The Southern Agrarian

Southern Agrarianism and the culture of the Old South

Author: Stephen Clay McGehee (page 1 of 13)

Making the Best of it

The Tolkien quote above is one of my favorites, and it is certainly applicable to the incredible instability in the world today. Life happens, and for the most part, we are just along for the ride.

What matters is what we do with the circumstances we find ourselves in. As for me, I choose to be a Southern gentleman – regardless of the situation. It is my choice, what I do with the current situation. That really came into focus as my wife and I walked through our local Publix grocery store yesterday. The employees were frantically trying to stock the shelves while answering questions about empty shelves, the cashiers were doing their best to explain rationing to customers, and the aisles were crowded. Unlike stories I’ve heard of fights over the last roll of toilet paper, people were calm and polite, but the tension was palpable. It is my choice, so I choose to go out of my way to smile, say “thank you” wherever appropriate, and tell a couple of the employees that I appreciate what they’re doing and what they are going through. It makes a difference, both to them and to me. Another benefit is that it gives us a feeling of control at a time when everything seems to be spinning out of control.

How will we use the additional time spent at home? I hope we think it over carefully and look at it as an opportunity rather than a restriction. As for me, I am lining up a selection of books that I’ve been wanting to read. Not staring at a computer screen, but real paper and ink books – all while enjoying a comfortable chair and a cup of Earl Grey tea. I have a garden that needs tending and planning for next year. The chickens will need food and water, and their eggs need gathering. The blossoms on the peach trees mean there will be pruning to be done, and peaches to harvest.

What is happening right now is something that we will remember for the rest of our lives, and we will recount these times to those too young to remember. Make sure that your memories are good ones and that your regrets are few.

The best example I can think of at the moment, is the memory of one of the recent hurricanes that swept through here, leaving us without power in a house filled with three generations of family. Our daughter-in-law brought her harp to our house, and played it by candlelight and battery lantern. You could almost feel the calm as the hurricane raged outside. Those are the types of memories I want to carry with me from these chaotic times.

Relax. This is going to take a while.

Our daughter-in-law played the harp for us, bring a sense of calm in the middle a hurricane.

Life Time Chicken Coop – Part 1

A chicken coop can be built from almost any kind of scrap lumber and they usually are. The cheap, light-weight coops are quite popular, and for good reason – but that’s not always the best solution. I have built a number of chicken coops over the years, and each was very different from the others.

I wanted to build a chicken coop that would be my last one. It would be designed and built for the long term. I wanted it to last the rest of my life and then be used for many years after that. This is the first of an occasional series of posts describing this project in the hope that others might get some ideas from it. These were my requirements:

  • Long lasting – it would be built using many of the same materials and techniques that a regular house would use.
  • Predator-proof
  • Easy to maintain
  • Aesthetically pleasing – it sits in the back yard and is part of the landscape
  • Semi-portable. Though it is stationary, I wanted to be able to relocate it if needed.
  • Well ventilated – in this area, protecting chickens from overheating is a major factor

In future posts, we’ll look at some of the features that make it work – as well as a thing or two that I wish I’d done differently. We’ll also look at things like the feeder that I built that results in near-zero food waste – far better than the commercial ones.

Front view

 

Nest box and water tank

 

Inside, looking toward the nest box

 

Underneath, showing watering station

 

Nest box. Divider panel is removable, as are the two nests made from rubber water bowls

 

The top of the nest box is completely removable, and has hooks to hang it in place.

 

End view showing removable nest box and 35 gallon water tank. Wire section below the nest box is removable for access. Feeder is at this end. Metal panel is to keep rain from being blown in and spoiling the feed. A hook provides a convenient place to hold the egg basket.

 

In the next post, we’ll look at some photos of it as it was being built.

The Library of Alexandria – Southern Agrarian Version

Some of the topics here are admittedly quite a stretch for Southern Agrarianism, and this is one example. Today’s post was prompted by an email discussion with a friend and fellow Southern Agrarian.

The Library of Alexandria, built in about 250 BC, was designed as a repository of all the important information of the day. It was the essential knowledge that Ptolemy, II of Egypt wanted to collect and preserve. It is an idea that has fascinated me for many years. What would we, today, consider to be the essential knowledge of our time? If we had to restart civilization with nothing but what was in a collection of books, what would it contain?

