Back Issue Vol: 38-3
from issue: 38-3
In this series of articles we are taking a look at how contemporary horse-powered farmers are making use of the moldboard plow, with an emphasis on the use of the moldboard as primary tillage in the market garden. In this installment we will hear “Reports from the Field” from two small farmers who favor the walking plow and a report from one farmer who farms tens of acres of forage crops and is decidedly in favor of the sulky. But first, we’ll dig into the SFJ archives to get a little perspective on the evolution of the manufacture of the walking plow from the late 19th century to the present.
We are blessed who are active participants in the life of soil and weather, crops and critters, living a life grounded in seasonal change. This talk of human connection to land and season is not just the rambling romantic musing of an agrarian ideologue. It is rather the result of participating in the deeply vital vocation that is farming and knowing its fruits first hand.
The radishes came up quick, filling the garden canopy completely that fall, and the following spring we found the plot was clean of weeds and rows of open holes were left where the radish roots had been growing. Well, we had a few extra onion plants that spring and decided to plant them in these holes, since we already had very clear lines laid out for us and a clean seedbed. What we got were the best looking onions that have ever come out of our gardens.
When my husband Lynn and I were first married, in 1966, we had a dairy. Several of our Holsteins had twins that year and we had fun naming them. I particularly remember Vim and Vigor – fraternal twins, a bull calf and a heifer calf. The next year we moved to our present ranch to raise beef cattle, and even though we had a lot more cows, none of the beef cows ever had twins – until 1977, the spring that our kids (Michael and Andrea) turned 9 and 7.
A couple of years ago I broke the harness horseman’s first rule of common sense. It was incredibly stupid and impetuous of me but I did it anyway. I hooked two young half broke fillies together before they were really ready. As a result I almost got my wife Andrea and me killed, destroyed a wagon and ended up with two spoiled runaway horses. If I’d addressed the problem immediately, as I would have in the old days, I’m sure I could have corrected and reassured the horses fairly quickly but I didn’t. I let considerable time go by; I had lost my nerve; post-traumatic stress syndrome had me in its clutches. A little while after the disastrous event, knowing what needed to be done, I hooked each of the fillies, independently, beside the old Clydesdale mare I had started them with again, but on both occasions I simply left them tied to the hitching rail. I couldn’t find the courage to pick up the reins and put myself in harm’s way again. I was an emotional wreck.
It was a pasty, mustard-yellow, half-ton ’80 Chevrolet pickup truck, the entire body of which was riddled by small dents. I bought it at auction years ago. It belonged to an old rancher whose family fondly referred to as Mr. Magoo. In his later years he could not see well. He only drove at home on the ranch, and he drove this truck. He’d drive slow until he bumped into something, then he’d back up a little and turn one way or the other and try again. In this fashion he ‘felt’ his way around the ranch. And in this fashion he dented up old yeller. The surface of the vehicle was like a reverse brail, a record of ‘felt’, as if Mr. Magoo used ‘old yeller’ like a big motorized blind man’s walking stick, feeling out around him as he moved through his farming world.
The exciting thing about going to new places and seeing different things is that you never know beforehand what you will get out of it. One such instance was my visit to the first British Festival of the Working Horse, where the weather was dreadful, the range of equipment a little disappointing, but the unexpected highlight was Henry Finzi-Constantine’s presentation to the mini conference, in which he talked about the introduction of a working horse into his Italian biodynamic vineyard. His wholehearted enthusiasm for the wine, the vineyard and the horse was both infectious and delightful, but for me at least, also slightly embarrassing, because in describing what the horse brings to his operation, there were no caveats, no ifs or buts.