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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

A Step Back in Time with the Barron Tree Planter
A Step Back in Time with the Barron Tree Planter

The restored tree transplanter outside Gus Kitson’s farm. An idea of its size can be gained by comparison with Gus Kitson, height 5 ft. 8 in. and his Suffolk horse, height 17.3hh.

A Step Back in Time with the Barron Tree Planter

by Daphne Turner of Brighton, Sussex, England
photographs by David Baker

Today the Royal Botanical Garden at Kew, West London, England, is a world leader in the collection and scientific investigation of every type of plant, and open to a public who appreciate its open spaces, temperate and hot houses exhibiting plants from every kind of climate and its variety of outdoor features, but its beginnings in 1759 as a private garden for Princess Augusta were far more exclusive. The 18th century saw a tremendous interest in landscaping private parkland on a grand scale with the movement of entire hills and mature trees, all by man and horse power, to fulfill the designs of celebrated gardeners such as Capability Brown. As part of this trend Kew’s earliest major tree planting started in 1761, with a second wave in 1846. Since then tree planting has continued with only a gap between the First and Second World Wars. Nowadays mechanisation does away with the great manual effort needed in the past but in the mid 1800s the movement of mature trees was revolutionised by the introduction of the Barron tree transplanter. As has been reported elsewhere the first planter was designed and built by Barron in the mid 1800s for the transplantation of maturing trees at Elvaston Castle in Derbyshire.

A Step Back in Time with the Barron Tree Planter

Nigel Oakley and Punch backing the loaded transplanter over the prepared site.

Today the only known example of this machine is at Kew, and since the 1930’s when it was last used, it had been decaying under a tree. Had it not been for Tony Kirkham, head of Horticultural Operations, that would have been the end of the story but he had the foresight to recognise its significance and spent ten years obtaining the funding to make the planter’s renovation possible thus preventing it from passing into legend as the last of its kind. David Baker and I had become aware of this fascinating piece of equipment when our friend Gus Kitson, a Suffolk wheelwright, had been asked to restore it. From Gus’s description of its condition the 150 mile journey to Suffolk was almost too much for the planter but he managed to unload it in one piece, and the first time David and I saw it in Gus’s barn it was once again a solid, fully usable and pristine machine, the restoration partially incorporating timber from Kew.

To celebrate the return of this renovated giant to Kew it was decided to have a tree planting weekend in early November 2000, and for those lucky enough to see the planter and its team in action it was an exciting, memorable two days which held the public’s attention throughout.

A Step Back in Time with the Barron Tree Planter

The crew accompanying the transplanter loaded with a tree.

As Suffolk horses were last used with the planter Tony Kirkham wanted to use them at the Kew debut and it was arranged that Nigel Oakley and David Chaplin, well known in the world of the Suffolk horse would provide 5 year old Thomas and 8 year old Punch. To add an air of authenticity the crew would dress in Victorian clothes and to increase the sense of occasion, Gus’s assistant John Barber, who includes being Town Crier for Southwold amongst his many activities, also agreed to appear in his magnificent scarlet and black uniform complete with handbell to announce and explain the history of the machine before each planting.

Gus had asked David to be his official photographer, and so early Saturday morning David and I drove into Kew Gardens through the nostalgically named Oxen Gate and found the Suffolk party comfortably settled in one of the staff canteens for the weekend. Christine Oakley and Jean Chaplin cooked up a fortifying breakfast for us all before going out to plait up the horses’ tails and manes and then it was time for harnessing up, collecting the crew together and marching out to hitch into the planter.

A Step Back in Time with the Barron Tree Planter

Raising the rootball by levering the front and rear winches so the supporting planks can be removed. Note the planks each side of the hole to support the weight of the planter.

Fortunately the entire weekend remained dry and we even saw the sun for some of the time so our “Victorian” workers did not have to resort to modern wet weather gear and they looked the part in waistcoats, neckerchiefs, and caps, with the hierarchy in jackets and bowlers. In fact the atmosphere generated was so authentic that Tony Kirkham and Nigel Oakley in particular shifted into full thespian mode at times and “Are you ready Oakley?” in a strong Yorkshire accent receiving the reply “Yes, Guv’nor” was among some of the dialogue, topped with the final accolade. “You’ve done well, Oakley. Go to the Office and see about a bonus.” True to the spirit of the time, the majority of the men stuck to “Yes, sir. No, sir.”

The trees being transplanted into the main avenue were 7 year old cedars from Italy and to save time were lifted into the planter by JCB, although of course it would have been necessary to go through the process of dismantling the planter to load them in the past. However, the public found this just as interesting as other parts of the process. The plan was to plant trees first by the Victorian method on one side of the avenue and by modern machinery on the other alternately to acquaint visitors with the old and new methods.