When I became aware of the fact that so much of our accumulated knowledge is in digital format only – and at the same time, realizing what an EMP (Electro-Magnetic Pulse) could do to what is nothing more than zeros and ones stored on magnetic media, I began collecting books. Not digital books, but real, paper and ink books – in hard cover if available. The pace really quickened when grandchildren came along. They would be home schooled, as were our two sons, and I wanted them to have a good library available.

The criteria I used for my library is simple: What can we not afford to lose? To that end, here is a list, in no particular order, of some of the book topics and types.

  • Farming and large scale gardening
  • Basic industrial processes (textiles, fuel alcohol, machining)
  • References (math and engineering formulas, conversion tables, logarithmic tables)
  • Classic literature
  • Classic works of art and architecture
  • History, without the PC nonsense.
  • Maps and Atlas
  • Encyclopedias
  • Culture (Etiquette, traditional living, raising a family)
  • Medicine, including veterinary
  • Bible study (Concordances, reference works, KJV Bibles)
  • Engineering design, drafting, land surveying
  • Leadership (public speaking, dealing with people, Roberts Rules of Order)
  • Military science
  • Gunsmithing
  • Basic science (biology, botany, physics, meteorology)
  • Communications (Radio)
  • Food preservation and preparation, nutrition
  • Home school materials to make sure that future generations will know how to make use of the library

If I were to sum up the thought behind my library, it would be contained in the title of a book on my shelf – The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch by Lewis Dartnell. I just take the premise of that book and go farther and deeper.

My most recent addition, picked up this evening at a Goodwill Store, is the 1943 edition of Fractures and Dislocations; it includes photos and description of using a large C-clamp and blocks of felt to set a fracture of the foot. Hopelessly outdated by today’s standards, it would be invaluable to those in a time when modern medicine becomes a distant memory. It is technology appropriate for the times.

Words Have Meaning

gen-tle-man – noun a : a man of noble or gentle birth b : a man belonging to the landed gentry c(1) : a man who combines gentle birth or rank with chivalrous qualities (2) : a man whose conduct conforms to a high standard of propriety or correct behavior …

A while back, I watched yet another news clip of a police spokesman using the word “gentleman” to describe a street thug. In this case, a group of five Blacks walked into a restaurant, got angry because it was taking too long to cook their food. They shot and killed the cook and walked away. The cook had a wife and five children with the youngest being 2 years old. Our society has rotted to the point that this kind of brutal, savage disregard for life is no longer uncommon.

Another quote from the police: “It was a random dispute that went tragically wrong.” No, Mr. Detective, it was a brutal murder by uncivilized thugs who do not have even the most basic level of decency required to live among civilized human beings. There is more to claiming the title of “human being” than having opposable thumbs. Words have meaning, Mr. Detective, and if you can’t grasp that concept, you should not be a public spokesman.

One contributing factor to this is the fact that our society continues to treat uncivilized thugs as though they were civilized men. We have all heard police, judges, politicians, and news reporters use the word “gentleman” to refer to the worst dregs of society. Can anything be farther from the true meaning of the word? Do a web search on “gentleman” and you’ll find “gentleman’s club”. They are not where gentlemen congregate – they are dark, sleazy, degrading strip clubs. To add even further insult, their advertisements will refer to those who work there as “ladies” – yet another complete perversion of the meaning.

Language, along with art, music, architecture, etc., is a key component of culture. Language is made up of words, and words have meaning. When a society takes a word and reverses its meaning, that degrades the entire culture. “Gentleman” is not the only example. “Bad” has become slang for something good. “Gay” went from meaning “happily excited, merry, keenly alive and exuberant, having or inducing high spirits …” to meaning one who practices the most vile and perverted sexual deviancy. We have come to the place where George Orwell’s prediction about the way society thinks has become reality: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”

Perhaps we cannot stop the process of cultural Marxism as it destroys our society by changing the way people think. Perhaps it has already gone too far. We can, however, control it in our families, among our friends and associates, in our churches, and other places where we have a leadership role. Men think in words, and words have meaning. Insist that words be used correctly.

