A couple of days ago,we were able to get into the fields for the first time. Being in Western Pennsylvania, and not too far from the Allegheny river; our fields are mostly comprised of clay and shale. This does not bode well for someone who wants to farm in the wet spring weather. It takes about a week of beautiful, sunny, and windy weather for our soil to dry up enough to tolerate a heavy tractor tilling and prepping the beds. If we venture out too soon, we risk compacting our soils. Compaction means the soil takes longer to dry out, and the air spaces are compressed between the soil particles (think microbe apartment housing). One farmer told me that it takes 15 years of good soil management to recover from one day of compaction.
It’s so tempting to jump the gun and get out there and work the fields. And that’s just what we did. There should be a lot more planted in the ground by now – but March was super cold and wet and we certainly haven’t had a week of dry weather. Soooo, Greg got the second-to-lightest tractor out and tilled a few rows for me on a south-facing hill (one of the fields to dry out the quickest).
The rows were so pretty, fluffy and soft. I went down to the purple garage with my backpack full of seed packets. And there she is, ol’ Allis. When we bought this farm, we inherited a 1952 Allis Chalmers G with it. Obviously, they don’t make ’em anymore, and they can be hard to come by. The G can be a very handy tractor to have in a smaller vegetable operation. It’s lightweight, it’s designed for cultivation, and it has the engine in the back. The farmer can look down between her legs and see what’s happening as she drives over the crop rows. It’s a sweet thing, and a bit dangerous – we call it the “death trap” so our apprentices and interns can appreciate the gravity of using this old thing.
For a while – the G didn’t have reliable brakes. I would make sure to start out on low gear at the top of a hill – and be sure to coast to a full stop on the flats before crossing Ridge Rd. The Basket Weeder (think wire baskets that turn on an axle as you drag them across the ground), and the Planet Jr. Seeder have a habit of pinching my toes as I move the tool bar up and down with the hydraulics. There is no roll bar, no seat belt, you have to lean far back and pull the on/off switch (about the size of a golf T) out in order to turn off the tractor, or try to stall it in case of an emergency. Inevitability, the basket weeder gobbles up the drip tape (irrigation), the shoes scoop up the main irrigation hoses, and the seeder clogs with rocks and weeds. There’s a short in the wiring -so we’ve got to charge the battery when we aren’t using the G, or it won’t start. Other than that – it purrs like a kitten and I love using it.
I used to think I should take up smoking and wear worn out overalls when driving that tractor. There’s just something classic, harsh and farmy about that tractor. It’s a very simple machine, compared to our big shiny red tractor that gets most of the love and attention. It’s Jen’s tractor – and that’s how I like it!