From pasture to Raised Beds


This is something I’ve been wanting to  do for awhile. First I had to get a tractor, then I had to get a tiller and a few other implements, then wait for the weather and tie that up with some spare time. All of this between the short period of ‘ground frozen solid’ and ‘planting too late for cr0ps to mature’.

We had a long bitch of a winter, and a short wet spring and I haven’t found a rototiller for sale locally, let alone an affordable one, so I had to wait until one my friends had finished with theirs. Luckily Paul from The Top of The Mountain came to my rescue and this Wednesday we loaded his rototiller onto the back of my pickup. It took some doing, but with a pallet and a set of forks on his three point hitch we managed it. Unloading back at my farm was a lot easier, using some rachet straps and three 2×4’s.

I had previously marked out the longest point of my hayfield that vaguely ran North-South, more Northeast-by-Southwest but beggars can’t be choosers. You want to have nice long runs for efficiency so you don’t have to keep stopping and turning the tractor around. This turnaround space is called ‘headroom’ and is just a waste in terms of crop yield.

Speaking of which if you look at the two runs I’ve done so far you can see a tractors width grass strip in between them. Many people would think this a waste too but I plan to run Salatin-style chicken pens up and down it as per my previous adventures in chickenery. If we don’t then I can always till them and crop them at a later date, assuming Paul lends me his rototiller again, or I manage to find one on the cheap.

I mentioned the short wet spring and the ground was still too wet to till efficiently, and it rained an hour through the tractortime so I had to abandon the run and come back on the weekend, hoping that 30 degree heat would have evap’d the water from my silty soil. It didn’t, but I carried on regardless.

When putting potatoes in on a different patch of ground last year we ploughed the ground, cutting and turning the topsoil over before running a rototiller over it to pulverise it into a seedbed of sorts. We hypothesised that we might get away with just tilling it this year. Largely, we were wrong. The first few passes earlier in the week just kinda tore up the sod a little and left huge clumps of broken grass. A few more passes over each bed today and there was an improvement, but 8″s under the layer of sod is clay and pebble, so I needed to drain the water away somehow. My solution was the a subsoiler.

SubsoilerThis thing is a little like a midbuster but instead of having a sweep it has a thin but sturdy blade like a chisel. It does the same job as a mole-plow of old, that is it digs down and opens up a groove or a channel in the soil for water to drain down. It’s very useful for breaking up hardpan from too many years of plowing or tilling, it aerates the soil and crumbles it allowing roots to penetrate further than they would otherwise. Incidentally if you weld a little doohickey on it you can also use it to lay cable, but I’ll cover that in another blog once I’ve actually done it!

When using the subsoiler adjust the toplink on the three point hitch so the blade points downwards and as you drive the thing will just dig in until your tractor can’t pull it anymore. I found crawling forward in first low with one hand on the draft control, waiting for one of the tractor wheels to start spinning then raising the draft until we lurched forward again worked. It was a bit like trying to find the sweet spot in the shower but you didn’t have to think about it after a run or two.

So now I’m waiting for a few more days of scorchio heat, for the water to drain off a little more and for the last of the grass clumps to degrade a little more. Another couple of runs with the rototiller and we should have a seedbed good enough to use a few more of my toys, er, implements and put some crops in. Mind you it is a little late in the season so I might just put some oats and vetch in as cover crops, and hit the ground running next year… in theory!



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