Minimum-till equipment is used to incorporate a portion of the surface vegetation into the soil and level uneven surfaces. One of the most common tools is a disc, which cuts through vegetation, sod or hard soil and partly turns or tills it into the soil’s surface.
Similar equipment that turns part of the vegetative residue into the soil’s surface is known as Aerway® or Turbo® Till. Chisel plows drag through and turn part of the surface vegetation into the soil. Chisel plows generally leave the soil’s surface rough, which will require further treatment with a disc or similar tool to make it smooth enough to plant and harvest.
A chisel plow is a minimum-till plow because it does not dislodge or turn over the entire soil profile the way a moldboard plow does. Chisel plowing is primarily used for deep tillage. The depth of a chisel plow can be adjusted to till shallow or deep and does not invert the entire soil profile. This plow is also used for breaking up hardpan and compacted areas, which is followed by a disc harrow, tandem disc harrow or offset disc harrow of sufficient weight and size to provide a cutting depth of 6”-8”.
The chisel plow performs the initial soil loosening while leaving a high percentage of debris on top. The plow typically has C-shaped shanks mounted on dual coil springs and the frame, shanks and springs are of sufficient weight, size and strength to provide a cutting depth of 8”-12”.
A rototiller is used to pulverize the soil with rotating blades and can be used for incorporating soil amendments. Most units till up to 6” deep.
Drill seeding is a mechanical means of creating a furrow (opening) in the soil’s surface and metering the seed in at a uniform rate.
Conventional drills are capable of working in tilled and partly tilled soil. No-till drills are designed to work in soil that has not been tilled because they have heavy openers to cut through vegetation and sod, making a furrow for seed placement. However, they can work in tilled soil with the proper adjustment. The unit contains discs equipped with springs that aid in loosening the soil. All drills should also be equipped with a closing or packing wheel that follows the seed placement. A special seed box is required for handling small or fluffy seed like that of many wildflowers and native grasses. Drills that can meter the fluffy seeds, such as Little Bluestem, Big Bluestem and Indiangrass, need special agitation and metering equipment to handle these seeds. Switchgrass can be planted using any drill with a small seed box that can meter low rates of small seed. A drill used to plant warm season grasses must be capable of placing seed 1/4”-1/2” deep into a firm seedbed.
A drill seeder is practical for several acres or more where slopes aren’t too steep. It generally has an 8’ minimum width and contains a seed hopper capable of seeding a 6’ width with row spacing of approximately 7”. Some of the best drills are manufactured by Truax Company, Inc.
A cultipacker is an excellent way of covering the seed with a minimum amount of soil to ensure proper seed-to-soil contact. It resembles a large rolling pin with evenly spaced ridges and dimples. The cultipacker’s primary functions are to break up clods, remove excess air spaces from loose soil and smooth the soil’s surface. This method consists of heavy-duty, smooth, spoke or crowfoot rollers that provide clod-breaking and smoothing capabilities. As with any tillage, it is important not to overwork the soil or work it when it is too wet.
Seeding with machinery is not always effective or efficient for small plots or on difficult terrain. Hand seeding is easily accomplished when the seed is mixed with kitty litter. Hand seeding means literally casting the seed onto the ground’s surface by hand. An experienced person can seed effectively with this method while an inexperienced person can become effective with very little practice. The biggest challenge is coordinating the step-and-throw action to improve uniformity of seed placement. Divide the seeding area and seed mix into several small, equal sections and hand cast the seed in two directions. Follow hand seeding up with hydromulch and a light raking or rolling to achieve good seed-to-soil contact. Do not roll or track the seed if the soil is wet.
A broadcast seeder consists of a hopper with a material regulating system in the bottom that feeds material either onto a spinner or directly onto the soil. This system is commonly used to spread seed, fertilizer, lime and other granular products. Some materials have difficulty getting through the regulating mechanism in some broadcasters. For these systems, the use of a flow-enhancing material (kitty litter) mixed with the seed will aid in uniformity and enable the system to handle the seed. Spread half of the seed in one direction (horizontally) and the remaining seed in the other direction (vertically). Follow by rolling or tracking the seed to achieve good seed-to-soil contact. Do not roll or track the seed if the soil is wet. Cover with a light layer of straw mulch.
A hydroseeder combines water, seed, fertilizer and, sometimes, hydromulch into a mix that is then pumped through a nozzle and sprayed uniformly over the area to be seeded. Hydroseeders can distribute this mix out 150’ or more which allows for the ability to seed terrain that may not be accessible by other seeding methods; namely, steep slopes, roadside cuts or sites that are too wet. The use of hydromulch assists in seed placement and helps reduce erosion on slopes. Depending on site conditions, the use of erosion control blankets or straw mulch may be needed to cover the seed. Many native seeds should be broadcast with little mulch in the mix. A small amount of mulch can be applied with the seed as a marker, but must be limited to a minimum as native seeds will not germinate if suspended in the mulch with little or no seed-to-soil contact. A secondary application of mulch may be applied on top.
Tracking is the use of a crawler or rubber-tired tractor to make depressions and firm loose soil after construction or tilling. The depressions make local pockets in which seed and water can collect until they infiltrate the soil which aids in germination. The firm, but not compacted, seedbed will provide seed-to-soil contact and not dry out as quickly as loose soil.
A straw-mulch blower is used to distribute mulch over a seeded area. It consists of a slide (or chute) for feeding the mulch in, chopper blades for chopping and breaking up the mulch and a blower for spreading the mulch over larger areas. Straw mulch can be spread by hand in smaller areas.
Spraying chemicals to control undesirable vegetation can be done with a variety of equipment that generally mixes the chemical with water and distributes it evenly over the field. Sprayers are manufactured in various sizes and styles, from tractor-drawn trailers to self-propelled machines with Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to guide them. Many growers hire custom operators to apply chemical weed control.
A rotary mower easily mows existing vegetation. Heavy-duty rotary mowers can be utilized as brush hogs to tame heavy grass and light brush, such as multiflora rose, honeysuckle and small tree seedlings. Heavy vegetation on under-utilized fields is difficult to mow with a discbine or sickle bar mower.
Note: Mowing during the growing season should not be necessary after the establishment year unless it is being used in lieu of herbicides to control weeds. Mowing height should be no lower than 8” if done during the growing season.
As part of the maintenance schedule, mowing after the establishment year should be done prior to the onset of new growth (no earlier than February or March). Waiting until then will ensure that winter habitat is available for wildlife. Fall mowing might make the plant more susceptible to frost heaving. Many people recommend mowing every third year to prevent succession of woody species. Annual mowing in February or March will be even more effective in preventing plant damage, minimal habitat disturbance or nesting disruption.
In the second year, an adequate native meadow stand should have 1-2 plants per square foot, which will not (nor should it) look like a lawn. Warm season grasses establish faster with good fertility and adequate, but not excessive, moisture. Little Bluestem seldom reaches mature size in three years. With ideal conditions, other species may reach mature size in two years.
A discbine mower is a hay harvesting machine with high-speed, rotary discs that mow biomass for baling and assemble the material into a windrow.