Thistle Moon Ridge

The Nature of Things

Like many well-intentioned gardeners who lose track of time amid the cookouts, road trips, business trips, and general lazing about in a hammock on a warm day, I planted a little garden in the spring and proceeded to let it go by the wayside through the summer months.

Despite my negligence, the limited number of plants managed an impressive yield of beans, carrots, cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes. Maybe it was the several pounds of manure and compost I incorporated into the small beds months before. Or maybe it’s simply that nature knows what she’s doing without needing my hand. Not that I had much doubt that nature is pretty good at what she does, but I think as humans we have a habit of wanting to fiddle with things. As I’ve gotten older and learned a bit more, I’ve come to be more certain that this is true.

The last haul of the year from the garden.

As I pulled carrots and plucked beans, I thought of my favorite author the late Gene Logsdon who first got me thinking in this direction.

Born in 1931, Gene had an incredible talent for looking at his surroundings and picking out the idiosyncrasies of his Upper Sandusky, Ohio, farm (just a mile away from his childhood home): the species of trees that will grow first if a paddock is left to its own devices; the order in which his livestock will eat their preferred forages; the countless varieties of grasses and wildflowers in his pastures and when they would bloom and set seed. I was always amazed at how observant he was and how he worked with the ebb and flow of his farm. (I was also amused to learn that he was an avid slow-pitch softball player, a sport that I’ve enjoyed playing since childhood.)

One of the things I love about my job with GRIT is that I get to meet some of the most incredible and inspiring people, and Gene was going to be one of them. After a couple years as an editor with GRIT, I finally felt confident enough to request an interview with him. I sent him a letter via USPS, and just two days later, I received an email from him graciously agreeing to answer some of my questions. I sent back an enthusiastic reply, expecting another quick turnaround from him.

Two weeks went by, and I did not hear from him. I was worried our emails were getting lost in cyberspace, so I sent him another short handwritten letter in the mail. A few days later, his wife Carol sent me an email with what I’m sure was very difficult news to share with someone you don’t know. She let me know that Gene’s health was not great, and he would be unable to do the interview. I thanked her for letting me know, but I was crushed. I was so close to meeting the author who has had such a profound influence on my views of the world, not only on agriculture, but also on life and death.

One of my favorite things to do—even as a child—is to sit around with the grownups, and listen to their wit, wisdom, and stories. I imagined this as being how Gene and my conversation would have gone had I gotten to meet with him. But of the various bits of “Gene wisdom” I’ve picked up, it’s that things will invariably happen that are entirely out of your control, and you’ll just have to learn to accept them for what they are—in life and on a farm. I can at least say that I’m glad I made the effort to meet with him rather than sit on my hands awhile longer, and then really kick myself for not reaching out to him.

Over the years I’ve read several of Gene’s books, including The Contrary Farmer, A Sanctuary of Trees, All Flesh is Grass (my personal favorite), and Gene Everlasting, published in 2014, which delved into the topic of our own mortality. Gene was diagnosed with cancer several years ago, and he continued to write through the whole experience, and eventually compiling it into this book. He was able to overcome the disease, for a time anyway, but on May 31, 2016 he passed away. It was just a few days after having heard from Mrs. Logsdon about his declining health. Dave Smith, who continues to manage Gene’s blog The Contrary Farmer, posted that Gene was writing clear up until just a few days before his passing, and I really admired that.

I first read The Contrary Farmer when I was 16 or so, due largely to the encouragement of my father, and I immediately developed an admiration for Gene’s writings. Knowing this, my father sent a copy of The Contrary Farmer to have Gene sign, and upon accepting my position with GRIT in 2013, he requested Gene sign a copy of Gene Everlasting as a celebratory gift. These books are among my most prized possessions. They remind me of two people that I really look up to.

Gene's big idea was that contrary to popular agricultural belief, a farm can be managed with the simple help of primarily livestock, maybe a tractor, and some labor on your part. Anymore than that, and you start to defeat the purpose of farming. That's not to say farming is easy, but a farmer farms, for the most part, because he or she loves living off the land. If it gets too complex or expensive, you quit enjoying it. We should, more or less, allow the land and the animals do what they know how to do, and we are there as stewards. His words on farming have found great meaning in other areas of my life, and I can say with absolute certainty that it is richer for having read his works.

