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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

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Cultivating Questions: A Horsedrawn Guidance System

by Anne & Eric Nordell of Trout Run, PA

When Stephen Leslie asked us to put together a sidebar on cultivator setups for his upcoming book, The New Horse-Powered Farm (Chelsea Green, 2013), we realized it had been almost 15 years since we had cultivated this topic in the CQ column. We thought it was high time to reintroduce these essential tools for row cropped vegetables as well as the guidance system we developed for Horsedrawn cultivation. Hopefully the principles will be of value to the new wave of teamsters getting started in small-scale, organic vegetable production, even if the tools and attachments that we use are not available.

Market gardening became so much more relaxing for us and the horses after developing a Horsedrawn Guidance System. Instead of constantly steering the horses while trying to lay out straight rows or cultivate the vegetables, we could put the team on autopilot and focus our whole attention on these precision tasks. The guidance system has been so effective that we have trusted visiting chefs to cultivate the lettuce we planned on harvesting for them a few weeks later.

Although it took a couple of years to work out the details, developing this horsedrawn guidance system was simply a matter of recognizing the horses’ natural inclination to follow a pathway, and then realizing we could use the riding cultivator to create these horse-friendly pathways before planting the produce. We attached five large tractor sweeps in the flying geese formation shown in the first photo. When engaged in the soil, the three forward sweeps backfill each other creating a relatively level bedtop while the furrowing action of the outside sweeps define the width of the planting beds.

We found it was important to line up the cultivator wheels, single trees and outside sweeps so that the horses, cultivator and sweeps all tracked in the pathways. As we work our way across the field laying out beds, we simply put one horse and cultivator wheel in the new pathway made by the previous pass and use the pedal steering on this old Oliver cultivator to keep the outside sweep on the mark and straighten out the beds as necessary.

After sweeping the beds into place, we like to flatten and firm the bedtops with a cultipacker to draw moisture back up to the surface and make a smoother seedbed for planting and cultivation. You can see from the hoofprints in the photo how the horses like to follow the shallow furrows made by the outside sweeps on the cultivator just like their tendency to follow a harrow mark or their own paths out on pasture.

Laying out the beds as the final step of seedbed preparation provides several benefits. The overlapping sweeps do a good job of undercutting residual weeds or cover crop clumps before the vegetables go in the ground. This extra pass over the field also gives the horses an opportunity to get acquainted with the riding cultivator and following the furrow before using the same setup and system — minus the middle sweep — for the more delicate work of cultivating the produce. Training the team to follow the pathway rather than the crop row makes it so much easier to cultivate vegetables soon after planting. The horses know where to go before the row of produce is visible.

Forming the beds ahead of time also simplifies the task of marking the planting rows. Again, the horses and cultivator wheels track in the pathways. The only difference is we replace the sweeps on the riding cultivator with a single tooth mounted between the cultivator gangs to mark a planting furrow in the center of the beds.

One drawback to this planting system is the time required to change the attachments on the cultivator from bed-forming to planting mode and then back again to the sweeps for cultivating. We solved that problem by acquiring a second riding cultivator dedicated entirely to planting operations.

The second cultivator, a McCormick-Deering, had seen better days when we got it. The wheels were splayed and the gangs too bent for precision cultivation. However, it was more than adequate for planting operations like making a slit in the soil for hand-setting transplants or opening up a furrow for large seeded crops like potatoes and peas, and then backfilling the furrow with disc hillers.

Seeing the labor-saving advantage of having extra cultivators on hand for specialized purposes, we kept a lookout for more of these reasonably priced McCormicks. We now have a fleet of four riding cultivators: the Oliver permanently setup with sweeps for bed-forming and cultivation; two McCormicks available for different planting modes (mulch-till, ridge-till, strip-till, no-till, and clean seedbeds); and another rigged up with rolling Lillistons for high-residue zone cultivation.

The photos highlight some of these very specialized setups for accomplishing site-specific tasks on our unirrigated farm. They are definitely not necessary for horsepowered market gardening. In fact, we sometimes spend more time hitching and unhitching the team to different cultivators and adjusting the attachments than planting and cultivating. In this respect, the fleet has made our lives more complicated. By contrast, the horsedrawn guidance system makes the actual fieldwork very straightforward.

