Sharpening a Crosscut Saw

Matt’s combination gauge balances on one handle of his two-man crosscut saw in the woodshed. Well, not normally, but it does for the purposes of this artsy-fartsy photo.

Around here we call them “misery whips”.  These are those long, flexible manual wood-cutting saws you see in pioneer-era logging photos and at log shows.  The really long ones have a handle each end, making them a two-man saw.  The teeth on these saws, unlike the little hardware store special you use once a year to fall a Christmas tree, are several inches deep – like crocodile teeth.

Naturally, Matt has one.
For my birthday we went to the swap meet, which is kind of like playing gift roulette.  Will I find nothing or the score of a lifetime?  Skipping over the exciting start to our journey in which our mochas got cold while we filled out police reports for an hour because we witnessed a noontime drunk trying to take on a telephone pole (no serious injuries and he did not, as he hoped, get away before the police arrived), I can sum up the day by saying that my birthday present to myself was to force Matt to buy things for himself.  At the antiques store he found (and I cajoled him to purchase) a whole set of the red plastic cookie cutters coveted and hoarded by his family.  At the swap meet he found a combination jointer gauge.  He knew enough to know that it played some part in sharpening crosscut saws, but not enough to use it, so we took it over to the museum.  (The Western Heritage Center is one of our top weekend destinations – I’ll be singing its praises in a future post.)  They were able to confirm Matt’s suspicions and give him a quick run down.  Our presence encouraged other people to enter and engage themselves in the interactive exhibits, and since we mooch around the museum practically every other weekend we removed ourselves so that the two guides could focus on the newcomers.
I hopped online at the library the next day to check YouTube for videos of sharpening these saws.  I expected to find at least a few, given the popularity of logging shows in our region and the recent spate of “extreme” logging shows on the edutainment channels.  Skunked.  Plenty of high-end woodworking saws being sharpened, but no big nasties.  A little more online puttering yielded the perfect guide:  a 2003 revision of a 1977 Forest Service crosscut saw manual.  Not only did it explain, in well-illustrated detail, how to sharpen the beasts, but also the subtle differences between different saws, how the different tooth patterns cut, how to construct a vise for sharpening and general maintenance, how to choose a new or used saw, and how to use the thing.
Not for everyone, but for those who need it, a very valuable resource.  Available for free download here.
– Amanda

