Starting an Orchard Part III: Tractoring

So, with the battle plans drawn up and and plants ordered… ITS TIME TO RENT A TRACTOR! Okay, its not a very big tractor, but for what I am doing, its going to work great. Why do I need a tractor? Two reasons, the big front end loader makes for a fantastic diesel powered wheelbarrow making things much easier to move about. Additionally, I have neither the time nor desire to blister my hands badly trying to dig large holes in the Earth in a short period of time.

Best. wheelbarrow. ever. Old person station wagon for scale.

If I tried this project with shovels, I know that at some point I will half-ass it and say “eh good enough…” but it won’t be good enough. And because it won’t be good enough, the fruit trees will suffer. So I need to make really big holes, which will be easier for the plants to establish roots into. Plus, this is important because of how rocky the Earth is because roots are softer than rock.

So, I rented a small Kubota BX25D. If you aren’t familiar with it, its basically an over sized garden tractor. BX means its a subcompact tractor, 25 means 25 horsepower. D means Delta Force because… America (yea, I have no idea, I think it just identifies what type of BX25 it is based on options). Kubota is a 4WD vehicle which turned out to be required because it just lost traction repeatedly in 2WD. Note to self: Neither the truck nor the tractor dealt with the grass on the hill. Time to figure out a plan, but that will be another project.

So I RENTED A TRACTOR… sweet. This is the tool for the job and with the loader on the front and backhoe on the back, it made life much easier! One small issue, much like the skid steer before, I have no idea what I am doing.

Fortunately, once again… youtube. The loader was pretty easy to operate after learning basic and techniques from the skid steer. However, it doesn’t have as much power (strength) available for lifting, cutting, etc. For what I was doing, I didn’t run into any sort of limitations. However, there was the issue of the backhoe, I had to learn that. I know, this should see basic to folks who have done this before but this isn’t my area of expertise but it is something I am willing to learn (you want to learn how to figure out how pipes and mutexes (muti?) can be used for cyber threat actor attribution?).

My biggest question is how does the tractor deliver power to the backhoe? As you approach mechanical limitations, these are important questions. Will you stall the tractor? Can you break something expensive? Or will it just say no? Mistakes would mean I would not be able to plant the fruit trees on time and would likely be out a lot of cash to pay for the repair. So… yea, this is important. Anyway, here is what I learned:

  • Power Delivery: Power is delivered to the backhoe via hydraulics. This is important to know because this will deliver tractor engine power to the pointy tip via liquid. Unless I am doing something really stupid, I shouldn’t be able to break it or stall the tractor. Delivery of more power to the pointy end is as simple as increasing the RPMs (to a safe limit) which increases the hydraulic flow rate and pressure, which again… helps the pointy part dig into the Earth.
  • Understanding Parts to Identify the Important Thingy: Clearly we are working with technical terms. The important thingy is the part of the tractor you want to have do something. There are basically four parts of a backhoe: boom, arm, bucket, and teeth.
    • The boom is the biggest piece of metal, closest to the tractor. It can move up, down (at the point it connects to the arm) and left, right. I used it for the most macro (big) moves.
    • The arm is then used for largely positioning the bucket. It moves only forwards and backwards from the pivot of the boom and arm.
    • The bucket is attached to the arm, and it will carry the material that is being carved out, or place material where you want it to go. The bucket is very small in comparison to the boom and arm, and only curls. This is important later.
    • The teeth are the smallest part and are the cutting edge. These wear down and are replaceable. This is the pointy part, and the goal is to deliver the most amount of power to the cutting edge to break the Earth. But you may not care as much about the teeth (or maybe not even have them installed) if you are routinely dealing with light fluffy stuff like industrial quantities of marshmallow creme. Please message me if you have ever had this industrial application. Thank you.
  • Delivering Power to the Important Thingy: So here is the thing on the lower horsepower tractor, I noticed that you could only choose two things to operate at the same time or the whole thing bogged down. Think of it like a bartender. A bartender can listen to everyone’s needs and process the requests. This can work on a Wednesday afternoon when there are a few people in there. However, on a very busy Saturday night with lots of load, focus on one customer, one need, once service. Tractors are the same as bartenders that way (did I really just say that?). You might be able to move the boom and arm at the same time, but probably not the bucket as well. Why? The hydraulics only have a limited amount of flow. You can deliver full power to one thing. But deliver it to two, you half it to 50%. Deliver it to three you have 33% power. So if you are trying to deliver power to the pointy end, do you want the 25 HP worth of power or 8 HP (to the tractor people, yes I know there is tractor overhead and other physics but I am not going to math that right now). So moving a few things around at the same time is possible with no resistance and sufficient power, but when its time to cut or other maximum use of force, just use one item at a time. In my situation,  I placed the teeth at the perfect spot and focused all the power into only the bucket. Why the bucket? It “holds” the teeth. Its also the smallest moving part meaning more power is concentrated into a single movement. If you have a big ole honkin tractor™  and can move, adjust, and cut all at once… by all means go for it. I am dealing in the tiny scale. Cut using only the teeth on the bucket.

Operating these different parts seem very complex on paper (we aren’t using paper; what’s the modern equivalent of this phrase? Message me on this too).  So I decided to make a big hole to figure out how to best make a hole and get used to the controls. I have a bunch of old barbed wire that is rusting away to nothing that I would like to have disappear so I gathered up the barbed wire in prep to put it in the hole. However, I will cut it down to sections so it can buried next year after another year of weathering. SO LET’S MAKE A HOLE! Wait, I first have to get the tractor to said future hole.

