Saturday, February 23, 2008

A quarter of barley

[posted by risa]

Those of us who remember the name H. Rider Haggard are familiar with him mostly as the author of King Solomon's Mines.

On his return to England from Africa, he took up farming in Norfolk, and noted that, though he and some of his neighbors persisted in it, economic considerations, driven by the twin demons Urbanization and Global Trade, had made it impossible to make money at agriculture.

In A Farmer's Year, Being His Commonplace Book for 1898, Haggard has this to say about globalization:
Men only too often keep up the game till beggary overtakes them, when they adjourn to the workhouse or live upon the charity of their friends. The larger farmers struggle forward from Michaelmas to Michaelmas, and at last take refuge in a cottage, or, if they are fortunate, find a position as steward upon some estate. The landlords with farms upon their hands work them with capital borrowed at high interest from the bank, till they can let them upon any terms to any sort of tenant. Unless they have private means to draw on. or are able to earn money, into their end it is best not to inquire ; they sink and sink until they vanish beneath the surface of the great sea of English society, and their ancient homes and accustomed place are filled by the successful speculator or the South African millionaire.

This is the result of Free Trade, which if up to the present it has brought a flush of prosperity to the people as a whole, has taken away the living of those classes that exist by the land, at any rate in our Eastern Counties. When that principle was introduced ruin to agriculture was foretold, but at first, owing to a variety of circumstances, it did not fall. Yet disaster was only postponed: now it has come, and whether the land and those who live on it will survive is more than I or anyone else can say. The truth is that the matter is no longer of pressing interest to the British nation. The British nation lives by trade and fills itself with the cheap food products of foreign countries ; the fruit of the fields around its cities is of little weight to it one way or the other. If all England went out of cultivation to-morrow, I doubt whether it would make any material difference to the consumer—the necessaries of life would still pour in from abroad. What would happen if a state of affairs should arise under which corn and other food could not be freely imported is another matter. When it does arise, no doubt the town-bred British Public, and the Governments which live to do what they conceive to be the will of that public, will give their earnest attention to the problem, perhaps too late. Meanwhile, all is doubtless as it should be, and, as there is not the slightest prospect of redress, we poor farmers must bow our heads to the inevitable, and, while hoping for a turn of Fortune's wheel, make the best of things as we find them and be thankful.

Yet, with becoming humility, I would venture to ask a question of those who understand these matters.

A____, an English farmer, grows a quarter of barley which pays rent to the landlord (part of which the landlord hands over to the Government in the form of taxes), rates to the parish, tithe to the parson, and land-tax to the State. This quarter of barley he offers for sale on Bungay market. B____, an Argentine or other foreign farmer, grows a quarter of barley and also offers it for sale on Bungay market, to compete against that offered by A____. This quarter of barley has paid no rent to a British landlord, no rates to a British parish, no tithe to a British parson, no tax to the British Government. Also, in practice, it has the benefit of preferential rates on British railways, and is carted to the market over roads towards the cost of which it has not subscribed, as A____'s quarter is called upon to do.

In what sense, then, is the trade which takes place in these two competing quarters of barley Free Trade? That it is free as air in the case of the Argentine quarter I understand. I should go further, and call it bounty-fed; but surely in the case of the English quarter it is most unfree, and indeed much fettered by the burden of rent, rates, tithe, and taxes, which have been exacted upon it for the local and imperial benefit. To make the trade equal, just, and free in fact as well as in name, before it appears on Bungay market, ought not the Argentine quarter to contribute to our local and imperial exchequers an exact equivalent of the amount paid by the British quarter? Why should the Englishman bear all these burdens and the foreigner who seeks the advantage of our markets be rid of them? In the case of whisky I understand the principle to be that imported spirits should pay an approximately equal tax to that exacted upon those manufactured in this country. Why, then, should not this rule—if it is the rule—be applied to other things besides whisky ; the barley from which it is distilled, for instance?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The kind of a talk

A photo on Flickr [posted by risa]

Having slept for a good many hours, as we do on Friday night, we awoke by turns and slept some more ... I came to, abruptly, to the smell of coffee and saw that a fire was going in the wood stove. There was a cup already poured for me.

"Thanks, wow, great. Been out to the birds yet?"

"No, and they're giving me heck for it even as we speak."

I wouldn't know. I'm deaf in the left ear and more than half deaf in the right, or I would know, because the geese are not shy about their feelings.

We settled upon separate-but-equal breakfasts, and Beloved went to attend to her frantic charges while I cracked a couple of duck eggs over chopped pok choi and red bell peppers in a hot skillet.

There was a lot of frost, but it would burn off and we would be over 50 degrees F. most of the day.

Beloved came back for her second cup.

"The little swimming pools have both cracked but the ducks get so-o-o-o much clay in them that they hold water for a good while. So everyone is swimming that wants a swim."

"S'good. Wouldya want to see where I thought about putting the pear trees?"

"I'm going for a walk, would you believe it, but I can stop and see the spots with you on my way out."

I went to clear away the grape prunings and string wire. Beloved appeared, approved the tree spots, and then went for her walk, down to the park by the river and back, a little over two miles round trip. She always finds something of interest -- once it was a herd of elk that had come across the river from the mountains, to see what they could see.