Though all I have right now is a little patch of dirt to plant my favorite vegetables, I know the day will come when I have my ducks in a row—literally and figuratively—and I’ll be able to put what I’ve learned from Gene and many others I greatly admire to the test on my own little farm. If I’m lucky, I’ll end up pretty near the farm I grew up on, just like Gene.

The view from Thistle Moon Ridge, late autumn.

Blogger Suzanne draws inspiration from one of Gene's classic books.

Tips on Learning to Ride a Horse

Like many starry-eyed little girls, I fell in love with horses at a very early age. I never thought it was a coincidence that I was born in the Chinese Zodiac year of the horse. Despite this love for everything equine related, I did not grow up riding much and we couldn’t afford a horse. I only got the occasional opportunity to ride, and I always jumped on it.

It wasn’t until a year and a half ago I really started to pursue riding. It has its ups and downs, like anything in life, but even on a bad day I know that I’m gaining valuable skills. And whether it’s riding or mucking stalls or just spending time in the barn, it’s amazing how being in the atmosphere can clear your mind and renew your spirit.

Here are some tips that might help if you are a beginner.

Have a goal in mind. When I started riding, I simply wanted to get comfortable riding and working with horses. I quickly realized that having a more solid goal in mind helps a lot. You will always be learning how to ride, so to speak, as every time you’re in the saddle you are developing as a rider. Whether your goal is to show horses or to hit the trails for a relaxing ride, having tangible checkpoints along the way helps you see your progress.

A good horse will carry you on a relaxing ride and provide draft power where it's needed. Photo by Fotolia/Tyler Olson.

Get good boots. Never go in a barn without proper footwear. You may have heard of or seen the damage that can be done to an unshod human foot when it comes in contact with a heavy hoof. Not pretty. For English riding, I’ve found that the Tredstep Giotto paddock boot is very comfortable and durable. They don’t pinch anywhere and are easy to zip, which can be a challenge in the winter when your hands and fingers don’t seem to want to work. These riding boots helped me avoid what could have been a far worse experience when my foot was stepped on by a big draft mix horse.


Find an instructor. A good instructor who has made it their life’s work to handle horses and teach riders understands the finer points of developing an equestrian. To find an instructor, ask around and check with your horse friends, or do some research on the Internet. If you’re lucky enough to have friends or family who own horses and are willing to teach you how to ride, that is a big plus.

Try new things. At first I rode mostly western style, because I always figured it was what suited me better. But as I started hanging around the barn more and watching the other girls riding English, I gave it a shot and ended up really enjoying it. Avoid putting yourself into one category too quickly. Be open to trying different styles.


Some of the skills you develop in English-style riding can also be applied when riding Western. Photo by Fotolia/George Dolgikh.

Make friends. I’ve made some great friends at the barn, and when you’re with good people, it makes learning so much easier. They are great resources and provide much needed encouragement. Ask questions and pick their brains.

Wear a helmet – at least until you’ve been riding a while and you’re comfortable with your horse handling abilities. Because …

… You will fall off. Not that you will be falling off left and right, but as you develop your riding skills, you will be trying new and challenging things. Falling is just part of the process. My first instructor had been riding for at least 30 years, and I remember once when she said, “I feel a fall coming on soon; I usually get a good one in once a year,” like it was perfectly normal – and it is. Accepting that it is just part of riding made it easier for me to focus on the positives rather than worrying about the negatives. The important thing is to get back on.

Sweet William is a Thoroughbred-draft mix, and the first horse I rode when I began taking lessons. About 30 minutes after this photo was taken, he spooked, I flew, and I experienced my first wipe out. It was good to get it out of the way. Photo by Bradley Trimble.

Breathe. I still forget to do this sometimes when I’m back in the saddle after not riding for a while. Breathe in rhythm with your horse’s stride. There’s a tremendous difference when I remind myself to do this.

And of course, have fun! Get to know your horse. Bring him or her treats like apples and carrots if the owner allows it.

I'll send you off with some advice I received from a good riding buddy: "The hardest part about riding is the ground."

