Thursday, April 9, 2015

Family History Friday #14 - Old John Maytham Had a Farm

    In working on the Maytham family I stumbled into something fun the other day. I found John Maytham, my third great grandfather, on the agricultural schedule of the 1850 census.  This is a wonderful feature of the 1850, 1860, and 1870 federal censuses which provides a window into the daily life of our ancestors assuming one is lucky enough to have some farmers on their family tree.  The agricultural schedule not only lists the size and value of the farm, but goes into considerable detail as to the number of various farm animals, the value of their farm implements and machinery, and how much of various commodities was produced on the farm.  I find it fascinating to not just know they were a farmer, but to know exactly what kind of a farmer.

    John Maytham's farm consisted of 90 acres, 60 of which were improved and 30 unimproved.  I'm pretty sure improved means house, barn, orchard, and fenced fields and pastures.  The unimproved acreage was possibly woods, or it may have been land too hilly, too rocky, etc to farm. In that part of Ohio I think it is most likely that the unimproved land was woods.  The estimated cash value of the farm was $1,000 while the value of his farm implements and machinery was $53. Implements would be items like a plow or a wagon.  Most of the farms on John Maytham's page of the agricultural schedule  consisted of 80 acres or less of "improved land".

   John Maytham's live stock consisted of 4 horses, 5 "milch" cows, 2 working oxen, 5 "other" cattle, 100 sheep, and 15 swine, for a total of 131 animals.  The oxen were likely used for plowing and heavy draft work.  The horses were probably more used for transportation, like riding or pulling a wagon. It looks like the sheep were their primary livestock as 100 is a sizeable flock of sheep for a small farm.  That is a lot more sheep than any one family could eat.  The annual production of wool from that flock was 300 pounds, a lot more than would be needed for the personal use of the family.  I wonder if they sold it as raw wool or washed and carded some of the wool for a "value added" product.  It is very likely that the daughters were taught to clean, card, and spin wool. The smaller number of swine were probably raised mainly to feed the family as opposed to a revenue source.  The livestock was valued at a total of $363. That averages out to less than $3 per animal.

   The schedule also provided information about the farm's yearly production of certain crops and commodities. John Maytham primary crop was "Indian Corn" of which he grew 350 bushels.  That is a whole lot of corn shucking and shelling.  I'm guessing his numerous children were very active participants in harvesting the corn. I wonder how old a child had to be to get to drive the wagon. John Maytham may have had a hand crank corn sheller similar to mine.  With that volume of corn, I suspect that his children might have been less enthused about cranking the corn sheller than my grandchildren have been. He also grew 100 bushels of wheat, 50 bushels of oats, and 30 bushels of buckwheat.  I'm not sure how the grain crops were harvested and threshed.  Lesser commodities included 10 tons of hay,  5 bushels of "Irish" potatoes, 500 pounds of butter, orchard products valued at $20, and 60 pounds of maple sugar.  The value of animals slaughtered was $65. That may seem paltry by today's standards, but remember that John Maytham's 131 head of livestock were collectively valued at $363.  The animals slaughtered for food or sale would have a lesser value than his horses, milk cows, and oxen. That $65 could easily represent 50 slaughter lambs, 10 hogs, and a few steers.  I'm sure a great deal of serious labor was involved in harvesting the grain crops and the ten tons of hay.

    The primary orchard product in those days was probably apple cider.  Initially I thought that seemed like a very small orchard, but this was back when a sheep could be purchased for a dollar. I suspect that the orchard would have consisted of at least a dozen apple trees.  The value of homemade manufactures was  $6.  I'm curious what that category might have included. Possibilities I've considered are homespun woolen yarn or carpentry products.  For all I know, they may even have had a bee hive or two.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Gift of Mushrooms

