Working the soil with "Heavy Equipment"

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I notice that a lot of the participants here are working raised beds or "smaller" flat plots. I'm dealing with more area and working my soil with plow and harrow, using four wheeled garden tractors. Mine are all old enough to be "vintage" or even "antique", the newest is a 1991 model. I could not do what I do without them. Fact is that my gardening started out as a way to have justification for my tractors and a good opportunity to play,,,errr, work with them.

Is anybody else here working large (1-2 acre) areas? If so, what are you using to git'r done?


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I used to mine is now down to about 3700 sf It gets smaller every year. I had a great John Deere for 25 years but now I just don't have the area to use it. I liquidated it about 5 years ago. I sure do miss it!
I had a great John Deere for 25 years but now I just don't have the area to use it.
Yours would have fit right in with mine. Last year it fell to a 1977(maybe '78, CRS) model 400 and a 1971 140 to do it all. The 400 is the heavy workhorse, it handles the plow and disc and, since it has a loader, hauls mulch and manure. The 140 does the planting and, with narrow tires installed, cultivates between rows with a 34" tiller. This year I am hoping to bring a '69 140 on line to do hauling chores and get my "new" tractor, 1991, 332 diesel set up with a 3 point hitch to ease the load on the 400 and also cut down on implement changes. Leave them set up and just swap tractors instead of changing tooling. :)

I have a big tiller for the 400 but I much prefer to plow and harrow to open ground. All the tiller makers list "working depth" but that is the depth of the loosened after it has been tilled. The actual depth that the soil is getting worked is about half of that. In addition it is hard to mix light material into the soil with a tiller. The light material, like horse manure, floats on top of the tilled soil. My big tiller takes a 48" swath but only cuts 4" deep, leaving an 8" deep tilled depth in its wake. The plow can work 7" deep and it puts whatever was on top down at the bottom of each furrow. If you're working old sod that buries the sod away from sunlight so it doesn't start to re-grow immediately. If you are turning amendments under on previously worked ground most of them end up 4-6" down. Whatever N is present is too well buried to volatize so it is available to plant roots or can combine with any brown material to break it down.


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Gosh, you are so right about the light materials. I will end up tilling and then going after watering it in and redoing it.
I have to admit I am so jealous. I can't even begin to estimate how many times I had to stop only to change an implement. My fav neighbor has a great massey he lets me use when I need to do something heavy. I now have in ground irrigation so I have to be carefull. He is 80 and always wants to harrow up my garden for me. He still works a couple acres. He was a food production farmer for 30 years. I guess a good neighbor with a good tractor is almost as good as having your own . LOL!
Please post pics when ever you can. There are a few of us that really get joy from tractors (me and Randy)


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I've got a little 24 horse Kubota, but it works well for me. My neighbor behind me collects Allis-Chalmers tractors and restores them. He had some of them sitting out last spring and I took a few pictures.


I have been trying to make poor soil viable in a short time. So far, so good.

Started working one plot in '06. Finally had a tractor with a real plow and was given permission to use a piece of land that was very light sand and was growing milkweed and goldenrod. Plowed it myself a bit later than optimum. Had a neighbor harrow it for me as I didn't have a disc heavy enough to smooth out some pretty ugly plowing. Fertilized with triple 19 and put in a little sweetcorn, the rest got planted to buckwheat which got turned under before it set hard seed. That fall it got several loads of liquid manure which was plowed under and left to set for the winter.

The next year I did the fertilizer and buckwheat again but put in more corn. Had all we could eat and a lot to give away. Got two crops of buckwheat disced in and the soil was startubg to get some body to it. More manure and another fall plowing. Started chopping the cornstalks back onto the soil and turning them in as well.

During the winter a tree company brought me over 100 cubic yards of wood chips. In the spring of '08 I spread a lot of those and worked them in both with a tiller on the tractor and by plowing again. After the chips were spread, but before tilling, I put down a couple hundred pounds of urea so there would be plenty of N available to break the chips down. The landlady had a cow over the mushrooms that would pop up after any nighttime rain. She insisted that the mushrooms were causing fungus problems with her part of the garden. I did some searching and found nothing to corroborate that but she insists that was the cause. That year I also started growing vine crops and used more of the chips for mulch around the hills. Makes for more work early but once properly mulched there is about no effort expended the rest of the season.

