The right machinery can go a long way toward making your next food plot or wildlife habitat planting a success. The following are four implements that can help you get the ground in shape for a bumper crop.
Moldboard plows have long been a staple of the farming trade, and for good reason. Plows excel at breaking thick sod, loosening the soil and completely burying plant residue. This makes them ideal tools when establishing a food plot or turning under an old plot before replanting.
If you’ve driven through farmland during spring or fall, you’ve no doubt seen farmers pulling large plows bristling with plowshares. For tilling food plots with compact utility tractors, however, a one- or two-bottom plow is a better idea.
Large or small, the components of moldboard plows are similar. Plows consist of a large curved section called a moldboard, with a share at the bottom edge, shin at the front and landside toward the back. The tip of the share points downward, causing the plow to run into the ground (agronomists call this “suction”). The share cuts the furrow bottom, the shin cuts the furrow wall, and the landside runs along the furrow wall, stabilizing the plow.
Match Your Plow With Your Tractor
All of these parts are important to optimal performance and extended implement life, which is why top plows like those in John Deere’s Frontier lineup feature replaceable shares, shins and landsides. It’s also wise to choose a plow that matches your tractor’s horsepower rating.
Old-school, pull-behind plows that are raised and lowered by a tripping mechanism (activated by pulling a rope) are still available on the used market, but newer plows that attach directly to the tractor with a 3-point hitch system are compact and easier to operate in tight quarters.
While plows can break the soil anytime it’s not frozen solid or too wet to turn, it’s best to plow your plots in advance of other fieldwork. For example, plow in the fall and let the overturned vegetation decompose while ground is still warm. That way, it’s ready for you to finish off with a disk or rotary tiller next spring.
Generations of farmers have used disks to their advantage when working the soil. You can put them to work in food plots, too.
Disks have multiple applications. When establishing a new plot, use a disk to work the soil before turning it with a moldboard plow. Then lightly disk again after plowing to smoothen the seedbed. You can also use a disk to till the soil in an existing plot before seeding a new crop. Disks can also be used to evenly incorporate soil treatments such as lime into the top few inches of soil.
Offset disks are ideal for working wet, sticky soil, but the most common choice for the majority of food plots is the standard disk harrow. A variety of options are available, including pull-behind models that raise and lower via hydraulic hoses attached to the tractor, and disks that mount directly to the tractor’s 3-point system. The latter is great for food plots due to their compact stature and ease of use.
When disk shopping, look for models with notched blades to better cut and mulch soil. Adjustable disk gangs that allow you to you match soil conditions are another plus. For example, an aggressive angle helps tear up and penetrate rough, uneven soil. Conversely, reduce the angle for a smooth finish and final seedbed prep.
Disks compatible with 3-point hitches like John Deere’s iMatch system speed the process of attaching the disk to the tractor. Other features to look for include heavy-duty construction and sealed, self-aligning bearings that keep dirt at bay for dependable, maintenance-free disking and extended life.
Rotary Cutter/Brush mower
Rotary cutters, also called brush mowers, have many uses in food plots and land management. They’re great for blazing new trails through grass or light brush. Also, they are good for mowing established pathways and keeping trees and brush from overrunning areas you want to keep in grassy cover.
Rotary cutters also excel for clearing thick grass, brush and other vegetation before breaking the soil to establish a new food plot. It’s infinitely easier to run a plow or disk through stubble than it is through tall grass or brush.
You can also use a rotary cutter to control weeds in perennial food plots, and to stimulate and sustain growth in clover plots—thereby maximizing yearly production and the life of the plot.
A number of rotary cutter models are available, in varying sizes and capacities to match your tractor and your needs. Sturdiness is a key consideration. Avoid rotary cutters with light-duty, cheaply made decks, blades, gearboxes and other critical components that will fail under pressure.
Choose the Right Tool for the Project
To avoid breakdowns and other frustrations, always choose a quality mower built to handle the type of cover you plan to cut. John Deere offers a variety of durable options, including standard-duty Frontier RC20 Series models ideal for grass and brush up to 1 inch in diameter. Thanks to their sturdy, double-deck design, medium-duty John Deere MX Series mowers easily slice and dice thick grass, tall weeds and brush or small trees up to 2 inches in diameter.
Also, look for a mower that matches your tractor’s horsepower, so you’ll have plenty of power to spin the blades at the RPMs necessary for clean, safe cutting. And be sure to choose a model that cuts a swathe wide enough to cover your wheel tracks. The working width of your new cutter should be at least as wide as the distance between the outside edges of the tractor’s rear tires, so you’re not driving over material that the cutter blades can’t reach.
Other factors to consider include the mower’s range of adjustable cutting heights, and the type of hitch which with the cutter is compatible.
A tractor-mounted rotary tiller preps soil for your food plot like no other implement. Tillers are great for all food plot crops, but ideal with small seeds. A rotary tiller’s curved tines churn soil into a fine, clod-free seedbed. The tines are attached to a rotating shaft that is powered by your tractor’s PTO. Tilling depths can be tweaked by adjusting the tiller’s skid shoes, with a depth of six inches generally sufficient.
Tillers come in a variety of sizes and models. John Deere’s 600 series lineup, for example, includes five commercial-grade options flush with hard-hitting features such as large, replaceable tines and a heavy-duty tubular tine shaft that allow the tiller to reliably bite deep into rough terrain like dry, packed soils. The 600 series tillers are available in working widths ranging from 48 up to 81 inches; for a smoother seedbed, choose a tiller that’s wider than the outside measurement of your tractor’s rear tires.
You can break sod with a rotary tiller—but the process will likely require multiple passes. For maximum efficiency, it’s best to mow first, then disk before deploying the tiller to finish the seedbed. For more information, visit Minnesota Equipment’s website to find a location nearest you.