Seedy Catalogs

This year I wrote away for damn near every seed catalog I heard about. If it claimed to have open pollinated, heirloom, unusual, rare, or otherwise interesting vegetables or herbs I asked for a copy. I ended up with 24 catalogs. There’s only one company I can say something really negative about, and that is Parks Seed Co. I ordered a few things from them last year and fully half of my selections failed entirely to germinate. I have heard horror stories (in Possum Living , actually) about weevils in corn seed ordered from Park.
Here’s what I have to say about the others (my favorites are marked with a ):
  • Botanical Interests (http://www.botanicalinterests.com/): I have bought seeds from this company before, because many of my favorite garden centers carry them (and they have strikingly beautiful hand illustrated packets) but I have never received their catalog before this year. They offer a good selection of veggies, flowers, and herbs. Insider planting tips and recipes from restaurant chefs are sprinkled throughout. Open pollinated and hybrid varieties are not indicated.
  • Bountiful Gardens (http://www.bountifulgardens.org/): The seed catalog from Ecology Action Network, the organization that promotes the Grow Biointensive method of agriculture. All seeds in this catalog are untreated and open-pollinated. This is a very interesting catalog offering some things I had never heard of before (like highly drought resistant moth beans from India). Their goal is subsistence gardening for everyone, no matter your economic circumstances or climate, so you’re bound to find something that will flourish in your soil. They are also distinguished from many other home gardening catalogs in that they have a good selection of grain, fiber, and oilseed crops. Tantalizing book section, too. Recommended by Rodale.
  • Burpee Gardening (http://www.burpee.com/): A long-standing and well-respected company with a nice catalog. About 2/3 of the catalog is devoted to edibles (veggies, herbs, fruits), and the rest to annuals, perennials, bulbs, and tools. Their selection is very good, but I was not able to determine what varieties were open pollinated and which were hybrid – although there are a lot of clearly marked heirlooms. Burpee has been around 135 years now, which is long enough that they can fairly mark anything they’ve carried since their launch as an heirloom. Recommended by Rodale.
  • The Cook’s Garden (http://www.cooksgarden.com/): Like the Tomato Growers Supply Company catalog (below), this one is full of oversized, lavish photos in a very open format reminiscent of a well-designed blog or website. These photos will make you drool. They carry all the usual vegetables, and have quite a large selection of salad greens. There’s also a handful of pages devoted to cutting flowers. Open pollinated and hybrid varieties are fairly well marked. They seem to have an emphasis on collections – just about every kind of crop in the catalog is available in some sort of “best of”, “best value”, or “cook’s choice” collection of seeds. Recommended by Rodale.
  • Dixondale Farms (http://www.dixondalefarms.com/): This was the first year I got this one. All they do is onion plants: short, intermediate, and long day varieties – and lots of them. All that mattered to me was that they had my preferred variety, Copra, and that they could ship to my state. I live in Washington, home to the famous Walla Walla sweet onion, which originated in the town with the same name, so there are restrictions on importing onion transplants and seeds that could contaminate the commercial crop. Because of these restrictions I wasn’t able to order my onion plants from the cheapest supplier (at a price of approximately $0.18 per plant) but Dixondale Farms’ price was quite competitive ($0.21 each) and, as it turns out, their price included shipping.
  • Gourmet Seed International (http://www.gourmetseed.com/): This simply laid out catalog (newsprint, no illustrations except for in the tool section) has a pretty wide variety of everything (10 beets is pretty good, if you ask me) with an emphasis on varieties that originate in Europe – Italy in particular. They are importers for an Italian seed company called Bavicchi. Seeds are offered by the packet or in larger amounts, so I think this would be a good catalog for CSA and market gardeners as well as home gardeners. Open pollinated and hybrid varieties are only indicated in the tomato section.
  • Irish Eyes Garden Seeds (http://www.irisheyesgardenseeds.com/): Another of my favorites, but this is a new one. This is the first year I have received their catalog. I discovered them because they are the company from which our local feed store buys their garlic and seed potatoes. They are located in my state, so I don’t have to worry about importation restrictions. This is a half-size catalog (that’s what us zinesters call a publication made from letter size paper folded in half) on newsprint but with color print and decent photography. This is a great source for potatoes because not only do they have a buttload of varieties they have a buttload of information on them and a handy chart to help you decide what to order based on maturity time, keeping ability, cooking qualities, etc. They have everything else you could ask for in the way of veggies and they also carry beneficial insects, cover crops, tools, and a handful of wildflowers. It’s not always clear if varieties are open pollinated or hybrid, but they do carry quite a few heirlooms. Recommended by Rodale.
