My best plots…..

Rit

5 year old buck +
**disclaimer** my frustration level is at an all time high!

I am big soil health guy and do believe soil disturbance destroys soil…..but all my best plots have been put in with a 5’ tiller or a modified TNM. I have two types of soil on my little hobby farm. Heavy heavy clay and a rocky mess with soil on the lighter side. If I am being honest with myself I have never had anything better than an okay plot in the big destination plot which consist of heavy heavy clay that was a hayfield for 8+ years. I leased it out to a guy who wasn’t a super motivated farmer type who ran a small hobby farm himself. In the years he leased the field he never once put fertilizer down but continued to harvest the hay off of it. When I took it over in 2018 I did a soil test and amended it accordingly but have not used fertilizer since. I’d say it’s compacted. I have tried mightily to break up the compaction with roots. It’s better but not quite right. Water infiltration isn’t very good either.

My no-till story began somewhere around 2017 soon after I found this site. I started with TNM style plot using a hand sprayer, ATV, and a pull behind rough cut trail mower. Before that I used to pay someone to till up my plots. Later on I would purchase a tractor, rotary cutter and in 2020 I purchased a no-till drill and progressively my plots have gotten worse each year. Especially in my main field which is heavy heavy clay.

Whatever I have tried with the no-till just flat out is not working. I recently planted half of 3 plots with varying methods. The drill itself works fine and puts the seed where I want it.

All 3 plots I broadcast winter rye into the standing vegetation before drilling. A little early but we had 4 days of rain in the forecast I couldn’t pass up.

Plot 1 - I drilled into the failed summer plot and walked away.

Plot 2 - I drilled into the field and used my rotary cutter to cut down about half of the above ground growth. It consisted of soybeans, sorghums, cowpeas, sunflower, buckwheat, sunn hemp, and a half dozen other seeds but also had foxtail, millets, and Johnson grass.

Plot 3 - drilled into the standing vegetation cut 3/4 of the vegetation and then immediately sprayed. We all know why this isn’t the greatest strategy but I was trying something different because as mentioned what I have been doing isn’t working. There was quite a bit of broadleaf pressure under the canopy below where I mowed so I figured I would at least kill off that competition.

I would probably still be using TNM but the problem with it for my situation is that my 72” Landpride Rotary cutter windrows the above ground vegetation terribly and creates these thick matted rows that new growth does not penetrate while allowing un-killed vegetation to recover. They hold moisture and eventually mold. Even cutting against the grain or perpendicular doesn’t yield perfect results. On top of that these windrows appear to line up with my tractor tires and when I go back to spray nothing under these rows gets killed and the vegetation can and will stand back up.

I have great cover and the biggest problem with my property is fall food. In good acorn years I have deer thick until they run out. I have loads of mature oaks but unfortunately they are Chinkapin oaks and around here they start dropping mid September and by mid October they are consumed and with it my hunting opportunities.

The bucks I have killed here have either been killed really early like first week of season or in years where we have had absolutely perfect rain I have killed them during early November because my plots are above average. Mind you I am surrounded by thousands of acres of Ag and no one plants plots. If anything they dump corn on the ground.

This has me pondering my next steps. Sell the farm for better soils? Change my no-till mentality and start tilling? Take up knitting? I have 3 halves of the plots to plant but just waiting for a solid rain event. All 3 plots currently still have standing vegetation. I may mow them down today because drilling into them standing and the eventual windrows isn’t working out very well. I have been considering either purchasing a tiller or renting one and putting them in that way. I sold off my disk, drag, and cultipacker because I had plans to be the no-till king.

I have plenty of seed on hand. GC’s fall release, bushels of WR, plus some sunflowers, beans, peas, radishes, and clover.

In an hour I am going to look at Dunham Lehr 8. Great price and it looks very usable. I had plans of purchasing a roller crimper in the spring but I’m not sure that’s the route I will take anymore. If I can get great plots with a tiller I am ready to give soil health a backseat. I am not sure how to proceed here. Thoughts?
 

Rit

5 year old buck +
66C589B3-015D-4924-8F10-C54C6C103B0D.jpeg
Put in with a tiller on the rocky ground
 

Rit

5 year old buck +
AA790348-E072-4746-9A6C-90C021CAFBD5.png
Put in with a tiller on rocky soil.
 

