Orchard Hill Farm is one those farms you picture when you imagine an idyllic setting for a farm. Located in Ontario, we pass by there towards the end of summer. It is a 93 acres farm, small by grain crop standards yet huge for a veggie farm. Turns out this farm produces both and is horse powered too !
Ken and Martha operated this farm for years and are now handing the veggie production part out to their daughter. The farm itself has been in Martha’s family since the 1820s.
Ken is the teamster, the leader of the horse team, operating the crop fields as well as working the soil for the veggie garden.
We spend two wonderful days there learning about horse powered farming. The rhythm and care it entails renders the whole farming process an even truer way to connect to Nature’s own pace.
On the farm, there is about 2 acres of market gardening , there used to be about 7 acres of organic veggies being grown. The business model is now in transition but before it used to be cared for by 7 people and 7 horses and fed through a CSA program about 250 families. Ken grows grains for a local baker (who could even use before a horse powered mill at the farm) and grains as well as hay for the horses which are Suffolk Hunches.
The farm also has a few pigs, chickens and some cows of their own while renting some areas for another farmer’s cattle.
During our passage, we accompanied Ken and his two horses team to care for the hay in the field that needed to be turned and aerated.
To care for draft horses, if they are in good health, you basically need 2-3 acres of pastures per horse, 1,5 acres of hay per hose (especially as in winter, in Ontario, they have to be sheltered inside) and a few acres of grain for 3-4 horses.
The rotation set up on the fields looked like : 1-2 years of hay (alfalfa + a legume) then pasture then a cover crop in between seasons then oats and barley then a grain.
As cover crop, a daikon is sometimes used as it provides phosphorus which is good for barley and it is then simply mowed. The daikon radish cover crop is planted in August the year before spring grain. It winter kills and the spring grain [oats and barley mixture] is planted with a no-till drill into the dead daikon radish residue.
The oats and barley and luzerne/grass are sowed together and once the oats and barley are harvested the pasture naturally takes the space.
The main tools used to handle the field production are :
- a cultimulcher to prepare the beds (for the veggies)
- a sowing tool for the cover crop and hay
- a rake
- a cultivator
- a hay mower
Some activities such as grain harvesting or compost turning are still done with a fuel powered machine as it would require too many people and too many horses to handle.
Availability of horse drawn tools in the area is good as the Amish community is quite present in this area and have never stopped developing tools for horse powered farming over the years.