  • John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds (http://www.kitchengardenseeds.com/): Even though there’s no photographs at all in this catalog, I had a surprisingly good time reading it. There are very nice illustrations scattered throughout, but what makes it so pleasant is the descriptions – these people are obviously quite passionate about food gardening. Every item in the catalog has a full paragraph detailing its virtues. Open pollinated and hybrid varieties are clearly indicated.
  • Johnny’s Selected Seeds (http://www.johnnyseeds.com/): Another in the pantheon of established favorites of mail-order gardeners. I remember Johnny’s being kind of boring when I used to get it in the 90s, but it would appear that they have evolved. I’m glad I said “what the hell, why not” and ordered up a catalog. They have expanded the size of their catalog (just over 200 pages now) and their organic offerings have run rampant and nearly taken over every page. Open pollinated and hybrid varieties are clearly indicated. Almost the entire catalog is edibles, but there are a few pages of forage and cover crops, and plenty of tempting tools. While the average gardener can still get everything they need from this catalog, it strikes me that their new focus may be on CSA and small market farmers. Recommended by Rodale.
  • Jung Seeds & Plants (http://www.jungseed.com/): An old favorite of many a mail-order gardener. I have never heard anything against them, but this does happen to be the first year I have placed an order with them. Their prices were pretty competitive, and I ended up ordering 12.5% of my seeds from them. Large, color-saturated catalog features fruit, nuts, flowers, shrubs, vegetables, tools, and some bulbs. All the usual stuff and a few unusual items, as well (like medlars and watermelons the size of kiwis).
  • Miller Nurseries (http://www.millernurseries.com/): An excellent source of perennial food plants: berries, tree fruits, vine fruits, nuts, asparagus, etc. Four pages of grapes, eight pages of apples! And some unusual stuff, too, like mulberry, sea berry, and Japanese heartnut. They also carry some bare root perennials and shade trees.
  • Nichols Garden Nursery (http://www.nicholsgardennursery.com/): I got this for the first time last year and it instantly became my favorite. Almost half of my total seeds are coming from Nichols this year. They have just about everything I could ask for. Vegetables up the ying yang, berries, herbs (including less common ones like black cumin and saffron), olives, tea (Camellia sinensis!), Meyer lemons, an astounding selection of hops (they are based in Oregon, where tasty microbrews abound), cover crops, flowers, cheese culture, homebrewing supplies, and I could go on. Open pollinated and hybrid varieties are clearly indicated. Recommended by Rodale.
  • Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply (http://www.groworganic.com/): This was one of my favorite catalogs in years past, and I don’t want to sound like I’ve soured on them, but the catalog was not too impressive this year. It was essentially a 67 page brochure for their website. Yeah, I place all my seed orders online, but I want a paper catalog to flip through at any hour of the long dark winter! I’m sure that their quality and selection have not diminished along with the size of their catalog, which used to rival Territorial’s for size and information. They carried every vegetable you could ask for, but what always impressed me about their catalog was the massive tool selection. I think that this is an excellent resource for anyone interested in starting a CSA or market garden – particularly if they envision growing 100% organic and using season extending devices like poly tunnels and row covers. Recommended by Rodale.
  • Pinetree Garden Seeds (http://www.superseeds.com/): Our good friend Husby recommended this one. It arrived after I’d placed the bulk of my orders, but because they offer so many things I’ve decided I can’t live without I’m going to place an order anyway. In addition to an admirable selection of vegetables and flowers they carry all manner of herbs and other useful plants like three kinds of mustard (the kind you grow for seed to make the condiment), cotton, woad, henna, tobacco (10 kinds!), and more. The book section may as well be a catalog unto itself, and the titles show me that these guys are into homesteading, too. (You’ll be seeing reviews of some of them on this blog, I’m sure). Tool section includes kitchen tools and soapmaking supplies. It’s not always obvious whether a variety is open pollinated or a hybrid, but heirlooms are marked. Recommended by Rodale.
  • Raintree Nursery (http://www.raintreenursery.com/): This is an extremely interesting catalog. They offer a wide variety of standard and unusual berries, fruit trees, herbs, groundcovers, vines, ornamentals, nut trees, and citrus. Almost everything is edible or bears fruit. You may be amazed to find a variety of something in here that you never thought you could grow in your zone. For the truly hardcore, they offer rootstocks for your grafting pleasure. Recommended by Rodale.
