Dunton Family Farm News

What's Happening Around the Farm as well as a Soapbox for head farmer, Mike Dunton

Garden Time

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere of the planet, it is not quite time to get out and start digging and sowing in the garden.  On nice days like we had here on the farm this morning, there are always garden related tasks that we can steal away to.  This morning we got some of the flower beds around the house cleaned up . . . weeds hoed out of the bark, various leaves, twigs and other debris raked up, etc.  But the greenhouses sit empty and the fields fallow.

However, we all know Tempus fugit, and it will not be long before we will be in the full swing of gardening.  What does this mean right now?  It is time to plan!  I have not started to actually lay out our gardens, but I have been figuring out the list of what things I need to be growing out to replenish stock as well as the new varieties that I want to trial.

For the home gardener, this is the perfect time of year to review your gardening notebooks from past years, noting your successes and failures, your favorite varietiess, and getting your seed orders submitted.

I can tell you that as I write this entry, we have no work backlog and are getting orders filled and mailed within a day or two.  Those of you that have been supporting our seed variety preservation work with your orders over the years know that we can get busy the closer we get to planting time.  This is just a heads up to folks who are in a position to take advantage of the slow time.

And once you do get your list of seeds made and ordered, there is still more planning you can do to be prepared for gardening time.

1)  You can start getting your pots cleaned and organized.  Most folks skip this step and I admit, I can be lax on this point when time is a factor.  But if you are ahead of the game, take the time to put a little chlorine bleach in a five gallon bucket of water and dip each old pot.  It is just another precautionary measure to help prevent soil borne diseases.

2)  Buy fresh seed starting potting mix.  This is actually pretty important.  Old potting soil will likely have lost any nutritional value that it might have had.  And depending on how and where it has been stored, it could be harboring insects and disease.  You want to give your seeds and seedlings the best possible conditions that you can in order to improve your odds of success.  A good, organic, sterile, seed starting mix is a good investment.

3)  Get your garden journal ready.  This is nothing fancy.  I use a three ring binder with clear plastic sleeves to store things like seed packets, garden layout drawings, and blank pages for keeping notes about things like weather, the emergence of various pests, when things were sown or planted, first maturity dates, harvest dates, what inputs were applied and overall summaries of how each variety fared.  This is great data to review when planning each future garden.

4)  Set up your seed starting location.  I have a small cabin on the farm that I heat and move a shelving unit into that I attach lights to.  If you use a spare bedroom, heated greenhouse or potting shed, etc. , now is the time to get an area cleaned up and ready.

5)  Draw up your garden plan!  I actually measure out the space and on graph paper, draw my gardens to scale.  It takes a bit of time up front, and I have been known to change my mind a bit when we actually set to planting, but I would never head out to a fresh garden space without one.

It would be like a painter starting a painting on a fresh canvas without the first thought or prior sketch of what they were about to paint.  Yes, they might end up with something beautiful, but you an bet there would be many revisions and a lot of wasted time and materials.

Plan!  Draw the outline of the space.  Make a reference to where south is and where the sun will be at the peak of your gardening season.  Use your list of seeds to decide where they will best thrive and remember to consider their height and girth at maturity when assigning them their locations.  If you are a seed saver, this is also a good time to consider isolation distances.

These are the types of things that we can actually control in our explorations into gardening and food production.  Of course, nature always has a few surprises to throw at us over which we have no control, but by planning and working with our knowledge of how nature typically acts in our location, we stand a good chance of achieving some level of gardening success.

And in closing on this subject of garden planning, the following is a news segment from a Eugene, Oregon television station.  It offers some tips and we really like the seed choices that the garden writer made :)

posted by Mike in Company News and have Comments (2)

A Case for Mid-20th Century farming in the 21st Century

TIME WASTE ALERT – This post really does not have a lot to do specifically with heirloom seeds.  Keep reading only if you are interested in “heirloom farming.”


We are an IH FarmIf you have spent any time on our websites getting to know us, you already are familiar with our mission and interests.  In a nutshell, our work (our lives really) revolve around historical horticulture.

