Farmer John Writes: Which Way is it Going?

 In Farm News

Welcome to our Tenth Harvest Week

Machines are important at Angelic Organics. They balance out the arduous hand labor with the ease and power of technology. I have a lot of machines. They require a lot of care and consideration. Which machine should I buy? How fast will this machine do the job? What maintenance does it need? How long will the machine last? 

Some of what I am going to share with you in this column might not be easily comprehensible, especially if you didn’t grow up around farm equipment. Here goes…

Modern tractors have pto’s–power take offs. A pto is a spline sticking out of the front or rear of the tractor that rotates, usually at 540 or 1000 revolutions per minute. The pto can power many implements, causing them to spin, whir, till, gyrate, flail…

I recently purchased a flail mower to mount on the front of my tractor. I had needed such a mower for years. It will mow the exact width of our growing beds, pulverizing crop residue after a harvest, returning it to the soil.

Due to how they are equipped, most tractors in the States cannot accept front mounted equipment. (On the other hand, in Europe, most tractors can accept front mounted equipment.) My John Deere 6430 is equipped with a front mounted 3 pt hitch and a power take off. I ordered these features so I could mount a snow blower on the front of the tractor, and also front mount a flail mower.

The challenge has been that front mounted flail mowers are almost impossible to find in the States, because there are almost no tractors that are equipped to run them. I searched and searched for such a mower, then kept searching, then searched some more. (Just so you know, I enjoy such a search.) I finally located a front mounted flail mower, named the Destroyer, allegedly made by Befco Equipment in the Southern U.S.

Rotovater in action on rear of 6430 Deere. Befco Destroyer mower at rest on front. Primo driving. Romaine lettuce in foreground.

Rotovater in action on rear of 6430 Deere. Befco Destroyer mower at rest on front. Primo driving. Romaine lettuce in foreground.

I knew the flails on this mower had to turn in the right direction in order for the mower to work properly, meaning the front mounted power take off shaft had to spin in the right direction. Before purchasing the mower, I called Befco to make sure that our tractor pto would turn the flails so they would mow properly. The Befco technician instructed my machinery manager Primo and me to stand in front of the tractor and tell him which way the pto turned. “Clockwise,” we said. “There’s even an arrow that shows that the pto turns clockwise.”

“That’s the direction it needs to go,” said the technician.

I ordered the mower.

We spent a morning readying the Destroyer. Excited, we finally tried it out. The flails spun in reverse. They did not cut grass or weeds.

I called Befco, talked to a different technician.

“Which way does your pto turn?” he asked.

“Clockwise,” I said.

“Clockwise from where?”

“When I’m facing it.”

“From the tractor seat?”

“From the front of the tractor.”

“It has to turn clockwise when you are facing it from the operator’s seat. Your pto actually turns counterclockwise.”

“Uh-oh,” I said. I thanked the technician and hung up.

I pointed my forefinger at myself as I began to rotate it clockwise. I kept staring at it as I circled my body around my rotating finger to look at it from the other direction. (This may sound like an acrobatic feat, but it’s not that difficult to achieve.) Once I faced my rotating finger from the opposite direction, I could see that, even though it was still going in the same circular direction as when I started, it was now going counter-clockwise. Our pto shaft was spinning in the wrong direction.

I called the LaFarge company in California that made my after-market pto and asked if they could equip my tractor with a pto that goes in the opposite direction.

“Yes,” said the technician, “for $7,000. We make these for the European markets. The front mounted pto’s in Germany and Italy all turn clockwise. Almost all the front mounted equipment there is designed for a clockwise pto. After the Second World War, there were all these surplus pto’s that turned clockwise, so that’s what they equipped their tractors with. Germany and Italy have fought hard to not have international standards for the direction of pto rotation.”

Wow, I thought, the one thing in the European Union that’s not standardized—the direction the pto spins!

“I think my mower was actually made in Germany,” I said, “even though it’s got the name of an American company on it.”

He said, “You can flip the gearbox on the mower upside down and then the flails will turn in the right direction, but then, when you mount the mower on the rear of your tractor, you will have to mow going backwards.”

“Mow in reverse?!” I exclaimed.

I was on speaker phone and Primo was listening to all of this. He found a stick and started turning it clockwise with his fingers.

I was bewildered by pto’s that spin in opposing directions because of the war, by how easily counter-clockwise can morph into clockwise, and now Primo was swirling a stick as he eyed the German-built Destroyer.

The LaFarge technician’s accent made me suspect that he spoke German. I started speaking German to him. He spoke German back to me. I told him in German that for years after I stopped studying German, I dreamt in German.

Primo kept spinning the stick in the same direction. He rotated it from right-side-up (does a stick have a right-side-up?) to upside down. The stick was now rotating counter-clockwise.