  • Seed Savers Exchange (http://www.seedsavers.org/): I am a big fan of this catalog, but I haven’t ordered a whole lot from them because I can frequently find their offerings a few cents cheaper elsewhere. However, this practice always makes me feel guilty because I’m essentially taking money away from an organization that exists solely to preserve worthwhile heirloom varieties of edibles. On top of being a beautiful catalog (top-notch photography) you know that every variety in it is open pollinated since every seed is saved by a member of the exchange and everything in the catalog has a fascinating history. If you become addicted to heirloom gardening you’ve got to join the society ($40.00 a year) because you’ll get the complete catalog – the one I get is just a tiny sampling of what they offer. Potatoes, for example: the catalog I get lists a very respectable 13 varieties – but the header says that if I were a member I could choose from 540 varieties! Someday I’ll join. In the meantime I’ll continue to use the non-member catalog as a reference book. Recommended by Rodale.
  • Stokes Seeds (http://www.stokeseeds.com/): Almost entirely veggies, although there are a few cutting flowers and bedding plants. Very nice catalog. Because almost all varieties are available in amounts ranging from packets to 25 pound sacks I think that they target both the backyard and market gardeners. This is another well-established catalog with quite a following. Open pollinated and hybrid varieties are clearly indicated.
  • Territorial Seed Company (http://www.territorialseed.com/): This is one of my favorite companies. If I had to slim down my catalogs to just a handful, this would be one of my first picks. Even if you never buy any of the (lots and lots) of veggies offered in this catalog, you should order a copy anyway and keep it on your shelf as a reference guide. Anything you ever needed to know about growing a vegetable is in this catalog. About 3/4 of this large (167 page) catalog is devoted to edibles, and the rest to flowers and tantalizing tools. Open pollinated and hybrid varieties are clearly indicated. Recommended by Rodale.
  • Thompson & Morgan (http://www.tmseeds.com/ ): I’ve been getting this catalog off and on since I started fiddling with ornamental gardening in middle school, but I don’t know that I’ve ever placed an order. A nicely illustrated (photos are not over-saturated), sizable (137 pages), and well-respected catalog. About 3/4 of the catalog is devoted to ornamentals, but the vegetable and herb selection is nothing to sniff at, either. One thing to keep in mind: this is an English catalog so watch for unfamiliar names for familiar plants (for instance, in the UK and some commonwealth countries rutabagas are called swedes). Open pollinated and hybrid varieties are not clearly indicated.
  • Tomato Growers Supply Company (http://www.tomatogrowers.com/): The tomatoes in this catalog are arranged both by when they ripen (early, mid, late), shape (oxheart, beefsteak, small-fruited), and color (bi-color, black, green, orange). I counted 378 varieties offered! They also carry tomato relatives pepper and eggplant in admirable profusion. A beautiful catalog, to boot. Hybrids are indicated.
  • Totally Tomatoes (http://www.totallytomato.com/): Actually, it’s not totally tomatoes – though they do offer an astounding 290 varieties of tomatoes, they also have almost as many peppers, some cucumbers, and “salad fixin’s”. Hybrid and open pollinated tomatoes are listed separately but the difference is not always clear with other vegetables.
  • Vermont Bean Seed Company (http://www.vermontbean.com/): This was the first year I got this catalog, as well. Lots of legumes in here – 51 pole beans (snap and wax and whatnot), 10 limas,19 peas, and 39 dry beans. But in a 55 page catalog that leaves a lot of room, so they also offer the usual array of vegetables, herbs, a handful of annual flowers, and some lily bulbs. Open pollinated and hybrid varieties are not always clearly marked.
  • Willhite Seed, Inc. (http://www.willhiteseed.com/): This was the first year I got this catalog. This is another catalog where seed is available by the packet or in larger quantities. Their selection is not large, but it is not the same as in my other catalogs. I don’t know if this is because of their southern (Texas) location – most of my other catalogs come from the northern ends of either coast – but they carry a slightly different line of vegetables. Watermelons are a specialty with this company. Their super low prices on herb seeds made them the winner in that category when I placed my orders this year. Hybrids are indicated.
– Amanda

USDA Home and Garden Bulletin Archive

There are untold numbers of USDA Bulletins out there, and they’re a wealth of free information, but I have been stymied in my search for a comprehensive online collection.  I’ve found lists of all the bulletins ever published, but can’t find a single source for purchasing or downloading them.  However, I recently stumbled upon one place to download quite a few of them: the USDA Home and Garden Bulletin wing of the The Greenstone Digital Library.  It’s not comprehensive, but it has some great titles dating back to the fifties.

— Amanda

Amanda’s New Obession

Let me begin by apologizing for the amazing length of time since my last post. I have half a dozen posts from both me and Matt waiting in the wings, but I need time to hone them and attach pictures, and fall is a busy time even at a pretend homestead like ours!

That out of the way, let me tell you what has been occupying my lunch breaks and preventing me from posting like I should. Michigan State Library’s “Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project”. This is an addictive online archive of fantastic titles like Common Sense in the Household: A Manual of Practical Housewifery and The Cook Not Mad, Or, Rational Cookery.

— Amanda