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Disc or Chisel plough a field with 10 years of no cultivation?

 
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Howdy folks.

This is my first time doing anything crop/tractor related, I've mostly just planted tree's and no dig back yard gardens.

Short version :

  • What : Chisel or Disc a field? Caveat : it hasn't been tilled or cultivated in 10 years
  • Why : Broadcast multi-manure seed mix to build soil for next years cropping season.


  • Long version :

    Future plan : Orchard with intercropping. Canopy /fruit tree's planted every 40 feet or so. Nitrogen fixing trees at intervals for shade and chop and drop.

    Currently the soil is moist and a carpet of grasses. Any disruption to it is an invitation for a LOT of less desirable plants to burst into life (all those dormant seeds need about 1 millionth of a second of sunlight and moisture and BOOM).

  • Working on a  3/4 acre plot
  • that has not seen any activity in a decade (i.e agricultural / cultivation).
  • The odd heavy machinery has rolled on over it and it has been severely grazed, the upside of which is a lot of nutrient deposit from animals passing through.
  • For the most part it is a lush meadow of native grasses, herbs and bushes for a brief period during the rains after which it goes back to looking like a posterchild for desertifcation.


  • We want to seed between the future rows/alleys with a multimanure mix now and it can be incorporated back into the soil at around 60 days. This should do a good job of building the soil and holding back the cycle of native grasses. Fear not, there's nice strips of undisturbed natives at other areas in the property.

    Both discing /chisel seem like they open up the entire surface area. Which from the seeding point of view isn't bad but I want to make sure the lowest amount of soil is turned and maximum infiltration. Yeomans seems like the ideal way to get furrows in the soil where the multimanure seeds broadcasted will get washed in and sprout, but I understand that is not what the keyline application is specifically.

    Thank you!

     
    Andy Tee
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    Or if anyone wants to suggest out of the box?
     
    gardener
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    I agree 100% that disturbances create undesirable weeds to flourish.

    Seeds can be broadcast with no disturbance . I do it yearly on a small scale. On a big scale they do it with airplanes. All that is needed is moisture.

    Clay balls is another method but ive never seen a need for it.
     
    master pollinator
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    I would do both. If you cannot do that due to cost, then just chisel. Discing alone will not get the job done as it will just create hardpan below the plow depth. It will not be as bad as rototilling which absolutely destroys soil, but it will not break up the hard pan either. Chiseling will. Just be ready to pick some rocks! Chisel plows have a way of finding rocks!

    As for seeding, broadcast or drill whatever seed mixture you want, but add 100 pounds of oats to the mixture per acre to discourage weeds. The oats outgrow the weeds and shades them out, but not the desirable sward you want established. When the oats get to boot height, bushhog or otherwise mow down the oats, meaning mow at a high level so that they no longer shade your established sward. They get sunlight and take off and weeds are diminished.

    You do not need fancy oat seed, just buy whole horse oat feed. That is what I do with great results when I crop rotate.

    I am extremely tired tonight, so my answer is honest, but very short, so if you have more questions on saving money by getting the job done without expensive equipment, I can get some pictures for you with results.
     
    Andy Tee
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    wayne fajkus wrote:I agree 100% that disturbances create undesirable weeds to flourish.

    Seeds can be broadcast with no disturbance . I do it yearly on a small scale. On a big scale they do it with airplanes. All that is needed is moisture.

    Clay balls is another method but ive never seen a need for it.



    Any ideas on seeding rate required for such an exercise when theres already strong tufts of grass? In the sense that a lot of seed will stay suspended without actually hitting soil. And the conditions here mean periods of moisture followed by intense sun and dry spells.

    Really don't want to bring in a machine!!!

    p.s have used clay balls but for a small space and some fruit. Won't manage to get to this in time.

    Just had a thought. I could reduce the area and line with cardboard. Then have soil from a nearby excavation spread over that and seeded. Only worried the roots wont penetrate the cardboard and lack of moisture may have a wicking effect. This is going to have to be rainfed... no irrigation.
     
    Andy Tee
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    Travis Johnson wrote:I would do both. If you cannot do that due to cost, then just chisel. /



    Cost is not an issue. This can be done by a neighbour for next to nothing.

    Travis Johnson wrote:Discing alone will not get the job done as it will just create hardpan below the plow depth. It will not be as bad as rototilling which absolutely destroys soil, but it will not break up the hard pan either. Chiseling will.



