Wednesday, October 3, 2012


It's funny, but I can look back at last years blog and I was doing the same sort of thing at this time of year.   I have to wait all year for my land to dry up enough to be able to work the ground, and while it's there I have to hurry to get it done before the window of opportunity closes.  
pigs:  Natures plow

Using a 3 bottom plow from bruce king on Vimeo.

 A pig is natures plow.  A full sized pig can easily make a furrow, and they really enjoy pushing their nose through the dirt.  It's the same motion that they make when they nurse -- the piglets "plow" the udder of the sow, rhythmically moving their heads up and down, massaging her with their snouts.  I'm guessing that it feels good for both the sow and the piglet, and the piglets continue that motion when they're adults -- but they are rubbing their noses against the ground.

This sow has come over to the electric fence line to investigate what I'm doing.   I think she would be happy to do it for me, and doesn't understand why I'm wasting an opportunity to rub my face in freshly turned soil.  I do love the smell of a freshly plowed field. 

 On the right side of the picture you can see a newly plowed section of my pasture. 
freshly plowed furrows
 It's an 18" plow, which means that the blade on the plow is that tall, and it flips over the sod to expose the dirt.  Flipping it over also means that the grass roots dry out, and if that doesn't kill the sod, it sure does slow it down.   One of the biggest inventions in agriculture was  the moldboard plow, which allowed more efficient tilling of the ground, and to grow crops on less fertile ground, but they're getting less popular as time goes by, being supplanted by no-till farming, but in America, no-till farming usually also means an increased dependence on herbicides to clear weeds vs the mechanical clearing that other methods, like plowing, provide.   I never use herbicides or pesticides of any sort. 

my reason for plowing
My property was at one point about 50 years ago, a junkyard, with hundreds of cars in various states all over it.  40 years ago the county stepped in and made the owner move the junkyard, and clean up the property, and it was used as grazing land after that.  7 years ago when I purchased the land it was covered with 6' tall grass, and looked pretty good.  River bottom land that had good, fertile soil and had no 'cide application for at least a decade.  (cide:  pesticide, herbicide). 

That first year was kind of rough.  As I mowed and got to know the ground, I'd find odd stuff, but all covered in 12" of topsoil. The grass in this area had added 12" of soil depth in the 40 years it had to grow.   So that first year I worked hard to pick up the stuff that the pigs rooted out, mostly big chunks of iron like engine blocks and axles and drive shafts, but every once in a while some hideous 1950s plaid car upholstery or license plate or chrome hood ornament.

The plow was the only way that really worked to cut through the 12" of soil and get the big stuff kicked up to the surface so I can recycle it.  So I'll plow a field, and then make a second pass and pick up all the stuff that the plow turned up, and then I'll plow again at a 90 degree angle, to make sure that I've covered the whole area, and make another pass.   After the second pass I've got most of the big stuff. 

Then I'll go over the while thing with a big rotary tiller I've got -- a giant, tractor-mounted rototiller.  It's 8' wide.  I till it because I can hear metal stuff hit the rototiller and that gets me stuff like pieces of chrome, cables, wires and chains -- the stringy stuff wraps around the rototiller, and I usually just cut it off with a torch.   A rototiller is slower than a disc harrow , but a disk harrow wouldn't be as good at finding smaller bits of metal, which is the whole reason I'm doing this, so I choose the slow route. 

The river bottom soil I'm on doesn't have any rocks in it.  So anything that hits the rototiller with a PING is probably metal debris. 

If I were just doing this to prepare for a crop, I'd probably just disc the ground and not plow. 

And then I go over the whole thing with a power rake, to make the seedbed.  So every part of the renovated pasture gets at least 6 passes over it -- but at the end, it's really beautiful, level, pasture, and I don't have to till it for at least another 5  years, maybe 10, if I can believe the claims of the grass seed supplier. 

I did some pretty extensive soil testing, so I know that this area needs some lime but is ok in all other respects.  The soil test called for 6 tons of lime per acre.  I found a source for ag lime that was $30 a ton, delivered, so I'm having 20 tons delivered in 6 days. 


becky3086 said...

Wow, 20 tons of lime. I just can't even imagine, lol.

Anonymous said...

Who doesn't love gettin' down n' dirty in their own land? Thats the only time I'll get dirty is if its my own land and home, otherwise you won't catch me plucking weeds.

-David Enabulele
Atlanta Junk Cars

E said...

Wouldn't there be concerns about other things that have leaked from junk cars? Or is 50 years enough for them to break down?

Bruce King said...

I spent a thousand dollars on various soil tests to make sure that there wasn't anything that would complicate farming; thankfully 40-50 years is enough that there wasn't anything of note. The fellow who did the tests did ask if there was saltwater below, and I asked why? Trace elements that are indicative of saltwater intrusion, he said. Means that I don't really have to worry about adding stuff to the pasture, other than lime. Organic material and trace elements are all good.

With respect to the iron, the pigs actually like the stuff. They dig it up because they like the rust.

BCxFour said...

I have been searching for lime for our pasture, can you possibly email me the information where you are getting the AG lime? I need enough for 22 acres. bcxfour at yahoo . com. THANK YOU!

Bruce King said...

ja jacks and sons, down in the industrial area of seattle.

5427 Ohio Avenue South Seattle, WA 98134

(206) 762-7622

Here's to sweeter dirt!