Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Tuesday Tool As Ye Sow Edition

Without a doubt, the Tuesday Tool is the No-till seed drill.  

I've mentioned a couple of times here that one of the long-term projects here is pasture improvement.  We bought a pretty crummy pasture when we bought this place--it hadn't been fertilized in a long time, hadn't been seeded with anything but weeds, had been overgrazed by cattle and generally neglected.  A soil test revealed that the nitrogen (and P and K) levels were low but not tragic, but that the pH was in the mid-4's, the same as a piquant feta cheese.  

Two years ago, we broadcast annual ryegrass seed over part of the pasture, and some of it caught, but it was pretty much a stop-gap measure.  

Last year, after finding out about our acidic soil, we were able to lime only part of the pasture.  We were sufficiently disorganized that I wasn't able to do the job until the co-op was almost entirely out of the stuff; at the recommended two tons per acre, we only got a quarter of the pasture limed.  Worse, we weren't able to get grass seed onto the pasture before the rains came and made things too soggy to work.   We tried broadcasting seed in the spring, but that was an expensive, futile effort.  Our pastures this last year were not very good at all; there may have been a slight effect of the lime, but it mainly meant healthier weeds.  

I am so happy, therefore, that I have been able to do better this year.  I was still late getting the lime--I was actually much earlier than last year, but the co-op had already run out of agricultural lime.  All that was left was ridiculously expensive "prilled" lime, but fortunately there was enough demand that the co-op decided to order one more delivery of ag lime.  So, I've put two tons of lime on almost every acre of our pastures.

We also got seed in the ground at just about the perfect time--and, importantly, in the ground and not just on it.  Which is where the no-till seed drill comes in.

It's not an especially high tech or complicated machine; an effective version could be made with 18th-century technology and pulled by horses, which in fact was the case (Jethro Tull did more than make the flute a rock instrument).  But we hired a guy who had a spiffy new John Deere, pulled by a very spiffy tractor.  It made a swathe ten feet wide, putting in a row of seeds every four inches.  So, every four inches, a disc cut a fine furrow, the depth set by  the amount of weight on the disc.  Following the disc, seed was delivered through a tube into the furrow; the rate of seeding per foot was constant, determined by a chain drive connected to the wheels the machine rode on.  A wedge-shaped wheel pushed the furrow closed, and a flat wheel lightly tamped it down.  

Once the adjustments were made for the depth and rate, the only hard part was dragging the machine through twelve-foot gates and negotiating the many corners of our pastures.  Seven hours work, 400 pounds of seed, ten seeded acres; these were followed by two balmy days, then a week of rain and then some days with a mix of showers and sunshine.  And here we are:

It's a promising start.  It will hopefully grow for another month before it gets too cold, and we'll keep the beasties off of it until spring.  And, if all goes to plan, our sheepies and goats will have more of their nutrition from where they actually live.  Also, if all goes according to plan, someday before too long the Tuesday Tool will be a manure spreader.

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