    Roto-till is what is being suggested!!!


    Travis Johnson wrote: Just be ready to pick some rocks! Chisel plows have a way of finding rocks!



    Man this area is so full of rocks. When the earthmover was here digging pits we found bowling ball sized rocks and sometimes mini granite slabs enough to build small benches.

    Travis Johnson wrote:if you have more questions on saving money by getting the job done without expensive equipment, I can get some pictures for you with results.



    I would love to see more. I will msg you or you can post on here as convenient.

    Cheers

     
    wayne fajkus
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    The only area i have that is not successful are the residual circles of hay after the cows are done with it. Past that, just broadcasting has worked.

    What amazed me this year is the amount of peas that came up, considering they were not buried. I think we had perfect conditions though. 2 to 3 weeks of drizzly rain. Made me look like a genius.

    There are so many methods with no till cover crops. Utube would be a great resource. Spread seed in tall grass then crimp the grass down. This can be something you pull behind a vehicle,  or a 2x4 and 2 ropes done manually. The new grass will grow through that mulch layer. Personally i think a mulching mower would work, but havent tried it. Throw out seeds and mow. Makes sense in my head.

    Most seeds have application rates if broadcast vs buried. Its probably double.
     
    pollinator
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    Sell your cultivation equipment so you're not tempted to use them again.

    That may seem like a smarta$$ remark, but I am serious.
     
    wayne fajkus
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    Ive done 5 different things this year. I just took pics so i can post them. No discing was done. The conclusion i came to is this- mulch over the seed. Acquiring hay with seed in it trumps mulching over the seed. I'll add comments as i post the pics.
     
    wayne fajkus
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    This is seed broadcast over bermuda grass. While its not tall like yours, it has its own disadvantages. It's rhizomes spread out to totally cover the soil.  Even in this condition you can see the light green of peas, radishes, and oats. I was very surprised the peas sprouted from broadcasting. It was a deer foodplot mix that had those seeds in it.
    20181001_122659-480x640.jpg
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    wayne fajkus
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    This is seed broadcast over mulch. I call these death circles. The residual hay in a field after the cows eat the roundbale. Hardly anything sprouted.
    20181001_123021-480x640.jpg
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    wayne fajkus
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    Here's an anomaly.  Sprouts over wiidchips. Just some overspray of the seeds. I don't expect them to survive, but who knows.
    20181001_124142-480x640.jpg
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    wayne fajkus
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    This was broadcast after doing earthworks with a skidsteer. Bare soil, but no cultipacking of the seed. Honestly, it looks no better or worse than what was seeded over the bermuda.
    20181001_123507-480x640.jpg
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    wayne fajkus
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    This was seeded then i put mulch (hay) over it. Holds moisture, adds organic matter, and i was concerned the soil and seeds would wash out in a rain. This was bare dirt. Its a berm. Wood branches covered with soil. Its my second best (densest) patch.
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    wayne fajkus
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    This was the ultimate. Hay that has seeds. Once i started looking, it was easy to find in both square bales and large round bales. Wheat and oat were around. This is oats.

    $40 for a 6ft diam x 6ft long 1,000#+ bale. I speculate there is $100 worth of seeds in that $40 bale. I rolled it out and the sprouts came. The cows ate what hay they wanted.
    20181001_122857-480x640.jpg
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    wayne fajkus
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    This is the same hay, only in a hay ring. Look at what they dropped on the edges. Its sprouting!

    So taking all this info, now you have to determine whats best for your area.  I think we can reason that the seed sprouted through the hay better than through grass or over bare soil.  The concentration of seed was probably greater in the hay than what was broadcast, so that might skew things.

    But this leads to my first post of broadcasting seeds then crimping the existing grass to be the "soil on top of the seed".  Or spread the seed and mow it using a mulching mower. That is the closest way to mimic the seeded hay, but plant the seeds you want.

    As far as qty of seed and cost,  your small lot may be half the size of what a bag will cover. Im not sure doubling the rate will double your cost considering bag size. If you start reading the white tag on deer foodplot mixes you will find something you want.

    The base will be oats or annual rye (travis suggested adding oats to your mix). After that look for clover, peas (nitrogen fixers). If they dont have clover, move on to another brand. One will have what you want.
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    master pollinator
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    Wayne - That's a great series of examples. I think this puts more muscle into the argument that renovation can be done without tilling.

