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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: Book Reviews

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 4

Assuming that you’ve found a farm you want to buy, next you’ll need to determine if you can buy it. If you have sold your property, and/or saved your money, and have the means to buy the farm you are sitting pretty. If you do not have the full price of a considered farm, in cash or any other form, you will likely have to look for financing.

Wheel Hoe

The Wheel Hoe: A Tool For Shallow Tillage

When we bought this little farm I soon realized I needed a wheel hoe. The size of the horse and tractor dictated space wasting wide rows in crop production and, to some degree, so does my two wheeled tractor.

An Introduction To Farm Woodlands

The farm woodland is that portion of the farm which either never was cleared for tillage or pasture, or was later given back to woods growth. Thus it occupies land that never was considered suitable, or later proved unsuitable, for farm enterprises.

Barbed Wire History and Varieties

Book Excerpt: The invention of barb wire was the most important event in the solution of the fence problem. The question of providing fencing material had become serious, even in the timbered portions of the country, while the great prairie region was almost wholly without resource, save the slow and expensive process of hedging. At this juncture came barb wire, which was at once seen to make a cheap, effective, and durable fence, rapidly built and easily moved.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 2

How do you learn the true status of that farm with the “for sale” sign? Here are some important pieces of information for you to learn about a given selling farm. The answers will most probably tell you how serious the seller is.

Art of Working Horses Another Review

Art of Working Horses – Another Review

by:
from issue:

One could loosely say this is a “how-to” book but it is more of an “existential” how-to: how to get yourself into a way of thinking about the world of working horses. Maybe we need to explain what a working horse is. A working horse is one, in harness, given to a specific task. So, in that context, the book illustrates the many ways Miller has worked with his equine partners over the years – helping them understand what he wants them to do, as both work together to create relationships that help achieve desired goals.

Why Farm

Farming For Art’s Sake: Farming As An Artform

Farming as a vocation is more of a way of living than of making a living. Farming at its best is an Art, at its worst it is an industry. Farming can be an Art because it allows at every juncture for the farmer to create form from his or her vision.

Old Man Farming

Old Man Farming

Long after his physical capacities have dwindled to pain and stiffening, what drives the solitary old man to continue bringing in the handful of Guernsey cows to milk?

Art of Working Horses Hunter Review

Art of Working Horses – A Review

by:
from issue:

Over 40 years Lynn Miller has written a whole library of valuable and indispensable books about the craft of working horses. He has helped beginners acquire the basics of harnessing and working around horses, and has led those further along to focus on the specific demands of plowing, mowing, haying and related subjects. But, in a fitting culmination, his latest book, The Art of Working Horses, raises its sights and openly ponders secrets at the heart of the work that may over time elevate it to an art.

Haying With Horses

Haying With Horses

If the reader is considering the construction of a barn we encourage you to give more than passing thought to allowing the structure of the gable to be open enough to accommodate the hanging of a trolley track. It is difficult or impossible to retrofit a truss-built barn, which may have many supports crisscrossing the inside gable, to receive hay jags. At least allowing for the option in a new construction design will leave the option for loose hay systems in the future.

Woodstove Cookery at Home on the Range

An Illustrated Guide To The Wood Fired Cookstove

Illustrated guide to the wood stove and it’s accoutrements.

Posts

Driving Fence Posts By Hand

Where the soil is soft, loose, and free from stone, posts may be driven more easily and firmly than if set in holes dug for the purpose.

One Seed To Another: The New Small Farming

One Seed to Another

One Seed to Another is staggering and bracing in its truths and relevance. This is straight talk from a man whose every breath is poetry and whose heartbeat is directly plugged into farming as right livelihood.

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.

Work Horse Handbook

Work Horse Handbook

Horses are honest creatures. And, what I mean by honest is that a horse is almost always true to his motivations, his needs, his perceptions: if he wants to eat, if he needs water, if he perceives danger. He is incapable of temporarily setting aside or subverting his motivations to get to some distant goal. This is often mistaken as evidence for a lack of intelligence, a conclusion which says more of human nature than equine smarts. What it means for the horse is that he is almost never lazy, sneaky or deceptive. It is simply not in his nature.

Farmer Pirates & Dancing Cows

Farmer Pirates & Dancing Cows

From humor-filled stories of a life of farming to incisive examinations of food safety, from magical moments of the re-enchantment of agriculture to the benches we would use for the sharpening of our tools, Farmer Pirates & Dancing Cows offers a full meal of thought and reflection.

Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide

How to Store Vegetables

Potatoes may be safely stored in bits on a well drained spot. Spread a layer of straw for the floor. Pile the potatoes in a long, rather than a round pile. Cover the pile with straw or hay a foot deep.

Dont Eat the Seed Corn

Don’t Eat the Seed Corn: Strategies & Prospects for Human Survival

by:
from issue:

Gary Paul Nabhan’s book “WHERE OUR FOOD COMES FROM: Retracing Nikolay Vavilov’s Quest to End Famine” (Island Press, 2009) is a weighty tome, freighted with implications. But as befits its subject it is also portable and travels well, a deft exploration of two trips around the world, that of the author following in the footsteps of a long-gone mentor he never met, the Russian pioneer botanist and geneticist Nikolay Vavilov (1887-1943).

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