Some Facts About Monarchies

A post at the Mad Monarchist (one of my favorite blogs, but sadly, it is now closed) presents some interesting facts about the actual cost of monarchies compared to republics. Here are a few points from the post (written during the time of EX-President Obama):

In Great Britain, the Queen is known for being exceptionally frugal, using the same car until it practically falls apart. In fact, in a recent year, the travel expenses for the entire British Royal Family was considerably less than the travel expenses for President Obama and his small crew.
•••
(W)hen people think of Marie Antoinette, they think lavishness and frivolity, they do not think of a woman who gave large amounts to charity, who broke down social barriers at court and who invited poor children to eat with her own royal offspring at Versailles. When it comes to royal children for that matter, it may surprise some to know how much more luxuriously the children of a President of the United States live compared to royal or even imperial offspring.
•••
The Romanov Archduchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia, for example, had to sleep on camp beds and take cold baths. Their educational schedule was positively Spartan with dawn till dark studies and exercises. The White House may not be the Winter Palace but you can be sure the Obama daughters are taking hot baths at night. Similarly, when one thinks of an Emperor one doesn’t usually think of someone like Emperor Francis Joseph who slept on an army cot and wore clothes until they were worn out -and then patched them and wore them some more!
•••
In Russia, Emperor Alexander III preferred the simple meals of his servants to the delicacies of the banquets thrown by the upper class and his idea of recreation was a simple walk in the Russian wilderness with some sausage and a piece of bread for his lunch. These imperial leaders were hardly men of lavish, wasteful luxury and indulgence.

So… what is the point of this, you may ask? What does monarchy have to do with Southern Agrarianism? Aside from the fact that monarchies are a time-proven form of government that is grossly misunderstood by those who depend on American public schools for their education, it would behoove us give some serious thought as to what will replace the republican form of government here in America once it fully self-destructs. If you don’t see that coming, then you’re not paying attention. Am I advocating that America become a monarchy? The fact that I cannot see a realistic path from “here” to “there” precludes that. Still, it is a form of government that has stood the test of time for far longer than any form of self-government has. It’s a sad commentary on our ability to govern ourselves.


Have you ever wondered how monarchy might once again bring stability and order to our chaotic world? Getting From Here to There is an article I wrote in November 2017 that presents one possible route.

Weeds, Immigration, and Culture

We can learn a lot about life from lessons learned in the garden.

Several years ago, in an effort to improve the quality of the soil in my garden, I bought a truckload of topsoil. It was carefully spread, then tilled and worked into the soil. The original soil and the new topsoil were mixed until they became as one. At first, it was great. The soil was darker and richer looking than the native sandy soil, and the plants that I grew there were bigger and stronger. Then came the weeds.

Hidden in among that rich-looking soil that I brought in to mix with the native soil were weed seeds. Specifically, nutsedge nodules. Here we are, years later, and I am still battling the nutsedge. It spreads its roots deep below the surface, and it stores nutrition in a large nodule deep down in the soil. Just cutting them off at the surface has no lasting effect – the weed springs right back in just a couple of days. Nutsedge must be dug out by the roots, one weed at a time. The nodule must be removed. The root runners must be removed. Everything about the weed must be removed, or it will continue to spread, sap the strength of the plants that are intended to grow there, and eventually they will take over completely.

Removing the weeds and their roots is not a painless process. It disturbs the roots of the garden plants, and it is slow and tedious work. There is no alternative if the garden is to be saved. It must be done.

Culture is a very precious thing, and it must be cared for and defended. A culture – just like agriculture – requires work to maintain. There are no shortcuts. Bringing in, or allowing in, foreign elements into a native culture brings with it serious risks. While on the surface, there may appear to be benefits to mixing cultures, the hidden costs will quickly show up. Like an invasive species in nature that finds no natural enemies, it takes over and the original culture disappears. Forever.

(Originally published on March 25, 2017)

Transplanting Seedlings

Red cabbage and Romaine Lettuce seedlings ready for transplanting


While direct seeding is probably the most common way of starting a garden, there are some major advantages to starting your seedlings in a tray and then transplanting them once they have gotten to the right stage.

