Fellow Blogger Fat Guy on a Little Bike answered the call for Devils Advocate in a recent comment (below) and his points are valid. As there may be others that may be thinking of this down the road I decided to give my replies the room of a post rather than a comment. Hell its my blog, eh? Before I begin answering, let me again say that I appreciate the comments and their effect in helping me clarify my thoughts some -this is tough!
Have you thought about using a broadfork? Eliot Coleman claims you can use a broadfork for up to 2 acres fairly easily. And if you hired a person or two you could make that 4 or 6 acres. Assuming $15 an hour that would be 310 hours before the tractor comes out ahead of labor, and that’s just with the cost of the machinery not upkeep or running costs. (In 5 years you’ll have two children who might be able to operate a broadfork, especially if Dad shows them a little green)
With your incredible sheet mulching knowledge you can use the worms to do most of the work and use the fork to finish it off.
However, I understand that you are busy enough right now and time savings can be more important than money savings. If the tractor freed up 20 more hours a year to build rain barrels it would pay for itself in about 3 years.
The tractor sounds like a great deal, I’m just trying to take the contrary position. The tractor might help you with your past ideas about cutting wood too.
Broadforks: I have given much thought to it, talking with E4 at Green, Blue, Brown about his quite a bit last year and using a friend’s recently purchased one. The problem is that they are a soil “lifting” tool to combat deep soil compaction, not a soil turning tool to combat weeds like quack and ivy that defy even regular light cultivation using wheel hoes. In that capacity lifting 1-2 acres would not be that bad, but they will not fit my need for breaking established pasture and keeping the weeds at bay while servicing paying customers. Once the beds are established, a broadfork would do wonders. Universal consensus is to go with the curved tined forks from Johnny’s Seeds rather than the cheaper straight tined ones. They work MUCH better.
Coleman: In his book, The New Market Grower, Coleman devotes most of an entire chapter to “tools” where he mentions the broadfork, garden carts, etc and he also spends ALOT of time praising his Goldini walk behind tractor (12hp if I remember) that he brought back from his apprenticeship in France where they apparently grow on Italian Trees. 2 years ago when I read his book is when I first began dreaming of these tools, but the need for one was very far off. Actually Coleman’s realiance on very heavy and alarmingly frequent cultivation was one of the impetuses to spur me to try to find a better way which, in turn, led to thousands of pages of fascinating research. I still hope I can, but the light controlled tilling (its called Conservation Tillage in Big Ag world) that I had planned with wheel hoes and chickens in my Sub Acre Ag plan is wavering in the light of the amount of time I must spend pulling the perennial grasses out of the Hoop House every single time I am out to check on it. Those two small beds (less than 10% of the Market Garden) are very good tests into what I can expect at the Market Garden as they were perennial pasture last fall when we tilled them under. The annual plants are gone. but the thistle and rhizomitous grasses are back in force. I hope very much to find a middle ground between tilling reflexively after every crop, and losing the battle to weeds. I don’t know what the answer is here and plan on trying several theories and comparing soil tests and other data for several years. Also, I will not be able to have chickens at the Market Garden after all, which takes alot of the momentum out of that plan.
I will stand by my $30/hr figure as $15 is not really what I call a living wage (damn tough to raise a family on it, though thousands do) and with my 50% entrepreneur (total) tax bracket that is the min I bill myself. A farming Mentor of mine once told me that “…if you don’t value your time well, no one else will either…” Kids will be an option in about 5 years though.
Worms will be a huge part of the deal, and the tractor would be mostly used in the first 1-3 years of the beds. In 3 years in my home gardens I have beat the quack to a detente , freeing time to double the number of beds last year with little increase in time spent in the garden. I am hoping for a similar expansion at the Market Garden -I hope to handle about 10,000sq ft of fresh beds (with their intense time commitment in weed control) while established beds need only a fraction of the time to maintain -I get most of my weeding done during harvest and watering down time. So the tractor will spend most of its time on the leading edge of the gardens, which will expand out every 2-3 years as mulching takes over the weeding duties in the established beds until I hit the max of about 1 acre for 1 person, part time with help.
The main driver in my mind for this tractor at this time, is that it can do a BETTER job than the mid size ride-on tractor with the 48″ rototiller. The 48″ tiller on the back of the land owner’s Kubota will need to take 2, and probably 3 passes over several weeks to till the soil and remove much of the weeds-possibly forming a hardpan layer if the soil is wet at all. That is 2-3 passes with a 2 ton tractor on soil that has not been compacted in 25 years (pasture the whole time) doing damage that will take years to erase in the subsoil. The Grillo only weighs 300lbs, and the rotary plow will not create hardpan, and may do the work in one pass, maybe more if I use it to make the beds, which significantly reduces the trauma to the soil critters and fungi. This will be true for every bed that I cut, not only the 15,000 sq ft I am turning under this year, but as I expand and at all the beds I may be helping clients at. If I get the Grillo, I plan on photo, and perhaps video, documenting much of the ground work to sell the ease of it (if it turns out to be easy!) to others as a service I can provide.
The implement issue that FGLB raises is a point in the Grillo’s favor. The purchase of one engine will allow for flexibility to do the work of 5-6 other tools that I may or may not ever need (chipper, log splitter, snow blower, tiller, plow, heavy duty mower and ATV [you can put trailers w/ seats on them to turn them into 4 wheel vehicles that can do about 10mph]). The implements for many of these cost virtually as much as the stand alones, but as they are driven by a 8-12hp engine they pack ALOT more whallup (the snow blower throws snow over phone lines). As these tractors last 10-20 years it is nice to know that flexibility is there. You can still get attachments or adapters for the 1980’s models if you can find them used, which I can’t.
I am sorry to keep beating this horse, but a purchase of this magnitude is a Big Deal, and I appreciate all the input from you all as I work through it. Where I am at now, is that I will order the tractor w/plow and tiller if the barrel bid is accepted. If not then I will continue with plans as they were 2 weeks ago -borrow the Kubota and till away. I will not take on $5k in debt as we head into a recession if I can’t gaurantee to have it paid off in 2 months. I am convinced that the ROI of this tool in revenue, sustainability, and time is proven. But the ability to sanely afford it is up for some debate.