    Andy - You've already got a pasture community, albeit a somewhat diminished one. That carpet of grasses has a massive network underground, with all the roots, fungal mycelia, worm and animal burrows, worms and animals themselves, and all the bacteria digesting everything that dies. That's a huge web of fertility, a great big carbon reservoir, and you've got two basic pathways for how you can use it.

    One is to grind it all up and get a massive one-off release of available nutrients as most components of the web are broken and rapidly consumed by opportunistic bacteria. The microbial flush will oxidise a large percentage of your carbon (which has most likely taken years to accumulate) and then it's gone. Whatever you plant will do great the first season, but after that it will suffer as you've spent the soil's capital and there's nothing left to earn dividends.

    The other is to use one or more of the no-till methods to leverage all that capital and turn the above-ground manifestation of the soil's fertility into what you're aiming for. Try different things. If you've got cardboard, use that where you want the fastest suppression of the pasture. Wood chips will do the same and are great around trees. Oversowing and undersowing in conjunction with mowing/slashing or any form of mulch will do wonders and can scale up. Once your cover crop is up you can chop and drop it with yet another undersowing of some orchard companions.

    I wouldn't rule out chisel plowing if you have real compaction problems, but unless you know that is the issue I'd avoid the disturbance.

    What is the soil type and climate you're dealing with?
     
    Travis Johnson
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    The biggest argument for tillage in renovating a field is that:

    1) It breaks up compaction
    2) It allows a rough field to be smoothed
    3) It allows the exact requirements of amendments to the field to be applied

    Most of the time, for me...for my farm...the last one is the biggest issue. So in order to get enough lime on a field to get it to the 6.5 level, requires more lime (or lime eqivilent) than what I can apply on already sown ground. In that case, busting the sod up, and giving me the other two perks , are just a bonus. What does that mean in layman's terms? Simply put; putting 10 ton of Algeafiber (seaweed) to the acre will smoother my grass and kill it, but if I till the soil I can get in the volume of seaweed I need to make my field at optimum levels. The same applies for the NPK requirements with manure.

    As for broadcasting seed, that is ALWAYS done at 150% of the recommended seeding rate. For instance, Timothy has a seeding rate of 30 pounds per acre. It is always assumed on those rates that it is drilled in, so broadcasting Timothy would require 45 pounds to the acre. To broadcast an area though, it is always done twice: first in one direction...then the other way (perpendicular) so that there is even coverage.

    As for equipment, it need not be complicated. I like to deep plow with a tractor, then smooth the field up but simply dragging a log sideways across the field. This allows me to have a really wide "blade" that digs out the high spots, and fills in the low spots and makes for an incredibly smooth field!

    For a broadcaster, I just use a portable generator, hooked to a drill, u-bolted to my trailer, spinning a 5 gallon bucket lid that has angle iron bolted to it. That simple set-up allows me to sling seed about 25 feet just like a real broadcaster for $0 dollars.






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    Travis Johnson
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    This was a 10 acre field I did in 2017, crop rotating it from corn fallow into grass with good results. It was deep plowed, leveled, then fertilized and limed, and finally sown down with 50% timothy and 50% cover for nitrogen fixation. At the same time, oats was applied as a weed inhibitor, and all with great results.

    In the First Photo I am plowing the field with a single bottom plow, getting the soil really loose.

    In the second photo, it shows me dragging a wide, heavy log that smooths the soil.

    I have already show a picture of how I broadcast seed which the log was then dragged again over the seed to cover it and pack it down.

    Then the third and final photo shows the results of my efforts.
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    Plowing the Field
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    Leveling the Field with the Log
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    Final Result
     
    wayne fajkus
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    I have a couple more examples worth mentioning.

    When speaking of compaction, roads are probably number one on the list. In this example i rolled the hay with oat seed across a road. Impressive results. It has been driven over since they sprouted, but im very happy with the result.  On the other end of the road, there is existing bermuda. It is filling in the road with no interference by me.
    20181002_090700-480x640.jpg
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    wayne fajkus
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    This might be my last example. The closeup pic is the "disturbance weed" that pops up where soil is disturbed. This whole area is where i tilled it last year to start a foodplot.  I ended up with a solid field of this.

    I rolled the oat hay right down the middle. It smothered out a row and oats came in nicely. This example is probably the best example of why i dont want to disturb the soil.  It smells like a spice. Very strong odor. Johnson grass the other weed that comes in. It gets very tall.