  • Very little seed is wasted.
  • Thinning can be done while comfortably sitting at a bench or table.
  • By starting Spring crops before the last killing frost, harvest comes several weeks earlier.
  • Beat the bugs. Insect pests arrive when plenty of food is normally available to them. By planting earlier than normal, you can harvest while pest pressure is still low.
  • Aesthetics – There is just something very rewarding about looking out over your garden and seeing full, straight, evenly spaced rows. It is generally easier with transplants than with direct seeding.

Let’s look at the process, step by step:

Seed tray, seeds, and soil. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.


Fill the seed tray with seed starting soil. Unless you’ve got a very large garden, you may find that just getting pre-mixed seed starting soil is best. Make sure that the soil is moist before adding seeds! Press it in firmly, then smooth it off. Use something to make the hole to receive the seeds at the proper depth. I find that the end of a “Sharpie” marker works well for most seeds.


Seeds will sprout, then grow under lights until ready to transplant. Keep the plants close to the light source. I use a timer to give them about 16 hours of light per day. Experiment to see what works best for you. Check them regularly and don’t let them dry out.


When it’s time to transplant, allow the seedlings to get fairly dry so that they are easier to work with. Use a dowel about the size of the drain holes to push the seedlings out and lay them in a tray for easier handling. The flat end of a cheap ballpoint pen works pretty well. This is where you’ll be glad you packed the soil in the cells nice and firmly.


The seed trays have grooves in the sides to help guide the roots straight downward rather than allowing them to wrap around into a ball.


I use a knife to open up a hole for the transplant, and a “garden scooter” that I found at a yard sale to make it easier.


Nice straight, even rows of plants is a beautiful sight. Be sure to water it well immediately after planting and for the next several days until the roots get better established.


A few more notes:

  • My standard spacing for most crops is 12″ between plants, and 24″ between rows. Larger plants, such as tomatoes and eggplant, are spaced wider.
  • The seed trays I use are available from Hoss Tools, which is where I get most of my garden tools. These are the 162 cell trays with the Heavy Duty Bottom Trays. They are not cheap, but they are incredibly rugged, and will probably last long enough to be passed down to your grandchildren if given reasonable care. The Bottom Trays may seem like just an added expense, but they are very helpful and well worth it. If you’re just getting started, you might want to start off with another cheaper type of tray; eventually, though, I have no doubt that you’ll end up getting some of these Hoss Tool trays.
  • Once the seeds have sprouted and sent down their roots, you can water from the bottom up. This is where the Heavy Duty Bottom Trays come in handy. Make sure that you water from the top until all the seeds have sprouted and put down roots before you start bottom watering.
  • Be sure to read up on what you will be planting. Not all plants will tolerate transplanting very well, so they work better if direct seeded.  Some examples of plants that generally do NOT do well with transplanting are beans, corn, and okra. I have done reasonably well transplanting even those plants that are not recommended for it, but as a general rule, follow the planting guidelines unless you just want to experiment (which I highly recommend!).
  • I try to always plant a few “spares” between the rows, or somewhere else in the garden. These are used to replace the ones that don’t survive the transplanting – I like neat, full rows.
  • I mentioned earlier to make sure that the soil is damp before adding it to the trays. If it is too dry, surface tension will not allow the water to penetrate the dry soil, and your seedlings will shrivel and die for lack of water – even though you are “watering” them regularly (see photo below). You want the soil to be just damp enough that you can squeeze it into a ball and have it stay in that shape. You might be able to squeeze a drop or two of water out of it, but you don’t want it much wetter than that.

This is what happens when the soil going into the trays is too dry. Surface tension prevents the water from going into the soil and reaching the roots.


Just a reminder – links on this site are NOT “affiliate” links, nor is there any type of financial incentive or compensation for anything mentioned here. If it’s mentioned, it’s because I use it myself. If I don’t like something, I’ll make that clear also. I do this because I enjoy writing these posts, and I receive no monetary benefit of any sort for what I write.

Mercy and Chivalry

Commemorative painting of the Stigler/Brown encounter by John D. Shaw, courtesy Valor Studios.

