Saturday, October 13, 2012

dirtwork, part 3 - plowing and disc ing and tilling

 Behind the pig you can see a newly plowed field.  You'll see big strips of sod that are turned over. 
This is the same area after two passes with a disk.  Same dirt.  Use the fence as a reference point.   

I've got a big rototiller that I use inside the greenhouse and for stirring things, but I understand now why the disc harrow is such a popular implement.  I can drive over the ground at 3 to 4mph and in one pass chop up sod or crop residue, fill holes and smooth the ground.  With more passes the clods of dirt left get smaller and smaller.  Now this doesn't give me the finished seed bed that I'd like for a good pasture -- I'll go over it with a power rake for the flat, finished surface, but it's not bad

I've found this to be the fastest way to go from heavy sod to seed bed: 

Mow tall grass because it's easier to plow mowed sod than deal with the long grass and sod both. 
Bottom plow to break up the soil into big clods
Disc until you've got the texture  you want

Figure roughly two hours per acre. 


Rich said...

Back before I went to no-till, I used to run a disc over our wheat stubble, then would chisel plow it as deep as I could (to break though any compaction, etc.).

After chisel plowing the field, I'd leave it over the summer to catch the rain (it's dry here in the summer Oklahoma most of the time, and I want to catch as much rain as possible).

Then in the fall, I'd run a field cultivator over the field to build a seed bed (and try to kill as many weeds as possible) before drilling the next crop of wheat.

I never liked using a moldboard plow because it's a pain dealing with all the back furrows and dead furrows, keeping the plow set up right, and running at the right speed so everything works right. Not to mention the compaction layer it makes.

If you have tight soils or a lot of compaction it can take a lot of horsepower to pull a chisel plow (over 10 hp per shank?).

becky3086 said...

Very interesting. (I know nothing about big farming.) So what will you plant here?

Bruce King said...

Rich, why did you switch to no-till, and what do you grow?

Becky -- it'll be pasture. We're seeding it with a pasture mix that the pigs prefer to the local invasive grass that is normally there.

Rich said...

I mainly grow winter wheat, some grain sorghum (milo), I've grown a little bit of soybeans, and also grow either millet or sorghum-sudangrass hay (or haygrazer).

One reason I started no-tilling was so I could start double-cropping grain sorghum, soybeans, and sorghum-sudan after wheat harvest. With no-till, I can fertilize, spray a quick burn-down herbicide (sometimes with a pre-emerge herbicide), and plant in a day or so. Plus, having the ability to double crop meant I could farm almost twice as much land without needing to buy or rent more land.

Another reason was erosion, I farm on terraced fields (broad-based terraces that follow the contour) and it was a constant battle maintaining the terraces and controlling water flow. With no-till, erosion has dropped dramatically and the water is absorbed instead of running off the field in the terrace channels.

Another reason is the low organic matter levels I had from a hundred years of excessive tillage. With no-till, leaving all the crop residue on the soil surface, and double cropping (and/or cover cropping), I should start building organic matter levels up instead of having them continue to drop.

Another reason is I got tired of always fixing or buying tillage equipment. Every year I was practically rebuilding our disc, replacing worn out chisel points, etc. Not to mention the wear and tear on the tractors that were pulling everything. It was much cheaper to buy a used no-till drill, planter, and a small sprayer than replacing a tractor and all the tillage implements.

I could go on and on about why I switched to no-till. But basically, no-till helps me control erosion, makes it easier to start rotating different crops, helps with water infiltration, should start building up my organic matter levels, and saves the money that I would have spent on equipment, parts, and fuel.