Louisa’s Tractor

 Let’s start with some data. On our farm we plant 50-foot rows. The beds are three feet wide, separated by paths that are either one-and-a-half feet or two feet apart, depending on who is laying them out. Rebecca favors tighter paths. Louisa likes room to maneuver. They look like this.

And what has this got to do with tractors? Nothing. But that’s the point. We do have a nifty Kubota tractor that is Louisa’s domain. She loves that machine. Rain or shine, many days, Louisa is out on her tractor, turning compost, pushing around dirt, mowing grass, pulling rocks.

Everything, that is, except working the beds. Those we do by hand. Or mostly by hand. We do start by tilling the soil with our BCS rototiller and it is a brute. Spend an hour or two wrestling that baby through a field and you know you have taken on nature, mano a machino.

But after that, it is all handwork. You pull weeds from the turned-over earth, shovel compost and pile up the soil into beds, line up and furrow the rows and plant the seeds or starts, all of it by hand. When you are done, your knees are filthy, your nice garden outfit is a mess, and you reek of compost and sweat. Every year, someone visits our farm and says, ‘Why don’t you make life easier on yourselves and do it all with a tractor?”

The answer is either simple or complicated, depending on who is asking and who is answering, and how much time they want to devote to explaining the philosophy behind our farm.

The simple answer is that we plant on a scale that doesn’t easily lend itself to tractor work. Fifty-foot beds are too short to get much efficiency out of a tractor and the beds themselves would likely have to be redesigned farther apart for tractor work, meaning we would probably end up growing less. That’s not an asset on a microfarm like ours, where we strive to get as much as possible out of every square foot of ground.Plus, tractor work compacts the soil, which is never good for growing things

The more complex answer has to do with the fact that sometimes it just feels good to get your hands in the soil. There is a direct cause-and-effect process in this work that seems to perk up your lizard brain function–you don’t have to think very hard, you just plug into nature’s inexorable flow and that carries things along. It’s kind of like building a house–someone else draws up the blueprint, you just make it real and when you are done you have validated yourself with the product.

If that sounds kind of touchy feely, perhaps it is. More and more, these days, we are losing the touch and feel of our surroundings as machines intervene to make our lives more efficient and faster. Think carrots. When you buy one of those plastic bags of washed and scrubbed carrots in the supermarket it has been efficiently picked by a machine, ground to a nub by another machine, and is ready to douse in a dip that has probably been made with barely a human hand involved. At the end of this highly efficient process what’s left of the carrot?

This struggle between efficiency and authenticity seems to pop up everywhere these days. Perhaps it is no wonder that many of the applicants for our internships announce their availability with: “I really want to get my hands in the soil and get closer to nature…”

Well, you’ve come to the right farm–at least the right virtual farm blogsite. That’s right, stick around and we’ll show you how to get your hands really dirty and pull actual carrots out of the ground at the end. You may discover that it isn’t all about efficiency overcoming authenticity. All you need to supply is the ground, the seeds–and plenty of sweat. This ain’t Farmville.

Louisa kind of set the template with her post over on our farm’s website—-with her lesson on breeding heritage turkeys. It is a no-nonsense guide to turkey raising. A lot of people read that post, and continue to read it. So we’re going to ask Louisa and some of our other Persephone farmers to write guest posts over here, now and then, covering the finer points of how we do stuff.

You’ll probably end up knowing more than you ever thought you’d know, or wanted to know, about how to grow garlic, transplant tomatoes, pull weeds, arrange floral bouquets, and, yes, maybe even how to operate a tractor.

So stay tuned. You’ll discover your inner farmer right here.


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