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The homesteading movement of the 1960's started gaining popularity again in the early 2000's. Even if being a full-time farmer isn't for you, running a small farm is a great way to provide the best vegetables for your family. If you've recently purchased land, or decided to use the land you already own to start your own small farm, the next step is to get it ready for said farming.

Soil preparation is the first step before growing a crop. The ultimate objective is to produce a firm and weed-free seedbed for rapid germination and emergence of the crop. There’s no “cookbook” recipe for how much tilling is enough; the amount of tilling needed depends not only on the crop (including the seed size), but also on the soil type, topography, and the field conditions at the time of planting. The goal is a fine seedbed in the top inch or so of soil, with as few clods as possible. Proper seed-to-soil contact is key.

Rotovating on Sod

Tilling creates optimal soil by:

  • Mechanically destroying weeds that compete for water, nutrients and sunlight.

  • Incorporating organic material: residues left over from the previous crops are incorporated in the soil and decomposed.

  • Loosening the soil: loosened soil allows the roots to penetrate deep into the soil and to breathe easily. It also supports the growth of earthworms and microbes.

A tractor mounted rotary tiller, commonly known as a rotovator, is a motorized cultivator with tines or blades that rotate through the soil, pulverizing it and breaking up clumps into a finer texture making light work of what would otherwise be a back breaking job.

All Siromer rotovators are heavy duty, semi offset to cover one tractor wheel and with a dig depth of at 6 inches which can be adjusted on the rotovator skids. Siromer have recently launched a hydraulically offset rotovator allowing you to adjust the amount of offset from the tractor seat using the tractor hydraulics. Siromer rotovators are available in a variety of sizes to suit your tractors HP, from 1.05m (£1200 + vat) which can be driven by compact 16hp tractors up to 2.30m (£2800 + vat) requiring upwards of 50hp to drive them.

If you are starting with sod, you may need to plough up the sod before you rotovate it. Ploughing gets deeper into the ground to allow the crop roots to reach water and nutrients.

If the land has already been ploughed, you may consider a power harrow. A Power Harrow is used to turn, break, refine and give an even distribution of soil over the entire working width to create a perfect seed bed. It breaks up even the most compacted ground soil, often in single pass for preparing an area for plantation. Power Harrows consist of a multiple set of blades which counter-rotate about a vertical axis, which leaves the soil with a softer look and granulated yet levelled appearance, as required for sowing seeds or seedlings. Siromer offer 2 sizes of power harrows, 1.3m requiring 24-50hp £1600 + vat and 1.7m requiring 40-75hp £1850 + vat.

If you do not need to go deep into the ground but are wanting to cultivate directly onto sod, stone buriers are an extremely impressive item of machinery. The stone burier cultivates to a depth of 6 inches, buries stones and levels to prepare the perfect bed. The heavy duty reverse rotation rotor throws all stones and soil against a selection grate and sorts material by density covering the bed with a blanket of fine soil and finishes by rolling firm. Stone buriers are power hungry and so generally you will have to settle for a narrower stone burier than rotovator or power harrow for the same tractor hp. Siromer offer a 1.05m stone burier for £1350 + vat to suit 16hp and go up to 1.65m for £1750 + vat to suit 40-50hp tractors.

Tips for soil preparation

  • Don’t start too early. If the ground is still semi-frozen or soggy, digging in the soil can compact it and harm its structure. How do you tell whether it’s ready to be worked in? Grab a handful and squeeze — it should fall apart, not form a mud ball.

  • Add lots and lots of organic matter! Try using compost, dehydrated cow manure, shredded leaves, well-rotted horse manure (call nearby stables), or a mixture. If your yard happens to be blessed with fertile soil, adding organic matter is less crucial, but most soils can stand the improvement.

  • Allow the cultivated soil to sit for a couple of days before planting. You can turn the soil daily if you wish, but the process is not necessary if you turned the soil adequately already.

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