Rit

5 year old buck +
2E7D9215-9192-4AE1-B74B-4C70A785FEE8.jpeg
TNM on the rocky soil
 

Rit

5 year old buck +
DEADECF5-2404-428B-B5BF-2DE688AB814F.jpeg21F6584D-DE05-4F93-9655-43A798274D5F.jpeg
TNM rocky soil
 

Rit

5 year old buck +
810AE8B6-4FC1-4A74-B7A7-F02DD279F368.jpeg
Drilled into heavy clay heavy weed pressure
 

Rit

5 year old buck +
FA99A8AA-4BA6-4CF3-9A22-D6280C1A3ABF.jpeg
Rock infested bare soil
 

Rit

5 year old buck +
DDB3CAFC-42F8-477B-A8B9-477E7CB18F59.jpeg
Drilled early summer 2022 heavy clay
 

Tree Spud

5 year old buck +
I don't think it is an either/or type of question. You don't have to religiously follow every tenet of the soil building guide was to still be a soil health guy.

If you can't work the soil to plant the required crops to implement the soil building process, then what is the point? You sorta set-up yourself up for failure if you don't adjust your methods. Remember you still need biomass in the soil, not just on top, but also in the soil to hold nitrogen in the soil. On your heavy clay, it may take 4-5 years of planting heavy residue crops, then discing them in to start to change the soil composition.

By the way, your plots look pretty good. Each of your plots looks to have different requirements, so a different plan for each may be appropriate which it looks like you are doing.

For me, I have been researching and learning about soil health and soil building. I want to do what I can to to improve the soil, but to achieve a no-till, no fertilizer, no herbicide is not something I can invision for now. I will take what i learn, try to incorporate the soil health practices, but still focus on having productive food sources.

I still think discing has a place. Hard soil does need to be broken up to allow for seed depth and water penetration.

Don't let good be the enemy of perfect.
 
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Rit

5 year old buck +
I’m a little confused. All your plot pics look gorgeous.
Sorry I wasn’t a little more clear I tend to be all over the map when I get frustrated. . Most of those plots were put in with a tiller a few years before I went full on no till. Since going full no till I haven’t had a plot that look even close to the really good photos. I also have never had a good plot in the clay. My rub is basically if soil disturbance is so bad why when I plant with that method do they look so good but when I no till I get trash.
 

TreeDaddy

5 year old buck +
Rit,

I wished my work looked 50% as good as yours

Your plots look NativeHunteresque

bill
 

FarmerDan

5 year old buck +
Sorry I wasn’t a little more clear I tend to be all over the map when I get frustrated. . Most of those plots were put in with a tiller a few years before I went full on no till. Since going full no till I haven’t had a plot that look even close to the really good photos. I also have never had a good plot in the clay. My rub is basically if soil disturbance is so bad why when I plant with that method do they look so good but when I no till I get trash.
I'm hesitant. Where to start? I'll begin with my conclusion. Till away!
I confess I read a lot of posts here about building soil and the benefits of natural generation and not using commercial fertilizers and herbicides...and the great (potential) destruction of soil characteristics caused by tillage and and and and on and on.
As I read all this great posting my eyes often gloss over and eventually roll back into my head. It's not that I'm against or disagree with most of it. But these subjects are at the fringe of what it's easy to do. The closer you get to the edge the more management control one needs to exert. Failure to do so increases the odds of perceived failure, define it how you might. Maybe it's just failure of high self-imposed expectations.

Every agronomic action comes with costs and benefits. Tilling improves seed-to-soil contact but it comes at the costs of higher erosion possibilities and destruction of soil structure including organic matter content. No-till overcomes some of the costs but imposes others. I could go on.

The only other thing to consider is soil-type. Certain soils are limited in their production capabilities - I don't care what else you might do. Find you soil types and what their capabilities are. Then play to strengths and limitations. Your local soil & water conservation district and NRCS folks can help with that.

Good luck!
 

4wanderingeyes

5 year old buck +
On your hard clay, lightly disc a few inches deep, plant turnips, radishes, clover, and winter rye. Plan on doing this for 3-5 years. You will get the roots and tubers to dig into the soil, and build OM, while loosening the soil up. Once you get looser soil, and some OM built up, then your no till will work great.

As for your rocky soil, I would try to clean that up a bit, till it and clean it with a landscape rake. Then I would plant Winter rye, clover, and a summer crop or two of buckwheat, repeat 3-5 years.
 

