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An introduction to cultivators.

Farm tools: Part V (Conclusion)

The equipment reviewed here could all be classified as cultivators. All cultivators, whether tractor-mounted, horse-drawn or hand-operated, function on the same basic principle: disturb the soil just enough to cut, pluck or bury weeds. Whether you operate (or plan to operate) a 1/2 acre market garden or a diverse 180 acre livestock and crop farm, you should find in this article two or more classes of cultivators appropriate to your situation. All of these cultivators are designed to be used primarily in row crop situations. Some are applicable to raised beds with equidistant plant spacings.

Tractor-mount cultivators

Blind cultivators: Blind cultivators are so named because they remove young plants without any regard to whether the plant is a weed or not. But they're actually not as destructive to the crop as you might imagine, at least not when used correctly.

A blind cultivator is a series of flexible rake-like tines (about 6mm in diameter) which dislodge young plants as the cultivator is pulled through the field. The cultivator can be adjusted to work at deeper depths to create a more vigorous weeding action.

These implements can be drawn blind through the crop and will thin your crop stand somewhat. Done at the proper time though, the overall impact will be beneficial. But as the crop plants grow larger, considerable damage could occur.

Most of these cultivators (i.e. the Lely Weeder or Williams Weeder Rake) can be adjusted for between-row cultivation by raising the tines located just above the rows.

Rotary hoes are another kind of blind cultivator. A rotary hoe has a mounted series of disks to which are attached curved spoon-like projections which dig and toss the small weeds into the air. This more aggressive cultivation minimizes the possibility of vigorous weed seedlings re-rooting themselves.

Between-row cultivators: There's no shortage of between-row cultivators on the market today. Most of these have the same basic design of a series of vertical or curved shanks which have a chevron or V-shaped hoe or sweep attached to the base of the shank. These cultivators can be mounted to the "belly" of the tractor thus providing the driver easier viewing, or they can mount to the 3-point hitch. Some can also be towed behind the tractor in a trailer action with hydraulics to raise and lower the implement. However, trailer-type cultivators do not allow as much precision in guiding through the rows as do the mounted types.

Another, more unique between-row cultivator is the Buddingh Basket Weeder. This cultivator consists of two rows of rolling "cages" which are ground-driven. The first row of rolling cages loosens the soil around the weeds. The Buddingh Basket Weeder is geared so that the trailing row of baskets rotates faster than ground speed and flings the weeds up. I don't know of any company that offers this other than the Buddingh Weeder Company, 7015 Hammond Avenue, Dutton, MI 49316 (ph 616-698-8613).

In-row cultivators: In-row cultivators work by smothering the weeds between the crop plants in the row. The most basic consist of hilling disks which push soil up into the plant row. This operation is done at a time when the crop plants are significantly higher than the weeds. Otherwise, you'll bury your crop, too.

A variation is the Bezzerides Spider, which actually doubles as a between-row cultivator as well. The "disks" of the spider have curved fingers which dig the soil more aggressively than hilling disks, but will still create a hilling action to smother smaller weeds in the crop row. For this and other cultivators designed for small acreages, write to Market Farm Implement, Road 2, Box 206, Friedens, PA 15541.

Hand cultivators

There's much to be said in favor of hand cultivators. The labor involved in using such tools can offer some of the best exercise available for your body, assuming that you select your equipment to match your height, and use it properly. A tool properly selected and used can help you work very efficiently. But the wrong tool, in poor condition or used improperly, can turn otherwise pleasant work into drudgery.

Hand tools are very affordable and easy to maintain. This leads to an equation which can put and keep more money in your bank account rather than in some equipment dealer's coffer. This assumes, though, that the hand tools represent scale-appropriate assets for your farm. If you're cultivating more than a couple of acres, you may need to move into engine or animal powered equipment. Or you may chose to hire extra labor. Whatever you decide, push cultivators and hand hoes are always a valuable addition to any farm.

Push cultivators: Push cultivators come in several varieties, price ranges and performance levels. The oldest and probably still the most common is the high wheel hoe. It simply consists of a large (24 inches), single wheel with two handles for the operator and one or more attachments. Mine comes with cultivating teeth, a duck-foot sweep and a furrowing attachment. The design allows me to cultivate between rows much faster than with a hand hoe and I can finish without a backache. Most high wheel cultivators cost between $75 to $100.

Another version of the wheel hoe has a much smaller wheel (9 inches) and a different angle of attachment of the handles to the wheel. Eliot Coleman states in his book The New Organic Grower that he prefers the design of the smaller wheel hoe because it transfers the force exerted by the operator more directly to the working part. Makes sense. Furthermore, Coleman says that the wheel hoe is the "best cultivation tool for inter-row work on this 5-acre scale." On his smaller wheel hoe, Coleman actually has a stirrup hoe rather than the cultivating teeth or sweep.

Low wheel cultivators tend to be sturdier than the high wheel types and have more "engineering" in them. Prices reflect this difference and can run up to about $285.

Another push cultivator which I've learned to appreciate is called a rotary cultivator or Ro-Ho. At a quick glance, the rotary cultivator looks like a human-powered reel lawnmower. In place of the grass cutting blades, though, this cultivator has eight serrated blades with teeth that easily break up crusty soil as you push along. In addition to these l 1-inch crust-busting blades, there are also two cultivating tools attached. Pushed one way, you can drag five cultivating shoes or "fingers" through the soil. You can also use the flip-side of the cultivator to drag a weed knife which cuts weeds just below the surface. The weed knife resembles the D-shaped blade of an oscillating hoe. Both cultivating attachments work well because the soil has already been loosened somewhat by the crust-busting teeth. This cultivator costs about $100 and makes quick work of cultivating between crop rows.

Hand hoes: Not long ago, when the term "hand hoe" was uttered, everyone could visualize the same basic hoe. But hoes are no longer just the large flat blade attached perpendicular to the handle. In fact, when it comes to cultivation, that traditional hoe is the least efficient option available. It's best reserved for shaping raised beds and digging shallow trenches.

Oscillating or stirrup hoes have a D-shaped loop attached to the end of the handle and are alternately pushed and pulled just under the soil surface, cutting weeds in both directions. There are also hoes with v-shaped blades, even batman-shaped blades which are designed to easily skim just below the surface. I purchased a hoe with a small (3 inch wide) V-shaped blade to cultivate within the plant row. My only frustration with this hoe is that even when new, it was not sharp. With a good edge it works well.

The colinear hoe is the hoe of choice for Eliot Coleman. It has a thin, narrow blade set at an angle of about 70 degrees to the handle. It works well at skimming the soil to cut weeds with minimal effort.

In fact, skimming is the action any cultivating hoe should require as it is the action which puts the least demand on the farmer's strength and stamina. Another feature of a hoe worth its price is a handle which is long enough for the person using it. The handle should be long enough to allow the farmer to stand straight while skimming and cutting the weed seedlings. No chopping action or stooping posture should be required. And by all means, keep the cutting blade sharp.

A thought about rotary tillers: Some people like to use rototillers to cultivate weeds between the row, but it's overkill in my opinion. Even used at a shallow depth, rototillers cause excessive oxidative loss to soil microbes and organic matter. Hand hoes and push cultivators can clean your field of weeds just as fast if not faster than a rototiller, with less expense to both soil and checkbook.

In concluding this series on selecting tools which function as scale-appropriate tools rather than expensive toys or profit-devouring traps, let me remind you to be ruthlessly honest about the functions for which you need tools. Catalogs and farm and garden centers will always tempt you with wonderful technological gizmos designed to make them money and, perhaps, make your life easier.

Will they make your life easier? That depends on you. Stick to the functions.

JEFF RAST, Farmer/Director The Center for Small Acreage Farming P.O. Box 219 Fairfield, ID 83327 Phone/Fax (208) 764-2332

Jeff and his wife, Carol, juggle equipment decisions on their small farm in Idaho. Jeff also directs The Center for Small Acreage Farming which publishes a monthly newsletter and workbooks for small acreage farmers. For a free brochure, write to: The Center for Small Acreage Farming, P.O. Box 219D, Fairfield, ID 83327.
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Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Article Type:Buyers Guide
Date:Jan 1, 1999
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