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Is there a better tool for breaking sod than a plow?  RSS feed

 
Mike Cantrell
Posts: 549
Location: Mid-Michigan
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Hi all,

It's time to plant, and my growing area is still sod. Turf. Lawn. Mown grass.

I'm taking delivery of my new old tractor today (a '69 IH/Farmall Cub Lo-Boy), and trying to wrangle a 12" single bottom plow with it. I figure, for breaking up virgin ground, that's the best device, right? I've done it with a spade, up to about 2,000SF, but that's pretty hard, and I'm short on time this year. (And we're looking at more like 8,000SF this time, too. )

Is there some other direction I should be looking besides a plow? In the future, I'd like to do it with livestock, but again- short on time this year.


Next question: If I make one pass with the plow and then one or two passes with a spring harrow, will that be adequate to plant? Or will I have to plan some more hours with hoe and rake to get it smooth enough?


Thanks!
Mike
 
Fred Morgan
steward
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Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
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Not sure if you can do it, but mulch is a great sod breaker, i.e. just pile organic material on top, and the sod goes away - turns into food for the plants. You might try contacting those who do the pruning of trees in the area, they often will delivery it for free - since they don't have to pay you for dumping.

 
R Scott
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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That is what a plow was made to do. If your soil conditions are just right a spring harrow will do the job. But probably will need disking or something else as well. I don't like turning soil over, but once isn't too hard on biology (doing year over year is).

What is the goal for the ground?
 
Mike Cantrell
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Fred Morgan wrote:Not sure if you can do it, but mulch is a great sod breaker, i.e. just pile organic material on top, and the sod goes away - turns into food for the plants. You might try contacting those who do the pruning of trees in the area, they often will delivery it for free - since they don't have to pay you for dumping.



Thanks! In the future, possibly. To get some planting done in the next week or two, I gotta move faster.

R Scott wrote:
That is what a plow was made to do. If your soil conditions are just right a spring harrow will do the job. But probably will need disking or something else as well. I don't like turning soil over, but once isn't too hard on biology (doing year over year is).

What is the goal for the ground?


Right, I hope I won't ever need to plow the same spot again, just stir it with a broadfork. But the first go-round, this grass has got to go away.

The goal is, big garden. Vegetables and berries.
 
Joe Braxton
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Location: NC (northern piedmont)
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Fire works if you have enough fuel. Before the tractor, a roaring wood bonfire was often used to prepare seed beds for tobacco transplants. Some beds were as large as yours. The resulting heat and ash made the soil very easy to work.

Source - http://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/cameron/cameron.html page 85
 
Eric Thompson
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Location: Bothell, WA - USA
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The plow should do a decent job -- have seeds planned to go in with a fast growing cover: buckwheat or radish work well - you can broadcast and then disc or harrow to get a little soil coverage.

There are alternatives for a small area like this: A sod cutter will do the job pretty quickly and you can justroll the strips over into the next row. If you have some time, covering with black plastic for 8-12 months will do a pretty decent kill and will also be great prep to seed cover crops into..


 
Walter Jeffries
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Location: Mountains of Vermont, USDA Zone 3
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Mob grazing with pigs. Divide the area up into small paddocks. This will take time and a lot of pigs but is very effective. Follow with chickens to eliminate weeds. Plant. Works.
 
Steve Laubach
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I use cardboard. A few layers of cardboard and newspaper will shade out the grass and balance the C/N ratio to some extent. I usually put wood chip mulch on top of that and in 1 year everything under the wood chip mulch will be decomposed. You need to cut holes through the cardboard to plant but that's not too difficult. If you're having trouble, make it wet and tear it with a shovel. You also need to water deeply around the base of the plant but you should be doing that anyway.

You can get cardboard in bulk for free at grocery stores, etc.

I've used this method to wipe out a canada thistle infestation once. Canada thistle is very difficult to vanquish because it spreads by rhizomes as deep as 6' underground. One time I dug out all the roots for the first foot of soil and it came back. I even think I heard it mocking me.

I prefer this no till method because it doesn't disturb the soil biology (worms, bacteria mycorrhizal fungi). Trust me, you want that stuff in your soil.
 
JoAnna Shugrue
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vote 2 on pigs and chickens
You can get juvenile pigs and them let them turn over the dirt, and eat the roots then sell them at market as organic or sustainable, or you can keep them for yourself to plow up more land or to raise
Then you get free-range chickens in that area and let them eat all the larve and seeds, keep the chickens for the eggs....plus they are fun to watch.

Its alot less back breaking work for you and no need to buy a tractor and plow.

 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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A Broadfork is the best way to break new or old ground, you don't upset the microbiology of the soil, it loosens compaction and is very quick after the first use. It uses human power but isn't back breaking, so no hydrocarbons going into the air via exhaust. They come in several widths too. http://www.gullandforge.com/ has one of the best out there.
 
