Oct 11, 2019
Jerry Mills: Confidence lacking in pumpkin crop after wet spring

No fire blight! This is the first year ever that there are no signs of fire blight anywhere in our orchards. Last year it was so bad that many trees went unpruned. I was prepared for a disaster, but it did not materialize. Figure that one out.

Late pumpkin crop. Wet soils prevented tillage of the pumpkin field throughout June. My sons kept wanting to disc the wet fields, but I held off. Tilling our wet soil turns it into brick material. Finally, one day in early July, conditions were right. The weeds and grass were 24 inches high, as were wild blackberries. It was a mess but one overspray with Roundup Plus pumpkin herbicide knocked it down. I went through the next week and planted no-till with my John Deere corn planter.

We have a nice crop of small pumpkin plants. Will they make it? I doubt it but I wanted to prove that perfect planting conditions are not necessary for a decent crop.

Can a little farmer afford a big expensive lawnmower? I wrote about this machine two or three years ago. It is a John Deere Wide Area Mower 1600 Turbo. Retail price is well above $60,000 for the biggest one they make. I did not pay that much.

Is it worth it? Sophisticated economists could probably make a good case either way. On the positive side, a sizeable investment means a tax write-off. In addition, there is efficiency of scale.

The 11-foot cutting width and 51-horsepower diesel engine will out-cut two ordinary zero-turns. It does not
mulch grass, but can wade through two-foot high fescue, where ordinary mowers would fear to go. This was helpful during the last two wet springs when everything got away from us. A second mowing trims it well.

The mower is built like a tank, weighs well over 1,000 pounds, strong enough to negotiate bumps, and ruts in the fields, but it is not something your average 15- or 16-year-old should drive. It is a machine that requires training, even for an experienced driver.

Last week an operator on a golf course in St. Louis was killed when a mower rolled over on him. Mine has a roll bar and seat belts to prevent such tragedies.

Ordinary mowers normally throw the cuttings out the right side. This one’s three decks feed the cuttings behind the decks, eliminating the need, and power, to recut the grass and blow it out the right side.

The width is great when mowing orchard aisles. The outboard decks will extend from one weed free side to the other, assuming there was a decent job of herbicide application. Two passes down the aisles enables the outboard decks to extend under the trees and do a nice job cleaning up stray greenery. It is easy to mow around individual trees.

The biggest disadvantage is the weight and small footprints. It is easy to get stuck in mud ruts. With four-wheel drive I can sometimes jump the puddles with the differential locked.
Sometimes not.

A four-wheeler winch might be a good investment. Waiting to be pulled out is a nuisance when you’re a half-mile from home.

Another thing, is that the tempered mower blades are not wearing out. They are almost as sharp as when it was delivered three years ago.

— Jerry Mills, Mills Apple Farm

“Notes from the Farm,” a collection of columns written by beloved grower Jerry Mills, will be for sale at the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable & Farm Market EXPO (Booth 949). Copies are $20, with a portion of the proceeds from book sales being donated to the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

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