I often travel west on Rt 23 to go into Lancaster Co. to get lumber for my woodworking business. Just west of Morgantown the farm country starts in earnest. Most of these farms are owned and operated by Mennonite (many different varieties) folks. Most use tractors; some have rubber wheels and some have steel wheels. But there is one farm I like to go past in particular because on this farm the farmer still uses horses. And just the other day I saw him out there with his three horses, pulling a one-bottom WALKING plow. To me there is something idyllic and peaceful about watching a farmer farm with his horses. (I know its not idyllic and peaceful for him, he's working hard to make a living!) But that's my point - why use horses? Why not sit up in the air-conditioned/heated cab and listen to the radio instead of "plodding" along, looking at the south end of a north bound horse?
First of all, I think he would say he uses horses because he enjoys using horses. He most likely started being around horses and using them early in his childhood. There is a lot of personal satisfaction in working in a way and in a manner that "suits you" instead of allowing the culture and the industrial economy to dictate to you how you will work.
I suspect another important reason that Eddie uses horses is the low cost of getting the work done. Old-school farmers like Eddie are notoriously frugal. Why buy a hundred-thousand dollar tractor and a ten-thousand dollar plow when he can get buy with three horses and a walking plow? (If he bought these horses and plow at today's prices he paid about six to seven thousand dollars. If he raised the horses on his own farm and got the plow from his Dad his outlay is practically nothing.) Horse farmers are fond of saying "they never saw a tractor that reproduced itself". Two horses will make more horses but two tractors will never make another tractor.
Perhaps another reason Eddie still uses horses is that horses contribute to the fertility of his farm, for free, by way of their manure. Free manure is better than buying commercial fertilizer any day. Along this same line, horses eat what they help to grow (grass, hay and grain) instead of consuming diesel fuel, oil and incredibly expensive parts. A horse doesn't need a new transmission and always starts reliably on cold winter mornings. A horse doesn't have headlights so Eddie doesn't have to worry about working through the night so he can hurry on to the next field.
Yes, the horse is slower than a tractor and therein lies the primary problem for the industrial minded farmer. The modern agricultural paradigm is built on the premise of continual expansion and growth of acres (in order to maintain profitability) hence the need to go faster and faster. But remember this; you can farm faster (you can cover more ground per hour) with a tractor but you can not farm better with a tractor. In fact I believe a solid, substantial argument can be made that you can farm better with horses. The slower pace allows the farmer to pay closer attention to the condition of his ground and crops that he is working. The horse farmer can hear, smell and feel the soil he is caring for rather than hearing the roar of a 200 hp engine, the smell of diesel fumes and the feel of a few tons of steel compacting the soil.
Plow on Eddie - I salute you! !
RAISED BED REDO
As I've said here before things don't always turn out as you plan. Such was the case with the raised bed garden this year. Much of the seed didn't germinate well and what did got burned when I left the plastic cover on a little to long. So we replanted lettuce and spinach. Hopefully we'll have more success this time.
Last year we brought a ruhbarb plant back from Ohio, when visiting Marla's family. We planted it right off the corner of the raised bed in hopes of having rhubarb pies this year. Well a few days after we transplanted it the famous hail storm came (remember that from last year?) and shredded much of what was coming up in the garden. It never recovered and I thought that would be the end of that plant but low and behold a few days ago Marla said, "did you see the rhubarb plant"? Sure enough, that little guy pulled through anyway. Don't know if there will be strong enough growth to yield pies this year but as least it's alive and well.
We all know about iced tea, and maybe you've even heard of garden tea or meadow tea (this is actually mint tea that grows wild in fields) but the "garden tea" I'm speaking of is really "manure tea". Manure tea is obviously not for drinking by humans but it is for thirsty garden plants. The tea is made by taking a couple of shovel fulls of fresh manure, putting it in a five gallon bucket and adding water. Presto! ! A cheap, high powered liquid fertilizer! ! Since I have plenty of manure this year I'll use it from time to time in the garden this summer. I don't want to use it to much and overdo it but I will apply occasionally and see if it helps. Stay tuned.
Thanks again for stopping by - hope you enjoyed! !