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Oliver riding cultivator in bed-forming mode. The 12” sweeps, mounted 8 1/2” apart, define a 34” bed. We made the cross-bracket for the middle sweep from junked Allis Chalmers tractor cultivator parts. Only tool required – a hacksaw.

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Laying out the single-row planting beds with the Oliver. The widely spaced 1/4” Row Crop tractor sweeps can handle a lot of cover crop residue without plugging up.

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Rolling three beds at a time with a 9’ cultipacker.

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

For cultivating the row cropped vegetables, we simply remove the middle sweep and adjust the inside sweeps so they run flat, skimming under the surface of the soil. Changing the angle of the sweeps is just a matter of loosening the bolt at the bottom of the shank and moving the shoe forward until the serrated wedge-shaped washer lines up with the outermost notches. (If the shanks have been bent or are limited in their range of pitch, it may be necessary to place washers or shims behind the stem of the sweeps to insure they run level.) We prefer the low profile Southern Peanut Sweeps close to the row instead of the more aggressive 1/4” Row Crop Sweeps. Both types of sweeps have been available from Agri-Supply (1-800-345-0169).

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Note how the soil flows over the inside sweeps rather than being thrown on the crop. The 12” sweeps also make it possible to position the shanks far away from the row so they do not push stones or clods on to the delicate vegetable plants or bruise the foliage.

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

We use this McCormick-Deering riding cultivator just for planting operations. In this case it is set up with a 1” tooth on a lightweight cross-bracket to mark a furrow in the middle of beds for transplanting by hand.

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

The McCormick-Deerings are designed for four different wheel spacings, ranging from 36” to 48” apart. We use the narrowest wheelbase to match as close as possible the 34” beds formed by the Oliver. To change the wheel spacing, loosen the square-headed set bolt at the front of the cultivator and slide the axle arm to the innermost position. Then jack up the cultivator and…

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

…remove the pin from the main frame in order to slide the wheel in until the pin can be replaced in the outermost hole.

A well-oiled cultivator is a pleasure to operate. In addition to oiling the layers, rollers and foot pedals, we make sure to lubricate the main frame and axles by squirting a few drops around the pin hole, in the adjacent oil well, and inside the spindle by lifting the cap shown at the lower left edge of the photo. To minimize soil contamination, we use veterinary grade mineral oil. For the same reason, we pack the wheel hubs with food grade, calcium-based grease.

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Combination bedformer-cultipacker. This setup comes in handy when renovating unplanted beds where there is not enough room for the full size cultipacker. In this instance, we are using the inside sweeps and mini-packer on the Oliver to cover pea seed scattered in a wide furrow made by the McCormick with a potato shovel attachment. However, the primary benefit of the mini-packer setup is the firm groove it makes in the middle of the bed, ideal for direct seeding vegetables with a walk-behind seeder.

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Zone Cultivation. We rigged up these old Lilliston rolling cultivators on 2 by 4” crosspieces for close-to-the-row soil aeration and weed control. The offset spyders do a nice job of loosening the crust next to small plants in preparation for aggressive cultivation in the pathways with the sweeps or traditional cultivating shovels. We also use this zone cultivation setup for crops planted on ridges or interseeded with a living mulch.

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

This wobbly old McCormick with splayed wheels and bent gangs is not suitable for precision cultivation, but still in good enough shape to use as a high-clearance, minimum tillage tool. The 12” sweep at the bottom of the extra-long tractor shank works well for undercutting row crops after harvest or surface tilling cover crops. The potato shovel bolted to the top of the sweep serves as a ridging wing, throwing soil on the residue to begin decomposition and facilitate follow-up tillage. We made the heavy-duty cross-bracket attached to the back of the gangs out of two pieces of angle iron held together by Allis Chalmers cultivator clamps – no welding necessary. In a future CQ, we hope to show how we set up these old McCormicks for strip-tillage and clean seedbed renovation.

Spotlight On: Book Reviews

A Short History of the Horse-Drawn Mower

A Short History of the Horse-Drawn Mower

Book Excerpt: The enclosed gear, late model John Deere, Case, Oliver, David Bradley, and McCormick Deering International mowers I (we) are so fond of had a zenith of popular manufacture and use that lasted just short of 25 years. Millions of farmers with millions of mowers, built to have a serviceable life of 100 plus years, all pushed into the fence rows. I say, it was far too short of a period.

