We bought a tractor! An engine on wheels designed for agricultural purposes, that’s what we needed. The Italians have been making two-wheeled or walking tractors for decades. It makes sense-farmers are working small family plots sometimes quite a distance from one another. Several companies make them, including Ferrari. The one we bought is the Grillo G107D.
What makes it a tractor and not a tiller or a mower is the power take-off driveshaft between engine and implement. We can change implements so we only have to maintain one, high quality, Honda engine (R insisted on the gasoline over the diesel engine-quieter and easier to get repaired locally). Grillo and their competitors make an astonishing range of farm implements, from mowers to earth-working tools to powered carts and even a hay-bailer. The handles rotate from front to back depending on which implement is attached. Couplers are available so you can attach one manufacturer’s implements to another’s tractor PTO.
Unlike a typical garden tiller, a walking tractor is not a cheap piece of equipment. I expect the Grillo to outlast my ability to farm. Eventually we will need a larger tractor to operate spraying equipment and move heavy loads, but we are some years from justifying that purchase. Even with an orchard tractor, we’ll probably still need the Grillo for smaller jobs, like mowing the narrow canal easements outside the fence. These walking tractors don’t go up for sale very often in the used market because people use them forever. The one thing our Grillo can’t do is run a PTO auger, but we are talking to our neighbors about a cooperative purchase next spring where we buy the auger to fit their tractor for both of us to use. It’s an infrequent need, but one thing you can’t rent is a PTO-driven auger and I have no intention of augering with a two-man standing auger for the number of trees I have left to plant. But I digress.
We only bought one implement this year. I am jonesing for the Berta Rotary plow (watch the video) but it will have to wait until spring. I can’t rationalize it as a business expense, but I would so like to get the powered wagon and “ride” my tractor in the Apple Days parade. No, what we desperately needed was a way to mow in and around the orchard. Scything three acres is not reasonable even for my genius boy scientist-rock hero-real live Buckaroo Banzai. Last year, before we planted the trees, we had someone come in and make hay for us. We didn’t go to bare earth before planting the trees; hay still growing between the trees, and it needs to be managed for compost, to reduce the rodent pressure and eventually to allow clean-up of dropped fruit. Someday, we will pasture animals in electric netted fence between rows to convert some of the grasses to manure, but we will still need to mow the margins and before harvests.
The machine is a beast. I can use it, but it takes some strength. When we got it at the end of July, the grasses and alfalfa were completely out of hand. The first mowing took R several days because it was so thick. He just did a second mowing that went a lot faster. It will go even faster when he can spot the first-year grafts. Right now they are shorter than the grass! Depending on how much more rain we get, the second mowing may hold us for the winter, or there may be another quick cutting in October to make sure the rodents (who kill apple trees by nibbling on the bark) don’t have cover to hide from the winter hawks.
One thing I hadn’t read anywhere, and I scoured the internet before buying, was how quiet the mowing set-up is. Our neighbor has a ride-on lawn-mower that is much louder than the Grillo and sickle bar. A couple of times I went outside to check on R because I couldn’t hear the machine at all as it was chugging along (I was working-someone gifted us with a 1/2 bushel of peaches that needed processing ASAP). Even our gasoline-powered weed whacker is louder. (More digression-I bought these MP3-ready ear protection headphones and I love them when I am weed-whacking.)
This isn’t a proper review, but we are very happy with our purchase. We bought the Grillo tractor and the BCS 58″ dual action sickle bar from Earth Tools BCS in Kentucky. We can’t say enough good things about buying through them-our salesman Chris answered all of our questions before and after the purchase. In the spring we will be calling them for the rotary plow. Reliable, right-scaled equipment is worth the investment. The only thing it’s missing is a cupholder, and you probably need both hands on the controls anyway.