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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

Between Ourselves & Our Land

Between Ourselves & Our Land

Vegetable Row Crops with the Straddle Row Cultivator

by Chandler Briggs of Walla Walla, WA

I must admit, I have been mildly hesitant to submit an article to the Small Farmer’s Journal. I’ve only been a reader for a few years now, and farming regularly with horses for slightly longer than a year. These are merely field trials and I consider myself a novice with this machine, and with driving horses. I do not claim these practices to be anything but one experience in this place. But I am, like many greenhorns, excited to be a part of this community and to participate. I hope they provide inspiration to those who were new to draft power, a position I found myself not long ago, and provoke ideas in those with many years under their belt. Every day we work, I learn how much more there is to explore and know. I look forward to the journey, for it is fun & challenging. Or as one friend I know puts it:

Understanding the art of a craft is a journey with no end.

Since being introduced to the straddle row cultivator last year in hilling our potatoes, I have been excited to experiment with different tools mounted under the versatile machine. Like the famed Allis Chalmers G or Farmall Cub my peers of the internal combustion persuasion utilize on their vegetable farms, this tool can help maximize efficiency in many ways on the small farm. My primary inspiration for getting to know my new machine has been and continues to be the thorough, innovative SFJ articles written by Eric & Anne Nordell.

On our farm, we use two McCormick Deering straddle row cultivators rebuilt by Marvin Brisk of Halfway, Oregon. Many of our new and restored tools have come from his shop, and we are extremely happy with them. So far, they have been used primarily in cultivation and hilling of potatoes. Our horses, Avi & Dandy, are a mare & a gelding 10-year-old American Belgians from Horsepower Organics in Halfway, Oregon.

Between Ourselves & Our Land

PLANTING

This spring I wanted to experiment with the straddle row cultivator (SRC) in planting out potatoes. I liked the multi-purpose possibilities of this tool, and that it allows for one person to work both horses, rather than two people working one horse. In years prior, the farm has used the team to pull a walking middle breaker with a 13 inch bottom. We then dropped in the potatoes, and covered them up by hand with rakes. We later came through with the SRC to weed paths and hill up the spuds. One of the changes I sought to avoid with using the SRC was an inconsistent depth of the furrow, which was difficult to avoid due to what we believe to be the sensitive nature of our middle breaker. I also felt that the depth was too deep in general. It creates tall peaks for paths between the rows when it is too deep. Imagine a side view of the field like one continuous “W.” This made it very difficult to cover the spuds with the disc hillers as there was no flat ground between the rows of spuds to drive on. When we attempted to, the wheels would slide down into the furrow, leaving the disc of the same side at the bottom of the furrow, throwing the spud seed and some dirt out the other side. It was a mess, and very time-consuming to fix. Thus, the rakes. One way we did manage to mitigate the lack of a riding land was to space out our rows further apart. This allows for some flat ground to drive on for covering the potatoes with discs. Spacing seems to be a trade off–the greater space between rows, the more dirt you can throw up on the potato plants, and the bigger they get; but with tighter spacing you can fit in more rows in a field.

Between Ourselves & Our Land

But the inconsistent depth still gave us issues during harvest. We use a two-horse walking potato digger, which has a large shovel in front that draws up the potatoes and drops them on the soil as you walk forward. Sometimes it would miss potatoes or even slice them by not going deep enough to dig them up fully. In our trials, we were seeking a more consistent depth of furrow that we could drive over to cover the spuds. We wonder if adding a guide wheel to both the middle breaker and digger would help, but have yet to try it.

The two trials we performed in opening up furrows with the SRC were with the disc hillers attached to throw dirt out, and a 6 inch furrower sold by Agri-Supply (800-345-0169 www.agrisupply.com). The hilling discs came with the cultivator we purchased from Marvin Brisk, along with custom clamps that he had welded. The furrower was both attached via a heavy-duty S-tine to a 2 inch outside diameter (OD) square tube clamped to each gang. The S-tines can be purchased from most tractor stores and the 2 inch OD from a metal shop. The clamps are 3/8 inch flat stock ranging from 3.5 inches to 4 inches wide, with 1/2 inch bolts and lock nuts.

The opposing discs did open a furrow, but left a large ridge at the bottom of it, which we felt was unsatisfactory for planting. We were unsure of how to set them up in a way that left a clean V-shaped furrow.

