Around mid-April, a highly anticipated and very large shipment was delivered to the farm from EARTH TOOLS, Inc.. The packages contained a BCS tractor model 749 with female quick hitch and foam filled 5x12x22” wheel upgrade, two 8” wheel weight hanger posts, Berta Franco single rotary plow with male quick hitch, BCS 31" Tiller with three jaw PTO, male quick hitch and hiller/furrower, a disk harrow, and a poly dump-cart. Since we spent the month of March creating all of our planting beds and weeding with hand tools, we were very excited to receive machinery to increase productivity. The package contents list should imply the BCS tractor is not your casual garden tiller. Unlike common two-wheel walk-behind garden tillers, the BCS tractor is built to a quality suitable for the abuse equipment of professional agriculture is expected to take. The European BCS walk-behind tractor uses a single power source to operate a large variety of attachments selected for the specific needs of the farmer, like a four-wheel tractor would. The optional equipment list includes mowers, tillers, hay balers, plows, wood chippers, wood splitters, and more.
I have driven a couple of tractors a couple of times, but I have far more experience operating garden tillers, so I was relieved the farm was receiving a walking tractor rather than a full sized drivable tractor. The BCS tractor purchased for the farm is a model 749, which is in the neighborhood of 200 pounds including the Honda GX 390 engine and power safe transmission. After unboxing the packages, performing quality checks, and some small assembly, I started to read the manuals for the BCS tractor, GX 390 engine, Berta rotary plow, and tiller. The provided manuals are easy to follow and include all necessary information for the equipment, however, unboxing and moving the tractor would have been faster had there been a quick start guide including steps for moving the tractor without power, for unloading purposes. The BCS tractor arrived with gear and transmission oil, and just required fuel to start. I insisted on reading through the BCS tractor manual, which referred me to the engine manual mid-way for some pre-start procedures, and then I was back to the tractor manual.
In no time, I was adding fuel to the BCS tractor and performing the first start. For the first run of the engine, I just let it idle for about 10 minutes, and then I proceeded to ensure all the controls functioned properly. Afterwards I put the transmission in gear and gave all three gears a try in both forward and reverse. The engine started smoothly, and I found the BCS easy to control and maneuver. I was not over taken by the many hand controls located on the BCS tractor. The independent hand brakes, hand clutch, and throttle are all at your fingertips, but operation is not as complicated as it looks.
After starting the BCS tractor and getting comfortable with the controls, I decided to read the Berta rotary plow and tiller manuals, so that I could test out the PTO with an attachment in place. The Berta rotary plow was the first attachment I attached to the BCS tractor’s PTO via the quick hitch, which I found to be very simple. I tested the plow in-between rows of small raspberry plants we just placed in the ground last March. I used the plow to kick dirt onto the mounded raspberry beds to cover the weeds with no problem at all. At first I hesitated to drop the plow deep into the earth, so I started with the lowest possible plowing depth. I found steering of the BCS tractor difficult while the plow was in the ground, but this is probably due to lack of operator experience. The plow moved an impressive amount of dirt on a single pass, and did not struggle with the thickly rooted grass and weeds. The plow kicked a few bricks and large rocks out of the dirt with just a little scuffing of the plow blades. A normal walk-behind tiller would probably have faced doom if encountering the same chunks of brick and rock. Since the BCS tractor and Berta rotary plow made easy work of the dense vegetation and large solid debris, I had the confidence to remove the depth gauge wheel to achieve maximum plowing depth after the ground was initially broken.
Due to my lack of experience with tractors, I only plowed a little space to test out the equipment. I have far more experience operating garden tillers, so that was the next attachment tested with the BCS tractor. The 31” tiller for the BCS tractor was naturally easier for me to operate than the plow, and my comfort level allowed me to get straight to working on bed preparation while still testing the equipment. The beds I started working with the tiller had tall and dense grass growing on the mounds, but the tractor has plenty of power to run the tiller through soil which has been worked in previous years. I started tilling at maximum depth. The BCS tractor was a lot easier to steer with the tiller attachment working than the plow attachment, but still required concentration to hold a straight line. The BCS tractor combined with tiller attachment is far superior to any other walking tiller I have ever used, and the learning curve was not that difficult. After tilling two 30-foot long beds I was already moving through the BCS tractor controls and maneuvering the machine quicker and with more confidence.
The previous month we were preparing beds for direct seeding at a rate of one bed every one to two hours. In one hour we were able to create twelve 30-foot long beds with the BCS tractor with tiller. I have confidence the machine is built to withstand the real farming experience. Time invested in maintenance for the BCS tractor will be well spent, as the walk-behind tractor will increase our productivity on the farm while relieving some of the pains.
The two wheel BCS tractor is a superior piece of farming equipment to common garden tillers, but the BCS is also more advanced. For people new to tractors, I find the BCS tractor a lot less intimidating than a drivable tractor with four wheels while still having the same essential features and controls. A safety device built into the handle of the BCS tractor kills power to the PTO and transmission when the handle is released while allowing the engine to continue running, so the operator can simply let go if they become uncomfortable in a situation. This safety feature enables new tractor operators the opportunity to comfortably learn the principals of using a clutch and PTO along with common transmission controls, and I am personally looking forward to learning the principals of plowing and working land on a small scale with the BCS tractor. Disrupting weed cycles by preparing beds far in advanced and revisiting multiple times before planting will be feasible, as well as reshaping land, augmenting soil, hilling, furrowing, and trenching will all be possible without the use of hand tools. As soon as the weather allows, we will be working on reshaping the land into our summer farm plots!