Heat and Iron, Hammer to Metal

Last weekend, my brother and I spent a day with my blacksmith friend Jeffrey. While my brother has dabbled a bit in metal work, I have not, and I wanted to get a feel for what it takes to manipulate metal to build useful things for the farm. My dream would be to have a small blacksmithing setup on the farm: a propane forge, an anvil, an air hammer, and a leg vice. There, with my vast amounts of free time, I would build my own gates and latches, hammers, hoes, and other hand tools.

Hand-forged blacksmith hammers and tongs.

This dream is all a part of the larger vision of exploring different crafts, and developing hand skills and a measure of self-sufficiency. I'm not deluded enough to think we could be completely self-sufficient, nor would I want to be. To me, complete self-sufficiency can mean self-ish and would lead to isolation from the surrounding community. At Prairie Heritage Farm, we are striving to build our personal community and be a part of the larger community. An ideal world to me would be community-wide self-sufficiency, where everybody contributes valuable skills and trades. So, not everybody is a home brewer and bicycle mechanic and blacksmith and electrician and carpenter, etc., but rather one person might have a few skills and for those they don't have they call on their neighbor to help them out.

What follows is a series of photos of Jeffrey forging a leaf out of some square stock.

The metal heating up in the forge.

Jeffrey hammering the tip.

Drawing out the end of the stock.

More drawing out.

Shaping the stem.

The beginning of the leaf shape.

The air hammer works the metal out.

Some hand work.

More hand work.

The leaf.

The gate upon which the leaf will eventually be attached.


Fresh snow on the Rocky Mountain Front.

Fall in Montana has never been that long - usually at least a couple of weeks. This year, I'm not sure it lasted more than a few hours. The leaves starting turning, then it began to snow and the temperature plummeted. This morning, after a night of temperatures in the low teens, all the green leaves on the trees that didn't have a chance to show off their bright autumn colors, are now blanketing the ground.

Turkeys try their hand at gardening.

The turkeys are as resilient as ever, just eating more to stay warm. I put them on the spent garden to let them work the ground a bit and eat up weed seeds and cabbage and chard leaves. Because it's going to get down to around 4 degrees in the next couple of nights, my lovely wife and I herded the whole bunch from the garden back into the brooder, where they're at least out of the wind and wet. It looks as though it will warm back up a bit, at which time I'll likely herd them all back to the garden for as long as possible before I go over the ground with the tractor (I hope - unless it's too wet or the ground freezes).

Turkeys love chard, but who doesn't?

Shivering turkeys! It's snowing!

Crash and Harvest

As the season wound down, so did my computer. My hard drive gave up the ghost after only 9 months. Warranty replaced it, but not all that data. I don't have any particular attachment to most of what was on the hard drive, but I am quite upset about losing a season's photos and journal entries. I'm both angry at my computer and at myself for not diligently backing up my data. I'm searching for the lesson in all this (like, technology bad, simplify your life, etc.), but unfortunately, I think the lesson is, back up your data.

Despite that setback, the farm rolls on through its 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th frost. The turkeys continue to gobble, and Courtney and I have stored away the potatoes, onions, and winter squash. The emmer has been harvested and sits in the back of the truck in the quonset, safely out of the rain.

Actually, the emmer harvest was emblematic of all the support we've received our first year, especially from our close friends and family. My good neighbor (who picked up my lentils) was unable to slip away from his farm to pick up my emmer with his combine. So I called on my father-in-law Clyde, who does custom cutting for some of his neighbors. Saturday, after our final farmers' market, we met at his place, along with Court's brother, wife, and son. The caravan was as follows: Court in our pickup, Renee in hers, me in Clyde's pickup, flagging for the combine, Clyde in the combine, and Steve in the truck. We all worked to clean out the combine and truck, and it wasn't long before the combine picked up all the swathed emmer, dumped it into the truck and my 15-acre field's season was over.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some data to back up.

Steve and Sam put the truck together and clean it out.

I cleaned out the combine, happy for all the help we had.

And we're off.

The pickup header sweeps the swathed emmer into the machine.

The emmer in the combine bin.


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