Between Ourselves & Our Land

The 6 inch furrower was closer to our ideal. There was disagreement between the farmers here about whether it provided a deep enough furrow: some liked it while others felt that a deeper furrow meant a taller plant by the end of the season, and therefore more potatoes per plant, per row, in the end. I cannot say which might be better. When using the 6 inch furrower, we experimented with the angle of the gangs, which gave the furrower a steeper angle and got it slightly deeper. But in the end, the angle of repose eventually decides what the furrow will ultimately look like. And it is only in the width of shovel or furrower that we allow for a deeper trench by expanding the distance between the peaks on either side of the furrow.

The blue row marker you see pictured was made by another employee here at Welcome Table, Joel Sokoloff. We found that Joel’s row maker (aka “The Joel Marker,” still in R&D) worked best in fluffy, clean soil, especially if it was cooler outside. Since it exposed moisture by making a very small ditch, the dark line was easier to see if the moisture didn’t evaporate immediately like it sure can here in sunny Walla Walla. It was nearly impossible to see when we first tried it in soil that was trashy (lots of clumps of weeds and cover crop). Once we worked the soil more for our second try, we found it easy to see. One idea we had was to adopt the mini-disc at the end like on horse-drawn corn planters. Joel is currently scheming in the shop to improve the model as I write this article. Who knows, maybe you’ll see one for sale at the SFJ auction alongside Marvin’s next cultivator.

Between Ourselves & Our Land

Agri-Supply carries larger sized furrowers in 2 inch intervals, so a few weeks after we finished planting I decided to try out the 8 inch furrower. I practiced opening up furrows and closing them in a fallow field. I mounted the furrower on the same set up as the 6 inch, but we agreed that a straight shank would better serve the job, as the S-tine is too flexible and rides up as it is pulled through the soil. Nevertheless, I was pleased with the results. I could get the horses to walk next to the previous furrow and achieve a 38 inch row spacing as a comfortable minimum. It left a furrow a little deeper than the 6 inch, and still left a flat enough surface for driving back with the disc hillers.

Between Ourselves & Our Land

CULTIVATING

One of the other goals I wanted to achieve with the SRC was to increase its use in cultivation. We have a bad case of bindweed in our fields, and I wanted to encourage more passes, both for setting back the bindweed and to work the horses more often during their typically light summer workload. We could use the tool more in the potatoes and with other crops.

From the middle of March until the week of auction, we put in about an acre of potatoes in total. To combat the small annual cool spring weeds that popped up, we ran the spring tooth harrow blind of the field on a few occasions. This brought down any hills that had been left due to disc hilling the furrows closed, and filled in furrows that were not completely filled in by the rakes. It was nearly impossible to tell where the rows of potatoes were until they sprouted. It was helpful to push back the weeds, but once the bindweed started to sprout in the grow- ing warm spring, the harrow was no match. Most of the perennial weed could escape the tines, which can throw dirt to cover and run aggressively, but not slice the bindweed.

Between Ourselves & Our Land

I read with great interest in a Nordell article about “southern peanut sweeps” sold by the aforementioned Agri-Supply. I purchased the 12 inch sweeps in order to overlap and form a barrier from which the bindweed will hopefully be unable to escape. Because of the weed pressure making it difficult to see the emerging potatoes, Andy and I cultivated the spuds with one peanut sweep on each side, sometimes using a twine to help mark the row for the driver (no photos of this, sorry). Eventually, I got the “morel vision” and was able to plainly see the spuds among their weedy companions. This helped knock back the paths and define our rows. We then came through as a crew to hand weed all of the potatoes inline with Glaser “hula hoes.” The bindweed did not take long to reemerge, so we came back a few days later for a secondary SRC pass, which you can see in the photos. In that pass, we used two peanut sweeps on each side, overlapping 6 inches and leaving a space of about 10 inches between the sweeps for the potato row. It managed to clean up the rows fairly well and because of how we set it, threw just a small amount of soil onto the spuds, which they can handle just fine.