   Ian. a good bee store friend, has been volunteering at the store one day a week.  He has helped me maintain my sanity by filling in on days when I have insufficient hired help. I have not felt as overwhelmed at work as I had expected, thanks to Ian and good hired help. This past week Ian brought me a wonderful little gift, an oyster mushroom starter kit in a gallon plastic bag. Ian is fairly obsessed with mushrooms and has been culturing several different varieties. According to Ian, the Oyster mushrooms (of the pleurotus genus) are among the easiest to culture because they can outcompete other fungi that may be contaminating the growing medium.  They are supposed  to have wonderful health benefits such as lowering blood cholesterol levels when eaten regularly.  Pleurotus mushrooms are saprophytic, meaning they live on decomposing materials, usually dying or dead hardwood trees. I was amazed to read on wikipedia that pleurotus mushrooms also eat nematodes, immobilizing their prey by emitting a toxin that paralyzes the nematode.  Pleurotus mushrooms have also been used to clean up oil spills. A very versatile fungus.
Oyster mushroom spawn in a bag
   Ian starts his oyster mushroom cultures by pasteurizing straw, then inoculating it with the oyster mushroom mycelium.  He told me that the oyster mushrooms are so vigorous that they can easily take over compost piles.  I found that to be a very intriguing idea. I always accumulate spare pallets at work.  I also have lots of soiled straw bedding from the ducks, chickens and goats. I decided to wire together some wooden pallets, fill the enclosure with spoiled straw, then add Ian's oyster mushroom kit as a starter.  His only warning regarding my plan was that it was very important to keep the pile well watered.  It just so happens that my new mushroom compost pile is located in between the poultry pens and the goat pen.  It's just a new place to dump dirty goat, chicken, and duck water.
Mushrooms are already starting to emerge on Sunday
Two days later on Tuesday morning

    I've already assembled the new compost pile and have started filling it with spoiled straw.  The only problem so far is some free range chickens who likes to scratch in the straw. I spent some time on Monday capturing the free rangers and putting a net cover over the chicken pen in preparation for  my mushroom compost pile scheme. In the mean time I will let the oyster mushrooms grow on the kitchen counter. It already has started to bear fruit. The white stuff growing in the straw is the actual mushroom mycelium or the equivalent of the plant itself. What is growing out the hole in the bag are the fruiting bodies or what we call the mushrooms. The mushroom in this case is analogous to the apple while all of the white mycelium is analogous to the apple tree.



Sunday, April 5, 2015

Quality Time with Grand Children and the Demise of Black Jack

   I had a very enjoyable weekend which involved a lot of quality time with three of my wonderful grand children, Britton, Lucy, and John Tunnell.  I had to travel to Ellensburg on Saturday (March 28) to attend a meeting of the WASBA Master Beekeeper Committee.  After the meeting, I stopped by the Tunnells and brought James' and Beth's three oldest children home with me.  We had a fun ride home which included over an hour of silly songs.  Judging from requests for repeats their current favorites seem to be "The Big Black Hat" and "The Ladies of the Harem of the Court of King Caractacus". I looked up the name to make sure I was spelling it correctly. It appears that King Caractacus fought against the Roman invasion of Britain for about ten years before he was finally defeated and taken to Rome as a captive.  

    I had a nice Sunday with the older three bedlamites. I made biscuits for Sunday breakfast. Since I am no longer serving in the Bishopric I got to sit with my grandchildren for the first hour of church. I enjoyed listening to  Britton and Lucy sing the hymns as they are both enthusiastic singers and can read very well.  The girls were very reverent during church. John was considerably less so.  He may not have been very reverent but at least he wasn't noisily irreverent.  I was a little concerned when I had to leave them for a bit while the ward choir performed "I  Know the My Redeemer Lives".  Happily, John was still there when I returned to my seat in the congregation.  After church we prepared "Stone Soup" for supper, Britton's suggestion.  Everyone got to chose two of the ingredients (besides the stones).  It actually turned out pretty well and I was pleasantly surprised at some of the vegetables they chose.

    We were also treated to a visit from my sister Mendy and her daughter, Melissa. They arrived shortly after we got home from church. In honor of my sister's visit I baked sour dough bread on Sunday evening. She had expressed an interest and I wanted to show her how easy it was using my new cookbook, "The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day."  I tried something new and used a covered baking dish Linda had brought home from France some years back.  We baked two loaves for a comparison.  It seemed that the better loaf was the one baked in the covered dish. It seemed to rise better, owing to the steam trapped by the cover.  I removed the cover for the last ten minutes of baking so the crust could brown appropriately.  She took one of the loaves along with some of my sour dough starter when she left to go home on Tuesday morning.

