As homesteaders-in-progress, our goal is to do more things for ourselves. The primary goal is to feed ourselves with the fruits, vegetables, meats and wild edibles that we grow or gather ourselves. Toward this end, we recently spent a weekend planting fruit trees of various sorts, blueberry bushes and several varieties of grapes. Though these fruit starts are tiny in the field with their pink ribbon markers, we imagine them feeding our family someday. We see a beautiful orchard blooming in the springtime and heavy with fruit during the summer. We see a grape arbor weighted down with red, green and black clusters of fruit. We see little children eating blueberries from a hedge by the cool of the woods.
Having grown up in the nursery capital of the world, we have seen a whole lot of ornamental trees and shrubs that are grown for sale into nursery centers and home improvement stores all over the country. The proliferation of ornamentals occurs because most folks purchase these trees to beautify their yards. There is certainly nothing wrong with that desire, but we propose that you can have both beauty and bounty when you plant fruit trees and shrubs. It’s double return for the investment!
Why it’s Called Dogwood Winter
Spring can be an unpredictable time of year, with warm, summer-like conditions one day and snow the next. It’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of security that the weather will remain hospitable when — BAM! — a freak cold snap hits and reminds you that winter only ended a few weeks ago.
Much like Indian summer — a period of unseasonable warmth in the middle of autumn — these periods of springtime cold have a name. Actually, they have several names. The little winters in the middle of spring are called variously Dogwood Winter, Blackberry Winter, Locust Winter, Whippoorwill Winter, Redbud Winter, and a few other regional variations. Though predictable, the climb from cold of winter to the warmth of summer and back again is not completely smooth. Small “blips” in the overall pattern reveal noticeable fluctuations that can be observed from year to year. These blips are called singularities in weather lingo. For a singularity to be recognized, it has occur during at least 50% of years. Indian Summer is a long-established singularity. Dogwood Winter is another.
But why is it called Dogwood Winter, or any of those other names, for that matter? Weather forecasters do know there will be a last frost, but it’s not predictable enough to say on what day, so we follow what the oldtimers taught us: a cold snap usually occurs around the time when the dogwoods are in bloom. With the possibility of frost happening during Dogwood Winter, they also knew to wait until after the dogwood bloomed to plant tender vegetables and annuals. My mother said that you get a “winter” every time something white blooms.
Oldtimers also knew that blackberries need a cold snap to set buds on the blackberry canes, so as sure as night follows day, there will be a cold snap when the blackberries bloom, called “Blackberry Winter”. It comes with a somewhat less severe return of a continental polar air mass after the maritime tropical air masses have begun to dominate the weather.
One largely forgotten term for a patch of cold during the springtime is “Stump Winter”. This end-of-spring cold snap marks the last cold spell and derives its name from the use of the last of the fire wood – the stumps – for heat. This is also known as “Whippoorwill Winter”. The whippoorwill migrates from wintering in Mexico to their summer range farther north in late May to early June. There is even another colloquialism for this spring cold snaps, which is: “Linsey-Woolsey Britches Winter,” referring to a type of winter long underwear which could be put away after the last cold snap. Whatever you call it, the last winter is not as cold as the other “winters” but still a bit of cold snap.
Me? I don’t take my coat out of the truck until I need to make room for carrying home 4th of July fireworks…’cause it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it!
“Bowed up like a Halloween cat!”
An interesting turn of phrase, “Bowed up like a Halloween cat” refers to the arching of the back of a cat.
The cat’s back is very flexible, making it capable of curving it into a fairly tight arch, especially when compared with dogs. There are a number of reasons cats arch their backs, the main one being the fear of an aggressor. In this classic Halloween pose, a cat arches his back and shows piloerection (i.e., his hair stands straight up) as a way of making himself look bigger when confronted with danger. The cat may also make it clear that he’s ready to defend himself by doing things like growling, hissing, spitting and showing his teeth. If you encounter a cat giving this display, the best response is to slowly back away and give the cat his space.
Likewise, the delivery of bad news may elicit the figurative same response. For example, you tell your Father that you broke his brand new John Deere tractor showing off for your girlfriend. His immediate and angry reaction would be termed, “Bowing up like a Halloween cat.” In this case, the best response is to back slowly away and give the Father his space.