Hoytvectrix

5 year old buck +
The last company I worked for sold premium fertilizer products to specialty crop, organic, and conventional growers, but the majority of customers had either fully transitioned or were in the process of transitioning to certified organic. These are all professional growers located in most of the Midwest. One thing that really surprised me was a consistent trend across folks who have been no till for a while. I literally don't think there was a single customer who was purely no till for more than 7-10 years. My point is that these people are doing it professionally (and were extremely profitable doing so) and were still not able to exclusively no till. Give yourself a break. Some years plots are going to look better than others. Incorporating some tillage maybe necessary for your soils.
 

birdog

5 year old buck +
I think you have answered your own question. Your plots do not do well with TNM. Your plots do great when you turn the soil. Your soil is not conducive to TNM. Stop fighting it!
 

Rit

5 year old buck +
I don't think it is an either/or type of question. You don't have to religiously follow every tenet of the soil building guide was to still be a soil health guy.

If you can't work the soil to plant the required crops to implement the soil building process, then what is the point? You sorta set-up yourself up for failure if you don't adjust your methods. Remember you still need biomass in the soil, not just on top, but also in the soil to hold nitrogen in the soil. On your heavy clay, it may take 4-5 years of planting heavy residue crops, then discing them in to start to change the soil composition.

By the way, your plots look pretty good. Each of your plots looks to have different requirements, so a different plan for each may be appropriate which it looks like you are doing.

For me, I have been researching and learning about soil health and soil building. I want to do what I can to to improve the soil, but to achieve a no-till, no fertilizer, no herbicide is not something I can invision for now. I will take what i learn, try to incorporate the soil health practices, but still focus on having productive food sources.

I still think discing has a place. Hard soil does need to be broken up to allow for seed depth and water penetration.

Don't let good be the enemy of perfect.
A bunch of of wisdom here. I think you are correct I am trying to be Mr. soil health and my current conditions don’t support it. Sometimes it takes additional sets of eyes to break up tunnel vision thanks for the feedback.
 

Rit

5 year old buck +
Rit,

I wished my work looked 50% as good as yours

Your plots look NativeHunteresque

bill
A giant complement TD but probably not warranted. I look at these pictures and I am not sure why I transitioned to complete No-till when I probably didn’t need to on some of these plots. As TreeSpud said I have different plots with different needs but I clearly missed that.
 

Rit

5 year old buck +
I'm hesitant. Where to start? I'll begin with my conclusion. Till away!
I confess I read a lot of posts here about building soil and the benefits of natural generation and not using commercial fertilizers and herbicides...and the great (potential) destruction of soil characteristics caused by tillage and and and and on and on.
As I read all this great posting my eyes often gloss over and eventually roll back into my head. It's not that I'm against or disagree with most of it. But these subjects are at the fringe of what it's easy to do. The closer you get to the edge the more management control one needs to exert. Failure to do so increases the odds of perceived failure, define it how you might. Maybe it's just failure of high self-imposed expectations.

Every agronomic action comes with costs and benefits. Tilling improves seed-to-soil contact but it comes at the costs of higher erosion possibilities and destruction of soil structure including organic matter content. No-till overcomes some of the costs but imposes others. I could go on.

The only other thing to consider is soil-type. Certain soils are limited in their production capabilities - I don't care what else you might do. Find you soil types and what their capabilities are. Then play to strengths and limitations. Your local soil & water conservation district and NRCS folks can help with that.

Good luck!
You never cease to amaze with your logic.. you certainly are one of my favorite posters thx for the input.
 

Rit

5 year old buck +
On your hard clay, lightly disc a few inches deep, plant turnips, radishes, clover, and winter rye. Plan on doing this for 3-5 years. You will get the roots and tubers to dig into the soil, and build OM, while loosening the soil up. Once you get looser soil, and some OM built up, then your no till will work great.

As for your rocky soil, I would try to clean that up a bit, till it and clean it with a landscape rake. Then I would plant Winter rye, clover, and a summer crop or two of buckwheat, repeat 3-5 years.
I’d prefer to lightly till the top few inches of soil over disking. I disced often early on. I learned I wasn’t great at making a good seed bed with a disc. Although I had a junk old king kutter disc that I couldn’t get to dig in at a level clip regardless of the adjustments I made. I think it was Yoder who has mentioned a few times about lightly scratching the top few inches of soil to break up some of the crust. I could see great benefit to getting the radish to break into the hard pan. Good info thx.
 
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