I have stumbled upon access to a big old 60HP Deere tractor and now I'm getting ready to cut swales on my property for tree planting later in the year. I don't have any implements on it, so I'm shopping around on Craigslist, figuring that I can buy it used and then turn around and sell it for a similar cost when I'm done with my work.
But now I'm debating on whether it will be better to cut the swales with a rear grader or box blade. My soil is silty loam, and ranges from 3% to 20% grade. I'm planning on swales of about 4ft in width, and maybe 18" in depth (plus whatever mounds up on the downhill side). Does anyone have experience or an opinion on which is better to use for this application?
Side note: I also have a long hilly washed out gravel driveway, and I'm leaning towards getting the grader to level that off and cut a drainage ditch along the side of it. I suppose a box blade could work for that as well, but seems like it might cut it up too much with the rippers, and if I'm not careful that will cause more erosion down the road. Would the grader be best for that?
Hi Dean, I only know one thing about this. It is really important to be able to change the angle of the blade you are cutting with. I've never had that, and the difficulties are tremendous. If you can't change the angle of the blade to be different from level with the tires or tracks, then you can't make sloping cuts while moving along the contour.
I think a grader necessarily has that feature, but I don't know about the box.
A question: is the grader blade out front and the box in back? You might consider the difference in where the blade is placed, and how that will be to work with.
I hope someone with more knowledge than mine shows up soon.
The graders all seem to allow for changing the angle (X-Y coordinates) to steer the dirt to one side, like a snow plow. To get the angle I think you're talking about, I believe I just need to manually adjust the side links (lift links is what my user manual calls them) on the 3 point hitch, which will change the angle so it's not parallel to the ground/wheels. I can NOT get a big angle with this, and it has to be changed manually, so I figure this won't be easy but still a hell of a lot easier than manually digging a mile's worth of ditch by hand.
I haven't seen box blades that have any angular adjustments, but I believe I could achieve most of what I want by setting the angle on the side links and steering the leftover dirt downhill. This may not achieve the angle I want and won't be uniform across the swale, so I figure I'd then need to go over it all by hand after the fact. Especially since my hill angle changes quite a bit along the paths from ridge to valley.
But I'm not an expert, which is why I'm here asking questions.
The blade on my tractor hooks up to the 3-point hitch on the back.
It has the following adjustments:
1) Swing the whole implement right or left on a vertical post located just behind the hitch. This lets me set whether I want the blade to be cutting directly behind the tractor, or off to the side.
2) Rotate the blade right or left on a vertical post above the blade. This lets me set whether I want to throw dirt off to the side, or drag it with me.
3) Rotate the blade clockwise or counter clockwise as viewed from the drivers seat. I use about a 30 degree angle to dig ditches. On my tractors the adjustment on the lift bar is only good for a few inches of variation. The adjustment on the blade is good for a few feet.
The box cutter pretty much only drags or pushes dirt straight forward or back. Those rippers on it though do a better job of breaking up hard soil, and i find it easier to grade with a box. I remove the rippers for doing finish work. The lack of adjustability is it's primary failing for cutting swales.
Another strategy that I have used for ditch-digging is to till the area where the ditch is wanted, and then run the scraper over it to move the dirt. Repeat as needed.
As I've done swales with a personal tractor, and have both those implements, let me tell you my opinion. Box grader, no. Not suited for your purposes. The blade CAN work, depending on several factors. How heavy the blade is and how hard your ground is being the main ones. For me, I had to use the bucket to dig and then went with the tilted blade to smooth it all out.
Joseph - That blade sounds great, can you share the brand and model? I haven't seen one of those, but I think it could be worth it for me.
Elle - Thanks. I may end up renting something with a front bucket to do it your way, but I was hoping to make use of what I had on hand and just purchase used implements. Unfortunately my tractor doesn't have the front hydraulics at all, so I couldn't add anything even if I wanted to.
Location: Grand Valley of Colorado's Western Slope
Maybe you could puss a tool designed to make the key line ditch behind your tractor. That would rip up the swale, then make another pass to move some of the dirt with what ever blade you have, that would decrease the amount of hand work to finish.
I have learned that in the initial digging, it is not necessary to be too particular with constant levels and slopes, and such. Once the ditch or swale is containing water, adjustments needed become obvious, and the low spots get filled in automatically. The main thing is to get the berm or down hill side to the point it will hold water and not wash out. The rest can be done a little at a time if necessary.
Thekla - Yeah, I've thought about that too. I found a youtube video of someone doing just that with a 2-bottom plow with 2 passes, then leveling the mound with a grader. If I can find a cheap plow on craigslist I'm considering that too. One of the benefits is that I could nail the accuracy of following contour of my flag markings with the plow.
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