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Homestead Skills--Soil Preparations

Flail Mowing

I spend less time unclogging the tiller if I flail mow the plot the day before tilling. Using a flail mower finely shreds the plant material for easier incorporation into the soil by the tiller. (shown in the photo: "Babe" our second "mechanical ox**")

BCS 853 with Berta Flail Mower 



A manual method for turning over the soil.  Excellent source of exercise if you've the time.



Plowing 'turns over" the soil more efficiently than chopping it with a tiller.  At our scale, a one row steel plow is feasible with the equipment we have.  This kind of plow is pulled by either a tractor or large animal. 

The rotary vertical plow is a smaller alternative for small 2-wheel tractors. I still prefer to flail mow before using the rotary plow or tilling.

BCS 853 running Berta Rotary Plow (GroundBlaster)



Tilling also 'turns over' the soil.   It chops up plant debris.  It can be result in overworking the soil and compacting it.  Be careful not to over do it.  When I was selecting which sub-compact 4-wheel tractor to buy, one of my metrics was PTO shaft power per inch of tiller width.

You might have a small or large walk behind tiller, or, perhaps one attached to the 3 point hitch and PTO of a larger tractor.


BCS 2-wheel tilling


freshly tilled soil



Raking (Harrowing by Hand)

After turning over the soil, it's usually not smooth enough to directly plant.  Either prepare it manually by raking with a steel rake, or, seedbed preparation rake.  This process of breaking up and smoothing the surface is also called harrowing. 

raking the soil surface to harrow it in preparation of planting


Power Harrowing

Instead of raking by 'hand', you could use a power harrow attachment for your 2-wheel tractor.  Power harrows 'stir' the soil instead of 'chop and churn' it.  This does less damage to the structure. 

Immediately planting into tilled soil can be tricky when the soil is fluffy and not yet settled.  A pass by the power harrow will smooth and settle it. 

BCS with power harrow 


Power Harrowing with the BCS 853 2-wheel tractor

 I find the soil after tilling a bit to fluffy to plant without either giving it time to settle, raking by hand, or a quick going over with the power harrow.   If a week or two since tilling has passed, the power harrow can eliminate the weeds that are just lurking under the surface.



I have a pull behind spring harrow for our 4-wheel tractor similar to this photo.  With many plots of small size, I most frequently use the power harrow because I'm not working on a large enough area, and it takes more space to turn around the 'big' tractor.

 pull type harrow

Eleanor grew up in CT and fell in love with oxen as a child attending the Great Danbury State Fair before it was demoted to a shopping mall; as such she'd love a pair of oxen. To date she makes due with our "mechanical oxen" - a Yanmar tractor "Mox" (short for mechanical ox) and the blue BCS "Babe" (after Paul Bunyan's blue ox "Babe" (why Paul Bunyan? back to the fair which had a HUGE statue of the famed lumberjack.))



These pages describe how I made ours.  I've used a bit of everything, ranging from salvaged woven wire fence from my mother's 1970 horse pasture, cattle/hog panels (very nice, but expensive) to tall, welded wire fencing. 

trellis construction

I put about 5 feet between the parallel trellis fences.   Perhaps they could be closer to improve the efficiency of land use.  To close, and they will overly shade each other.  To wide, and space is wasted.

Early on, I made the T-post be taller than the fencing material.  My thinking was the top of the post made a nice place mount a sprinkler.  However, in the fall, when we want to drape blankets, ground clothes and tarps over the fence to escape that 'early' frost, its a lot easier to hang the material if the 'fence edge' is higher than the post.