How To Prune a Formal Hedge

How To Prune A Formal Hedge

This guide to hedge-trimming comes from The Pruning Answer Book by Lewis Hill and Penelope O’Sullivan. Q: What’s the correct way to shear a formal hedge? A: The amount of shearing depends upon the specific plant and whether the hedge is formal or informal. You’ll need to trim an informal hedge only once or twice a year, although more vigorous growers, such as privet and ninebark, may need additional clippings.

Horsedrawn Plows and Plowing

Setting Up A Walking Plow

Here is a peek into the pages of Horsedrawn Plows and Plowing, written by SFJ editor and publisher Lynn R. Miller.

Plowing with the Single Horse

Plowing with the Single Horse

All other aspects being equal, the primary difference in plowing, comfortably, with a single horse is that the animal walks on unplowed ground immediately adjacent to the previous furrow, rather than in the furrow. This will cause the point of draft at the shoulder to be somewhat higher and will dictate hitching longer and/or higher than with the animal walking down 5 to 8 inches lower in the furrow.

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.

Horse Sense for Plain Farming

Horse Sense for Plain Farming

Book Review – The New Horse-Powered Farm by Stephen Leslie: Working with horses is not something you can learn exclusively through watching DVD training videos and attending workshops and seminars. These things and experiences can be very useful as auxiliary aids to our training, but they cannot replace the value of a long-term relationship with a skilled mentor.

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.

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.

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).

Art of Working Horses

Lynn Miller’s New Book: Art of Working Horses

Art of Working Horses, by Lynn R. Miller, follows on the heels of his other eight Work Horse Library titles. This book tells the inside story of how people today find success working horses and mules in harness, whether it be on farm fields, in the woods, or on the road. Over 500 photos and illustrations accompany an anecdote-rich text which makes a case for the future of true horsepower.

Apples of North America

Freedom has been called the ugly duckling of disease-resistant apple varieties. But that shouldn’t detract from its many merits. These include the freedom from apple-scab infection for which it was named, a high rate of productivity, and an ability to serve as a good pollinator for its more attractive sibling, Liberty.

Laying Out Fields for Plowing

Laying Out Fields for Plowing

There are four general plans, or methods of plowing fields. These are: (1) to plow from one side of a field to the other; (2) to plow around the field; (3) to plow a field in lands; and (4) to start the plowing in the center of the field.

Training Workhorses Training Teamsters First Time Hitching

First Time Hitching

More from Lynn R. Miller’s highly anticipated Second Edition of “Training Workhorses / Training Teamsters.” Today’s excerpt, “First Time Hitching,” is from Chapter 12, “Follow Through to Finish.”

Timing the Bounce

Timing the Bounce: Resilient Agriculture Meets Climate Change

by:
from issue:

In her new book, Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate, Laura Lengnick assumes a dispassionate, businesslike tone and sets about exploring the farming strategies of twenty-seven award-winning farmers in six regions of the continental United States. Her approach gets well past denial and business-as-usual, to see what can be done, which strategies are being tried, and how well they are working.

Basic Blacksmithing Techniques

Illustrated guide to basic blacksmithing techniques, an excerpt from Blacksmithing: Basics For The Homestead.

McCormick Deering/International No 7 vs no 9

McCormick Deering/International: No. 7 versus No. 9

McCormick Deering/International’s first enclosed gear model was the No. 7, an extremely successful and highly popular mower of excellent design.

Honoring Our Teachers

Honoring Our Teachers

by:
from issue:

I believe that there exist many great practicing teachers, some of who deliberately set out to become one and others who may have never graduated from college but are none-the-less excellent and capable teachers. I would hazard a guess that many readers of Small Farmer’s Journal know more than one teacher who falls within this latter category. My grandfather, and artist and author Eric Sloane, were two such teachers.

Livestock Guardians

Introducing Your Guard Dog To New Livestock And Other Dogs

When you introduce new animals to an established herd or flock, you should observe your dog’s reactions and behavior for a few days. Since he will be curious anyway, it is a good idea to introduce him to the new animals while he is leashed or to place the new animals in a nearby area.

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