Managing Farm Equipment For a Small Farm
Up until now, we have been farming only our six acre homestead, and have been doing everything by hand. This includes shoveling compost from the back of the truck, tilling it in with our Troy-bilt, hand weeding between the plants, and using straw between the rows to suppress weeds. We even use a simple backpack sprayer to apply seaweed extract to the crops. With the recent purchase of a new 11 acre farm and Jay’s 56th birthday, we have come to realize this can’t go on. There are also some economics involved. Our small farm provides just enough income to pay the bills. No more. Heaven help us when the truck blows up, the plumbing springs a leak or one of us has a major medical expense. A little more income from a few more acres might just put us where we want to be. With these few more acres, we’ll need a little more mechanization. It might just make this job a little more fun anyway! Here is the equipment purchase plan.
To break the land, we have an old disc we bought from a farmer down the road, that simply needs a new bearing. It can be easily ordered online, and Jay can get this into action. Total cost is only a few hundred bucks. We will use this disc for our initial pass at the new land, to break new soil. Once we get the soil into farmable condition, we rarely will need it.
I priced some manure spreaders, that go behind the tractor and spread compost in a line, however, the price was over $6000. That’s not going to happen. I have a vision of high school kids shoveling compost in the rows and under the new blueberry bushes. That is going to be a pain, but I don’t have another answer. This one is going to have to wait.
Then, we will till the land into soft friable ground with a rear tined tractor mounted PTO driven tiller. They are hard to find used, because people love these for their home gardens. We saw one at a used equipment yard in Monroe for about $900. That sounds pretty expensive to me, considering you can get a new one for $1400. My guess is that we will go with the new one. This seems like a piece of equipment that will get used a lot, so maybe we need to put a little more money here.
Next, we will throw up some 3-ft beds with a used bedmaker we just purchased from Morning-glory Farm. This cool piece of equipment will make a nice and tidy raised bed we can plant on. Raised beds improve crop drainage, as well as allow the soil to warm up quicker in the spring. Up until now, we haven’t had this luxury, so I am very excited about this new equipment. I think it will improve our farming hugely.
After we make the beds, we will still have to plant by hand with an Earthway seeder. I looked at different rigs that connected seeders together and mounted them behind the tractor, but they were really expensive and I did not feel confident they would actually work. We will plant by hand. This is probably going to work better anyway because we plant very intensely, as well as in a patchwork of different crops, to prevent a monocrop situation. I did ask Jay to attach some type of marking device to the bed maker, to be sure my seed lines are straight and spaced correctly. Spacing correctly is very important to the next step of cultivation. Most of our crops will be spaced with three rows of plants on top of the three foot bed.
We are going to buy a small cultivator. This looks like a simple bar, with hooks attached to it, spaced so they go between the rows of plants on the bed. I also want it to have a bigger foot attached to each end, to get the weeds out from between each bed. With our very intensive planting methods, we normally don’t have to worry about weeds, once the crop grows big enough to close the space between the rows, because it shades out all the weeds. This cultivator will be used in the few weeks after planting, before the crop is big enough to knock down the weeds between the plants.
Lastly, we plan on looking for a tractor mounted sprayer we can use to make our weekly seaweed extract applications. These treatments are a key part of our farming, because seaweed makes the crop more resistant to diseases and insects, as well as more tolerant to environmental stresses, such as heat and drought. No more lugging around a 50 pound backpack sprayer. We are going uptown, baby!
So that is the plan. This will be our first foray into mechanization. I hope we can find the right balance between having the right equipment to make the job doable, but not get close to the idea of “bigger is better”. Earl Butz, Secretary of Agriculture in the 70s, told farmers to “get big or get out”. I don’t want to do that. We just don’t want to die trying here on the farm. Hope we can make the balance.
Eat your veggies,