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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 Going Single

Cultivating Questions Concerning the Bio-Extensive Market Garden

Going Single

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.

Cultivating Questions Going Single

Cultivating Questions Going Single

Cultivating Questions Going Single

SINGLE-HORSE MOWER – Mowing cover crop of rye in pollen, rye stubble and clover, and field borders of market garden using 5-foot mower with customized Pioneer shafts. The stub tongue-and-shafts setup has been an inexpensive and easy way to experiment with going single on several different, traditional two-horse implements. However, if we stick with single-horse farming in the future, we might consider permanently attaching wood shafts to the dolly wheel frame as shown in the photos to below from Lynn Miller’s Horsedrawn Mower Book to minimize the weight on Frank’s back, to reduce draft by putting the horse closer to the mower, and to save time by eliminating the need to take the shafts on-and-off this frequently used implement.

Cultivating Questions Going Single

Cultivating Questions Going Single

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.

Cultivating Questions Going Single

Cultivating Questions Going Single

Cultivating Questions Going Single

Cultivating Questions Going Single

Cultivating Questions Going Single

Cultivating Questions Going Single

PLOW PLANTED POTATOES – From the top: Three photos of plow planting potatoes into winterkilled cover crop of sorghum-sudangrass and crimson clover on May 1; working the plowed ground on May 10 with a 4’ finishing harrow when the soil was finally dry enough for secondary tillage but before the potatoes had emerged; last two images taken on June 18 of Becky and Ben loosening the once-again rain-packed soil and then hilling the potatoes with disc hillers and straight shovels on the riding cultivator.

Despite our limited carpentering skills, we were able to shape wood stub tongues for the John Deere riding plow and the New Idea 10A manure spreader that would accept the customized Pioneer shafts, spreading this investment over three implements. However, we are still scratching our heads about how to convert our fleet of riding cultivators – tooled up for minimum-tillage, dryland planting and high-residue cultivating – to the stub tongue-and-shafts setup and straddling the rows with a single work animal.

The second challenge was developing a sustainable rhythm for working a single horse with two-horse equipment. Although mowing cover crops and pasture with the 5’ sicklebar in the brittle-dry conditions of 2010 seemed like a manageable load for Frank, we made sure to rest our racehorse-on-steroids frequently to prevent him from overdoing it. Even so, he averaged an acre an hour, the same mowing speed as the team. We also limited most work sessions to 2-3 hours so that we did not sour this willing and forgiving animal. Whenever possible, we avoided mowing uphill on the steep sidehill pasture – a hard pull for two horses and the max for a lone animal.

Cultivating Questions Going Single

Cultivating Questions Going Single

Cultivating Questions Going Single

Cultivating Questions Going Single

ONE-HORSE TWO-WAY RIDING PLOW – Shallow plowing medium red clover in early May was a manageable work for Frank due to the soft soil and undeveloped root system of the cover crop. For plowing the extensive root system of a sorghum-sudangrass cover crop in September, we moved the plow beams as close to the wheels as possible and replaced the 14” shares with 12” ones (see “Two Ways of Adjusting the Two Way” in the Summer 2009 CQ). Note how this cuts a narrower, steeper furrow, but still does a good job of burying the chick-weed threatening to go to seed in the understory of the cover crop. We fashioned a stub tongue for the two-way plow from the butt end of an extra-long ash team tongue. It only takes a ten minute pit stop to remove the three bolts and switch the shafts from the mower to the plow. Working alone, this task is much easier when using a handy man jack to support the stub tongue and resting the shafts on a sawhorse.

No longer hindered by Ben’s relaxed work ethic, Frank set a much faster, but steadier pace on his own. Working between the shafts also got him over some of his bad habits and encouraged him to go straight down the racetrack. We enjoyed working Frank so much by himself in the mower that we decided to try him alone for most of the heavy fieldwork in 2011.

This was probably not the ideal year to cut back on horsepower as a very wet spring and fall delayed field operations. Plus, an extended summer heat wave made the horse work more taxing than usual. Consequently, we cut corners whenever possible.

For example, we plow planted our not-so-early early potatoes during a brief window at the beginning of May when the soil was marginally fit for primary tillage. Plowing in the seed potatoes not only made up for lost time, but turned out to be a great way to introduce Frank to the two-horse two-way plow. Laying out the seed pieces by hand after turning three furrows provided him with plenty of R&R. He never broke a sweat or tried to put it in high gear. Instead, he walked slow and steady like an old plow horse.

Cultivating Questions Going Single

Cultivating Questions Going Single

Cultivating Questions Going Single

SINGLE-HORSE ROTOTILLER – In lieu of a one-horse disc, we used the middle section and hitch from our 10 1/2’ two-horsepower rotary hoe. Building a small platform to stand on saved us from trotting along after our racehorse-on-steroids, improved penetration of the spyders, and provided a good, steady pull for Frank. We like the way this single-horse rototiller settled both the horse and the soil. It did a nice job of crumbling and leveling the plowed furrows as well as finishing the seedbed after a couple of passes with the springtooth harrow.

