bcs tiller or rotary plow for breaking sod?

daybreakfarmmaineJuly 31, 2010

Hi All,

New to the forum, looks like lots of great info.

I looked around the forum for info on this, found some interesting stuff, but would like to pose the question directly: I am going to be getting a BCS tiller to work 2 acres of commercial garden. I know the BCS will do all the things I need, once the ground is broken...but right now the field is a pasture, with some tough looking sod (tho very few rocks). So the question is, can I bust the sod with just the tiller, making multiple passes, without

killing the machine, or should I shell out the $1200 odd dollars for the rotary plow to do the job?

Related question: neither my dealer now the web have much info on the BCS single bottom plow...does anyone have any experience with it? It costs a lot less than the rotary plow.

Thanx much for whatever wisdom can be passed on.

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Start by spraying the entire 2 acres with Round up. Let it do its job of killing off 100 percent of the vegetation. Treat stubborn areas a second time with the Round up until everything is brown. If you can legally burn off all the dead stuff, get a fire permit and light it up. If you can't, then use a riding mower with the deck up all the way and make a pass over the field to chop it all down. Lower the deck a few inches and mow it again. Cut the field down to the lowest height you can without running the risk of damaging the mower by hitting rocks or other debris.

Then, take a wheelbarrow or put a garden cart behind the lawn tractor and go clean up all the junk from the surface of the field. Find a local farmer who still has a small tractor with a 2 or 3 furrow turning plow to come in and plow the entire field. If he also has a set of disc harrows, then get him to come again a week or so later and cross-disc the field until its fairly flat once more.

Now....saddle up that nice BCS you have and wade into the plowed and disced field and till it. Keep a wheelbarrow or cart handy so you can toss in the junk the tiller will bring to the surface. As long as you till in the fall and again in spring, plowing and discing won't be necessary.

There's little point in buying a nice BCS and then beating the crap out of it to bust virgin ground when a small ag tractor with a plow can do it 5 times faster and easier.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2010 at 6:43PM
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Thanx for the response, kompressor.

A bit more detail explains how we still have a dilemma: first, we're going to be farming organic, so no roundup allowed (tho I think it has it's place...). But the BIG problem is that we've been trying to get someone to do exactly as you suggest: get a farmer with a decent tractor and plow to do the job for us...but what we're finding is that thus far it's been impossible to find anyone to do it. We're in coastal Maine, where there are quite a few farms, but nothing like many other agricultural regions...and more importantly, everyone is just too busy...we had someone lined up a long time ago, but he has baled (literally...making too much money on hay) on us...am busy calling around, but if we don't get it plowed in the next two weeks, we'll be in trouble in terms of getting a cover crop in before winter. So, the BCS plan is a backup, but one we may have to use. Any thoughts? Thanx!

    Bookmark   August 2, 2010 at 2:21PM
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Ok.. I understand about the organic thing. So...instead you could just bring in the garden tractor and mow it all down while it's living until you have it chopped as close to ground as possible. If your are going to till it, then the last thing you want is long grass and weeds winding themselves around the tiller tines. They will interfere with the tilling process and you will not have any fun trying to remove them.

If it was me, I'd just go and rent the biggest, baddest tiller I could get and beat the crap out of it instead of my own. Too bad you don't know anyone with a garden tractor that has a turning plow on the rear. It would take longer that a full size ag tractor but you'd be surprised at how well a decent GT can plow an area like that up. Even if you don't disc it afterward, at least the ground has been broken and that will make the tilling go much easier and faster. Breaking virgin ground with any tiller is not a fun job. You can only till about 2 inches deep on each pass so you would have to make at least 3 or 4 passes to till to the full depth of the tiller's capacity.

Of course, the type of soil you have wiil influence all of this too. Good luck with your project.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2010 at 6:52PM
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Thanx for the thoughts...we may go out and rent.

I have seen videos of garden tractors plowing, and it's unbelievable what they appear to be able to do...thanx for confirming that it's possible. We'll consider that route, too. We'll need a mower at some point, in some form...either a dedicated unit, or an attachment on the BCS or ag tractor...

We haven't ruled out the ag tractor, it's just that with only 2 acres, we're on the cusp of needing a compact utility tractor, we're trying to keep our capital costs low, and we want to buck the trend of owing the farm to the bank.

I'm going to do a new post on lawn tractors plowing.