Interestingly, the term “bowed up” has an entirely different meaning in the Midwest. There they drop the “Halloween cat” reference and just use “bowed up” There it means to be
very, very busy. For example, an Iowa farm boy might say, “I’m bowed up like a cutworm!” This refers the the busy action a cutworm moth makes when flying around, say, a porch lamp.
Finally, “bowed up” can mean very physically fit or muscular. For example, “Since Johnny started power lifting 6 years ago, he’s got all bowed up like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 70s.” I have only heard this phrase used thusly when on the West coast, near Los Angeles.
Ladders are one of the most used and, consequently, miss-used tools on the homestead. Here are a few safety tips for safe ladder use:
- Are you fit for duty? If you are exhausted, drowsy, sick, etc. you should ask yourself, “Am I in good enough shape to do this chore?” Remember, one slip and you could be out of commission for months and see your money and dreams wither and die. I had an employee fall from a 4′ tall ladder. He fractured his skull and nearly died. He didn’t think he was going to get hurt that day, either.
- Inspect your ladder – no brainer – make sure there are no cracks, everything is tight and secure, etc.
- When you inspect the ladder, ask yourself if you have enough ladder to do the job. Is it sturdy enough to handle the load of yourself, tools, and materials? Is it long / tall enough? Remember, if you are using a step ladder, the top and top step cannot be used to climb or stand upon.
- Set up your ladder on a firm, level surface. If you are using an extension ladder, secure it at the top at a minimum, and the best practice is to secure it top and bottom.
- Use a pull rope instead of carrying tools up the ladder. In this picture my son and I are repairing the barn roof. Instead of carrying the sheets of tin up the ladder, he is tieing them and I am hoisting them. He has taken his gloves off to tie the rope.
- Do not place a ladder on boxes, barrels or other unstable bases to obtain additional height.
- Do not move or shift a ladder while a person or equipment is on the ladder.
- An extension or straight ladder used to access an elevated surface should extend at least 3 feet above the point of support. Do not stand on the three top rungs of a straight, single or extension ladder.The proper angle for setting up a ladder is to place its base a quarter of the working length of the ladder from the wall or other vertical surface.
- Avoid electrical hazards! – Look for overhead power lines before handling a ladder. Avoid using a metal ladder near power lines!
- Never lean a step ladder and use it like an extension ladder.
Practical tips below, but first a philosophy lesson.
As homesteaders go, we are typically an independent lot. Whatever political stripe, we tend to be resourceful and with a drive for self-sufficiency. That usually doesn’t lend itself to embracing many of the myriad of laws that are so pervasive in our culture. In short, we pretty much don’t like anyone sticking their nose in our business.
With that being said, please bear with me as we look a little bit into the government’s efforts to keep us safe on the farm.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration promulgates rules for safety to the tune of thousands of individual and corporate safety mandates. They even have a special section on farm safety – 29 CFR 1928. Whereas the construction industry is only governed by 29 CFR 1926, farming is additionally governed by 29 CFR 1910.
I want to challenge you, though. Don’t think about the oppression inherent in the system, but think why we have the rules. Here are a few reasons:
- Agriculture ranks among the most dangerous industries. Between 2003 and 2011, 5,816 agricultural workers died from work-related injuries in the US.1,2
- In 2011, 570 agricultural workers died from work-related injuries.1 The fatality rate for agricultural workers was 7 times higher than the fatality rate for all workers in private industry; agricultural workers had a fatality rate of 24.9 deaths per 100,000, while the fatality rate for all workers was 3.5.3
- The leading cause of death for farm workers between 1992 and 2009 was tractor overturns, accounting for over 90 deaths annually. The most effective way to prevent tractor overturn deaths is the use of Roll-Over Protective Structures; however in 2006 only 59% of tractors used on farms in the US were equipped with these devices.2
- Every day, about 243 agricultural workers suffer a serious lost-work-time injury. Five percent of these injuries result in permanent impairment.2
- In 2011, the injury rate for agricultural workers was over 40 percent higher than the rate for all workers. Crop production agricultural workers’ injury rates were 5.5 per 100 workers. Animal production agricultural workers’ injury rates were 6.7 per 100 workers. The rate for all workers was 3.8.
How does this apply to you, the small farm homesteader? Refer back to number 4 stated previously. How would your homesteading efforts fair if you were injured or permanently impaired? Your dream, along with your money, might just evaporate before your eyes. So we’re not about the rules and regulations nearly as much as we are about the behaviour that leads to these accidents. Again, safety isn’t about rules, it’s about being able to live our dreams.
Now, for the practical portion of today’s post – farm tractor safety:
- Wear your seatbelt.
- Always try to operate your tractor on the flattest ground possible. Not always an option, though.
- Keep side mounted implements on the uphill side of your tractor.
- Avoid turning on slopes which is, again not always possible. When you do operate on a slope, turn downhill.
- Be extra careful next to ponds and ditches.
- Put your dogs up before cutting hay or bush hogging. We don’t need anymore dogs named “Tripod”!
- Always attach hitches to the draw bar which runs inline with the centerline of the tractor, not the cross draw bar.
- Never start the tractor while standing on the ground. It is a machine and safety mechanisms can fail. One of the most tragic instance of a farm fatality happened to a family in our community. One of the sons of the family tried to start a tractor while standing on the ground. It lurched forward, crushing him to death.
- Tractor rollovers – where to begin on this danger? See this video for a practical guide to not crushing yourself with a tractor rollover: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnBkGBOFtRc
The wit and wisdom of country people explained. Today’s selection:
“Like a new goose on a new world” – Anytime a goose of any age is in new territory, they make a world of racket. You see, goose family members keep track of one another in the fluidness of the flock by making a series of short honks. When they come closer to staging areas, resting areas, or feeding areas, you may hear the honking pick up in tempo and also hear some additional, longer honks included. We can only assume that this communicates to the others to pay attention or that landing is imminent or there is something nice on which to crap. This happens each day when the geese are let out of their pens into the garden or pond, even though nothing has changed overnight.
This phrase, then, means to be without a clue or knowledge of previous events.
This phrase is often applied to teenagers who, for instance, appear to forget, overnight, where their shoes are or are not. For example, in response to, “Moma, where are my shoes?” One might hear, “Good Lord, child, you wake up like a new goose in a new world! Your shoes are at the bottom of the steps.”
Fathers, on the other hand, are more taciturn. They will simply reply, “I don’t know, I didn’t wear them last.”
Bratcher Family Farm
Our mutual dream started in 2014 with passionate conversations about homesteading and visits to Joe’s family farm. This following childhoods reading the Foxfire Series and Little House on the Prairie which fired our young imaginations about the kind of life that was still available to us in modern times. Planting fruit trees progressed to taking a beekeeping class and ordering two hives. The following months brought many losses…most unbearably, Joe’s father, Kenneth Bratcher. But also the loss of jobs, many fruit trees, both hives and our budding relationship. However, we both clung to our lifelong mutual dream and the Lord brought us back together at the proper time. So our journey really began on January 1, 2016, when we formally began our lives together as husband and wife.
This dream of ours is possible only because of the hard work and frugality of Kenneth and Martha Jo Bratcher, who sacrificed much to purchase and develop this beautiful farm with open pastures of rich soil and woodlands filled with an abundance of hard woods and wild animals. To honor Joe’s parents and the farm, it is our top priority to steward this land and make it even better for the next generation.
The purpose of this blog is to capture our experiences in setting up our homestead, gaining new skills and making the needed preparations to establish our farm as an income-producing enterprise to support our family. We have a tentative plan for the next 5 years. The first couple of those years are focused on building a self-sustaining homestead for our family. Then we will begin looking at farm-produced revenue streams.
The cast of characters: Joe & Staci Bratcher and our 5 sons: Max, Jackson, Spencer and William Bryan, and Jack Bratcher. Max is spending this initial year at the farm as farm manager to assist us in remodeling the farmhouse, working a test garden and experimenting with chickens for both eggs and meat. William is learning about sustainable farming and construction at Farm Fifty-Eight.
We are very excited to hear about your experiences with traditional skills, homesteading and farming.