We also took a shortcut during very wet conditions in September when reseeding a fallow field where lots of chickweed threatened to go to seed in the cover crop of sorghum-sudangrass. We broadcast rye seed directly over the plowed sorghum-sudangrass, then followed with the springtooth harrow and rotary hoe to level the furrows and incorporate the seed. This abbreviated secondary tillage made it possible to get a uniform, weed-free cover of rye established during a small window of opportunity using a single horse. Nevertheless, working in the cover crop seed with a single 3’ section of springtooth harrow (one pass) and rotary hoe (two passes) required 2 1/2 hours with Frank in the heavy, humid weather, double the amount of time for secondary tillage with the team using a two-section (6’) harrow and full-size rotary hoe.

By contrast, pre-plowing preparation of the half-acre fallow field took no longer for one horse than two: a half hour for mowing the sorghum-sudangrass and 2 3/4 hours for spreading compost. If harnessing and hitching are factored into the labor equation, these jobs actually go faster with the solo work animal. Plowing the wet, heavy ground (3 1/4 hours) with Frank added a half hour to the normal team time due to cutting a 2” narrower furrow and resting Frank after each pass.

Cultivating Questions Going Single

Cultivating Questions Going Single

Cultivating Questions Going Single

COMPOST SPREADING WITH ONE WORK ANIMAL – We did not get around to making a stub tongue for the manure spreader until midsummer, partly because we were concerned that this might be too much of a load for a single work animal. Although Frank definitely had to work to back the New Idea 10A spreader into the stables for loading and then pull it up the long hill to our vegetable fields, he had no problem spreading the compost. In retrospect, we should have realized that the fine-textured, hog composted horse manure would have required relatively little horsepower for spreading with this ground-driven implement. In addition, we only fill the spreader 3/4 full to achieve our desired application rate of 6-8 yards/acre, and Frank gets to rest more than half of the time while we load the spreader by hand.

Clearly two horses are better than one for secondary tillage. In the future, we may go back to harrowing and rotary hoeing the soil with the team because secondary tillage comprises the lion share of heavy fieldwork in the bio-extensive market garden. We use it for bare fallow management, preparing a seedbed for vegetables, and seeding down cover crops.

However, we did not regret the extra laps around the fields with our racehorse in 2011 because going single put the fun back in farming with Frank. It was well worth the extra time to restore a working relationship with this unique animal and to realize more of his full potential.

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Such a One Horse Outfit

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by:
from issue:

One day my stepfather brought over a magazine he had recently subscribed to. It was called Small Farmer’s Journal published by a guy named Lynn Miller. That issue had a short story about an old man that used a single small mule to garden and skid firewood with. I was totally fascinated with the prospect of having a horse and him earning his keep. It sorta seemed like having your cake and eating it too.

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We know all too well the frustration of putting your heart and soul into a crop only to have the wildlife consume it before you can get it harvested let alone to market. Our farm sits next to several thousand acres of state game lands and is the only produce operation in the area. As you can imagine, deer pressure can be intense. Neighbors have counted herds of 20 or more in our pastures.

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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.

Raised Bed Gardening

Raised Bed Gardening

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Raised beds may not be right for everyone, and our way is not the only way. I have seen raised beds made from rows of 5’ diameter kiddy pools, and heard of a fellow who collected junk refrigerators from the dump and lined them up on their backs into a rainbow of colored enameled steel raised beds. Even rows of five-gallon pails filled with plants count as raised beds in my estimation. Do it any way you care to, but do it if it’s right for you.

Farm Manure

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Naturally there is great variation in manure according to the animals it is made by, the feeding and bedding material, and the manner in which it is kept. Different analyses naturally shows different results and the tables here given serve only as a guide or index to the various kinds. The manure heap, by the way, is no place for old tin cans, bottles, glass, and other similar waste material.

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Our intention is not to advocate the oddball living mulches we use with this single row inter-seeding system, but just to show how it is possible to utilize the between-row areas to improve insect habitat, reduce erosion, conserve moisture, fix some nitrogen, and grow a good bit of extra organic matter. If nothing else, experimenting with these alternative practices continues to keep farming exciting as we begin our twentieth season of bio-extensive market gardening.

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Laying Out Fields For Plowing

from issue:

Before starting to plow a field much time can be saved if the field is first staked out in uniform width lands. Methods that leave dead furrows running down the slope should be avoided, as water may collect in them and cause serious erosion. The method of starting at the sides and plowing around and around to finish in the center of the field will, if practiced year after year, create low areas at the dead furrows.

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Small Farm, USA: Cayuse Vineyards

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from issue:

How did the grape find itself here on the outskirts of Milton? If you ask one man, Christophe Baron, the answer is simple. “It’s the cobblestone. (The ground) reminds me of home”. For Christophe, home refers to France and the stone littered earth from which many famous French wines grow. Hailing from a family of vigneron champenois, Mr. Baron came upon this corner of the state by chance, saw its signature geology, and decided to establish his domaine right here in northeast Oregon.

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