Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Egg Scales

As I mentioned last week, I have several vintage egg scales that I bought early last year before I started to size out my eggs. I saw a modern egg scale for sale at various places online that was shaped like a chicken, and I frankly thought it was tacky, so I went looking on eBay for an older one that would be simpler and more attractive. It turned out there were more kinds of egg scales out there than I realized, and I ended up with a small collection of them.

As you will see on most of the scales below, the size is most often measured as the number of ounces in a dozen. A large egg individually weighs between 2 and 2.25 ounces., so a dozen would be between 24 and 27 ounces. I don't know exactly why the individual weight is not used more often, but I'm sure there was a reason.

This was the one that started my collection. The Acme Egg-Grading Scale was patented in 1924 and was made by the Specialty Mfg. Co. of St. Paul, Minnesota. It has a series of fan-like bars that lift up until the egg is balanced. The bars on this one are bent somewhat, and they get stuck easily. I'm sure I could fix it, but it looks nice and it doesn't need to be in working condition.

I will admit I didn't know what this was when it arrived. The seller sent this by mistake, and he told me to keep it when I told him it wasn't what I bought. I realized later that this is probably my oldest scale, and besides the broken leg, it is also missing a set of weights which would have sat on the five circles in the front. I believe the weights would be added until the egg balanced, but I am not really sure how it works. It sounds like a lot of trouble in my opinion, but it looks nice and was free.

This is the scale I had actually ordered, and it is has a certain grace to it that makes it my favorite in terms of appearance. It was made by the Specialty Mfg. Co. like the first scale, and I would say it may be from the 1920s or 1930s, though that's just a guess.

I had wanted a "Jiffy Way" egg scale ever since I began my search, but most of them were beyond my price range or were in a well-used condition. I lucked out with this scale in both respects, and it is the only one that I have used to size eggs for sale since it is accurate, easy to read, and also fun to use. It was invented in 1938 by Benjamin Zimmer of Minnesota (apparently the egg scale capital of the world) and was patented in 1940. This particular scale was sold through Sears, Roebuck & Company.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Simplicity: Xenophon's Memorabilia

I have to admit that much of my reading list has consisted of seed catalogs and the like for the past few weeks, but it's time to stop imagining my garden and to get to work instead. I want to share some of the texts that inspire, encourage, or just interest me the most in a weekly feature because many of them have shaped how I approach farming in some way. I'll start with a passage I have kept coming back to since I was a freshman at Chapel Hill six years ago. I don't remember how I first came across it, but the following excerpt is from an episode known as "The Choice of Heracles (Hercules)" in Xenophon's Memorabilia, a defense of Socrates which was written around 370 BC. The setup for this passage is that Heracles is visited by Virtue (Arete) and Vice (Kakia) who are trying to convince him to pursue either a hard yet virtuous life or an easy and wicked one. (I've simplified some archaic language in this translation.)

"[Virtue said:] 'For of all things good and fair, the gods give nothing to man without toil and effort. If you want the favour of the gods, you must worship the gods: if you desire the love of friends, you must do good to your friends: if you covet honour from a city, you must aid that city: if you are fain to win the admiration of all Greece for virtue, you must strive to do good to Greece: if you want land to yield you fruits in abundance, you must cultivate that land: if you are resolved to get wealth from flocks, you must care for those flocks: if you essay to grow great through war and want power to liberate your friends and subdue your foes, you must learn the arts of war from those who know them and must practise their right use: and if you want your body to be strong, you must accustom your body to be the servant of your mind, and train it with toil and sweat.'

And Vice answered and said: ‘Heracles, mark you how hard and long is that road to joy, of which this woman tells? but I will lead you by a short and easy road to happiness.'

And Virtue said: ‘What good thing is yours, poor wretch, or what pleasant thing do you know, if you will do nought to win them? You do not even tarry for the desire of pleasant things, but fill yourself with all things before you desire them, eating before you are hungry, drinking before you are thirsty, getting you cooks, to give zest to eating, buying you costly wines and running to and fro in search of snow in summer, to give zest to drinking; to soothe your slumbers it is not enough for you to buy soft coverlets, but you must have frames for your beds. For not toil, but the tedium of having nothing to do, makes you long for sleep. [...]'"

We all can figure out what choice Heracles made, but if you want to read the whole passage (even in Greek!), you can find it starting here. The Perseus Digital Library is a great resource for Greek and Latin texts among other things, but it can take some time to learn how to navigate the site.

