Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Plowing, leveling, experimenting with tillage and irrigation

When I first purchased this farm in 2013 it had been used to grow corn for a couple of years in a row.  So in the spring, I did what I thought was a good job preparing a seed bed.   Three years later I know the mistakes I made.
plowing in 2016 from bruce king on Vimeo.

What I did three years ago was to use a disc harrow (the john deere 210 pictured below) to cut up all of the vegetation in preparation for plowing (see the video above)
john deere 210 disc harrow
Once the ground has been disc'd (disked?  disced?  ) the longer stringy plants are cut into bits, and those bits don't get caught in the plow and are easier to deal with.  they also compost faster and while it does take some time to do, if it is at all overgrown it's a necessary step.

So after discing and plowing, I'd wait a week (or until a few days after the next rainfall) and disk the whole thing again.  this second pass with the disc is to kill the weeds and unwanted plants.  Most commercial farmers do this with an herbicide - roundup is popular - but I'm using mechanical tillage instead of herbicides to keep my fields certified organic.   I really haven't looked much at organic herbicides - the mechanical tillage does a pretty good job, and i'm not that worried about weeds.

Once the second disc pass was over, I'd start planting seed, using my brillion planter, and it does a very good job of planting the small grass and alfalfa seed.  All of that done, I waited for the crop to grow, and for the last three years have been harvesting it.

And it was during harvesting that my mistakes became apparent.
2014 crop plan
In the picture above you'll see my 2014 crop plan.  Two mistakes:  the most serious was that the amount of compaction by the tractor tires made ribs all over the field.  Which doesn't matter much if you're driving in the direction that the ribs go, but if you're driving across them it's basically a set of speed bumps spaced 10' apart for acres and acres.  Very very rough.  These tire tracks were a result of the plow fluffing up the soil and then the weight of the tractor compacting it.  So the mistake was that I didn't compact the ground evenly, and left this speed bump obstacle that has been slowing down mowing, raking and baling for years now.

Mowing is slower (and less efficient) because i have to allow extra space below the cutter head to keep it from hitting the ground, and the speed bump effect limits my top speed, and makes the cutter bounce, and all of that adds up to hours and hours of extra time cutting.

Raking is slower because the cut forage falls into these depressions and sometimes requires a second pass with the rake to get it all.  the rake does great on level ground, but the narrow wheel track marks are hard for it to get to if you're going perpendicular to them - across them.  If you're going in the direction they go its better, but still not ideal.

Baling is slower and less efficient for the same reason - the biggest problem is that sometimes the track falls in the windrow, and some hay is wasted by not being picked up.  Plus the speed bump thing limits the speed of the baler (and tractor) so things don't get shaken apart.

In short, when you're planting forage like alfalfa and grass, smooth is good.  Smooth is your friend.  Smooth is to be desired.

It was particularly bad because I'd plant the squares in the picture by driving around the edges and gradually working my way to the center.  The result of this can actually be seen from orbit:

click on the picture to magnify it:  Tire tracks showing on the field
So this year, as I am working the ground, I'm doing some different stuff to solve these problems, and while I'm at it, I'm doing preparation for irrigation.   I'll write up an entry on that in a day or two with some pictures.

1 comment:

Rich said...

It's almost impossible to make a decent seedbed with a disc, it loosens everything up too much if you run it deep, and if you run it shallow it leaves a bunch of ridges that a drill has trouble dealing with.

I used to use a disc to shop up my wheat stubble, I'd chisel deep to loosen everything up, and then I'd pull a field cultivator a couple of times across the field to level everything out and pack it back down to build my seedbed.

FWIW, back then my chisel was about 14' wide, my drill was about 12' wide, and my field cultivator was about 28' wide. The field cultivator needed to be at least twice as wide as the chisel so that it would smooth out where the chisel had overlapped, and even then sometimes it had to be cultivated at an angle to the previous tillage passes.