Still speaking in German, I told the technician that I had many German conversations in my dreams. Sometimes, the Germans who were speaking to me in my dreams were speaking a language that I found incomprehensible. I wondered if they were speaking good German that I just hadn’t mastered yet, or if they were speaking in tongues.

Primo put down the stick he had been rotating.  “This will work,” Primo announced. “The upside-down gearbox will spin the mower in the right direction.”

The German built-mower and the stick had spoken to Primo.

Our Destroyer now works like a dream.

Destroyer Mower with upside down gearbox

Destroyer Mower with upside down gearbox

Upcoming Crops
Peak summer is here–peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, sweet corn, and melons are upon us.

watermelon glory

watermelon glory

Note about Your Sweet Corn
We grow white, yellow and bicolor sweet corn. Some people view white sweet corn as unripe–as corn that hasn’t turned yellow yet. White sweet corn will ripen white. Please don’t suspect your corn of not being ripe just because it is white.

Also, if you feel your corn is not sweet enough, it’s most likely because of the very cool summer we have had. Corn likes heat to sweeten up. Corn is tricky to harvest. It can go from immature to over-mature in just two or three days. Some people like their sweet corn a little early; some people like it a little late. We try to pick it at the ideal time, but even then, some ears will be a little bit behind other ears during the harvest. It’s really impossible to figure out where each ear is in the trajectory of maturation at harvest time.

The Weather
No rain for many days—now irrigating.

Sign up for the Free Recipe Service
Make sure you sign up for the Local Thyme recipe service we offer with this year’s share. It received many great reviews from our shareholders last season. Go to Enter the farm code AOLTFREE under “I am a member of a CSA farm.”  Click the sign-up button.

Let us Know
Let Shelly know anything you’d like to share about this week’s box email hidden; JavaScript is required. Please note the week and day of delivery, your site, when you picked up your box, and any comments about your box.

Please Fold Your Boxes Properly and Return Them
The farm re-uses the vegetable boxes. Flaps are easily torn when the boxes are dismantled improperly, and then the box bottom might later burst open with fresh, organic local produce heading towards the floor. Please return your empty, flattened vegetable box to your delivery site. If you receive home delivery, place it in the location where your box is delivered.

More from Shareholders
Visit us often at , where we post exciting farm developments regularly, and shareholders post recipes, tips, and photos.

Saturday’s Box Contents
Please Note: this summary is written before you receive your box—be aware that some guesswork is involved. As always, be sure to thoroughly wash all of your vegetables.

Cooking Greens – kale
Fruiting Crops – tomatoes, sweet corn, eggplant, sweet peppers, muskmelon, watermelon
Alliums – garlic
Herbs – basil

Your Farmer, John

Enjoy your farm at our Weekend Wellness Retreat
This farm – your farm – is the perfect place to explore and experience wellness. At our Weekend Wellness Retreat on Labor Day weekend, we’ll do just that. We’ll also discuss mindful eating and nutrition, practice yoga and meditation, create wholesome healthy meals together, enjoy the natural world with a hike to the creek, and more. Option to camp is available.

Register by August 28 using the code “AOWELLNESS10” and get $10 off! More information and registration is on our website:

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Showing 4 comments
  • Jay Shin

    I enjoyed your writing. Thank you John.

    Frankly speaking, I still cannot get the point of putting the gearbox upside down to make the spin reverse. If the gearbox becomes upside down, then the putput shaft which comes out from the gearbox will be placed in opposite side. Your further explanation will be very much appreciated.

    Jay Shin

    • Farmer John

      I can’t remember the specifics now. I think we flipped it upside down and swiveled it 180 degrees. We still wonder about what we did, because I bought a Deere 6130 which has the front pto going the opposite direction of the 6430 front pto. Shocked me–anything we put on the front of the tractor will now run in the opposite direction of if we put it on the rear. Every so often, we do mental gymnastics trying to figure out why this Deere tractor, made in Germany, turns pto implements one direction from the front and the opposite direction from the back. (Well, it’s actually the same direction, but the machine faces backwards from the back and forwards from the front, so the pto direction gets reversed, in a way. I bought a reverser for my front pto on the 6130, but it’s a pretty cumbersome adapter. I felt desperate buying it for $2,000, but it’s sitting in the shop now awaiting its installation. But, before we install it, I will again try to imagine with my guys if there is another way. Just writing this makes my head spin, but maybe not in the right direction.

      • Jay Shin

        Thanks John. Seems like you and your guys are struggling to make machines work properly. It will be very interesting to hear about your story after the reverser is put into action. I wish you the best result on that.

        • Farmer John

          My guys can keep most stuff running well. They are actually quite genius with repairs and innovations. This one has stumped us, but we will re-visit the challenge again soon.

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