Sunday, October 13, 2013

learning how to plant my land

My progress meter
I'm interested in what will grow well in my soil and microclimate, and I'm interested in knowing what works the best as far as amount of seed applied per acre, and mixtures of seeds.  So I'm planting 50 or so acres with a variety of seeds and rates, so that next May I'll be able to look at the results and see what works best.  My long-term goal is to come up with a good pasture mix that provides excellent forage for the animal I raise.

The gauge in the picture at the start of this post is the acre-meter for the brillion sure-stand SS1201 seeder I purchased earlier this year.  I don't know how old it is, but it's apparently planted at least 1800 acres since the meter was replaced, and so this is where I start.   It took me a couple of hours to figure out how to calibrate the flow of seeds, and I had to repair a couple of things.  The biggest thing that I did was download the assembly manual and go through it very very carefully.   I carefully followed the instructions and adjusted the seed handing stuff, and replaced a bearing, and then lubricated everything that called for it, and then put the tarp on it and pulled it to see how close the estimated seed rate was to the actual seed rate.
If you look carefully you can see the grass seed and alfalfa seed deposited
In the picture above, the grass seed is the rice-looking long thin things, and the alfalfa seed are the pale pinker looking tiny seeds.  Find the small black rock in the middle of the photo.  there's a grass seed immediately left of it, and an alfalfa seed a little to the right and above it.  There are 31 alfalfa seeds in that picture.

The tracks left by the tractor tires compress the dirt so that the packing wheels of the brillion don't push the seed down, which is annoying, but it allows me to verify that the seeds are actually being deposited.  for the first hour or so I'd run 600' (about 1/5th of an acre) and then get out and look in the seed  boxes and carefully study the ground behind.  A couple of the seed outlets were blocked, but after a while I was pretty confident that I was actually getting good coverage.
7 acres down.  45 minutes/acre
I completely understand the attraction that larger gear has.  My disc is 12' wide, and it takes me 25 hours of tractor time to do one pass over this field.  My seeder is only 10' wide, at with 50 acres * 45 minutes per acre, that's 37.5 hours of tractor time to seed it.  I'm a little afraid of going too fast with the seeder; figuring that it's better to go slow and not break something than it is to save a couple of hours.
alfalfa on left and in my hand, grass on right
The seeder does a good job of applying two different kinds of seeds (with very different shapes and sizes) in one pass.  I'm putting down 15lbs of alfalfa and 15lbs of grass seed per acre.  One reason that I spent the time to test and calibrate the seeder is that seed is expensive.  The alfalfa is $3.75/lb and the grass seed is around $2.50/lb -- so a 50 lb sack of alfalfa seed is nearly $200! 

So the seed that I'm putting down is approximately $94 per acre.   That seems like a lot, but I'm hoping to get 3 to 5 years of use out of it, which makes the price a little more reasonable... but it's worth being precise on the seeding. 
The tiny seed dispenser; there are 12 of these
The tiny seeds are doled out by a little gear that is set into the bottom of the seeder; it spins as the main rollers move, so the faster you move forward, the faster the seeds are distributed.  The grass seed dispenser is a set of holes in the bottom of the seed bin and a spinning whisk that fluffs the seeds up and keeps them from getting caked up.  The alfalfa seeder tends to go out of adjustment after 10 or 15 acres; the big nut that keeps it firm isn't holding, so I have to check it every couple of acres.   I don't want to spend any more on alfalfa than I mean to.  

So the basic routine is to  fill all of the bins, check the outlets, and then run the seeder for a while; usually a couple of acres.  Then you stop, get out and look at everything to make sure it's all in working order and there's plenty of seeds, refill anything that needs it and then pull it another couple of acres.  The crimping wheels leave a pretty clear mark on the disc'd ground, so it's easy to keep track of where I have and haven't been. 

