Tractors have long been a mainstay piece of equipment for farms regardless of acreage or farm type and at Chelsea Gardens we were lucky enough to have access to a small 27 horsepower Kubota. It can be somewhat daunting to step into a tractor for the first time – like learning how to drive again only with dials and levers all over the place and a host of crazy symbols meant to help you understand their purpose; besides the hare and tortoise on the hand throttle it seemed more like hieroglyphics. After a few hours mowing and getting to understand the function and usage of various levers and buttons it felt pretty comfortable and running the tractor can be a nice break from hand weeding although the noise and diesel fumes mean it’s not an enjoyable all day task.
Equipped with a front loader, PTO (power take-off) and three-point hitch the tractor was as versatile as the number of implements available; our arsenal included:
- Discer : A row of steel discs that roll across the soil surface to break up clumps of earth before planting or break up remaining plant matter in beds that were finished production for the year.
- Hay wagon: Long flat bed trailer mainly used to move hay and compost around site.
- Roto-tiller: Mechanically digs and turns over the soil; used in bed preparation before planting.
- Seeder: Used to distribute cover crop seed.
- Mower: Used to mow paths, field borders, cover crops and vegetable beds that were finished production for the year.
- The Poutine* Machine: Our trusty potato planter, hiller and digger.
While tractors definitely help reduce the work load they must be used wisely; every time they are driven through the fields they compact soil and using the roto-tiller damages soil structure; additionally they rely on polluting fossil fuels to run so minimal usage is best.
Not all tractor’s are made equal so while we were fortunate that the little orange tractor was suitable for most of the work we asked of it, the appearance of an Allis-Chalmers cultivating tractor later in they year was a welcome addition. Cultivating tractors are designed for small scale vegetable production; they are lighter than most other tractors reducing soil impaction and don’t have a lot of power as the main job they do is weeding between vegetable rows and beds. Throughout North America there are many examples of these types of tractors being converted to run on electricity, from tractor mounted solar panels instead of diesel, and that is a project on the cards for the coming year.
* For Aussie readers out there poutine is a Quebec creation comprised of hot chips smothered in gravy and cheese curds. Cheese curds being fresh cheese chunks that have separated from the whey but haven’t been pressed into block cheese; they are mild with a springy texture and the best ones squeak. For a true poutine they must be fresh which means produced, packaged and utilised that day without having been refrigerated.