Grinding Flour With the Komo Fidibus 21 Grain Mill

Kellsey TrimbleI like all things bread. None of that Wonderbread or anything, though. I like thick, hearty rustic loaves, herby flatbreads, warm tortillas, you name it. What I enjoy even more is making these foods. For one, I like to snack on the dough (is that strange?), and two, it just tastes better. Naturally, I was all too excited when I got my KoMo Fidibus 21 electric grain mill.

The electric grain mill fresh out of the box with wheat and spelt waiting. Photos courtesy Bradley Trimble.

If you and your family enjoy making bread, this is the kind of thing it’s worth it to spend some dough on. It was so easy to use and the upkeep is not difficult. Don’t be dissuaded by thinking it takes a lot of extra time to grind your flour. When you’re ready to make a batch of bread, or just need some flour for cooking, it’s as simple as pulling the mill out of the cupboard and grinding a few cups of flour, or however much you’ll need, then bake away!

When I got the Fidibus 21 in the mail, I had to take it to my father’s house for the first go-around. He and his wife are equally as passionate as I am when it comes to good bread and they also make their own. We were all eager to see how it would work. We all took turns reading the directions expecting there to be hoops to jump through, but to our surprise, all the preparation it required was just running 2 cups of grain through it to clean out any debris or oils. Then we were off!


The Komo Fidibus in action!

First, we grinded several cups of hard red wheat berries, then a few cups of spelt, and it only took a few minutes once we got going. You just pour your grains into the hopper and place the lid on top and let her go. The flour comes shooting out of the spout. It was easy to adjust the coarseness we were looking for, and the instructional booklet also has recommendations for the settings depending on what you are grinding. Later I took it home to grind some amaranth, which was just as easy to grind. (Did I expect anything else?) I simply set it to the finest setting, since amaranth is such a tiny grain, and let it whir. The noise of the grain mill can be loud, but it comes with a lid for the hopper that helps reduce it when it’s running.

My trusted adviser and step-sister, Sarra, worked the on/off switch while I focused on the perfect pour into the hopper.

I made tortillas with the wheat flour, and although they were denser than tortillas made with store-bought flour, I rather enjoyed the change in texture. Then I made flat bread with the spelt flour and they turned out great. What’s more about this grain mill, you can grind just about anything from your typical grains like wheat, rye and corn to even beans. I enjoy experimental cooking, so I really look forward to grinding beans and seeing what I can cook with the flour. You just can’t grind herbs or oily seeds as this would start to gunk up the milling stones.

Simply put, this is an awesome country living grain mill, and judging by the quality of this model, I suspect you can’t go wrong with any of the other Komo grain mill models. There are several to choose from so you can get one that fits your needs, whether it’s for an in-home bakery or the weekly loaves of bread.

Ames® Tools Factory Visit

Kellsey TrimbleI recently had the pleasure of traveling to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for an Ames® tools factory visit. Among the numerous things that I was lucky to see, I also learned that Ames dominates the snow tool category throughout the US and Canada, and they produce many of the tools that you purchase through department stores under privately owned labels. But they stay true to the Ames standards of quality.

The Ames name appears consistently throughout U.S. history. The company slogan is “Tools that built America” – and appropriately so. Captain John Ames was a blacksmith who believed in the value of good tools. Beginning in 1774, Ames shovels, rakes, and other tools have been used in projects like building the interstate system, Hoover Dam, Mount Rushmore, and these American made tools were even in the trenches and on the front lines helping soldiers throughout WWI and WWII. Being somewhat of a history buff, I found this extremely fascinating.

Four photos above courtesy of Ames®.

The visit was appropriately called “Tool School,” and those of us along for the ride learned for more than you might think on a factory visit. We were taken through a guided tour of the Ames manufacturing facilities, as well as the distribution center. Easily one the most interesting parts of the process was actually witnessing the shovels being forged. The shovel blanks are loaded into a hot oven on one side, and they come out on the other where they are picked up and loaded into the press. The press has two actions: the first to form the classic shovel shape, and the second to close the barrel where the handle will go – which is another very cool part. 

handle cutaway

They showed us a cutaway of a D-handle that many of their tools have to display how the wooden dowels for the D-handles are split and driven clear into the handle. This reduces the chance of the handle becoming loose, and it is a unique characteristic of Ames’ products. 

Ames officially announced that as of May 6, they will go by just Ames, which is a big move away from the Ames True Temper name that many people have come to know. The Ames brands still include the original Ames line, Razorback, Jackson, their new True American line (everything in this line is made in the US), and probably their most widely recognized True Temper name. 

