Cultivating Questions Concerning the Bio-Extensive Market Garden
by Anne & Eric Nordell of Trout Run, PA
This year we used one horse for most of the heavy fieldwork in the bio-extensive market garden and pasture. As of this writing on October 29, the solo horse tachometer shows 79 hours of harrowing and rotary hoeing, 45 hours mowing, 33 hours plowing and 13 hours spreading compost for a total of 170 hours of single-horse farming.
Going single did not occur to us until we began receiving questions from prospective teamsters who felt it would be more manageable and economical to get started with a single horse than a team. After 29 years of market gardening with two or more horses, our impetus to try out one-horse farming was not a question of management or economy, but due to the radically diverging horse temperaments on our farm. Sometimes we wondered how we accomplished the critical fieldwork with our perfectly mismatched team of crossbreds:
Frank – tall, dark and handsome. A super athletic and high-spirited horse. You know, the lip-flapping, tongue-clamped-between-the-teeth, frothing-at-the-mouth kind, always wide awake and eager to be the first to cross the finish line. “A racehorse on steroids,” as a neighbor put it. Simply too-eager-to-please might be more accurate. At least, that is how we explain his attentiveness to voice commands and willingness to patiently stand for long periods of time.
Ben – short, blocky and blonde. A totally relaxed and reliable animal. Ben is completely unflappable – even his lips – and in no hurry to get anywhere unless food is involved. Ben has that classic draft horse trait of gradually leaning his whole weight into the collar to get a load started, quite a contrast to Frank’s Road Runner approach to farm work.
Initially, we were able to use the two horses’ very different personalities to our advantage. Ben’s steady nature had a calming effect on Frank, and Frank’s non-stop ambition encouraged Ben to pick up the pace. Although not exactly poetry-in-motion, we relied entirely on this odd couple for the heavier fieldwork while transitioning our original team of crossbreds, Becky and Buster, into semi-retirement.
Much to our surprise, Frank’s racehorse mentality did not slow down with time. After six years in harness, it seemed like he was just getting up-to-speed, trying to pull the whole load if that was the fastest way to the finish line. Meanwhile, Ben was going slower and slower with age and arthritis. It was no longer as much fun to drive this mismatched team and the horses were starting to show signs of frustration with each other. Frank, in particular, was developing some bad habits, weaving back and forth, twisting his head to the side, two-stepping his way across the field – anything, it seemed, to show his impatience. We thought everyone might be happier if we worked him alone.
The first challenge was finding suitable equipment for single-horse market gardening. Instead of scouring the countryside for rare one-horse implements, we decided to adapt the two-horse tools we had on hand for this solo work horse experiment.
For starters, we contacted Pioneer Equipment about customizing shafts for our McCormick-Deering #7 mower. We discussed two alternatives: replace the team tongue on the dolly wheel with a stub tongue and heavy-duty bobsled shafts; or, following the example of the photos found on page 166 and 169 of Lynn Miller’s Horsedrawn Mower Book, attach shafts directly to the top of the dolly wheel frame. The second option looked like it would be less expensive but more permanent. It would also require drilling holes through the thick steel frame to bolt on the crosspiece for the shafts. We went with the first option, thinking that this convenient stub tongue setup, costing $374 plus shipping, could be used on other two-horse implements, avoiding the expense of purchasing a separate set of shafts for each tool.