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Ploughing with the Grillo

The recently ploughed chicken pen area with the new Gillo tractor avec the cool but frustrating Berta rotary plough attachment.

It’s been dry enough to take the Grillo and the Bertha rotary plough out for a spin on the small patch (18′ x 25′) that has been recently vacated by our chickens.

For the past 7 years we have moved chickens around the gardens at Hope Bay to improve our poor (class 5) soils. This involves penning the chooks up in an area we want “improved” and feeding them a steady supply of kitchen scraps, garden gleanings, weeds and waste hay from the sheep  over the next 12 months. At the end of that period a layer of up to 8 – 10″ of organic matter has been accumulated that is partially composted and “blended” with nitrogen-rich chicken poop. After the chickens are moved on to a new plot, we till up the  area, lift it with a broad fork and then seed with fall rye. We allow the rye to grow for up to a month before mowing it down and tilling it in. We then plant the area with nitrogen-loving crops like sweet corn and squash. In the fall, the area is planted with garlic.

This year I wanted to use our newly acquired rotary plough for the initial or primary tillage over these “chickened” areas as it can be quite a bear using a tiller – the layers of organic matter can bind up the tines and you can’t to any great depth.

Well I’m happy to report that the rotary plough worked well. However, the area was a bit too small to really operate the machine effectively in. I also discovered quite quickly that using a plough is much different than using a tiller. A plough leave a furrow, which you not only have to account for but deal with as the tractor has a tendency to high center and get stuck if you don’t approach the furrow the right way. This issue was exacerbated by the depth and softness of the 10′ organic layer. To make a long story short, the result was I spent over an hour literally wrestling the machine around the plot, high centering at least 20-30 times. By the end of the “session” I was beet-red and sweating like a pig. The experience increased my appreciation and desire for long, straight beds. More room – I need more room!

Prior to starting the “wrestling” match  I discovered a fairly extensive patch of Calystegia sepium L. R. Br. or hedge bindweed – an incredibly invasive weed. To avoid spreading it with the plough I spent a good half hour hand digging the rhizomes up which if cut up and scattered, say by a plough or tiller, can parent a completely new plant. Horrible stuff. To be avoided at all cost.

A pile of Calystegia sepium L. R. Br. rhizomes.

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