After an irrigation set and some time, the potatoes were looking very good. The bindweed keeps coming back up, hardest in the 10 inches of uncultivated space, as we have yet to figure a way to weed it there other than by hand. It can be risky to set cultivators too close to the plants, and perhaps we are all too nervous to do so just yet. A week later, we weeded in-line again and spent the afternoon hilling up for the first time. We used 16 inch disc hillers set in at a moderate angle, with two sets of sweeps behind for cleaning up and cutting any bindweed left behind. We anticipate, like last season, an ongoing battle with our persistent and perennial foe below, from now until the harvest.

Between Ourselves & Our Land

We hilled two more times, each a week after the previous. For the second hilling, we moved the discs out slightly and kept one peanut sweep on each gang for weeding in the paths. In order to achieve a third hilling, we had to break up the tough ground in the paths first. We used a one-horse, walk-behind adjustable cultivator with rounded points down each path, which loosened up the soil nicely. In our third hilling pass, we separated out the discs to about 40 inches with a more aggressive angle, which built our potato hills wider while slightly covering the tops a little more. We may make one more pass on the rows that are more widely spaced, and we will definitely continue weeding until the plants mature in August.

Between Ourselves & Our Land

Aside from the potatoes, we have also been trialling the SRC on other crops — fava beans, peas and rutabagas which have been planted both as a single row crop and in two line beds spaced 8 inches apart. In one photo, you can see Joel cultivating a single row of overwintered fava beans using two 7.5 inch Danish sweeps and beet knives with guards on each side of the crop during a dry spell this March. In another, you can see myself cultivating a two-line bed of bush peas in April. In both instances, we have had to do some in-line weeding but it had cut back on the amount we had been doing previous with our Glaser wheel hoe and hula hoes. Later this season, we will trial this method with some other crops, including brussels sprouts, sunflowers and corn.

I am excited to continue our experiments using the straddle row cultivator to improve efficiency in our work and increase the time we spend with our horses.

Between Ourselves & Our Land

Between Ourselves & Our Land

Between Ourselves & Our Land

Between Ourselves & Our Land

Chandler Briggs works at the horse-powered Welcome Table Farm in Walla Walla, Washington, where he helps raise vegetables, fruit, flowers, pork & lamb on 25 acres for farmers market, farm stand, restaurants and a 75-member CSA. He hopes to run his own draft-powered farm someday. Photos by Joel Sokoloff, Emily Asmus, Liz Phillips and Chandler Briggs.

Between Ourselves & Our Land

Spotlight On: People

Cindys Curds & Whey

Cindy’s Curds & Whey

by:
from issue:

The Burgess dairy farm and cheese factory are sustainable operations, meaning that nearly every by-product is re-used or recycled. For example, the usually-discarded whey goes to feed their own pigs, producing an exceptionally tasty, lean pork. Whey is the liquid portion of milk that develops after the milk protein has coagulated, and contains water, milk sugar, albuminous proteins, and minerals.

Biodynamic Meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm

Biodynamic Meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm

by:
from issue:

One weekend I attended a Biodynamic meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm in Dorena, Oregon, in the Row River Valley, just east of Cottage Grove. I always enjoy seeing other food growing operations, as this is such an infinitely broad subject, there is always much to learn from others’ experiences. At this farm, draft horses are used for much of the work.

Ham & Eggs

Ham & Eggs

Max Godfrey leads Ham & Eggs, at Plant & Sing 2012 at Sylvester Manor.

The Peoples Seed

A New Seed Economy Built from Inspiration and Loss

from issue:

A seed is a fitting symbol for an organization inspired by a fallen trailblazer of the local, organic food movement. The People’s Seed was founded by the late Tony Kleese who, despite the onset of a terminal disease, committed to his own period of reflection in order to understand the challenges of the organic seed industry.

Great Oregon Steam Up

Great Oregon Steam-Up

by:
from issue:

I went to the Great Oregon Steam-Up over in Brooks, Oregon, near Salem. Lynn has been invited and has wanted to attend for years, but this time of year might very well be the busiest time of year for him. He’s always farming or writing or editing or painting or forecasting or businessing or just generally fightin’ the power, yo. It’s nuts, I don’t know how he does it all. So, when I told him I was going to go, he was very interested and wanted a good report.

Bud & Mary Rickett

Buck & Mary Rickett: Successful Small Farmers

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from issue:

Ten years ago I answered a classified ad and went to a small western Oregon farm to look at some young laying hens that were for sale. That visit to Buck and Mary Rickett’s place made a quiet impression on me that has lasted to this day. On that first visit in ’71 my eager new farmer’s eye and ear absorbed as much as possible of what seemed like an unusual successful, small operation. I asked what must have seemed like an endless stream of questions on that early visit.