Dragging old barbed wire and posts to its final resting place with the bucket.

I brought the tractor up in RPMs, put it into gear, hit the forward pedal and, wait wut? Yes, these are are different things on a tractor. Tractors and cars are different here. On a car, you pretty much only make power to go forward, and backwards. So you hit the gas/diesel pedal a certain amount and go forward or backward based on what gear you are in (or automagicly if its automatic) .

On tractors, you may need to make a lot of power, but not go anywhere. So in our example I want to create a lot of power, but for the hydraulics. We may also want to create more power to drive the PTO (some day when I require PTO power, I will go over it… but for now, lets just consider this extraneous data to make tractor experts happy).  ANYWAY, generate more power. Then chose to use that power to move forward or backward. Here is an example of what I did using a hydrostatic transmission… (you will figure out how to do this faster/better later with experience, or if you have a different transmission):

  1. Set the power lever (throttle) to minimal power.
  2. Move the gearing to Low or High (are you going to be doing heavy duty work, or just try and move the tractor from place to place). Some have medium.
  3. Move the power lever (throttle) to 25%.
  4. Eh… move the vehicle forward or backwards. Look at your feet. You may have two pedals.. one marked forward, one marked backwards. You may also have a single pedal that if you push your toe forward, it goes forward, and if you push down on your heel, it will go backward. Releasing the pedal brings it back to neutral—-ish.
  6. Keep your foot fully on the forward or reverse, but to adjust the forward or reverse speed, move the power lever about.
  7. If you need more granular control, or more power… you may wanna move to low gear. If you need to go faster and aren’t hauling/towing anything of significance… you may want to move to high.

Now please, do this the first time at low speed and at minimal power because as you are fiddling with everything you may not look around you. You are driving.  Look around you. I ended up with a problem because, my dog Tyr hates tractors? He barked like a mad man until it came to a stop. He was okay with the loader, the backhoe, and the engine noise… but if the tractor moved… OH. NOT. HAPPY. DOG. Eventually I had to put him away for a while to ensure I could operate the tractor without squishing him. SQUISH DOG BAD.


So yea, dog is now put away, driving the tractor, nothing destroyed… OH YEA, LET’S GO MAKE A HOLE! I drove the tractor over to said future site of a hole and got the tractor lined up. Wait, crap. I never learned how to turn the tractor seat around to get it in position to use the backhoe. DOH! There goes 20 minutes on trial and error and learning about a hole bunch of buttons and levers I probably shouldn’t have touched. Okay, seat is in correct spot. LET’S GO MAKE A HOLE.

So as you can tell from the two pictures, my soil is only a few feet deep and then you hit rock. Real rock. I pulled out the larger rocks and filled a few perennial potholes. Moving very large rocks in the front loader and a small tractor made it a bit front heavy. Yea, be careful of weight and balance. Not that it happened, but driving a tractor doing California wheelies is not advised. But, these rocks fixed another problem. That made me happy.

Anyway, back to hole digging. Its hard to tell but digging this hole TOOK FOREVER because of the small bucket. With the smaller amount of horse power, it requires a smaller amount of pointy edges. The smaller bucket made it perfect for cutting into the stony Earth, but moving material took FOREVER. That said, I would rather do it this way than with a shovel. Yea, no shovel.

Okay, so now I know how to operate the loader AND the backhoe. I can move the tractor, move stuffs, and take earth out of Earth. This plan is coming together!

Now before I could plant, I had one other issue. I fell a number of young trees that encroached into my pasture.  I removed these so that the fruit trees would have room. While I have used my station wagon to move around logs before, I have a tractor available. Let us use that instead.

Moving the trees was really easy. I just took my skidding chains and wrapped it around the front end loader. I took the other side of the chains and hooked it on the tree. Then I just drove around backwards until I got the tree into the relative area I needed it in. This relative area would be where I will later cut them down into firewood.

So much easier than a station wagon skidding logs.

Dragging around trees is so much easier than with my winch.


Once I got the tree into the rough area I wanted, then I pivoted it around and stuck it into the pile. I just dropped the edge of the loader below the trunk and pushed it in.

Firewood? Biochar? Who knows. Time shall tell.

At this point everything is in place. There is a plan, the area is cleaned out, I know how to operate the tractor… LET’S PLANT SOME TREES. But later. This post is long, and took longer than expected. I didn’t realize I would have an entire post dedicated to 1 about.

OKAY Now lots talk shop: How much does it cost to rent a tractor? Depends. But here is how much it cost me for two days.

  • $160 for the tractor rental
  • $15 for the sales fee
  • $140 for delivery and pickup
  • $18 for WV sales tax
  • $333 total

Now is it worth it? For me yes. Now if I were doing this much more frequently, I would buy my own tractor and kit it out the way I want. But I am not. I only do this infrequently. To avoid the delivery fee, I would have a bigger vehicle and trailer capable of towing this. But I don’t, as I don’t do this frequently. So the way I look at it, 1/5th of a monthly tractor payment and 1/6th of a monthly truck payment… yea, this is a good deal. Now, what if I tried to do this without a tractor? No way I could cut the Earth and make a ton of holes in a single weekend. Rent the tractor.

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