of the bonnet provided ventilation.

Homesteaders had to pack essentials for life on and off the trail into this confined space. Although game could be shot and roots and berries could be gathered while in transit, settlers carried the vast majority of their food in the wagon, taking up most of their storage space. Basic staples included flour, bacon, sugar, coffee, tea, dried fruit, corn meal, and rice. Some resourceful emigrants brought along eggs packed in barrels of flour or meal. Settlers packed minimal utensils for cooking, often limiting themselves to a skillet, a coffee pot, tin plates and cups, a camp stove, and a few sets of flatware.

View Fergus’ complete list.

rucial to any overland journey was a rifle, pistols, powder, and lead, used both for hunting and for self-defense. Typical homesteaders would pack two or three changes of durable, warm clothing, as well as blankets and rubber mats for camping. Many settlers attempted to load books, furniture, and other treasured belongings into their wagons, but these were often left behind after a short time on the road, when draft animals became tired and the load needed to be lightened. Because of the roughness of the trail and the length of the journey, spare wagon parts — such as spokes, axles, and wheels — were often slung under the wagon, while water buckets and water barrels were strapped to its sides. Some emigrants attempted to bring along milk cows and chickens, though the chickens were usually eaten and the cows often died of thirst or malnutrition along the way. Josephine Gage Bartlett, who moved to Montana from Kansas in 1876, remembered:

“We had two eight yoke ox teams drawing two wagons each. Some of the other families [in the wagon train] had horse teams and thought we were too slow. We brought along some calves tethered to the back of the wagon, but they became footsore and we had to put them in a wagon. We also had chickens in that wagon. When we stopped for the night, we would let them run around.”

Planning for any extended overland migration was an enormous financial drain on homesteaders. The wagon and oxen cost about $400, and supplies about $1,000. Additionally, settlers needed several hundred dollars of cash on hand for the trip to pay for supplies that had been used up, ferry tolls, replacement oxen or wagon parts, and food for the first winter on the frontier. Many families had to save for months or years to afford the trip, and had to sell off their lands, household goods and furnishings, and heirlooms to finance their journeys.

After property had been liquidated, supplies bought, and goodbyes said, homesteaders could hit the trail carrying about 2,500 pounds of freight in their ox-drawn prairie schooners. Because the wagons were so full, and because they traveled at the not-quite-dizzying speed of two miles per hour, many settlers — men, women, and children — walked beside their wagons across the continent.

When Minnesota settler Pamelia Dillin Fergus received a letter from her husband James summoning her to rejoin him and bring their four children for a new life in Montana Territory, her husband, keenly aware of the life they would face on the trail and in their new home, provided explicit directions to his wife on how to prepare for the journey. He instructed her to “sell all [she] could at private auction, and bring no poor articles” west with her. He advised her to “have the sides of [the] wagon boarded up high with thin boards to keep things from falling out,” and cautioned her to “never let one of the children go out or in the waggon [sic] without stopping it as many get killed or injured by the waggon running over them.” Remarkably, James Fergus also sent his wife a complete list of items that she would need to bring in the family’s three wagons ranging from 600 pounds of flour to $5 worth of stamps to “whiskey for poisoned cattle.” For a complete list, with Fergus’ spelling preserved, click here.

Those who had “borne arms against the United States, or given aid or comfort to its enemies” were denied homesteads, a significant restriction during and after the Civil War.

amelia Dillin would load the essentials from her Little Falls, Minnesota home into a single wagon, and drive to Illinois, where she would visit briefly with her mother, and meet up with O.J. Rockwell, one of her husbands’ business associates. Rockwell would supply her with two additional wagons, six yoke of oxen, and a milk cow. Rockwell, Pamelia, and the Fergus children would travel to Council Bluffs, Iowa, where they would finish outfitting the wagons and be joined by a few other families from Little Falls before “jumping off” and starting out for their new lives in Montana.

There would be rivers to ford, plains to cross, and mountains to climb. Whether it was a terrible ordeal or a fantastic adventure, getting to a new home on the frontier was an experience few settlers ever forgot.

September 13, 2010

Mushroom Hunting

Filed under: mushrooms — Tags: , , , , — dmacc502 @ 1:08 am
The morel mushroom Morchella esculenta (L.) Pe...

Image via Wikipedia

About the Morel Mushroom Season...

