Plowing the Field

 

Our freshly plowed field!!!

I guess I should start at the beginning…

We found a guy to plow our fields over a month ago, and we were hop­ing that he could come last Mon­day to do the ini­tial sod-flip with his mold board plow. A mold board plow cuts the sod and then flips it over, expos­ing the loam and allow­ing the organic mat­ter in the grass to rot beneath the sur­face and enrich the soil.
This pic­ture shows a dou­ble bot­tom mold board plow (dou­ble because it has two mold boards).
Any­ways, we thought we were all set to have the field plowed and then, at the begin­ning of last week, things started going wrong. The trac­tor broke — it had to be taken up to New Hamp­shire to be fixed — and mean­while it kept rain­ing and rain­ing, soak­ing the fields and mak­ing them increas­ingly dif­fi­cult to plow even if we had had a work­ing trac­tor. Finally, after wait­ing on the edge of our seats all week, the trac­tor was brought over last Fri­day and we watched as it plowed a cou­ple passes along the bot­tom of the field. We went to bed con­tent and cer­tain that we would have beau­ti­fully plowed fields by Sat­ur­day afternoon.
I’m start­ing to learn that every time I go to bed con­tent and cer­tain it means that something’s about to go wrong.
We woke up Sat­ur­day morn­ing bright and early. Dave headed down to the field and I lagged behind, tak­ing my time, totally calm. By the time I got out­side, 20 min­utes behind Dave, dis­as­ter had already struck. The trac­tor had hit a rock, a really big one, and the force of the impact had stopped the trac­tor short and thrown the dri­ver hard against the steer­ing wheel. It had also bent his plow. The dri­ver was pretty shaken by the whole thing but we slowly con­vinced him to try another pass with promises of whiskey when the whole thing was over (appar­ently if a trac­tor hits a rock like that hard enough it can flip the whole machine — so he had good rea­son to be freaked out). So he got back on his trac­tor and came around for another pass, he hit another rock almost imme­di­ately. It was over, with less than a quar­ter of our first field turned. Sat­ur­day morn­ing 7:45 AM, already a week behind sched­ule, and we were back to the draw­ing board.
I’m not sure why we were so sur­prised by this par­tic­u­lar prob­lem. After all, New Eng­land is pretty famous for it’s rocky fields, and Carlisle is espe­cially famous for being dif­fi­cult to plow. We’ve been told by mul­ti­ple peo­ple that the rea­son Con­cord was set­tled first was because its soils are clean and clear, while Carlisle is all either swamp or rock ledge. But for some rea­son it hadn’t really crossed our minds that we might hit huge rocks in the mid­dle of our field. This was par­tially because the nearby stone wall had con­vinced us that the pio­neers had already taken care of all the hard stuff and also par­tially just plain old wish­ful thinking.
So, we started call­ing every­one that we could think of that might have an opin­ion, or a trac­tor, and after review­ing a bunch of dif­fer­ent options, it became clear that the major prob­lem was that the trac­tor was only 2-wheel drive. It was too small, and there­fore hadn’t been able to go slowly enough to drag the plow safely. In addi­tion, some mold board plows are spring-tripped. When the plow hits a large rock, instead of stop­ping the trac­tor short, the spring on the plow breaks and swings it up and back, pre­vent­ing the plow (and the dri­ver) from being dam­aged. A 4-wheel drive trac­tor with a spring-tripped plow could creep through the field, find­ing the rocks with­out caus­ing harm to the plow or the dri­ver.  But then what to do about the rocks? It might have seemed fine to leave them, as long as they were 6 inches down or more, but appar­ently once you start loos­en­ing up the soil the rocks start to rise more quickly. We needed to get them out or get stuck with a field full of boulders.
Luck­ily, Dave’s par­ents are build­ing a new trailer park­ing lot next to our new field, and so there was a huge exca­va­tor sta­tioned right next door. If we could find a 4-wheel drive trac­tor, than we could slowly plow the field, and every time the trac­tor hit a rock, Rick could come in with his exca­va­tor and dig it out.   By call­ing around we found a hand­ful of dif­fer­ent guys will­ing to do the job, but there was an easy win­ner. One of Dave’s parent’s friends hap­pens to own all the equip­ment we needed (he uses it to turn and re-seed horse pas­tures) and he was will­ing to lend it to us for free and let Dave plow the fields him­self. The offer was too good to turn down.
So, Mon­day morn­ing (exactly one week behind sched­ule) Dave and I went down to the fields and he plowed the whole thing (with no pre­vi­ous expe­ri­ence!). It took him a cou­ple passes to get used to it, but we man­aged to turn over a pretty con­sis­tent 6″ to 8″ of sod and soil. Rick moved all the big rocks (there were A LOT) and we tried to take care of the lit­tle ones. It may not have been the pret­ti­est or more effi­cient plow job, but it is our blood and sweat all over the field, and that’s nice to know.
The first field
Fin­ish­ing up the first field
Dou­ble bot­tomed mold board plow at work
Start­ing the sec­ond field (soil looks great!)
Movin’ rocks
It was pretty exhaust­ing and not very easy. In the first field we hit a rock on almost every pass. And some of them were enor­mous. I fol­lowed behind the trac­tor and marked any prob­lem areas so we could go back and suss out the sit­u­a­tion. It makes you think about those pio­neers drag­ging those things out with horses. The sec­ond field had a lot less rocks. The stone wall kind of peters out as it gets nearer to the house, so we think maybe the pio­neers either ran out of steam or didn’t need all that area for agriculture.
The good news is that we got both fields done by 2 PM on Mon­day. The bad news is that we are now pretty seri­ously behind sched­ule. The sod is very very thick and dense, prob­a­bly owing to the fact that this field has lain fal­low for so long. It’s been rec­om­mended that we allow 2 weeks for the sod to rot and then go back and disk the whole thing, break­ing up the soil and mak­ing it plantable. After that we’re sup­posed to wait another 10 days before we start putting seeds in (to allow the sod to rot some more). That sched­ule means we won’t be plant­ing until mid to late May, which is too bad since we were plan­ning on start­ing May 1st. We do have a smaller kitchen gar­den in the works, how­ever, so hope­fully between that and the green­house we should be able to keep grow­ing and be totally ready to plant when­ever the field is. The other bad news is that we had to let the exca­va­tor drive onto our field in order to get the rocks out. We’ve been try­ing very hard to not com­press the soil, as this can squeeze out oxy­gen and water and suf­fo­cate and crush a lot of the help­ful microbes and life in our deep organic mat­ter. We can only cross our fin­gers and hope that we haven’t done too much dam­age, and that our soil can spring back to health by plant­ing time.