That fall I made what was an error that came back to bite me the next year. I had access to mucho horse manure only 1/2 mile away. About 150 cy worth in all. LOTS of wood shaving bedding. Put it down, spread it as uniform as I could and plowed it under.

'09 started out full of hope and promise. The frost went out early, soil temps were up by the second week in May and I had a second plot to work. It was offered to me at the right time as the landlady at the first plot was (still is) getting wierded out big time. After a good start our growing season went downhill, cool and damp from late May into July. Nothing was growing good but the stuff on plot 1 was just terrible. Did some research and found N depletion, so much brown(the wood shaving bedding) was sucking up all the N so the plants were starving. By the time I figured that out and started a sidedressing program it was too late to salvage a lot. Pretty simple issue of soil chemistry and fairly easy to fix, as I see it. Not so according to the resident flake. I have driven the "life energy" from the soil and we need to ask "the spirits" what to do to correct that. When we get to the part about virgin sacrafices I'm outa there! :) Not sure how much longer I can deal with what I consider crackpot science so I've got some feelers out for a different home for my efforts.

The soil has come a long ways in just a few years. There is almost nothing that is recognizable as wood matter in it now. It holds moisture much better and has "color" down to the tillage depth. When I started it looked like material from a borrow pit, just uniform, dead sand. I hope I can keep working it but it is getting hard to bite my tongue when I get lectured about what the spirits are instructing.



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I'm with you on the horse manure and wood shavings. I did the same thing and rectified the problem the following year with urea. Worked like a charm. Our soil problems around here is the reverse though in the sense we have lots of heavy clay soil and sand would be a welcome addition. I have been adding stuff to our garden plot for 10 years now and it is really quite good. I don't have anyone doing incantations over it though.
Given access to material to amend it with I think I would rather deal with clay than sand. Around here we seem to have two choices, one being sand, sometimes about like beach sand and loaded with tiny seashells, the other being clay that is very close to potters material. There are bands of a third type, not really clay but close and filled with an abundance of rocks. Both of my plots are in sandy soils, one of which was extremely "sandy", the other sand that was the site of (after some research and a few wild guesses) a livery stable and corral on the stage road from Burlington, VT to Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The soil is a very rich sandy loam 18+" deep, coal black, and in a nicely defined rectangle. Beautiful to work and holds water very well. When it was being mowed as lawn it was common for it to grow 4" a week. I would love to have about 3 acres of it to deal with.


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RJ and I plant an acre or so. We have planted as much as 6. This season we plan to set up a produce stand close the beach area in Murrell's Inlet so we'll be planting and rotating a couple acres at least..if not more. Unforunately we no longer have our tractor but have the use of my brother's and his equipment. We have good soil, it's slightly sandy but not so much that it needs amending. Mostly all we need to add is fertilizer and lime. Our main crops are tomatoes, squash, peppers, cucs, corn, beans, watermelons, cantelope and a few other veggies.
Looks like you have it going on Allen..good luck with your gardens this year.


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Sounds like you have a plan and that's good. Yep Horse poo is great. You might want to check and see if you can get mushroom compost in your area. It is 99% poo and once it rains on it , it is no longer hot and can be used in high quanities. It has reall helped my gardens. Also A Weekend ritual for Tim and I is to go get a muffin at Mc Donalds and then cruise neighborhoods for grass clipping and leaves. Last year I managed to get 5 P/U loads turned in to the garden. The soil in yhat area is awesome!
Levi, check out the first post, I admitted my habit.

No mushroom operations around here. Found a rabbitry that has manure to get rid of but you have to clean it out of the barn with a wheelbarrow then shovel it into the truck. With my bad wing that is not an option.

I'm going to try to set a corner aside where I can compost clippings and horse manure. Not sure just how that is going to work as far as space to do it. Once again I'm talking of clippings in large quantities so I need space to be able to flop the pile with the tractor.
Bringing in the REAL heavy equipment tomorrow!

