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Our First “Homesteading” Challenge

April 16, 2012

Starting point

As I’ve mentioned before, a garden is top on our list of additions to the property. We put in a very small garden last year, but it went in late and was pretty much abandoned even before the deer knocked the fence down mid-summer. Since our property has apparently always been pasture and/or abandoned field, the first order of business was to turn the orchard grass into bare dirt. Mr. B and I tried using a large rototiller last year, but the deep grass roots made even the rototiller pretty much ineffective. Since we have tractor now, we decided to use an implement (how fancy) to do the job.

The first thing we tried was a spring tooth harrow. Not that it means anything, but I had never heard of this before Mr. B’s coworker offered to sell us one. Now I see them everywhere – go figure.

Spring tooth harrow

Normally these are wider than the tractor, but this one had been cut down at some point to make it easier to use for cultivating row crops. Although our contact assured us that the harrow would work to dig up the grass, it wouldn’t even sink more than a 1/2 inch into the ground. Harrows are primarily used after a field has been plowed and disked, or rotovated, to remove grass roots and smooth the soil. The harrow-ing (hahaha) experience took up Tuesday and Wednesday night last week.

Our next implement was a two bottom plow that our neighbor had out in his field. I didn’t take a picture, but they look like this:

In theory, a plow is the first implement you use on unbroken soil, and it flips over the soil/grass. We tried this for two days with Mr. B randomly criss-crossing our field (not the proper plowing technique, FYI). The grass root/clay that is our field kept getting stuck between the two plows, and we weren’t getting very deep in most places. Our attempts to figure out the problem via internet searches wasn’t much help. That was Wednesday and Thursday. In desperation, we turned to a local farmer that I used to intern for, who offered to let us borrow his rotovator.

I’m not sure what the difference is between a rotovator and a rototiller since they seem to do the same thing, but this was the implement that finally broke our sod up. Kind of the like the three bears, the third time was the charm.

Finally

I took that picture after the second pass with the rotovator. Even though it worked wonderfully at breaking up the sod, we still had a few problems. The biggest was that the drive shaft that came with the rotovator was too long – the farmer friend has a Kubota and we have a John Deere. Apparently, many newer brands of tractors use these longer drive shafts, but it meant that we couldn’t attach it to our tractor. Mr. B spent Thursday and Friday making a new drive shaft, saving us several hundreds of dollars. The second problem was rocks. We apparently have several patches of very rocky soil in our field. Rocks are generally bad for the rotovator (bending the blades), and they can jam the teeth. After two passes though, it seems like we found most of the large rocks.

The field has between 6 – 12 inches of loosened soil on it now, although a lot of it is grass/soil combo. The harrow pulls off too much soil, so we want to try to plow again to bring up more soil and bury the grass and roots. Then we’ll rotovate to flatten the field. Hopefully by the time I want to start planting things most of the grass will have broken down. Unfortunately for us, it started raining yesterday, so soil working is on hold until the ground dries out again.

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