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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 PST

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: Crops & Soil

An Introduction Into Plant Polyculture

An excerpt from What’s Wrong With My Fruit Garden
Companion Planting for Beginners

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.

Evolution of a Permanent Bed System

Evolution of a Permanent Bed System

by:
from issue:

After three or four years we could see that the nature of our farming practices would continue to have detrimental effects on our soils. We were looking for a new approach, a routine that would be sustainable, rather than a rescue treatment for an ongoing problem. We decided to convert our fields to permanent planting beds with grassy strips in between where all tractor, foot and irrigation pipe traffic would be concentrated.

Beating the Beetles – War & Peace in a Houston Garden

Blooming that is, unless the cucumber beetles arrive first.
And arrive they have … “At first I thought they looked like big, yellow lady bugs.” Paul said, “Then I looked…

Horsedrawn No-Till Garlic

Horsedrawn No-Till Garlic

We were inspired to try no-tilling vegetables into cover crops after attending the Groffs’ field day in 1996. No-tilling warm season vegetables has proved problematic at our site due to the mulch of cover crop residues keeping the soil too cool and attracting slugs. We thought that no-tilling garlic into this cover crop of oats and Canadian field peas might be the ticket as garlic seems to appreciate being mulched.

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.

Cultivating Questions Winterkilled Cover Crops for a Mild Climate Part 2

Cultivating Questions: Winterkilled Cover Crops For A Mild Climate Part 2

Finding just the right cover crop-tillage combination for crops planted the last half of June has always been a real challenge in our location. While surface-tilling mature rye and vetch in May works well for fall crops established in July and August, this cover crop-tillage combo does not allow enough time for decomposition and moisture accumulation for end-of-June plantings.

Of Peace and Quiet

LittleField Notes: Of Peace and Quiet

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from issue:

Walk with me for a moment to the edge of the Waterfall Field. We can lean on the gate and let our gaze soak up the mid-summer scene: a perfect blue sky and not a breath of wind. Movement catches your eye, and in the distance you see a threesome hard at work in the hayfield. Two Suffolk horses, heads bobbing, making good time followed by a man comfortably seated on a mowing machine. The waist high grass and clover falls steadily in neat swaths behind the mower. What you can’t help but notice is the quiet.

Rice as a New Staple Crop for Very Cold Climates

Rice as a New Staple Crop for Very Cold Climates

by: ,
from issue:

If you were visiting Earth from some other planet and had to describe its inhabitants upon your return, you might say that the average person eats rice, and grows it as well, usually on a small scale. You’d be accurately describing the habits of over a quarter of the world’s population. Rice has a special story with an exciting chapter now unfolding in the northeast USA among a small but growing group of farmers and growers.

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.

Syrup From Oregons Big-Leaf Maple

Syrup From Oregon’s Big Leaf Maple

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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.

Soil, Vegetation, and Acidity

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

Prairie Grass A Jewel Among Kernels

Prairie Grass: A Jewel Among Kernels

by:
from issue:

Years ago, my brother advised against plowing the patch of prairie on the back forty of our Hubbard, Iowa farm. “Some day,” he predicted, “that prairie will be as valuable as the rest of the 40 acres. We know how to grow corn; but that prairie was seeded by the last glacier.” Left untilled by generations of my family, the troublesome treasure has now become a jewel among a cluster of conventional crops on the farm.

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.

Walki Biodegradable Mulching Paper

New Biodegradable Mulching Paper

Views of any and all modern farming stir questions for me. The most common wonder for me has been ‘how come we haven’t come up with a something to replace plastic?’ It’s used for cold frames, hotbeds, greenhouses, silage and haylage bagging and it is used for mulch. That’s why when I read of this new Swedish innovation in specialized paper mulching I got the itch to scratch and learn more. What follows is what we know. We’d like to know more. LRM

Swallow

Rotation As A Means Of Blight Control

Every farmer knows that when a crop is grown on the same field year after year, it becomes inferior in quality and the yield steadily diminishes.

Cultivating Questions Ridge-Till Revisited

Cultivating Questions: Ridge-Till Revisited

Delay ridge building until early fall so that the cover crop on the ridge does not grow more than 12” tall before winter. The residues from a short cover crop will be much less challenging to cultivate than a tall stand of oats, especially if tangly field peas are mixed in. Waiting for the winterkilled cover crop residues to breakdown as long as possible before ridge-tilling in the spring will also make cultivation much easier until you gain familiarity with the system.

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