 

What does the story of an aerial encounter over Europe during WWII have to do with Southern Agrarianism? That’s a very understandable question to ask. The answer lies in Southern culture – specifically the virtues of honor and chivalry that help define the Southern gentleman. Understand that Southern Agrarianism is not just about “agrarianism”. It is also about “Southern”, and that means the culture that we largely inherited from the English Cavaliers when they came to America.

Most of The Southern Agrarian blog has focused on agrarianism – being deeply rooted in the land that we cultivate and raising poultry and small livestock. That will continue to be the major focus of this blog, but it will also include more about the “Southern” part of Southern Agrarianism.

 


 

Mercy is one of the great hallmarks of chivalry. Mercy toward one’s enemy is the hardest mercy of all, which is probably why Jesus instructs us to love our enemies.

The following is taken from the Men Who Lead blog by best-selling author Marcus Brotherton. Mr. Brotherton’s post is titled, The Most Overlooked Command Ever (page no longer available).

On December 20, 1943, in the skies above war-torn Europe, two bitter enemies—an American B-17 bomber pilot and a veteran German fighter ace—met in what is undoubtedly one of World War II’s most remarkable encounters.

The American bomber, piloted by 21-year-old West Virginian Charlie Brown, was severely damaged. Bullets from German fighters had chewed the bomber to pieces. Others bullets had shot straight through the fuselage, and several crew members had been hit and were near death.

The German fighter plane, piloted by Franz Stigler, was poised to blast the bomber from the sky. It was Franz’s job to kill the enemy. His sworn duty was to triumph in blood.

In fact, encountering a wounded bomber was Franz’s lucky break. Other fighters had already done the initial damage, and when Franz flew up to the bomber, it was the most badly damaged airplane he’d ever seen still flying. That meant an easy target. And in the kill-or-be-killed quest to reach air superiority, the odds against the German’s survival were much worse than the American’s. Of the 40,000 German fighter pilots in WWII, only 2,000 survived.

But what happened in that tense moment when Franz and Charlie came to stare at one another across the frozen skies only can be described as other-worldly.

The American 8th Air Force would, in fact, classify the incident as top secret for decades.

The German military sealed the record as well. Franz was ordered never to speak of the act again, at risk of facing a firing squad.

What happened was, very simply … mercy.

Franz didn’t turn his machineguns on the Americans.

Instead, Franz risked his own reputation, career, and even life, to fly for miles in close proximity to the bomber’s wingtip, providing a “shield” for the damaged enemy plane.

Instead of killing his enemy, the German fighter pilot escorted the sputtering American bomber to safety.

The full story is both incredible and inspiring. The book, A Higher Call (Amazon link) fills in the details, including the admonition that Franz Stigler’s previous commanding officer gave regarding situations such as this.

Franz Stigler and Charlie Brown

Both men survived the war and became close friends.

Little Luxuries – Tea

Southern Agrarianism is closely tied to the Southern plantation culture, where the enjoyment of simple pleasures and little luxuries play an important part. This is part of an irregular series of posts that look at some of those little, affordable luxuries that virtually anyone can enjoy.


The Southern plantation culture was largely shaped by the Cavaliers, who brought their English customs with them when they fled the English civil war and settled in The South. Part of that culture is the custom of afternoon tea. Why did it not catch on here? Well, it began in 1840, and by 1880, afternoon tea had become firmly entrenched in English culture. The War for Southern Independence (1861 – 1865) interrupted such cultural transfers, and the impoverished state that it inflicted on The South made tea an unaffordable luxury for nearly everyone. That, however, is no reason that we cannot enjoy the custom today.

Lest anyone think that enjoying a relaxing cup of hot tea is something practiced only by the ladies and by effeminate males who sip from dainty tea cups while extending their pinky finger, consider the fact that, since 1945, the British Army has had “Boiling Vessels” built into every tank and armored vehicle so that soldiers could make their tea without being exposed to enemy fire. Many current U.S. armored vehicles now include a similar feature, designated “Heater, Water & Rations”. We should also note here that the concept of enjoying a relaxing cup of tea also applies just as well to coffee; we’re just focusing on tea due to its connection to traditional English culture.