Heidi Hoff
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Even if your goal is to turn a grassy area into a garden, breaking up sod may not be the solution it appears to be. As soon as you expose bare soil, something is going to want to grow there (Nature hates a vacuum). If you open up 8,000 sq. ft. and don't get it covered with new plantings and mulch right away, you'll have about 7,500 sq. ft. of weeds in a matter of weeks. All soil (unless it has been abused and rendered all but sterile) has plenty of latent weed seeds sitting ready to sprout given the opportunity. And the grass (especially the noxious grasses, like quackgrass) will come right back unless it is out-competed by a smother crop or blocked by mulch.

Consider building your gardens progressively, using the methods already mentioned (mulch, lasagna gardening, cardboard, etc.) to avoid churning up the soil unnecessarily. Even a lawn has some established soil life (beneficial bacteria, fungi, insects, worms, etc.) that will be knocked back by plowing. Whatever you do, make sure that you keep the surface covered with something: wood chips, straw, old moldy hay, leaves, branches, grass clippings, even geotextiles if you can't lay your hands on anything else. Use cover crops and smother crops wherever practical: buckwheat is a great soil builder; clover will compete effectively with grass and add nitrogen; squash and pumpkins allowed to sprawl will shade out most everything with their broad leaves. The most productive land is that which has the most diverse soil life, so you want to conserve what you have and build it up by providing plenty of organic matter and protecting it from drying up and blowing away.

If the goal is to loosen compacted soil so that roots have better access to deeper layers of the soil, try to get a hold of a subsoiler like those discussed here. They do much less damage to the soil life and the natural stratification of the soil.

To give your plants the best chance, establish where they will grow and where you will walk at the outset and don't change it unless you want to give yourself lots of extra work. A garden path quickly becomes very compacted, and your plants want to grow on nice light, uncompacted soil. Keep weeds and grass down on your paths with more cardboard and wood chips or other heavy mulch. To maximize the amount of planting area, make your planting rows double-wide, so you can reach in from each side without stepping into the bed. For wider planted areas, place stepping stones strategically. Also, keep your paths narrow for the most part, but make sure you have a few that are wide enough for a wheelbarrow. Give some thought to layout: raised beds, sunken beds, curved beds, swales, mandala gardens, keyholes, spirals and other forms can all be used to manage wet, dry, windy, cold or hot sites to best advantage. Uninterrupted, regimented straight lines are rarely the best permaculture solution.

Check out ruth stout and Emilia Hazelip's approaches to gardening. Both focus on minimizing effort, maximizing yield and building soil through heavy mulching. There are lots of discussions here on permies regarding their work.

 
Matt Gorham
Posts: 10
Location: Louisburg, NC Zone 7b avg. 50" precip.
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I'm late for this but a chisel plow is what most farmers use to break new ground. Better for soil structure than a moldboard plow.
 
Kf hunter
Posts: 8
Location: Northeast Washington zone 5a
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I made a new garden spot today out of a very grassy area where there had never before been a garden.

1st step was rototiller it down 2 inches to break up the sod

2nd step was too scrape off the sod with the tractor bucket and pile it up to mulch, I'll re-apply it later on after the greenery has broke down.

3rd step was another rototiller

4th was apply top dressing of dark rich compost I had been saving up from a pile nearby. Mostly lawn clippings and last falls leaves mixed in with older compost, I keep the pile shrinking and growing all the time.

5th was two more passes with the rototiller going down to 6 inches.


The plot was 30 foot wide by 50 feet long. It took me almost 30 minutes.



On craigslist I see such services offered for about $75 dollars/hour. If you have someone like that close by you could have that plot done for about 100 bucks, depending on how far they'd have to travel.


Something to consider ?
 
Ryan Daum
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Location: Flamborough, Ontario
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When starting my vineyard last year I rented a decent sod cutter, put it on its deepest setting. The sod was rolled up and put in piles at the end of each row, upside down, and it broke down into rich soil I used elsewhere later.

For some rows I rototilled others not.

I then put my transplants and bare root vines in and mulched heavily with woodchip and straw.

I'd like to say this was a success, but I had a _lot_ of weeds come up, and plants were slow to establish in the first year. I was hoping to preserve topsoil structure. The rows I rototilled did better. Second year I can't say I notice any difference.

I now just rototill and while I feel slightly bad about it, it is perennials I'm planting, and after mulching the top soil is protected and rebuilding.

I don't have a working plow for my tractor but I've had some luck with a modified scraper blade; I angle it into the ground and dig a V, then walk-behind rototill through that.
 
Daniel Kern
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Plowing has been proven to cause an exponential degridation of the soil ecosystem. i once heard a story of a native American Indian who saw a European style garden for the 1st time and his first response was "wrong side up." i believe that this tells a lot about the native American culture and our culture. agri-culture has many people believeing that you must till, but that is just not true. in fact the negative effects of tilling far outweigh the benefits in the long run.
 
Tim Malacarne
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Location: South central Illinois, USA
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Check that comment above by Heidi... She's right!
 
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