Britton, Lucy, and John help dig Black Jack's grave
    The only fly in the ointment for a wonderful Sabbath day was the discovery of a dead goat when I had fed the animals earlier in the day.  I broke the news to the kids a little carefully since I wasn't sure how well they would handle it. I needn't have worried. Their main reaction was one of relief that it wasn't Buster (the nice goat).  Black Jack was a bit pushy and intimidating to the kids so they were less sorrowful at his passing.

Britton and John shovel dirt back into the grave

Lucy helps fill in the grave

   Since the goat was already dead, it didn't seem like much of an ox in the mire.  I decided to defer Black Jack's burial to Monday morning.  The kids were very enthusiastic about helping me dig his grave. I expected the level of enthusiasm to diminish as the work of digging commenced, but the kids hung in there.  We got down to a depth of about a foot and a half deep when I had to ask them to take a break so I could finish the deeper portion of the hole.  Britton helped me drag  Black Jack from the goat pen to the grave and all of the kids helped me cover him up.  We sang "Bill Grogan's Goat" as a memorial; a very appropriate choice for a goat as mischievous as Black Jack.

   A good portion of Monday was spent working on a patio for our picnic table. The Bedlamites accompanied me to Home Depot to buy the pavers.  They didn't help much with the actual construction, as the individual pavers were a bit heavy for little hands.  They did provide a lot of encouragement and positive feed back.  We ended the day with a hot dog roast in the back yard and family history stories around the camp fire.  I put the kids to bed and then drove down to SeaTac to pick up Linda, who was due to arrive at about 9:30 pm from Maryland.  As it turned out, she arrived a little early, but her luggage did not. As much as the Romeros were sad to have her leave, it was very nice to have her home again.


Fixing the Water Heater and Planting Potatoes

     This is a very busy time of year for me thanks to our ownership of a beekeeping supply store, an extremely seasonal business. One consequence of that is the fact that I drafted several blog posts,  intending to to finish them a day or so later.  I just noticed that my drafts are now several weeks old. In spite of the fact that they now seem a bit stale, I decided I should go ahead and post them.

     On Monday (now two weeks ago) I spent a good portion of my day off messing with our water heater.  It left us in the lurch Saturday evening, leaving us with no hot water for baths or showers on Sunday morning.  The urgency of the problem was heightened by the arrival of my son, daughter-in-law and four little grandchildren on Friday evening.  I invested in a multimeter and was prepared to replace one of the heating elements.  As it turned out, the problem was simply an internal breaker.  The water heater just needed someone to push the red reset button. I could have done that in fifteen minutes on Sunday morning if I had realized the problem was that simple.

     Sadly, I wasn't wise enough to just do that simple task and call it good. I felt obligated to try to flush the water tank and check the elements.  If I had stuck with my usual aversion to preventive maintenance it would have been a fifteen minute job.  Every time I involve myself with anything vaguely related to plumbing it seems to turn into a serious can of worms. Four hours later and after a significant amount of water on the floor, the gift of hot water was returned to us. The upper heating element looked just fine in case anyone is interested and there is now a little less calcium deposited in the bottom of the water tank.

    I had originally intended to use my day off to spend some time with my grandkids and make some progress on my vegetable garden.  I had to settle for a partial on both counts.  I did get to hang out some with grandkids. Little Nora still likes me in spite of the fact that I failed to replenish the bin of ear corn for the corn sheller.  It was one of the first things she went to when they got here and insisted on feeding the corn cobs back through the sheller again and again.  When she tired of that she played in the bin of shelled corn as if it were a sandbox. My son James helped me with the water tank and a few other chores.  I did manage to get my potatoes planted.  I hope to get my peas planted in the next few days and start a few things indoors.

    On another happy note I finished my last beekeeping class tonight. I don't have another bee class scheduled until November.  While I enjoy teaching the classes, I am really ready for a break by the time the last class is done.