Perfect Plow Adjustments

Without abandoning their horse-drawn methods, Eric and Anne Nordell work to make their adaptation of the two-way riding plow into the perfect piece of farming equipment.

| July 2016

  • “We thought there was nothing finer than stretching our legs in the furrow, watching the earth turning right before our eyes, listening to the changes in soil quality and texture.”
    Photo by Fotolia/nanjan
  • “Horse-Powered Farming for the 21st Century: A Complete Guide to Equipment, Methods, and Management for Organic Growers” by Stephen Leslie
    Photo courtesy of Chelsea Green Publishing

Even while bigger and better technology seems to be overtaking every aspect of our world, there are those fighting for new, simple methods to maintain old traditions. Horse-Powered Farming for the 21st Century  (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2015), by Stephen Leslie, is the collaborative effort of some of those fighters — farmers, manufacturers, enthusiasts, and advocates for efficient alternatives to modern tools. The new developments these farmers have envisioned and created are helping agriculture become truly regenerative, in large part by working with horses, donkeys, and mules. An up-and-coming staple in agricultural guides, this book shows how to run various aspects of a small farm with draft animal power, and includes contemporary farm profiles from those who have found success, descriptions of new tools, and stories of the growing season from tilling to seeding to harvest. For experienced teamsters and beginning horse-powered farmers alike, this book is a valuable resource in the benefits of harnessing horsepower.

You can purchase this book from the GRIT store: Horse-Powered Farming for the 21st Century.

Two Ways of Adjusting the Two-Way for Shallow Plowing by Anne and Eric Nordell

In their more than 30 years of farming with horses, Eric and Anne Nordell have been endlessly creative in the ways they have found to adapt old tools to new purposes. In this section on turning soil with vintage plows, the Nordells explain how they have configured adjustments on their two-way plow to fine-tune and maximize the management of cover crops in their bio-extensive market garden.

For most of 20 years, we relied entirely on the old Leroy walking plow for all the plowing in the bio-extensive market garden. We thought there was nothing finer than stretching our legs in the furrow, watching the earth turning right before our eyes, listening to the changes in soil quality and texture. It was as if we were connected directly to the pulse of the land through the oversized divining fork in our hands.

For the last seven or eight years, we have traded in this profound aesthetic connection with the earth for a sit-down job on the John Deere–Syracuse two-way riding plow. There were several practical reasons for making this change. The foremost was eliminating the dead furrows and back furrows in the middle of our vegetable fields. Plowing back and forth across the slope with the two-way also made it possible to turn all the furrows uphill, counteracting the inevitable downward movement of soil resulting from secondary tillage, cultivation, or the elements. But the clincher was the increasing difficulty of finding replacement shares for the Leroy, especially the original cast shares that hold a point for a long time.

A unique feature of the John Deere two-way sulky, designed for working on steep hillsides, is the convenient foot pedals and depth handles, allowing for on-the-go adjustments to furrow width and thickness. We think the flexibility is a real advantage for shallow-plowing a tough sod like well-established red clover. But we have no idea if the adjustments described below would work for other soil types or makes of plow. We just hope that these site- and implement-specific details might suggest some of the factors that go into fine-tuning old tillage equipment to achieve specialized soil management goals.

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