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Till’ tomorrow (or yesterday, actually)

Oct 31, 2008 -

the first row

There it is.  The first tilled row of the GGP.  At the crack of 8 am (huck it up, farmers…that’s early for us city-folk!) I was out there, tilling up my back yard.  The actual tilling itself took about 3 hours.  We had to go over each row multiple times, stopping to dig up rocks and sundry other oddities.  Among the strange things found that had to be removed: 3 cigarette lighters, a 2’ x 4’, a Happy Meal toy, broken glass, an old irrigation pipe that went nowhere, and concrete support posts for what apparently used to be a deck.  The final stage was going over everything one final time, my son in my lap (he LOVES tractors!) to make sure the yard was as level as possible.

Chad driving 

Then the fun really began.  I decided to plant Soil Builder Mix, as all my soil really needed was some nitrogen.    First step was pouring the 15 pounds of seed into the shovel portion of the tractor.  You can also use a bucket, wheelbarrow or other bin large enough to contain your seed.  Using a mixture of 1/2 a quart of whole milk and one tablespoon molasses (mixed well and applied with a spray bottle), I lightly misted all of the seed, mixing it up well to ensure total coverage.  I didn’t want to over apply too much, lest it be harder to deal with.  Water can be used to act as a sticking agent, but the molasses/milk mix adds a little nourishment for the bacteria. Then, I applied a generous coating of inoculant.   In case you don’t know, inoculant is beneficial bacteria, which help the seed fix nitrogen.  Since I was planting 15 pounds, I ended up using about half of this bag, since it treats up to 50 pounds.  Better to over inoculate than under.  Mixing it thoroughly again, I was left with mottled seed, looking like this:

inoculated seed

I bought a hand seeder for  spreading this seed—big mistake.  Now, this is not to say that other spreaders won’t work—just not this one.  The bell beans in the mixture got stuck and would not spread.  So, I ended up broadcasting by hand.  Not a lot of work, I suppose, considering how small an area I had to work with.

The real work came when it was time to spread the compost, which is used to camouflage the seeds from the birds and squirrels, as well as to add some nutrients to the whole cover cropping process.   This was the roughest part of the whole day.  Each bag of compost had to be spread by hand, which is harder than it sounds.  I ended up basically mixing it in with the dirt, covering seeds with a combination compost and soil.  After this laborious procedure, the final step was to give a nice dousing of water to the entire area.  After all was said and done, my yard now looks like this:


Total time invested: 5 1/2 hours.

I ended up not doing any tilling or planting in the front yard.  The pathway between front and back was far too narrow to allow easy access for the tractor.  The yard is mostly dirt anyway, and since all I am concerned with is a lawn anyway, I’ll probably just put some Lawn Restore on it in the spring before I plant.

So, this is it from me for a while on this topic.  It’s time to let Mother Nature do her job, and let the seeds grow.  In Spring, when about half the seeds have flowered, I will chop it down with the tiller again, mulch it all under, and get to the real work of planting a lawn and a garden.  See you in Spring ‘09!

Robin Netzer Says:
Nov 1st, 2008 at 9:12 pm

Have been reading your activity with great interest as I have embarked on a similar project. Not having the rototill skills hired a fellow to do the work. His lack of experience left me with a deeply furrowed yard most of the clots of bremuda grass as big as cow pies were enshrined in plstic mesh the kind used for growing sod   and were now submerged a few inchees below the surface of the dirt. I have been raking and culling the clots broken roots and grasses by hand. Hand digging where the tiller never went and hoping that this labor of love will be appreciated by the soil. It awaits the Peaceful valley soil builder mix which has been delayed by the heavy rains. Wishing you luck in you project and hoping for a break in my project and the real payoff with improved soil! any suggestions appreciated. Sacramento dirt girl

Chad Says:
Nov 4th, 2008 at 5:07 pm

One of the great things about the Soil Builder mix is that it chokes out a lot of competitive plants specifically weeds.  Being an annual you’d be tilling the crop itself in next spring as well.  My suggestion is to just get out the big stuff you can (especially that plastic!) and get planting.  The mix should do most of the work for you.  Good luck and thanks for reading!

Dacey Says:
Mar 16th, 2009 at 12:59 pm

Is there a way to locate someone locally to try this?

Chad Says:
Mar 16th, 2009 at 1:37 pm

Hi Dacey-
I’m not sure what you’re asking for…if you’re looking for someone to do the work all I can say is look for a landscaper or gardener.  Your local master gardener or garden supply store may have a recommendation.  If you are in Grass Valley we have a bulletin board in our will-call area with tons of local contractors and such who can do this. 
If you’re asking whether or not this can be done locally in Grass Valley I live near Downtown and can attest to the viability of the crop.  In fact I will be posting pictures and an update shortly!
Any other questions let me know!

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