Tillage & Bed Formation Sequences for the Small Farm

Understanding tillage sequences is critical for good soil and bed preparation prior to spring planting. Ill-timed or poorly executed tillage will lead to frustration and soil cloddiness. This is especially true for more challenging soils higher in clay content. The specific sequences you use will depend entirely on soil type and implement selection.

Spring Incorporation of Cover Crop Residue and Bed Formation

Tools: Flail mower, mechanical spader, rolling cultivator

  • Flail mow cover crop at appropriate soil moisture to minimize compaction
  • Immediately after flail mowing cover crop, use a spader to incorporate residue
  • Immediately after spader incorporation of cover crop, form beds with rolling cultivator

Tools: Flail mower, heavy offset disc, chisel, rolling cultivator, rototiller

  • Flail mow cover crop at appropriate soil moisture to minimize compaction
  • Disc and cross disc cover crop until residue is adequately cut and mixed into the top 6 inches of soil (see below for details on discing patterns)
  • Chisel and cross chisel to break up compaction from disc and open up ground. It may be necessary to disc again after chiseling.

Bed Shaping

Once beds are raised with either listing shovels or a rolling cultivator, and assuming optimum tilth has been achieved through well-timed tillage, a “bed shaper” can be used to shape a bed suitable for precision seeding and follow-up weed management. Bed shapers are three-point implements that run behind the tractor and flatten out the bed top, providing a smooth, uniform, and well-defined bed for planting.

Discing and Discing Patterns

Vegetable growers on California’s Central Coast rely on drawbar-pulled offset wheel discs, often with a ring roller run behind, as a primary means of tillage. The disc/ring roller combination quickly and efficiently mixes crop residue with the soil and effectively knocks down and incorporates weeds that have emerged in non-cropped open fields.

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