The cedar posts in the grape arbor had rotted through and the overgrown grapevines were doing all the hard work. So a couple of weeks ago, in less decent weather but good enough for farm work, I took off all the grapes at knee height and pulled the posts, replacing them with iron tee posts in pairs marching up the slope toward the house. Today I spent a couple of hours fishing the heavy-gauge arbor wire out of the prunings and straightening it, sunk pipes in the ground at either end of the arbor and strung back and forth till I ran out of wire, then twisted sticks into the guy wires that ran down to the pipes to pull all the slack out of the structure.

Then I dug the holes for the pear trees, which I would set and water in, later in the day.

In all this activity I only whacked myself in the head twice, and ruined only one fingernail.

I could see Beloved from about a quarter of a mile away, coming up from the river along the road with her unmistakable long general-of-all-I-survey stride. She stopped by the "orchard" and made appreciative noises.

I straightened up -- slowly, joints creaking -- gathered my tools, and walked up to the barn with her.

The poultry have pretty much obliterated their pasture, and if we want to keep advertising their eggs as free range, we have got to expand their territory. We've, as shut-ins, talked about this all winter, and today was our first, hey really first, real opportunity to look things over.

"'Kay," said Beloved, "where are we going to fence?"

"Well ... I want to come right over to the bridge here, and move that gate to here, then over to the southwest house corner. No farther, 'cuz we don't want to let them get too close to the well."


"The take off from this corner here and over to the southeast corner. And we can use the existing gate that way for barn access."

"That's all?"

Well, are you adding birds this year?"

"No, not till next year."

"Kay, so that's this year's expansion, which will almost double their grass. Then next year, 'God willing and the crick don't rise,' we might get some help and go all the way round."

"Where's that?"

"I'd get the neighbor's say-so, pull the cedar posts down the boundary, put in t-posts, and go woven-wire all the way to the corner -- and lazy-gate there for truck access -- across to behind the mailbox, turn there and come up to the powerline pole ..."

"Okay." She walked with me as I gestured and pointed.

" ... and then here by the beds I'm not sure about."

"I do want to keep the beds, and only let them in there in the winter time."

"So, we could go straight up from the mailbox, behind this bed, turn right here, and either cut across right in front of the front porch, or if we want more room for ourselves, almost over to the other fence, and that makes this part just a little highway for them. Oh, and we'd need a gate in this corner so's to get down to the garden."

"That's a lot of fence."

"That's why I'm willing to wait a year if you are. But it would be a whole world for the birdsies."

"Yes. Yes, it would, and I like it."

We stood in the sunshine and found ourselves leaning back into each other, she looking into the barnyard full of clucking hens, I looking down through the little orchard to the already dilapidated deer fence round the circle garden.

Nothing was said for a few minutes.

Beloved turned round and looked down into my eyes. (Well, she is taller than I, and was uphill from me at that.)

"This," she said, emphatically, "is the kind of a talk I like to have."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

standing sideways

I spent another weekend in the bowels of the earth.

Having determined that the leak must be underground, I crawled around mapping the system and found that the line from the original pumphouse -- all galvanized pipe, all sixty years old -- runs along the back, outside of the original house -- before the add-ons. Meaning much of the system is buried in the earth beneath foundations and crawl spaces, one of which is inaccessible from anywhere, except maybe by tunneling into it.

I hoped I would find a leak at one of the three garden-hose standpipes, but digging turned up nothing at first. However, we ran the pump experimentally for a few minutes and discovered that a puddle was slowly forming in the hole farthest from the wellhouse -- the front of the house, nearest the street. Aha!

Gathering my tools, and a battery powered lamp, I crawled into a space we know as the "crypt" because it has four walls and one entrance and is about eight feet square by sixteen inches high. Using a geology hammer and a trowel, I slogged out about four square feet of clay, and uncovered a mare's nest of pipes and tubing next to the outside foundation. The clay was phenomenal -- you could model with it. I would push it off the hammer with my glove, then off my glove with the hammer, then off the hammer with my glove -- back and forth -- there ith a clay that thticketh, and thith wath definithely ith.

We ran the pump for another ten seconds and discovered the leak at last -- underneath the concrete foundation wall itself!

I have a set of pipe wrenches, twelve, fourteen and eighteen inches long, which I must have gotten from my dad sometime in the distant past, and which served me well in my former life. I have lost a lot of strength to both old age and my hormone regimen, though, and just lifting the biggest one makes my eyes pop. But I was able -- just -- to turn the standpipe by standing sideways on the outside wall of the foundation for leverage, dropping to the ground as the pipe turned. I then climbed back in the hole and turned the horizontal pipe under the foundation until it came loose from the tee, and replaced it with the spigot from the standpipe.

The water system is now back online.


The new piping installed by the expensive plumber at the hot water heater is leaking at the join.

Hmm. Ok, cold water only for now -- so what else is new?


Beloved found me slumped by the fire, caked in mud.

"How are you doing?"


"I was afraid of that... umm, there was a call while you were underneath. The group that did the town hall last year. They want you to be on some committee tonight."