A multi-purpose tool for small farms
I had developed the prototype of a tractor pulled garlic planting “Platform” built locally from common materials at an affordable cost. The Platform increased our 2010 planting speed five-fold while decreasing our labor costs by a similar factor and eliminating the negative ergonomic issues with regard to planting of hardneck garlic. First year savings in labor paid for the prototype. The goal for this project is to optimize the Platform’s design with the intent that it will perform multiple other functions with minimal modification and cost.
Modifications for 2012 included a variety of Platform improvements and the construction of a new model designated as v1.1. These improvements: lighter frame, as the v1.0 was too difficult to handle, modification to the toolbar for improved depth adjustment and make it a standard 2” diamond pattern to comply with typical standards for vegetable operations, provisions for an optional front tool bar, enlarged the base-unit’s free space within the structure to 60” to allow for full access to our 60” beds and an improved mechanism to attach the optional struts in the free space for either support or attachments of tools.
To date the project has garnered a lot of attention:
NOFA-NY field day 9/2011- 30 attended from 3 states
Country Folks Grower article 12/2011, a full page with photos, section A, pg. 2
NOFA-NY 2012 Winter Conference 1/2012- Poster Session
NOFA-NY Cultivation Workshop 11/2012 – demo
NYS Vegetable Growers Conference 2/2013 – presentation
I was granted an additional year on the project to experiment with additional functionality.
Garlic was planted at improved savings in time over even the v1.0 due to improved operator comfort and positioning. As compared to the prototype, we have flexibility of wheel placement, height adjustment, improved operator access and greater capacity. This has allowed us to increase garlic production by ~50% since 2010.
The Platform was used to plant 2 acres of potatoes in 2012 and compared with manual methods was quick and painless. The toolbar held a side-dresser and hilling discs that both fertilized and covered the seed potatoes in one pass. With a capacity of 12 bushels on board the time and labor savings were significant.
To eliminate the secondary step of manually collecting potatoes off the soil after having run thru with the digger I had our potato harvester modified, with the addition of a chute and draw bar, so that it could pull the Platform and convey potatoes directly from the digger to a container on the Platform.
Ultimately this operation proved unsuccessful due to the number of stones also conveyed with the tubers. Had there been less stones this would have alleviated this most time consuming and unpleasant task!
The Platform was vital as a spray and flamer foundation with its ability to support heavy loads and permits the operator to concentrate on the target rather than where they are walking when carrying either tool. In addition to vegetable crops this is used for fencerow maintenance. With 8000’ of fencerow to maintain the ability to carry and complete this task in one pass without constant trips to reload is invaluable. The Platform also came in handy as a general purpose convenance in the planting area as it can be adjusted to virtually any row/bed width and as high as 2 feet.
I believe that the basic concept has been proven and the original problem i.e. garlic planting with improved performance and less effort was substantially solved. An outstanding improvement is a clove holder to improve operator handling of cloves that will allow for greater accuracy. This will be addressed in 2013 along with other ideas.
In summary: 9 of 10 goals for the project were accomplished – we planted more garlic with less fatigue, increased our production and discovered new uses for the Platform.
I exchanged the solid deck with an expanded metal sheet rendering the Platform a flexible 4×8’ harvest surface. This proved to be popular with our harvest crew as the Platform’s adjustable wheels can be set to any width based on bed size and as it can be adjusted vertically by 24” it can straddle and hover over most vegetable crops thus makes an efficient harvest tool. Due to its size multiple pickers may load a considerable amount of product in a single pass from 3 sides sans personal collisions across multiple beds. Finally, the opening in the expanded metal sheet permits one to pre-rinse the vegetables thus leaving the resulting soil outside prior to moving to the wash area. Much manual effort is saved by eliminating the multiple handling of product.
Honeyhill Farm is highly diversified in that we raise pastured organic chickens, grassfed beef and a variety of vegetable crops including heirloom tomatoes in high tunnels. Our single major crop however is garlic. Since 2010 we increased garlic production by 50% and made substantial infrastructure improvements to the beef operations in the area of pasture and fencing. In addition we modified our 3 year garlic rotation by adding a pasture component with the planting of multi-species cover crops that allow for both a spring and fall grazing option. All our pastures were added to the Conservation Reserve Program in 2012 where they will remain as pastures forever.
Despite a very challenging growing season with prolonged and intense heat and a general lack of rain there were no conditions that affected the results of this project.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
I have a single cooperating farmer who uses the Platform and is one of the largest garlic growers in NY. This cooperator used the platform in 2011 and 2012 and was impressed with the improved speed, ease and general improvements on ergonomics over the prototype. We are collaborating on a variety of improvements.
Both the size and weight of the Platform and that it requires a tractor with creeper speed has limited potential opportunities with other interested parties.
Mechanical Engineering Technology
Alfred State College
371 SET Building
Alfred, NY 14802
Office Phone: 6075874652
Institute for Sustainability
Alfred State College
Alfred, NY 14802
Office Phone: 6075874744