And just like that, the springtime hustle is here. The first transplants are in the ground. The irrigation lines are flowing. And until last week, all five tractors were busy in the fields. Until they weren’t. More on that in a minute.
Springtime field work is all about planting, but the specific task of pushing a plant into the soil is merely the finale to weeks and months of bed prep. There are many variables to consider when prepping beds—soil type, cover crop residue, soil microbial health, etc. Different implements will address different concerns, and in our years-long pursuit of that sweet spot where we can get the transplants off to a good start with minimal harm to the microbes, we’ve built up quite the collection of implements. It’s also the reason we have so many tractors. For the past five years, Dan and Steve have collaborated on how to make the best use of these bed prep implements. Now that Steve is working elsewhere, Peter has joined Dan at the helm. My job, for the most part, is making sure everything stays on schedule.
Now for the break-a-thon.
Last week, for some reason we still can’t pinpoint, Little Blue, our 35-horsepower diesel tractor, lost all of its oil, effectively destroying the engine. Dan took it especially hard because even though the cause is still a mystery—the oil had been changed only a month earlier, and there were no signs of leaking or burning—it felt like a preventable loss. There’s the sentimental side, too. We bought Little Blue in 2007 when we started Restoration Farm. We’ve had it longer than the CSA, longer than our pickup truck, longer than our kids. It feels like a part of the family, and now we probably have to say goodbye.
But that wasn’t all from last week. Big Blue, Little Blue’s 45-horsepower counterpart, blew a piston. Then the pull cord on the walk-behind tractor broke. Both of these are fixable, but as a farmer friend commiserated, equipment only breaks when you’re using it, and the down time is terrible. Fortunately, we have Big Red, a used Massey Ferguson which Dan bought in 2020, filling in for both Little Blue and Big Blue. So the field work continues, even if we have to swap implements multiple times a day.
We did have one happy ending last week. On the same day Little Blue burned out, an irrigation line ruptured just uphill from the newly-planted lettuce. The severity of the flood wasn’t immediately apparent, because the lettuce was hidden under row cover, but from what we could see, it appeared most of the water had flowed through the wheel tracks, leaving the raised bed intact. Having had enough bad news for one day, Dan and I decided to wait until morning to check under the row cover. But Peter couldn’t wait. He checked later that evening and discovered that the implement we’d used to prepare the bed—a set of disks and chisels that carve three thin lines through the soil—had created a channel that guided the water directly to the lettuce’s roots. He could tell because the small, teacup-sized depressions where each plant had been pushed into the soil were wet, whereas the rest of the surface was dry. Far from the flooding we feared, it was a perfectly targeted watering. A pretty nice consolation prize in a particularly tough week.