Seed variety preservation is the primary focus of our work but many other pieces harmonize to allow this work.  For example, in order to research and document the histories and pedigrees of old plant varieties, as well as the companies that released them, we have build a pretty good collection of rare books, seed catalogs, agricultural bulletins, and other related documentation.  A dream of mine is to someday get the collection digitized and available for other researchers, but I digress.

We aren’t the typical seed company that simply purchases from the mainstream international seed industry and repackages.  We live, raise seed and operate the company from a multi-generational family farm.  In terms of modern farming practices where thousand-acre, mono-cultured corporate farms are the norm, at just under thirty acres, we are tiny.  Even though mainstream agriculture, in the form of agencies and media, tell us that small farming is not sustainable, we actually believe in our hearts that the exact opposite is true.  History proves this.

We  do not see our size a limitation.   By being on a small farm, it has meant that myself and my ancestors have always been challenged to be creative to remain successful and relevant in our community.  That is, we resist the human nature tendency to simply do things because, “that is how they always have been done.”  Instead, diversification, adaptation and change have resulted in our farm remaining viable and productive, in spite of our physical land boundaries.

A little insight into this adaption process comes from a current bit of research and experimentation that I have been doing.  It stems from the fact that we are trying to raise more and more seed in bigger and bigger quantities and our old, manual methods are no longer able to keep up.  For very small farming (or extreme gardening), using pre-industrial age tools and a lot of sweat works fine.  However, at a certain point, you can simply plant too many beans to tend, harvest and clean by hand.  Just ask my family!

In the past, our volume was such that it was a simple task to do it completely by hand.  But as I have increase planting amounts, family members have grown up and left the farm and in spite of the recession (or depression or whatever it is we are all in), the labor rates continue to rise here in Oregon.  The solution to this is mechanization and automation.

But as previously mentioned, modern agriculture is focused around large, mono-cultured farming practices which means that equipment manufacturers make tractors and implements that are huge, specialized and expensive.  So over the past few years I have been researching old, pre-corporate farming methods.

For a (very) brief period early on in my studies, I romanticized about farming as people had done for thousands of years using draft animals.  (Perhaps I will revisit this when I retire someday.)  But since I do not have the “luxury” of simply farming all of my waking hours  (I do have to fit operating VSC into my schedule), farming with animals would add additional chores, expenses, responsibilities and not speed up tasks all that much.

It was in my research that I realized that if there ever was a “Golden Age” for small farming, it was just past the “Twenty Acres and a Mule” era, right around the middle of the 20th Century.  It was during this time that the equipment manufacturers were improving, mechanizing and building on the Industrial Age innovations of the late 19th Century.  The result was the production of farming machinery perfect for ten to twenty acre farms.

So, time permitting, I have been trying to find affordable, older equipment that still has serviceable life left in it that we can get put to use here on the farm.  This past week I was able to acquire not one but two new (very old :) ) Farmall Cub tractors that are set up for row crop farming.  We have had a Cub since I have been here but it was set up for tillage (plowing, discing, harrowing) so it was rarely used.  The last time I used it was to mow a field that I once used as a pasture.

The new Cubs are set up for cultivation!  One is set up to hill and cultivate a single row and the other is set up for two, closer together rows.  If  I can figure out proper spacings for next year’s garden layout, the plan is to use them for replace the task of hoeing things like beans and corn.

If you are curious and want to learn a little about old Farmall tractors, click here.  You also might be interested in the harvester that I found about this time last year.  I hope to begin trying out various heirloom grain varieties in the future.

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posted by Mike in Farm News and have No Comments

The Top Ten Easiest Plants to Grow From Seed

If you have never gardened or have never tried starting plants from seeds, here is a list, with links, to the ten easiest plants to grow from seed.   This list is not just our picks.  They are based on a poll of the membership of the Home Garden Seed Association.

All of these types of plants can be sown directly into the garden which means that you don’t have to take the extra step of starting them in pots indoors.  All germinate quickly and easily and most mature fast as well.

posted by Mike in Gardening Tips and have No Comments

Click for Heirloom Tomato Seed Selection Save Seeds - Victory Horticultural Library matersearch.com - online tomato resources