A Step Back in Time with the Barron Tree Planter

Tony Kirkham supervising the lowering of the tree by four teams each of two workers.

Thomas and Punch were hitched in tandem into the planter and, followed by a large crowd, pulled the load to the prepared site. Although we had no rain the ground was very wet and it was quite a pull for the horses to get the planter up a slight incline and into position for backing. Whilst Thomas was unhitched and led aside, John Barber rang his handbell, and preceded his introduction with “Ovez, Ovez.”

The reader can see from the accompanying photographs the tremendous strength needed to push back the machine, but what is not so easy to appreciate is the skill necessary to back it precisely over the planks each side of the hole. Once in position the wheels were chocked. Punch taken out of the shafts and the planks near the centre of the hole removed. Tony Kirkham then took up his post as overseer, checking everyone was in place and ready. Using levers the two men on the front and rear winches raised the rootball so the planks on which it had rested during transport could be removed. The weight of the rootball was now taken on ropes slung beneath it as two teams, each of two men, on each side of the planter, steadily and evenly lowered it into the hole. Tony ensuring all was carried out according to the clear instructions he gave for every stage. Finally the ropes were removed.

A Step Back in Time with the Barron Tree Planter

Removing the transplanter after positioning the tree in the ground. The rear winch and wheel assembly are removed and the side timbers supported by workers and timber props, prior to moving the planter forward for reassembly. During the forward movement the workers have to take the whole weight of the side pieces on their shoulders.

We now had the tree in place enclosed by the planter and great was the mystification of the spectators as to how matters would proceed. I even heard one man ask if a machine would be brought along to lift the transplanter up and over the tree in its entirety and carry it away!

Again Tony checked all was ready and then gave instructions for the rear winch to be manhandled to the ground. Once that had been removed the crew gathered down each side of the planter, and as the rear wheels were removed, took the entire weight of the side pieces on their shoulders. Meanwhile Punch had been put back into the shafts, and when the command was given, pulled the front wheels with the side pieces still supported by the men, forward until they were well clear of the tree. Wooden props were then placed under the side arms whilst first the rear wheels and then the rear winch were replaced. Finally Thomas was hitched into tandem and the equipment pulled back to the tree loading area, whilst modern equipment was used to firmly anchor the rootball with metal stays and replace the earth. Such was the teamwork that from pulling the load up the incline to moving the reassembled planter away from the site was timed at 20 minutes.

A Step Back in Time with the Barron Tree Planter

Having moved the planter forward it is reassembled with the rear wheels and winch which have to be manhandled into position.

It had originally been planned to plant three trees on Saturday and one on Sunday but everything went so well and the spectators’ interest was so great that eventually three trees were planted both days. It was a pleasure to see a crowd of around 200 of all ages at every planting and especially to see the children’s delight at being so close to the horses. Even the crew, who knew they would be full of aches on the Monday, were thrilled with their weekend, especially as there had been no problems. Apparently in its day the transplanter was nicknamed The Devil as it has a bad reputation for breaking arms.

But I still don’t know if Nigel Oakley collected his bonus from the Office!

Spotlight On: Crops & Soil

Syrup From Oregons Big-Leaf Maple

Syrup From Oregon’s Big Leaf Maple

by:
from issue:

There is a great potential in establishment of a seasonal “sugarbush” industry for small farmers of the northwestern states, particularly western Oregon and Washington. Five syrup producing species of maples are found mainly east of the Rocky Mountains. The Box Elder and the Big-leaf Maple are the only syrup producing maples of the Pacific Northwest. Properly made syrup from these two western maples is indistinguishable from the syrup of maples of the midwestern and northeastern states.

Asparagus in Holland

Asparagus in Holland

by:
from issue:

The asparagus culture in Holland is for the majority white asparagus, grown in ridges. This piece of land used to be the headland of the field. The soil was therefore compact, and a big tractor came with a spader, loosening the soil. After that I used the horse for the lighter harrowing and scuffle work to prevent soil compaction. This land lies high for Dutch standards and has a low ground water level, that is why asparagus can grow there, which can root 3 foot deep over the years.

Raised Bed Gardening

Raised Bed Gardening

by:
from issue:

Raised beds may not be right for everyone, and our way is not the only way. I have seen raised beds made from rows of 5’ diameter kiddy pools, and heard of a fellow who collected junk refrigerators from the dump and lined them up on their backs into a rainbow of colored enameled steel raised beds. Even rows of five-gallon pails filled with plants count as raised beds in my estimation. Do it any way you care to, but do it if it’s right for you.

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

by:
from issue:

The old way of selecting seed from open-pollinated corn involved selecting the best ears from the poorest ground. I have tried to select perfect ears based on the open-pollinated seed corn standards of the past. I learned these standards from old agricultural texts. The chosen ears of Reid’s average from 9 to 10.5 inches long and have smooth, well-formed grains in straight rows. I try to select ears with grains that extend to the end of the cob.