I know there were no pictures today, but I'll try to make up for it later in the week.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Chicken of the Week: Lucretia

Since I first came up with the idea for a blog last year, I've wanted to do a weekly chicken feature. I had actually planned to post about one of my roosters, but it seems more appropriate to start with Lucretia. She was the most recognized hen among my egg customers, and many knew her by name because she laid every green egg I have delivered. As you might have guessed from the past tense, Lucretia is gone, and so this is a memorial of sorts. She died on Easter night (an unfortunate coincidence), but I don't know who the culprit was, though I suspect it was a fox.

Lucretia: 2008-2010

Two years ago I kept over a hundred chickens for a man while he upgraded their pens. He had two white hens that laid green eggs, and when I hatched out eggs, I made sure to include several of theirs. I only ended up with one chick out of those green eggs: Lucretia. (I debated about Lavinia and Loutoria before settling on that name, and she probably could have made a good Victoria due to a faint resemblance to that particular queen.) She must have taken after her father because she didn't look anything like the white hens, and she eventually got mixed up with some of my black and gold hens from another hatch that she resembled in all respects except for a very small comb (a pea comb) and a stockier build.

These were the best of four or five pictures I have of Lucretia from last spring.
I had planned on taking new ones this spring that would actually be in focus.

She was not overly sociable, but she wasn't irritable like the Barred Rocks and Rhode Island Reds can be, and she tended to broodiness (remaining on the nest). Lucretia would only lay for a few months at a time, but then when the mood struck she would produce an egg every one or two days reliably. She was often the last hen on the nest when I gathered eggs at the end of the day.

Lucretia's last egg was a large. This egg scale is just for display although it is accurate.
I will do a post on my scales, how they are used, and how I overcame my addiction to them later on.

I don't plan on my other weekly chicken posts to be so detailed, but since Lucretia was so completely one-of-a-kind, she was the easiest to observe of all my hens. I do hope to get some new Easter Eggers later this year, but I may not have any more green eggs until late 2010 or early 2011.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Geranium 'Crystal Palace Gem'

I've been busy helping my mother in the greenhouses these past few weeks. Since Easter came early and the weather has been nice, people have been clamoring to get work done in their gardens and yards, and we've been trying to supply them. Though we're mainly selling vegetable starts right now, the interest in flowers is steadily increasing. I ordered the geraniums this year, and I wanted to include some different cultivars from the traditional red zonals. We didn't get all of what we wanted, unfortunately, but I'm pleased with what we do have, and there should be even more to choose from next year.

Geranium (Pelargonium x hortorum) 'Crystal Palace Gem'

We have about a dozen varieties in all, and the one above stands out as my favorite. 'Crystal Palace Gem' is from 1869, and it was named after the Crystal Palace, a large glass and iron structure designed by greenhouse-architect Joseph Paxton for the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London's Hyde Park. The exhibition celebrated the artistic and scientific advances of the Industrial Revolution, particularly those of England. In this catalog you can see engravings of some of the items that were on display at the Crystal Palace in all of their Victorian glory. The building was moved to another part of London after the six-month exhibition and eventually burned down in 1936.

The Crystal Palace, essentially an enormous greenhouse, included full-size elm trees, symbolizing man's control over nature. Of course having living trees inside the structure led to a problem with sparrows.

Back to the plant. The flowers on this geranium are not so showy as some might like, but I think the leaves more than make up for it. We have a couple of other fancy-leaf geraniums that I may feature later on, but I find the combination of the two shades of green with the clear red of the flowers to be interesting and attractive without being overpowering. Like regular geraniums, it can dry out between waterings and will last until the frost, though it may lag in the heat and humidity of late summer. It can also be taken indoors for the winter and used as a houseplant until next spring. The farmers' market is still a month away (May 8th), but I think we should be able keep some of these coming along all summer.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


As this is only my second year with the garden, I feel odd calling it no-till, since it was tilled last year to loosen up the turf and make it easier to mound the dirt into permanent raised beds. Eventually I hope the garden will expand to at least a couple of acres, but it's a slow process and I've got a lot to learn along the way.