ODHBA 2016 Plowing Match

ODHBA 2016 Plowing Match

The Oregon Draft Horse Breeders Association hosted their 50th Anniversary Plowing Match at the Yamhill Valley Heritage Center in McMinnville, Oregon on April 9, 2016. Small Farmer’s Journal was lucky enough to attend and capture some of the action to share.

Kombit: The Cooperative

Kombit: The Cooperative

We received word of a new environmental film, Kombit: The Cooperative, about deforestation in Haiti — and an international effort to combat it by supporting small farmers on the island.

It Is Who We Are

It Is Who We Are

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from issue:

It is NOT a small world, it is a BIG world, as wide and various as you can possibly imagine. We are not alone. When we feel ourselves shut down, crowded by worry and a sense of failure, it would serve us well to remember Bulldog’s admonition, “Boss, never give up, no matter what, never give up.” Anyway, how could we? Who would put up the hay? Who would unharness the team? Who would milk the cows? Who would wax the cheese? Who would feed those woolly pigs? It’s got to be us, after all it is who we are.

Loose Hay with Ryan Foxley

Loose Hay with Ryan Foxley A Farmrun Production by Andrew Plotsky

Farmrun George's Boots

George’s Boots

George Ziermann has been making custom measured, hand made shoes for 40 years. He’s looking to get out, but can’t find anyone to get in.

Students on the Lines

Students on the Lines & McD Grain Indicator Plate

from issue:

We conclude our online presentation of Volume 41 Issue 2 with beautiful photos from Walt Bernard’s Workhorse Workshops (www.workhorseworkshops.com) and some hard-to-find info on the McCormick-Deering Plain Fluted Feed “R” Grain Drill Grain Indicator Plate.

Jacko

Jacko

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from issue:

By the time he was 3 years old, Jacko had grown into a big size jack, 13 hands tall and 900 pounds, and was still growing. That summer he ran the singlerow corn planter and raked the hay, proved himself handier with a single row cultivator than a single ox, getting closer to the plants without stepping on them. Gradually he had paced himself to his three educated gaits to fill whatever job Lafe required of him: fast walk for the planter and rake, slow walk for the cultivator and plant-setter, and brisk trot for the buggy.

Livery and Feed

Livery & Feed

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A livery stable, for the benefit of those who never heard of one, was an establishment which catered to horses. It boarded them, doctored them, and bred them, whenever any of these services were required. It also furnished “rigs” — a horse and buggy or perhaps a team, for anyone who wished to ride, rather than walk, about the town or countryside. It was a popular service for traveling men who came into town on the railway train and wanted to call on customers in cross-road communities.

Meeting Place Organic Film

Meeting Place Organic Film

Local, organic, and sustainable are words we associate with food production today, but 40 years ago, when Fran and Tony McQuail started farming in Southwestern Ontario, they were barely spoken. Since 1973, the McQuails have been helping to build the organic farming community and support the next generation of organic farmers.

Fjordworks A History of Wrecks Part 3

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 3

Working with horses can and should be safe and fun and profitable. The road to getting there need not be so fraught with danger and catastrophe as ours has been. I hope the telling of our story, in both its disasters and successes will not dissuade but rather inspire would-be teamsters to join the horse-powered ranks and avoid the pitfalls of the un-mentored greenhorn.

Another Barn Falls In

Another Barn Falls In

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The barn was built around a century ago. A pair of double doors on the front flapped when the wind blew, and a short service door was on the side. It wasn’t a big barn, about 30 feet wide by 40 feet long with a small hay mow above. It had a couple of windows for light, and of course a window in the peak. There was a hitching rail outside that gave it a certain welcoming charm. A charm that seemed to say, “tie up to the rail, and c’mon in.”

Elsa

Elsa

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I headed out with a gut feeling not that something was wrong, but that in these conditions there soon enough would be if I did not try. I made my way more or less by instinct across the open field and through the frozen swamp. In amongst saplings, rocks, and old rusty metal and wire there is a large, red haired calf half steaming where mom is aggressively licking her and the other half is iced over where her hooves and legs appear frozen to the ground.

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