The morel mushroom season varies across the United States depending on the region in which you are located. Typically it arrives in the spring months for most regions. ManyMushroom imagevariables such as air temperature, ground temperature and rain levels impact the growing cycle and how bountiful the crop. There have been many studies as to how, where and why the morels make their grand appearance in certain conditions and not others. Most mushroom hunters will present all kinds of “SWATS” (Scientific Wild Ass Theories) on how, where, and when to find them. Almost every mushroom hunter will have a few “SWATS” of their own, some with merit, while others are just that….theories. You can find detailed answers to various questions regarding the growing season and more on the FAQ page.

Typically they are found in moist areas, around dying or dead Elm trees, Sycamore and Ash trees, old apple orchards and maybe even in your own back yard. Ground cover varies and it is very likely that each patch of mushrooms you come across may be growing in totally different conditions. It is a common practice of shoomer’s to hit their favorite spots year after year.

If you are a first time hunter, you should make your first hunting expedition with someone who knows what a good morel looks like. There are several types of morels, some edible and others poisonous. The woods will dole out many types of fungi to the hunter, therefore, The Great Morel recommends that all shroomers – rookies and veterans alike visit Edible and Poisonous Mushroom Page by Barbara Bassett, Naturalist. This site has great images of the good, the bad and the uglies! Click here for other great sources of morel identification as well as make sure to visit The Great Morel’s page on the false morel.

bar image

Do morels grow in my region of the United States?
This is an often-asked question and with the exception of a few geographical areas, the answer is more than likely -yes. However, while it seems the Great Lakes region in the midwest is the hot bed for the morel, the morels are found in most regions of the US with the exception of the desert and deep southern coastal areas. The Great Morel suggests that you contact your area’s nature and wildlife department for assistance as an added information source. You can also check out The Great Morel’s sighting mapsto see when your region is having harvesting activity. While there are many places where the morel is not natural to the geography, it also is not uncommon to find them in mulch beds for what The Great Morel refers to as “landscape morels”.

When is the growing season in my region?
This will depend on your geographical location. The morel season for most of the United States typically runs from early-to-mid April on through mid-June. Depending on your geographical location, your season could be plus or minus a week. The season will typically kick in about mid-April in the Great Lakes region. If one is uncertain, contacting your state’s nature and wildlife department for assistance is a good idea if you can’t find anyone to assist you. You can also check out The Great Morel’s sighting maps to see if they are popping in your neck of the woods. The sightings map is a pretty good reference to the season for the various regions of the US.

When should I start looking and where?
Great question. Narrow down your region’s season for starters. Once you have determined that “yes” they are out there then the adventure begins. Many seasoned hunters have their favorite areas. Dead or dying elms, old apple orchards, old ash, poplar trees and yes even pines. It truly can be a hit and miss adventure at times. Not every elm you cross will have morels around it so don’t get discouraged. Depending on your region, you may have to look harder than others. My good friends at the The Morelmasters have a great page on their site that is really helpful for beginners. Keep in mind the tips and suggestions from this link are coming from southern Wisconsin morel hunters where the morels are plentiful. But still they offer some great pictures and concepts. Often times morel hunters have a particular type of wooded growth that attracts them and this comes with experience and lots of trial and error….and luck!For those who are unfamiliar with tree identification, the Ohio Public Library Information Network has this great page to get you started in tree identification.

Oh, and if you are just beginning see if you can find someone who will let you tag along and have them share their tips and tricks.

What effect does the weather have on the morel’s growth habits?
The Great Morel is not aware of any actual scientific study on this subject (if you have one please send it along), however, most hunters will agree that the weather more than any other variable has the most impact on the morel season. This includes air and ground temperatures along with moisture levels in the ground. Typical spring weather with daytime temperatures moderating between 60-70 degree range and nighttime lows of not less then the mid-40’s are usually ideal. Too much soil moisture is not a good thing nor is too dry of soil. Again, it’s tough to determine at what point rain levels are too high, but too much rain can sometime have a negative effect. Not enough rain is definitely not good for the morel either. Soil temperatures will typically range from 50 to 60 degrees. It is not uncommon to find morels after a light frost or even snow, however, it is most likely that the morel had already made its grand appearance prior to the snow. You can check out the various sites relating to weather and soil conditions on the Links and Info page under the Maps section.

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