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Grant, can you tell us about the custom swale plow  RSS feed

 
Posts: 3366
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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You have this video, but I can't find any more info on it



Does it work? What would you change? Is there a blog post somewhere about it?


 
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Definitely interested in this as well and I'd like to hear more from Grant. From what I've heard excavators are the best equipment for making swales.. especially ones with a knuckle above the bucket to have a "flexible wrist" for better angling and grading options to conserve and separate top soil etc.

In my PDC at Ben Falk's, he had an equipment guy there with a bulldozer (excavator from the 1st course was already returned). Although we got it done as a class through some hand finishing, we found that a bulldozer is not the best for making swales on deeper turf.. a valuable lesson learned.

That being said I'd like to see this plow in action. Excavators can be expensive to rent, never mind purchase, and I'm all for innovative and frugal solutions. Since tractors can be found on a lot more farms than can excavators, a modified plow would be a huge boon to cheaply implement swales!
 
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Location: Kentucky Zone 6
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I'm looking at doing some swales in the next year. I would love to learn more about this. Thanks!
 
Posts: 219
Location: Iowa City, Iowa Zone 5
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More about the swale plow:

Video does an OK job of explaining how the plowshare re-arrangement was done. I'll look for more pics to follow.

typical plow arrangment:

tractor here
______
.......\
....\ <---each plowshare fills in previous furrow
.\


new swale plow arrangment:

tractor here
______
....\
......\ <----double furrow created, previous plowshare tosses soil into next and then one big berm is created.
0 <---hilling disc cuts arc in landheel side and spreads friable soil across swale floor to form seedbed


The swale plow does a great job in 90% of soil conditions. Mass of tractor is important, we used an old 80hp Oliver 1800 with cat 2 3 pt, and did well in proper soil conditions.
Swales can only be formed by traversing (driving) one way across slope, driving back the opposite way would throw soil uphill, we're forming swale to right side of tractor, ideally downhill.

First used ours it at the tail end of 12-week drought (no rain for 10 weeks and 0.10" in last two before drought ended). Had minimal ground penetration in those conditions, so trackhoe best for absurdly hard dry clay soils. Used later in season and put up a great 18" tall swale in one easy pass.

re: charge
This technology is so accessible and simple, any local welding shop could rearrange an old 2 or 3 bottom plow (fencerow or auction cheap)

re: dozers for swales

Swale plows are a more elegant solution than dozers for building swales for several reasons.
1) turns a furrow: grasses and roots are turned in cleanly and linearly. Dozers tend to throw random large hunks up as soil and roots fracture in an unpredictable manner. These clods take seed poorly and require mass hand-labor or going over with a skidloader to smooth. (Where'd the time savings go, dozer?)

With a swale plow (engineered to turn over soil in a fixed width), it leaves behind a consistent surface primed to bury root mass and be a good seedbed (no raking, just broadcast)

2) Cheap. Excavators rent for $250-1,500/day here (depending on size) This plow was built in a day from fencerow salvaged equipment (free) Some time, torching and welding rod is all it took. Can't weld? Hire one, that's what they're good at. Alternatively - great way to learn, tough to goof up 1/2" thick steel.
 
R Scott
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Cool.

I think you could reconfigure an old ferguson plow without welding, they are entirely bolted together: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ferguson_Plow_with_coulters_and_jointers_hooked_via_3_point_hitch_to_600_series_Ford_tractor.jpg

 
Grant Schultz
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R Scott wrote:Cool.

I think you could reconfigure an old ferguson plow without welding, they are entirely bolted together: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ferguson_Plow_with_coulters_and_jointers_hooked_via_3_point_hitch_to_600_series_Ford_tractor.jpg



That looks like a perfect start. Adding a hilling disc is important to smooth the uphill landheel transition, other wise your nice new swale/berm would quickly fill in as the uphill soil calves into swale.
 
R Scott
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Thanks. Now I get what you are doing with the hiller disk.

I also see why you need a ~60+ hp, 6,000+ lb tractor to pull it. You have one shot to get it full depth.

Did you keyline/rip under where you placed the mound? Wondering if that would help infiltration and root penetration.
 
Grant Schultz
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R Scott wrote:Thanks. Now I get what you are doing with the hiller disk.

I also see why you need a ~60+ hp, 6,000+ lb tractor to pull it. You have one shot to get it full depth.

Did you keyline/rip under where you placed the mound? Wondering if that would help infiltration and root penetration.



You could do it in multiple passes if you really wanted/had to, but you have to re-track your path perfectly or risk a wonky swale profile (or have to touch it up by hand).