“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”
Henry James


Up until just a few years ago, I truly believed that there was only one way to serve tea in The South – Sweet with lots of ice, and served in a tall glass. Though I still enjoy a tall glass of sweet iced tea as much as any Southerner, my wife and I have made a practice of enjoying a cup of hot tea together as we sit on the back porch swing. Sometimes, it’s just a simple cup of tea – sometimes we include traditional English scones (she has perfected a recipe based on one from an English tea room that we enjoyed going to).

As with many such little luxuries, the enjoyment is not just drinking the tea, but it begins with the ritual of preparing it. If you’re new to hot tea, here is how we prepare it, and it’s a nice starting point.

  • Start with loose leaf Earl Grey tea. We get ours from Twinings, who have been in the tea business since 1706. For convenience, or for decaffeinated tea, you can use tea bags. Since part of the enjoyment is from the ritual of preparing the loose leaf tea, and since there is at least a theoretical advantage in using loose leaf, that is how we make ours. If your local grocery store doesn’t carry it, you can order directly from Twinings (link).
  • Measure out one teaspoon of loose leaf tea into a tea infuser (Amazon link).
  • Fill one cup with water (the type of water used makes a big difference, so try tap water, well water, filtered spring water, and whatever else you have available to see which you prefer) and pour it into an electric pot.
  • Use cold tap water to rinse the tea in the infuser to wash out any tea dust and “relax” the tea leaves. Place the infuser and tea into your cup.
  • Heat the water to boiling, then pour it over the tea until the cup is full. Always use fresh water. Never re-boil water. Never boil longer than necessary.
  • Set a timer to three and a half minutes. At the end of that time, remove the infuser from the cup.
  • Sweeten to taste. I use the same amount of sugar as tea – one teaspoon. We also use Turbinado sugar (local grocery store or Amazon link), which is a tan-colored, raw unrefined sugar.
  • Let it cool enough so you don’t burn your mouth. Enjoy.

There are all sorts of things you can do along with this, and it’s something that both husband and wife can enjoy together. Experiment with different traditional ways of brewing tea. Brew several cups at a time in a tea pot. Try some of the many different types of tea available. Look into the health benefits of tea. For a bit of fun, check out the Star Trek connection on YouTube. Host a Ladies Tea (link is to one that my wife organized – it has become an annual event at our church). Collect different kinds of tea cups, tea pots, mugs, infusers, tea strainers, etc.

As a “Little Luxury”, it is meant to be enjoyed, so have some fun with it. Enjoy a relaxing cup of tea.

Bright Sunny South

When people think of what music best represents The South, Dixie is almost always the song that comes to mind. They get no argument from me – it is almost the “Southern National Anthem”. With that said, it is Bright Sunny South that best represents The South that I know and love. It is a song that deserves to be better known, so that’s what this post is about.

Bright Sunny South is a hauntingly beautiful ballad of The South. While believed to have its roots in Celtic culture, its origins are uncertain, with some attributing it to a folk song from Nova Scotia. There are several versions of the lyrics, but those shown below are the most widely known. The video features a rendition performed by Bittersweet and Briers.

On a personal note, the first image in the video shows a man on a horse next to a cannon. That man is Lt. Colonel John Pelham – my cousin. He was killed in battle at the age of 24. He was first cousin to my great grandfather, William Pelham McGehee.


(YouTube video by SouthernSympathiser)

From the bright sunny South to the war, I was sent,
E’er the days of my boyhood, I scarcely had spent.
From it’s cool shady forests and deep flowing streams,
Ever fond in my mem’ry, ever sweet in my dreams.

Oh, my dear little sister, I still see her tears.
When I had to leave home in our tender years.
And my sweet gentle mother, so dear to my heart,
It grieved me sincerely when we had to part.

Said my kind-hearted father as he took my hand:
“As you go in defense of our dear native Land,
“Son, be brave but show mercy whenever you can.
“Our hearts will be with you, ’til you return again.”

In my bag there’s a Bible to show me the way,
Through my trials here on earth and to Heaven some day.
I will shoulder my musket and brandish my sword,
In defense of this Land and the word of the Lord.


John Pelham

William Pelham McGehee

 

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