One of the plots I garden has absolutely wonderful soil. It also has the remains of an old foundation just under the surface. Best guess is that the soil and the foundation are the legacy of what was the stage road from Burlington, VT to Montreal, PQ, CA. The stage inn was 100 yards south, across what was once the town common. The road ran along the east side of the property, right in front of the foundation. It makes sense that this was the horse barn for the stage line and this acre of wonderful soil was a corral for as long as stagecoach travel was used.

Anyhow, this old stone wall has been giving me fits. Last year I grubbed out a bunch of rock and was still snagging them when I plowed last fall. I already ripped the center out of one harrow disc and bent another one this spring. Can't have that! Final straw was when I snagged a big one while plowing the last area, where I hadn't plowed in the fall (I know, I'm late, see my post about planting in tires for the sad tale). Stopped the tractor dead, instantly! Slammed my dunlap into the steering wheel, racked my recent rotator cuff repaired shoulder and jolted the hell out of my bum knee. Fit to make a man weep, I'm tellin' ya.

Dug out more rocks a couple days ago. Some of them are fair sized. The loader bucket is 48" wide, for reference.

Got into more today, bigger yet. I managed to get several on top of the ground but couldn't scoop them up so I finally used one of the other tractors, with a blade, to push them into the bucket.

I finally decided that it was just a matter of time before I broke or bent something expen$ive and called for help. Tomorrow there is a small excavator coming to grub out the area. Once they are on top I can carry them to the bank out back and they can roll merrily down the hill to wherever gravity takes them.

Here are a few of the ones I have already moved. The big ones fit two in the bucket and it was just able to lift them. I know it will lift 600 lbs. at ground level so these are not your everyday pebble on the beach.


Halfway there

It's all grubbed out! Excavator arrived at 9:00 and left at 10.45. Small machine as excavators go (12,000 lb) but pretty major equipment compared to my 1800 lb tractor. Many tons of rock involved. We crowded a lot of them into the bucket on my tractor but quit when we managed to put a pretty nasty OOPS! in the side plate. After that I scooped what I could and finished filling the bucket with stuff I could pick by hand. There were several big ones that he carried off with the ex as they were way in excess of the tractor's capabilities.

Right next to the north side of the foundation there was a mess of mortared brick. It had been laid in a circle so that was probably the well.

There is no stone like this anywhere close by, nearest rock of any sort is a half mile away and 200 feet lower in elevation. Must have been fun loading (by hand) and hauling (with a team and stone boat or freight wagon)that much stone. Old barn foundations were often just one row of stone on top of the ground. This one went down at least three feet so there's another dose of serious hand work just digging the hole.

Tomorrow morning he is coming back with a skid-steer to haul off the rest of the rock and level the area. I'll go over early and pick up the small stuff and crowd the bigger ones into piles for him.


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Bringing this thread back to life

Today I finished plowing the smaller of my two plots. This is the one I mentioned earlier, the one with the good black soil. The good WET black soil after record rains. It's not wet enough to be muddy, just sticky.

Plowed it with my JD 332 (16 hp diesel) and a remodeled Sears plow adapted to a standard garden tractor sleeve hitch. The plot is right around 150 feet wide. That's 180 passes with a 10" plow. The little diesel runs on very little fuel, a bit over a quart per hour, so maybe 3 gallons for the 10 hours or so it took to plow it.

This plot has been worked for (IIRC) 4 years now. Maybe only 3. At any rate I'm going to try something a little different next spring. Instead of harrowing and smoothing it I'm going to put it all into vine crops and plant them in the plowed ground with no more prep. I have to plant all the vine crops by hand anyhow, don't have the right planter plates for cukes and melons and can't get the right spacing out of the planter for pumpkins, some of which need 8 feet between plants. I'll use a cultivator with a single point to open rows then drop seed and cover manually. This plot is real good to do "pumpkin patch" sales out of in the fall so I'll be planting most of it into medium to large carving pumpkins with the rest into canteloupe (sp) (maybe I can actually get a crop) cucumbers and squash.

Now it's time to move the 332 out to my new-this-year plot and start turning that. There's 5+ acres there, I get to use over three of that for plowing the whole thing. If I had a driver for the 400 with its bigger plow I would put them both to work.
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