Here we go, into our 6th season for farming for a CSA (sign up here), local restaurants and farmers market. I have to confess, I’m getting tired. When we first started this adventure, we went into it with so much enthusiasm and energy for growing things and saving the world with healthy food. This dream, while extremely fulfilling, has also turned out to be a lot of physical hard work. Something needs to change, because our love of farming and enthusiasm for healthy food is being clouded by sheer exhaustion! 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, planting by hand with a push along seeder, 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 the same way. Even with the help of some strong high school boys, we have to shift more of our farming to something more mechanized. It might just make this career choice a little more fun as well! Here is the plan.
To break the land, we have an old disc we bought from a farmer down the road that simply needed a new bearing. Jay got 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.
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. We went with the new one. This piece of equipment will get used a lot, so I was ok with putting 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, the next step is to plant the crop. This year we purchased a two row tractor mounted vegetable seeder that can plant a variety of different vegetable crops. This piece of equipment is essential, because it plants the seeds in a straight line at very exact row spacing. We need the straight lines and exact distance between rows because we want to be able to cultivate between the rows with tractor mounted sweeps instead of all by hand. These sweeps look like a simple bar, with hooks attached to it, spaced so they go between the rows of plants on the 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. The sweeps will be used in the few weeks after planting, before the crop is big enough to shade out the competing weeds.
Lastly, we purchased 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 a serious foray into mechanization. I think it is essential. When we first started farming, we were able to do the job largely based on sheer love of farming and enthusiasm. We still love farming and have lots of enthusiasm, however, we need to make it more physically manageable. Even the young high school helpers can barely manage the strain of the physical labor involved. 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”. We don’t want to do that. We just don’t want to die trying here on the farm. We are going to seriously try to make the balance.
Eat your veggies,