Every 5 acres or so I make a note about where I am in the field, and change something.  Increase the alfalfa setting, decrease it, increase grass, change to a different mix of grass, or omit the grass completely to have a pure-alfalfa field.  That's the experiment part of this.  Next year i'll look at each of these areas with the notes I'm making now and figure out what worked best; how many pounds and what kind of seeds get what results.  
My dog red watches me work on this stuff; he's been observing for a week now.  He's not sure what I'm doing but any excuse for a truck ride is ok with him.  

And a good chance for a dog nap.  

And the work goes on
 and on
and on...


George said...

One thing you can do if you want to minimize the wheel tracks is to put a small chain drag behind the seeder.

I seed with a John Deere Van Brunt,and a 7 or 14' Tye Drill. I can run them both in 5th or 6th gear high range with no real problems, as they are ground driven the seed will continue to flow. Probably takes 15-25 minutes per acre. Be really careful getting that machine wet, the seed will become a sticky nightmare due to the inoculant on the alfalfa.

Rich said...

I've never even seen a seeder like that much less used one, but I've seen people pull drills with a spring-tooth attachment mounted in front of the drill to deal with the wheel tracks and do a little final seedbed preparation.

My neighbor has a 3-point mounted spring-tooth that he hooks in front of his drill. I think he runs it at about the same depth as his seeding depth (so that his seed bed wasn't worked up too much and he could still plant into moisture).

It does a great job of getting every cheat and ryegrass seed germinated so that he has to fight those weeds in his wheat every year, but other than it does get rid of any tractor tire tracks.

Running duals on your tractor can also help with leaving tracks in your seed bed (since they help spread out the weight).

If you are only covering 2 acres an hour (even with a 12' disc), it sounds like you are going way too slow . There is a "sweet spot" with most tillage equipment where sometimes you have to be going fast enough to get everything to operate correctly.

Off the top of my head, I think I used to run a tandem disc at about 4.5-5.5 mph. I pulled a field cultivator even faster.

And, I usually pull a drill or a planter at about the same speed.

Anonymous said...


Bruce King said...

I've been working slowly because i'm afraid that this old seeder might break if I pull it much faster; the drive chain is pretty rusty and I'm not sure what it would take to get a new chain. Figure it's better to spend a few more hours being careful than having to hunt down a replacement part. I have upped my speed to 4.5mph though; that seems to be handled by the seeder, and I'm hoping that the chain will handle it. I've only got a few more acres to complete.

Bruce King said...

Rich, your idea of having something erase the tracks is a good one. My disk has a tow bar off the back. I could tow the seeder behind the disk. I'll have to try that.

Bruce King said...

George: i've been seeding during weather windows. When it's rainy and wet I do other stuff. This last 4 days has been really nice fall weather; 65 daytime, 40 night, clear sky. Perfect. I am terrified of getting the seeder wet for the reason you mention.

Rich said...

Most of the drive chains on equipment like drills, planters, and balers that I'm familiar with are 'standardized' and available at most agricultural supply stores.

They usually have a code on them based on the width, tooth size, etc., but I usually just take the old chain into the store with me to match it up with a replacement.

Typically, you will have to cut and fit them to match the chain you are replacing (there's a trick to grinding the pins and hitting them with a hammer that's easy to show how to do it, but difficult to describe).

Or, you can just take the old chain off and throw it in a bucket of diesel for a few months to loosen it up.

Hector B said...

Do you see birds getting at the seed? I guess if you are seeding several acres some loss is ok. When planting a garden I cover the seed with compost or mulch, both to help with germination and keep seeds away from birds.

George said...

Agreed on the chains... We leave our combine chains in a can of diesel at the end of the season to keep em nice and loose.

Even the 1950's drill we have around here, can still get replacement chains.

George said...


Alfalfa seed is pretty much dropped on the surface, as it won't germinate much below 1/4". Some seed will always remain on the surface, not a big deal. It's difficult to mulch anything over an acre... That is why farmers run a cultipacker or a chain drag behind the seed drill to firm up the seed bed afterwards.