After all was said and done, I’d have to say that what I enjoyed learning about the most was that the majority of Ames tools are American made tools. I like being able to put faces and names behind the tools that many of us gardeners, builders, etc. use on a daily basis.

forging the shovel 

Kellsey Trimble is Web Editor/Assistant Editor for GRIT magazine. She spends most of her spare time reading, cycling with friends, or planning her next adventure. Connect with her on .

Backyard Chicken Mishap

Kellsey TrimbleSome of my best memories from growing up on a farm had to do with backyard chickens – or rather barnyard chickens. I remember when the chicks would arrive at the post office, and my father and I would head into town (population around 1,000) to pick up a small cardboard box alive with the shrill chirps from a few dozen little fluff balls that I would come to adore. My father even recalls a time that I had crawled into the brooder and fell asleep with the chicks – you’ll never see that on the Grit brooder cam. I don't remember such a silly story, but a young child's memory is often questionable.

We raised chickens for both meat and egg purposes, and as a child I sold eggs to the neighbors, making a few bucks here and there. I'm not ashamed to admit it now, they also made decent playmates for a couple of country kids like me and my brother. That is until they don't want to play anymore. The story I'm going to recount is by far my most vivid memory dealing with chickens.

So there I was wandering about the barnyard one lazy summer afternoon, as per my usual activities at the green age of 11. I was continually swatting at a haze of whining gnats hanging about my head, but with little effect on their congregation. I remember listening to the orchestra of pond critters that lived just down the hill from the house tuning themselves for their nightly symphony: frogs, bob whites, and whippoorwills – always my favorite. I was making my rounds, checking in on my poultry posse, as I thought of my barnyard friends.

You might say I was a bored child, what with all my "animal friends." And at that age, I would have agreed with you. But now I can see how my imagination has benefited from keeping such friends as farm animals.

Moving on with the story, there I was, out in the barnyard, discussing at length great matters with these chickens. Now, I had noticed a few of these guys had been getting a little aggressive. Or rather, the roosters were getting aggressive. My father suggested carrying around a stick should I feel the need to employ harsher means of defense.

The details are a bit fuzzy from this point on, but the way Dad tells it, my stick of choice was roughly the diameter of a twig. I couldn't tell you if that was true or not, because upon turning to face the flock, I locked eyes with this heathen rooster at a dead sprint in my direction. It was clear that this innocent childhood alliance had been broken, and all bets were off. One swift swing of my twig-stick and … nothing. He was still running.

I made a break for it thinking only of his sharp beak and even sharper talons. At that age, sports had yet to improve my agility, and so false footedly, I stumbled over an invisible obstruction and down I went. I stayed on the ground for a few moments, writhing and yelling in fear.

Upon realizing the rooster was no longer attacking, I stood up. I looked at my arm and noticed a contortion that hadn't been there before – then my eye caught the blood. I ran to the house yelling for my mother. She opened the door, took one look and said, "Don't move," as she scurried back in to prepare a makeshift splint for the ride to the hospital.

The rest of the evening involved several nurses, one doctor, and a lot of waiting. It was well into the night when they began surgery, as both bones in my forearm had been broken – my radius would require a metal plate and several screws. (I've only ever set off one metal detector while touring a prison in college.) Thusly, I tell people that farming is quite literally in my blood.

Fast forward 13 years, and I do not hate chickens. Quite the opposite, actually; I'm just much better at defending myself should one of them get a wild feather up their vent.

My biggest fear is that people will doubt that they have it in them; that a natural instinct won't kick in and they won't just know what to do in a tough situation; and that they’ll let this fear keep them from trying the homesteading life. The fact of the matter is, you won't know at first. There are so many things I still don't know, but I'm always willing to ask questions. I still ask my father over a Google search any day. No one wants to make a mistake, but it's simply how we learn. So, I wouldn’t tell anyone to not be afraid, but to try despite the fear – and keep a big stick on hand.

Feeding Chickens

Photo: Bogicevic

Kellsey Trimble is Web Editor/Assistant Editor for GRIT magazine. She spends most of her spare time reading, cycling with friends, or planning her next adventure. Connect with her on .

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