    20181002_090827-480x640.jpg
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    Andy Tee
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    I'm overwhelmed by all the responses and information shared - truly appreciated! Will get to addressing the specific posts one by one after I re-read them.

    Meanwhile I wish I'd provided more context earlier on in terms of the site, location, soil type etc as oats and stuff is not what is grown here locally in Asia. It is an arid dryland bordering dry tropics and 15 to 20" of rain a year. Some years a lot less and every 5 years or so all of it at once. Tractors are hired out on the hour and it's relatively cheap. It's a bit of the twilight zone here so a lot of the stuff you guys are talking about isn't available. There's lotsa local pulses and legumes that will work and we have broadcasted this around the areas where tree pits were made.

    I've got about 5lbs of alfa-alfa which is probably what I will experiment with. Any biomass is welcome here!!!

    Will go with my gut and avoid tilling. Seems counter productive to disturb the soil to green manure it in order to improve the soil when it hasn't been disturbed in this long. Instead we will dedicate a plot for cropping for next year and the client can focus on that area instead of ripping up random bits here and there.

    p.s. Still thinking of cardboard mulching a strip and laying just enough soil on there and broadcasting. Will have to do it all manually though. Good 'ole shovel!


     
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    If you've got some time or an audible account - check out David R. Montgomery's books on soil. Long story short - tilling is not your friend. It will cause more problems than it will solve. Rather than invest in renting or purchasing an expensive and petroleum guzzling piece of equipment, put that $ into your inputs. The soil, while it may look rough, currently has a structure and only needs the addition of organic matter. I've put it into practice and found that feeding my soil life paid back dividends!
     
    Andy Tee
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    Phil Stevens wrote:Wayne - That's a great series of examples. I think this puts more muscle into the argument that renovation can be done without tilling.

    Andy - You've already got a pasture community, albeit a somewhat diminished one. That carpet of grasses has a massive network underground, with all the roots, fungal mycelia, worm and animal burrows, worms and animals themselves, and all the bacteria digesting everything that dies. That's a huge web of fertility, a great big carbon reservoir, and you've got two basic pathways for how you can use it.

    One is to grind it all up and get a massive one-off release of available nutrients as most components of the web are broken and rapidly consumed by opportunistic bacteria. The microbial flush will oxidise a large percentage of your carbon (which has most likely taken years to accumulate) and then it's gone. Whatever you plant will do great the first season, but after that it will suffer as you've spent the soil's capital and there's nothing left to earn dividends.

    The other is to use one or more of the no-till methods to leverage all that capital and turn the above-ground manifestation of the soil's fertility into what you're aiming for. Try different things. If you've got cardboard, use that where you want the fastest suppression of the pasture. Wood chips will do the same and are great around trees. Oversowing and undersowing in conjunction with mowing/slashing or any form of mulch will do wonders and can scale up. Once your cover crop is up you can chop and drop it with yet another undersowing of some orchard companions.

    I wouldn't rule out chisel plowing if you have real compaction problems, but unless you know that is the issue I'd avoid the disturbance.

    What is the soil type and climate you're dealing with?



    Climate is arid dryland with frequent droughts. Soils aren't bad but as suffered sheet erosion for decades along with overgrazing. There's a serious lack of carbon, nitrogen and organic matter. The soils are broadly classified as red calcerous.

    We are thinking of running the deep plough for infiltration and then rotor in a few tonnes of organic matter (leaf litter, tree purnings and biomass) as well as trace minerals from rock dust that are known to be deficient here. While you are right in that we will disrupt the existing soil life, there is not much carbon in soil to begin with and this infusion should atleast kickstart a succession for the following years where we could look at switching to no till due to the increased infiltration.

    Also there is plenty of rock and boulders... by levelling the field and getting this rock out (which then becomes a resource in other gardens and as bunds) it should justify the use of the machines.

    We did some very small trial plots and the direct seeding with absolutely no prep was almost a 0% germination. The plot that the soil was turned (surface only) gave the best results in that the germination occured similar to other trial plots but the seedlings last well beyond the rains and produced some beans with just the residual moisture. They were also able to withstand the strong wind and summer heat where the other plot seedlings lost vigour and dried up soon after the rains or snapped due to the winds. The basic summary throught observation is that the plots that the sod was turned did the best, those with cardboard didn't fare as well. This is site specific tests and not to be taken as a generalisation as we have success with the cardboard method in other sites with different rainfall and soils.
     
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