Sunday, January 10, 2016

Idea 1 - Reduced tillage modification for paper pot transplanter, plus bigger scale.

Our garden is tiny, and all raised bed. But I think about small-scale farming from time to time. When I do think about it, I tend to research it in depth and some pretty obscure subjects, and I like to combine seemingly disconnected ideas to make new things. Two of the things that have caught my eye are reduced-tillage techniques and paper pot transplanters.

Reduced tillage techniques seek to improve soil conditions while simultaneously reducing inputs (herbicide, labour, tractor fuel, fertilizer, etc) by incorporating cover crops and just not ploughing as much - or at all on some farms. For example, in the fall after a field has been harvested the farmer would plant a mix of fall rye and clover which would grow until it is killed off by frost, mechanical action, or herbicide . Once killed off, it is left undisturbed, adding carbon  and nitrogen back to the soil and acting as mulch to block weeds from growing. Come spring, the field is planted with a special seed drill which sweeps the planting rows clear of "trash" (cover crop debris) then cuts a channel more aggressively with a sharp fluted opening disk then plants the seed and rollers compact it in. Most zero-till seed drills are huge units for industrial-scale farms - though there is a unit manufactured in Canada for 5' wide planting with a small tractor.

On a totally different scale - paper-pot transplanters are a system for transplanting a single row of closely spaced seedlings (originally rice, now many plants) into soft, loose, trash-free, well-worked soil. They are pulled manually while another person loads trays of seedlings. The seedlings are growing in little paper cells in a honeycomb pattern which tear apart in strips as the transplanter is pulled along. A regular angled opener opens a  furrow in the soil for the seedling strip as it is pulled along, the seedling strip is pulled out the back, and little wheels close the furrow around the seedling. Because the transplanter is being pulled by a person it would be too hard to pull if it had a row sweep or disk opener required to plant into soil with a lot of old roots.

A handy farmer could rig up a paper-pot transplanter to a small tractor and add a trash sweep/hoe and heavy fluted disc opener  - but then he'd be running the tractor (paying for fuel and labour) to very slowly plant a single row of crops... which are plantable at very narrow spacing so he'd probably prefer to plant many rows or interplant several crops at the same time...

Well, fortunately the paper pot transplanter is mostly flat and at an angle... so if the feed were set up to come off one corner of the tray rather than the middle of the end, several rows of them could be stacked staggered - just like mouldboard ploughs are - to plant several rows while still having access to load trays from the front/top.  

So there you go - a multi-row paper-pot transplanter which might be able to plant into zero-till fields.

Add a roller-crimper in front and you can kill off the cover and transplant your crop in a single pass.

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