New Tasks for the Two-Wheel Tractor, Whether it’s Wet or Dry

Sponsored by BCS America


Our reality today, much like the generations of farmers before us, is to practice our own unique form of  “resilience,” defined as the ability to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions. Most organic growers already practice a certain degree of resilience simply by being polyculturalists. Whether that includes an integrated livestock/cropping operation or a healthy diversification of crops, a true organic grower never has all their eggs in one basket.  They are accustomed to the fact that variations in each year’s weather mean that some crops do exceptionally well, others suffer, and most are average. 

But organic growers like us are not accustomed to extreme variations in temperature, wind, and rainfall, new factors that are causing this generation of farmers to search for  tools that add, you guessed it, resilience. An investment in a two-wheel tractor, with its wide range of available attachments, provides a means to help cope with such extremes at a reasonable initial cost and offers a high annual return on investment.

Excessive Rains

For vegetable growers in particular, excessive rain argues for the adoption of a version of JM Fortier’s method of creating raised growing beds, 6-  to 8-inches high, 30-inches wide, with 18-inch walkways. JM efficiently builds these beds using a two-wheel tractor’s rotary plow to remove soil from the walkway and distribute it on the top of the bed — a great way to concentrate your top soil, facilitate the warming of your soil in spring, and (most importantly) improve drainage.   

Rotary Plow in wet field
Photo courtesy of Rooted Locally in Williamsville, New York.

One caveat: with over-the-top amounts of rain in combination with clay soils, the walkways can become moats because the walkways between the elevated beds are lower than the surrounding terrain. For those with open fields surrounding the garden, the “fix” is simply to make a single pass with the rotary plow and extend the lower half of the walkway into the field until a lower elevation is reached. This converts the walkway into a mini-diversion trench that’s 10-inches wide and approximately 6- to 8-inches deep. And because the rotary plow can distribute the soil across a width of up to 20 inches, there is little soil buildup alongside the trench to disturb large equipment from making hay or most other types of field work. In fact, the trench gradually fills in within a year’s time and needs to be reestablished before each growing season.

When lacking the space for this low-cost practice, a higher-cost, permanent “fix” involves the construction of a French drain running perpendicular to your beds at one end of the garden. Simply extend your walkways until they “T” with the drain, and you’re done. Both of these alternatives require forethought and execution before the arrival of the rains.  Neither involve negative consequences if excessive rains do not occur.      

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Dry Conditions

In the circumstance of extremely dry conditions, those of us not familiar with irrigation need to “get with the program.” One pass with the rotary plow can serve to get supply lines below the surface. And irrigation-related attachments for the two-wheel tractor include an irrigation pump, bed shaper, plastic mulch layer, and an optional drip tape layer. The use of mulch and buried drip tape optimizes the utilization of limited water supplies.

All-Weather Resilience

When growing high-value vegetables, some of the best insurance against damage from all weather-related extremes is the use of high and/or low tunnels. 

high tunnels on Levity Farms
Photo courtesy of Levity Farms in Atlanta, Georgia.

Particularly in the case of high tunnels, the maneuverability and low profile of the two-wheel tractor enables it to serve as the primary workhorse for multiple functions in addition to pumping water, laying mulch, and installing drip tape.

  • When starting with hard ground, the rotary plow can create a seedbed of loose soil 10 inches to 12 inches deep in a single pass.  With multiple passes, the tiller can produce a seedbed 8 inches deep.
  • The surface of established beds can be prepared prior to each succession planting with either the power harrow or tiller with precision depth roller.  Depth of penetration for both tools is calibrated in ½-inch intervals and is usually set at 1 to 2 inches.
  • Prior to final surface treatment, the compost spreader can apply an amendment evenly to a 30-inch-wide bed at regulated depths ranging from 1/8 inch to 1 inch.
  • After broadcasting seeds for a cover crop, the tiller with precision depth roller set at a 1-inch depth buries the seed and gently compacts the soil for good seed-to-soil contact/germination.
  • And, the flail mower quickly reduces crop residues and cover crops to a minute particle size for quick decomposition.

Summary

The good news — the silver lining to the cloud of extreme weather — is that preparing for it by improving drainage, enabling irrigation, growing in tunnels, and adding a two-wheel tractor with attachments to your “toolbox” all make good sense even if extreme weather doesn’t occur. 

Because these practices and equipment provide greater control over growing conditions, the result may be that each year will produce a higher percentage of crops that do exceptionally well, a higher percentage that meet your quality expectations, and a significantly lower percentage that don’t.

This article is sponsored by BCS America.  BCS Two-Wheel Tractors are built with all gear drive transmissions to power dozens of professional quality PTO-driven attachments for the small farm or homestead.  www.bcsamerica.com

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