Sometimes I feel it's almost blasphemous to say that you can farm without plowing, fertilizing, or spraying, but no-till farms that do use fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides are fairly well-accepted today. My chemical-free version, however, is rather rare, but it has been done successfully in the past. I will discuss two of my greatest farming inspirations later on this year, but I'll start out with an example closer to home. Here's an excerpt from the 1590 edition of A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia by Thomas Harriott:

"The ground they never fatten with mucke, dounge or any other thing; neither plow nor digge it as we in England, but onely prepare it in sort as followeth. A fewe daies before they sowe or set, the men with wooden instruments, made almost in forme of mattockes or hoes with long handles; the women with short peckers or parers, because they use them sitting, of a foote long and about five inches in breadth: doe onely breake the upper part of the ground to rayse up the weedes, grasse, & old stubbes of corne stalkes with their rootes. The which after a day or twoes drying in the Sunne, being scrapte up into many small heapes, to save them labour for carrying them away; they burne into ashes. (And whereas some may thinke that they use the ashes for to better the grounde; I say that then they woulde eyther disperse the ashes abroade; which wee observed they doe not, except the heapes bee too great: or els would take speciall care to set their corne where the ashes lie, which also wee finde they are carelesse of.) And this is all the husbanding of their ground that they use."

This is not meant to idealize the Native Americans, but to show that there was a history of an all-natural, no-till agriculture in this country, and indeed, in this particular region. Native settlements were not intended to be permanent, and if the fertility of their gardens declined, new land could be cleared. This is not so applicable today as a farm is usually expected to remain in use for generations, and new land is becoming increasingly harder to use for agriculture due to development and a decline in the number of farmers.

Theodor de Bry's engraving of the town of Secotan was based on John White's watercolors. The crops growing include tobacco (uppowoc), corn, pumpkins, and sunflowers.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Some of my vegetable and ornamental seeds for this year: dent corn, cowpeas, Job's tears, pole beans, gourds, chard, castor beans, and zucchini.

My seeds have started coming in. Yes, I'm somewhat late, but remember that there was a time when everything was planted directly into the ground and not started in greenhouses. I've only gotten about a third of what I've ordered so far, but I'm expecting the rest within the week. And I'm still debating about ordering some more. (I may need an intervention on my seed habit.) There's just something about their potential and beauty that gets me excited and ready to get to work.

This year, all but one of my seeds are open-pollinated, and I only got the one hybrid as a backup to a somewhat expensive packet of heirloom summer squash seeds. Luckily the seed company I ordered from sent more seeds than they stated, so I won't have to worry over them so much. You'll have to wait and see what kind of squash it is when it starts producing, though.

Now to back up a bit, open-pollinated basically means that if the plant is pollinated by a plant of the same variety, the seed produced will be like the parents. This is contrasted with hybrids, which do not produce true to type even if pollinated by the same hybrid variety. Hybrids are extremely common nowadays, and are recommended for increased uniformity and yield. They are also more expensive to produce, and if you want the same plant next year, you would have to buy it again instead of saving the seed. That dependence on the seed company is one of my main beefs with hybrids, and I am planning on saving a lot of seed this year (as opposed to only two varieties last year) so I can have a smaller bill next year and get started a little earlier. Of course I don't think I'll ever not buy seeds because there are so many different varieties to try, each a different experience.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Beginning

With thanks for some recent encouragement, I've finally decided to start the farm blog even though the name is not yet set in stone. You can look forward to an explanation of the name later on in the year. You can also look forward to a (hopefully) much more stylish and engaging layout in the future as well, but for now we'll stick to the basics.

And getting back to the basics is what Wahada Farm is all about. I strongly believe that simplicity is the key to a healthy and happy life. Unfortunately, simplicity is not so simple to achieve nowadays, and it will take a lot of work to get back to that ideal. So what's in store for the farm? My ultimate goal is to create a diverse, beyond-organic, no-till small farm that relies on (my own) hand labor as much as possible and on outside inputs as little as possible. It definitely won't happen overnight, and there will be a lot to learn because there aren't many people who farm that way. And it definitely isn't being championed as the way of the future.

Most of the technical literature available on agriculture is, I find, biased towards a factory-production system. The land is viewed as a blank slate to which inputs such as fertilizer and water are added and which under ideal circumstances would be quarantined from almost all contact with nature. Since the usual farm does not exist in a vacuum, pesticides and herbicides are considered necessary to obtain the maximum yield and the best-looking produce. What is going on inside the vegetables themselves (more on that in a future post) and the repercussions of the use of chemicals is rarely considered. Even the use of heavy machinery, considered a given for the modern farm, can cause problems with soil compaction, texture, microbial life, and erosion. Conventional organic production is a step in the right direction, but I still think it suffers from that same narrow, yield- and profit-focused worldview it has inherited from previous generations. I hope that with my farm I can eventually get back to a beginning uncomplicated by unnecessary labor and expense and in balance with nature. It's probably an overly idealistic vision, but I think it's worth a try.

I could still go on, but it's time to step off the soapbox for now, especially since this was my first post. I'll try to post much lighter fare most of the time if you'll indulge me in these heavier posts every once in a while.