Onion Culture

Onion Culture

The essential requirements of a soil upon which to grow onions profitably are a high state of fertility, good mechanical condition, properties – that is, if it contains sufficient sand and humus to be easily worked, is retentive of moisture and fertilizers, and is capable of drainage – all other requirements can be met.

Soil, Vegetation, and Acidity

From Dusty Shelves: Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide teaches us about soil acidity.

Cultivating Questions: Alternative Tillage & Inter-Seeding Techniques

Our intention is not to advocate the oddball living mulches we use with this single row inter-seeding system, but just to show how it is possible to utilize the between-row areas to improve insect habitat, reduce erosion, conserve moisture, fix some nitrogen, and grow a good bit of extra organic matter. If nothing else, experimenting with these alternative practices continues to keep farming exciting as we begin our twentieth season of bio-extensive market gardening.

Cultivating Questions

Cultivating Questions: Concerning the Bioextensive Market Garden

One of our goals when we first started farming here was to develop the farm as a self-contained nutrient system. Unlike the almost complete recycling of nutrients which can take place on a livestock operation, we are always amazed – even a little disturbed – to see how many tons of fertility and organic matter leave the market garden each year with so little returned to the good earth.

Seed Quality from Two Perspectives

Seed Quality from Two Perspectives

by:
from issue:

We are approaching this from a seed quality standpoint, not just a seed saving one. Saving seed is fairly simple to do, but the results from planting those seeds can be very mixed; without a basis of understanding of seed quality, people can be disappointed and confused as to why they got the results they did. Both the home gardener and the seed company must understand seed quality to be successful in their respective endeavors.

Fjordworks Horse Powered Potatoes Part 2

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes Part Two

These types of team implements for digging potatoes were the first big innovation in horse powered potato harvesting in the mid-19th century. Prior to the horse drawn digger the limitation on how many potatoes a farmer could plant was how many the farm crew could dig by hand. The basic design of these early diggers works so well that new models of this type of digger are once again being manufactured by contemporary horse drawn equipment suppliers.

Starting Seeds

From Dusty Shelves: A WWII era article from Farming For Security

Cultivating Questions

Cultivating Questions: Follow-Up On Phosphorus

We like to think that the bio-extensive approach to market gardening minimizes the risk of overloading the soil with nutrients because the fallow lands make it possible to grow lots of cover crops to maintain soil structure and organic matter rather than relying on large quantities of manure and compost. However, we are now seeing the consequences of ignoring our own farm philosophy when we resorted to off-farm inputs to correct a phosphate deficiency.

Lost Apples

Lost Apples

The mindboggling agricultural plant and animal diversity, at the beginning of the twentieth century, should have been a treasure trove which mankind worked tirelessy to maintain. Such has not been the case. Alas, much has been lost, perhaps forever. Here are images and information on a handful of apple varieties from a valuable hundred year old text in our library.

Peach

Peach

by:
from issue:

The Peach is a showy tree when in bloom. There are double-flowered varieties, which are as handsome as the dwarf flowering almond, and they are more showy because of the greater size of the tree. The flowers of the Peach are naturally variable in both size and color. Peach-growers are aware that there are small-flowered and large-flowered varieties. The character of the flower is as characteristic of the variety as size or color of fruit is.

Apple Cider Autumns Nectar

Apple Cider, Autumn’s Nectar

by:
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While autumn’s beauty is food for our souls, autumn’s harvest provides food for our tables. Along with the many hours and days of canning and freezing our garden produce, harvest time also means apple cider making for our family. We have been making apple cider, or sweet cider as it is commonly called, for six years. Beginning slowly, the demand for our juice has resulted in a production of over six hundred gallons this year.

Low Tillage Radish Onions

Low Tillage Radish Onions

by:
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The radishes came up quick, filling the garden canopy completely that fall, and the following spring we found the plot was clean of weeds and rows of open holes were left where the radish roots had been growing. Well, we had a few extra onion plants that spring and decided to plant them in these holes, since we already had very clear lines laid out for us and a clean seedbed. What we got were the best looking onions that have ever come out of our gardens.

Beautiful Grasses

What follow are a series of magnificent hundred-year old botanist’s watercolors depicting several useful grass varieties. Artworks such as this are found on the pages of Small Farmer’s Journal quite regularly and may be part of the reason that the small farm world considers this unusual magazine to be one of the world’s periodical gold standards.

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes

This is the account of how one farm put more horse power into the planting, cultivation, and harvesting of its potato crop. Ever since we began farming on our own in 1994 one of our principle aims has been the conversion of our farm operation to live horse power wherever feasible. This has meant replacing mechanized tools such as tractors and rototillers and figuring out how to reduce human labor as we expanded upon the labor capacity of our work horses.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT