Tillage Practices: How to Plow a Field, Equipment Choices, Crop Rotation and More

Learn the about the basics of tillage equipment, how to plow a field and the importance of crop rotation In this chapter excerpt from Richard Langer's Grow It!.

| September/October 1972

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    A roto tiller is a useful tool for preparing garden beds, but if you have a handful of acres you'll probably want a tractor and plow.
    ILLUSTRATION: RICHARD LANGER
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    Moldboard plows are the best choice for small farms with more than an acre or two to work. Disc plows, while more efficient, are generally reserved for farms of a few hundred acres.
    RICHARD LANGER
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    A spring-tooth harrow helps even out the size of soil clumps in your newly plowed field.
    RICHARD LANGER
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    Splitting your field into "land" sections allows you to plow more efficiently.
    RICHARD LANGER
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    For a small farm, or when planting crops that do not need to be planted in rows, a hand-cranked seed broadcaster can help you get the seed spacing right.
    RICHARD LANGER
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    Limning and fertilizing require a different pattern than plowing.
    RICHARD LANGER
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    This harrowing pattern will level your field for planting.
    RICHARD LANGER
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    This crop rotation chart demonstrates how crops may be moved each year for the best use of your soil nutrients and to avoid long-term pest infestations.
    RICHARD LANGER

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At last! For the first time since the Have-More Plan was published way back in the 1940s, a fellow named Richard W. Langer has come up with a 365-page book that really introduces a beginner to small-scale farming. Wanna raise your own fruit, nuts, berries, vegetables, grain, chickens, pigs, ducks, geese and honeybees? Grow It! tells you how to get started.

Special Note: All material here reprinted from Grow It!, copyright © 1972 by Richard W. Langer. 

Chapter Excerpt: Tillage, Plowing and Harrowing

He that by the Plough would thrive,
himself must either hold or drive.

-Benjamin Franklin

All right, there you are with several acres of land in front of your nose, and maybe, by your side, a tractor and plow you decided were the proper things to have on a farm. What do you do? Plow, of course. But how and where? Well, first let's look at the equipment. Even if a neighbor comes in to help plow and seed the fields the first couple of years, you'll still need to know what the equipment is all about. A farmer is willing to help and more than willing to teach you, but he's not going to do the work while you sit back in your rocker on the porch. Also, you'll find it's easier and less expensive than you think to get some of your own equipment. You'll certainly want to do your own plowing. After all, that's what farming's all about.



The simplest and cheapest tools to cultivate your land with are a spading fork or shovel and a rake. You dig up the soil and turn it over, trying to keep most of the topsoil, which is darker, richer, and looser than the subsoil, just where it was ... on top. At the same time you are breaking up the clods of earth and loosening the soil to improve aeration. That's tillage, good old-fashioned, primitive style. With this help roots can grow more easily, and better roots mean better plants. In most cases you'll find that the topsoil is a layer six to twelve inches thick. Very poor soil may have only a couple of inches worth. Some fortunate California valleys have topsoil thirty feet thick.

After the digging and clod-breaking, the ground should be loose and crumbly. This, however, isn't enough. You'll be planting tiny seeds or seedlings. The young early roots need more help than that. Rake the soil back and forth until all the particles to a two-inch depth are very small. The surface layer, especially in the vegetable garden, should have a particle size half that of a dime or less. However, don't tamp down the ground perfectly smooth or water penetration will be affected. Leave rake furrows on the surface to aid drainage.






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