Category Archives: Farming

I’m a lousy farmer

So I’ve planted my potatoes, butternut squash, field pumpkins and melons. Late, as usual, but given that it was a long winter, with a late spring it’s not as bad as it seems looking at the calendar. Looking around I can see a lot of people have only just put them in so I’m not doing as bad as I thought. Alec is the exception of course – he’s already harvesting his lettuce and kale and had his potatoes hilled two weeks ago, but Alec is Alec and sets the standard that others follow. Come to think of it my last neighbour was like that too, and Laura’s grandad as well… so maybe I am a bit of a slacker.

Anyhoo, the sun dried out the top inch or so of my tilled beds, or more accurately at this stage ‘strips’. Underneath was wet but not waterlogged, which bodes well I guess. I did three more passes with the tiller (a week after the initial tilling) before the soil was light enough and relatively clump-less to poke stuff into it.

I have a rather handy attachment for the tractor that is a mid-buster and a hiller on the same toolbar. What you do is you run down your prepared bed with the mid-buster on, which is a sweep on a pole in the centre of the tool, you lay your potatoes or whatever in the furrow you’ve created then you raise the mid-buster and lower the hilling disks, meaning that you don’t have to unhook one implement and hook another up. Very handy.

I aborted my first pass as my hilling disks were set at too great an angle, causing the dried organic material to lodge and drag behind the tractor instead of bunch up into a nice long hill. This also had the undesired effect of dragging my painstakingly spaced potatoes along and scattering them willy nilly along the bed. I could have dug them all out, re-spaced them and hilled them again but I didn’t – I just replaced any that were visibly out of line and kicked the dirt back over them, resigning myself to another cocked up potato harvest later in the year.

Once the discs were set right though the hill formed fine so I trundled back to the shed, hoiked off the hiller/mid-buster affair and hooked up my seed drill. This is an iron framework constructed to hold up to three Earthway seeders and hook up to the tractors three point hitch, enabling you to plant your rows in your prepared bed with ease and accuracy. It also has a little jump seat on it so some poor sod, er I mean brave helper can sit on it and watch that the seeds are flowing through the hoppers and not jamming, thus ensuring that you have an evenly spaced crop. This spacing control is achieved by a set of disks that spin in the hopper, collecting one seed at a time, dropping it into a tiny furrow made by a piece of angled alumimum and covered by a loop f chain that it drags along behind it. Very clever stuff. What’s more is that it comes with several disks for just about every seed you can plant with it.

Except I couldn’t find the disk for melons and squash. On googling for which disk best to use the very first page stated a very reassuring and long list of what seeds it was good for before stating ‘Of course the Earthway seeder is not able to plant seeds such as melons, pumpkins and squash as these need to be planted in hills’. Ahem.

So I unhitched the seeder and dragged my hiller back over to the tractor, re-attaching it and only once dropping the pointy bit on my wellie clad foot. I made hills down the entire lengths of my beds and proceeded to plant the butternut squashes, field pumpkins and melons. I was rather chuffed with this because that’s it, it’s done. My gardening for this year. Apart from the cultivating, hoeing, iriigation and harvesting. If I get my hands on a plow and can borrow the rototiller again I’ll prepare the beds in the fall for next year, adding seaweed and maybe planting a cover crop to boot. Plus I want to do the same for the orchard we’re putting in this fall, so maybe there’s a little more tractor time to come.

As it is it’s in and rain was forecast for today and tomorrow, which can only be good. Oh, no, wait – the forecast has ben upgraed to a hurricane, with 80mm of rain and 100km/h winds. Bugger.

 

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From pasture to Raised Beds

TractorBurnout

This is something I’ve been wanting to  do for awhile. First I had to get a tractor, then I had to get a tiller and a few other implements, then wait for the weather and tie that up with some spare time. All of this between the short period of ‘ground frozen solid’ and ‘planting too late for cr0ps to mature’.

We had a long bitch of a winter, and a short wet spring and I haven’t found a rototiller for sale locally, let alone an affordable one, so I had to wait until one my friends had finished with theirs. Luckily Paul from The Top of The Mountain came to my rescue and this Wednesday we loaded his rototiller onto the back of my pickup. It took some doing, but with a pallet and a set of forks on his three point hitch we managed it. Unloading back at my farm was a lot easier, using some rachet straps and three 2×4’s.

I had previously marked out the longest point of my hayfield that vaguely ran North-South, more Northeast-by-Southwest but beggars can’t be choosers. You want to have nice long runs for efficiency so you don’t have to keep stopping and turning the tractor around. This turnaround space is called ‘headroom’ and is just a waste in terms of crop yield.

Speaking of which if you look at the two runs I’ve done so far you can see a tractors width grass strip in between them. Many people would think this a waste too but I plan to run Salatin-style chicken pens up and down it as per my previous adventures in chickenery. If we don’t then I can always till them and crop them at a later date, assuming Paul lends me his rototiller again, or I manage to find one on the cheap.

I mentioned the short wet spring and the ground was still too wet to till efficiently, and it rained an hour through the tractortime so I had to abandon the run and come back on the weekend, hoping that 30 degree heat would have evap’d the water from my silty soil. It didn’t, but I carried on regardless.

When putting potatoes in on a different patch of ground last year we ploughed the ground, cutting and turning the topsoil over before running a rototiller over it to pulverise it into a seedbed of sorts. We hypothesised that we might get away with just tilling it this year. Largely, we were wrong. The first few passes earlier in the week just kinda tore up the sod a little and left huge clumps of broken grass. A few more passes over each bed today and there was an improvement, but 8″s under the layer of sod is clay and pebble, so I needed to drain the water away somehow. My solution was the a subsoiler.

SubsoilerThis thing is a little like a midbuster but instead of having a sweep it has a thin but sturdy blade like a chisel. It does the same job as a mole-plow of old, that is it digs down and opens up a groove or a channel in the soil for water to drain down. It’s very useful for breaking up hardpan from too many years of plowing or tilling, it aerates the soil and crumbles it allowing roots to penetrate further than they would otherwise. Incidentally if you weld a little doohickey on it you can also use it to lay cable, but I’ll cover that in another blog once I’ve actually done it!

When using the subsoiler adjust the toplink on the three point hitch so the blade points downwards and as you drive the thing will just dig in until your tractor can’t pull it anymore. I found crawling forward in first low with one hand on the draft control, waiting for one of the tractor wheels to start spinning then raising the draft until we lurched forward again worked. It was a bit like trying to find the sweet spot in the shower but you didn’t have to think about it after a run or two.

So now I’m waiting for a few more days of scorchio heat, for the water to drain off a little more and for the last of the grass clumps to degrade a little more. Another couple of runs with the rototiller and we should have a seedbed good enough to use a few more of my toys, er, implements and put some crops in. Mind you it is a little late in the season so I might just put some oats and vetch in as cover crops, and hit the ground running next year… in theory!