    Bookmark   August 3, 2010 at 1:52PM
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Just cming across this post, i totally agree with you kompressor

    Bookmark   August 3, 2010 at 3:16PM
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Hey Daybreak,

I have a BCS 830 diesel with a rollover plow, but I've never used it to plow sod. I have plowed with real farm tractors and multi-bottom plows. One problem you'll encounter when trying to plow is that you're only going to be cutting an 8 or 9 inch furrow. A garden tractor pulls a 10 inch plow. Your neighbor probably had a 3-14 or a 2-16. The rule of thumb with plowing is to plow half as deep as the plow is wide. 8 inch plow = 4 inches deep, 10 inch plow = 5 inches deep, 14 inch plow = 7 inches deep, etc. There is some wiggle room with this rule, but not much. Moldboard plowing is kind of an art. You need to know what you're doing to do it right. You need the proper angle of attack, weight and traction. Even if you know what you're doing, it can be difficult to get the sod to properly roll. I have seen some beautiful plow jobs with a moldboard plow, but the conditions need to be favorable. I've seen many more really bad jobs than good ones.

I think you'd be a lot happier with the rotary plow. It is much more forgiving vs. a moldboard plow. There are several videos on Youtube showing what a rotary plow can do. I don't have one yet, but have seen them work personally and plan on owning the 2 way rotary plow by next spring. It cuts a furrow 10 inches wide and 9-10 inches deep and whips the ground like mashed potatoes. Thatch and grass are buried into the soil, leaving very little residue on top. Since the plow is powered, it does a much better job than a moldboard plow in getting the soil ready to plant in one pass. It's also better than a rototiller for sod-busting because you only need one pass to go full depth. Multiple passes with a rototiller is hard on you and harder on the soil structure AND it leaves the residue on top. I've broken sod with my 30 inch tiller and have had a very hard time getting acceptable penetration even after three passes in some situations such as compacted soil, thick thatch, or tall grass. Since you're planning on planting a cover crop this year, you wouldn't need to do much more than plow once and plant - maybe run a harrow to smooth it a bit.

Make sure you buy a tractor up to the task of rotary plowing and properly outfit it with wheel spacers and weights. I would only consider an 853 in BCS or a 107d in Grillo. Used tractors can be had at much more affordable prices. The ones I recommend are - 735, 745, 605, 737, 945, 830 850, 946, 852, 948. Smaller, solid axle machines can rotary plow and do a good job, but they're harder to steer and have fewer speed options, limiting them for use with other attachments. If you do buy new, I would strongly recommend going through Earth Tools in Owenton Kentucky. Joel has forgotten more than I know about these machines and sells many more 853s than any other dealer.

Good luck!

Bill in WI

Here is a link that might be useful: Earth Tools in Owenton KY

    Bookmark   August 5, 2010 at 10:22AM
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Thanx for all the thoughts, everyone. I think I'll keep supplicating local farmers to do the plowing for me, or get the rotary plow for the BCS. I'll let the forum know how it goes.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2010 at 9:24AM
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Hey Daybreak, how did it work out? I've been eyeballing that rotary plow on the earthtoolsbcs site, but it's not cheap.


    Bookmark   March 19, 2011 at 8:06AM
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nygardener(z6 New York)

Daybreak, I'm curious what you ended up doing. I have a BCS 853 with Berta rotary plow and used it to bust up sod for 3' wide garden rows in a stony hayfield. Mowed the grass closely first, as kompressor suggests. It worked fine for this, but it's a good physical workout. Then made a pass over the rows with the tiller implement. There's no way you could do a good job on tough sod with just the tiller to start. Even if you were working on very soft grass, the tiller only goes down about half as deep as the plow. And the plow is a huge labor-savor: I could barely sink a spade into the ground, but the plow churned through it efficiently, and pitched aside rocks up to canteloupe sized.

I did find that, even after plowing and tilling, there's still a fair amount of sod chunks left close to the surface that will re-sprout later. You'll need to remove these, knock the soil back into the bed, and compost them. (Or you could try re-tilling.) So you won't have a truly clean bed until the following year.

You may be able to find somebody nearby with a BCS, possibly through a dealer, and work out an arrangement where they'll do the initial plowing; you can then use a cheaper tiller for maintenance. Also, I recently saw a Goldoni two-wheel tractor, which are heavier-duty than BCS, outfitted with a Berta plow; might be worth considering.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2011 at 1:20PM
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