A smaller plow for a smaller tractor would suffice, ours uses 2-16" shares. 12" and 14" are common on most older plows.

re: ripping
Important not to conflate Keyline and subsoiling. One can implement a Keyline design with swales and never subsoil (with a Yeomans or otherwise) or vice-versa.

The inter-row space (alleys) does get ripped sometimes, but not always and typically 4+ feet from the actual swale.
 
Posts: 92
Location: West Virginia 6a Avgerage Rainfall 54" est. Average snowfall 36"
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You could do it in multiple passes if you really wanted/had to, but you have to re-track your path perfectly or risk a wonky swale profile (or have to touch it up by hand).



I'm not sure I understand how you could make multiple passes without compacting the swale berm. Could you elaborate?
 
Grant Schultz
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John Merrifield wrote:

You could do it in multiple passes if you really wanted/had to, but you have to re-track your path perfectly or risk a wonky swale profile (or have to touch it up by hand).



I'm not sure I understand how you could make multiple passes without compacting the swale berm. Could you elaborate?



Depending upon how you have the plow mounted, downhill tire could track in the floor of swale or straddle the swale. I have my tractor set with 8' wheel spacing.
 
R Scott
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RE: Ripping. I was referring to the machine, not the method. Sorry for the confusion. We have heavy clay and it has been suggested to me to rip on contour under what will be the swale mound to speed up infiltration and root penetration. Your soil is probably more loamy, but I was curious if you did anything since you said it was "concrete" at the time.

I had been looking for a big one bottom plow, like an 18" or 20", to make swales but no luck around here (they were always rare). But a 2-12 or 2-14 is very common. If I set it up so I can drive in the furrow (like "normal" plowing), then I could do it in multiple passes and get by with my little tractor.

This is so cool!!! I was dreading the cost of getting a machine here and working between the machine's timeline, mine, and the weather. This will make me much more independent.

 
Grant Schultz
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R Scott wrote:

I had been looking for a big one bottom plow, like an 18" or 20", to make swales but no luck around here (they were always rare). But a 2-12 or 2-14 is very common. If I set it up so I can drive in the furrow (like "normal" plowing), then I could do it in multiple passes and get by with my little tractor.

This is so cool!!! I was dreading the cost of getting a machine here and working between the machine's timeline, mine, and the weather. This will make me much more independent.



Or buy a multi-bottom 18" or 20" as scrap and cut it down to one bottom!
 
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These days plows are fairly inexpensive because plowing is largely out go vogue in modern agriculture.
 
Grant Schultz
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Here's a photo of swale plow in-use. Soil was super dry at this point in time (10 week drought). Plows works beautifully with optimal soil conditions



 
R Scott
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THANKS!!!

 
Luke Vaillancourt
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Great shots in those photos.. I think this plow is going to be huge for people try to construct swales on a budget!
 
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very cool,
How about a video of it actually plowing?
 
pollinator
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Though our solution to not reconfigure our two-bottom plow required more passes, we used two implements to do the work of moving the soil. We simply put a drag blade on after we had made several passes with the plow and set the blade at a sharp angle to force the loose soil downhill to the berm. It worked well actually, though not fuel efficient. I burned through a lot of gas in my old 1948 8N tractor making one 150-foot swale. I have to say that reconfiguring the plow makes a lot of sense to reduce the passes ... and if your tractor is big enough I have to think it will reduce passes dramatically.

Here's a thread showing a couple of pictures of me doing the thing: http://www.permies.com/t/28896/earthworks/Swale-berm-planting-suggestions
 
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Just following up on this.. Grant do you have any videos of this plow in action.. There is still nothing on the net about it.
 
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I was driving by a farm field today and I started thinking about swale building plows.

The idea came to me that a person could take a two bottom plow, put in a cutter and a couple discs ahead and to the left of the front bottom, set a graduated depths. The discs on the left hand side of the front bottom would cut into the slope and leave a more "gradual" angle than what you normally get with a plow bottom. And then, behind the first plow bottom, put one more bottom aligned in the center so that it throws and you end up with two dead furrows and a relatively large mound of dirt on the far right hand side so you get a good swale.

Something else that would likely help is putting in a keyline plow ahead of the back bottom, along with a cutter for that as well. That would help to trap water flowing up to 18-24" below ground depending on how deep it could go.

I do realize that something this heavy and complicated would take a 100HP tractor to pull. Just an idea and I haven't seen a proper swale plow yet.

Here's one way to do it with a smaller setup: https://permies.com/t/28896/Swale-berm-planting-suggestions
 
pollinator
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J Anders wrote:I was driving by a farm field today and I started thinking about swale building plows.

The idea came to me that a person could take a two bottom plow, put in a cutter and a couple discs ahead and to the left of the front bottom, set a graduated depths. The discs on the left hand side of the front bottom would cut into the slope and leave a more "gradual" angle than what you normally get with a plow bottom. And then, behind the first plow bottom, put one more bottom aligned in the center so that it throws and you end up with two dead furrows and a relatively large mound of dirt on the far right hand side so you get a good swale.

Something else that would likely help is putting in a keyline plow ahead of the back bottom, along with a cutter for that as well. That would help to trap water flowing up to 18-24" below ground depending on how deep it could go.

I do realize that something this heavy and complicated would take a 100HP tractor to pull. Just an idea and I haven't seen a proper swale plow yet.

Here's one way to do it with a smaller setup: https://permies.com/t/28896/Swale-berm-planting-suggestions



I love your idea, and your idea had merit unto itself, but I wonder if there is a way to reduce the friction of the soil? I was thinking maybe something like the Viking Bulldozer Blade that can transfer 1-1/2 times the weight of the bulldozer in a single pass.

Another thought is to use your idea of discs or plows to bust up the soil, but to get the ideal shape of the swale...but without the friction of the soil on a blade, use Douglas type rotary harrows, but with much bigger paddles to get the profile. If these were on axis that were adjustable, and the diamters of the various harrows were bigger or smaller, the profile could be made with a lot less friction. All this would break up the clods as it was harrowed out too. I am wondering if they could be in mesh with guage wheels so that expensive angle drives and pto shafting would not have to be devised.


 
J Anders
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Travis Johnson wrote:

J Anders wrote:I was driving by a farm field today and I started thinking about swale building plows.

The idea came to me that a person could take a two bottom plow, put in a cutter and a couple discs ahead and to the left of the front bottom, set a graduated depths. The discs on the left hand side of the front bottom would cut into the slope and leave a more "gradual" angle than what you normally get with a plow bottom. And then, behind the first plow bottom, put one more bottom aligned in the center so that it throws and you end up with two dead furrows and a relatively large mound of dirt on the far right hand side so you get a good swale.

Something else that would likely help is putting in a keyline plow ahead of the back bottom, along with a cutter for that as well. That would help to trap water flowing up to 18-24" below ground depending on how deep it could go.

I do realize that something this heavy and complicated would take a 100HP tractor to pull. Just an idea and I haven't seen a proper swale plow yet.

Here's one way to do it with a smaller setup: https://permies.com/t/28896/Swale-berm-planting-suggestions



I love your idea, and your idea had merit unto itself, but I wonder if there is a way to reduce the friction of the soil? I was thinking maybe something like the Viking Bulldozer Blade that can transfer 1-1/2 times the weight of the bulldozer in a single pass.

Another thought is to use your idea of discs or plows to bust up the soil, but to get the ideal shape of the swale...but without the friction of the soil on a blade, use Douglas type rotary harrows, but with much bigger paddles to get the profile. If these were on axis that were adjustable, and the diamters of the various harrows were bigger or smaller, the profile could be made with a lot less friction. All this would break up the clods as it was harrowed out too. I am wondering if they could be in mesh with guage wheels so that expensive angle drives and pto shafting would not have to be devised.




Thank you for sharing, didn't know that they had such a thing as a Douglas Rotary harrow. A bulldozer with a 6 way blade does the same thing as I was talking about. It all boils down to budget and what you have available. I don't have any land to do anything with so it doesn't apply to me but I do have a two bottom plow at a friend's farm so that's what got me started on that train of thought.
 
Travis Johnson
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You can easily build swales with a (2) bottom plow and a grader blade. It takes loosening the soil up with the plow, then switching to using the grader blade. It takes several passes to get sod sifted out, and the ground shaped just right, but it does work and is cheap.

I prefer a bulldozer actually, as I feel it works better and a lot faster. I built a half mile of swale one day and stopped at 11 AM for lunch. That is no joke. Granted I grew up with bulldozers so I am used to running them, but with a big enough bulldozer and a six way blade, they can be formed in no time. Renting one costs about $450 a day so it is not a huge cost for the amount of work accomplished.

But having said all that, I think a purpose built swale-builder is possible to build on a home-scale. (They are made on a commercial scale, but I doubt anyone on here has a 250 HP tractor and the budget to buy them!) I think it would just be a matter of reducing friction so a smaller tractor could tow the implement, and do a measurable amount of work too. I have some ideas, and will give this some more thought, but I certainly do not have all the answers.

Here is the commercial version in case you want some ideas.

 
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