Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Planting our hay fields

This is the year that we need to re-seed our hay fields. We grow a combination of red clover and fescue grass for our cows to munch on. The red clover will only grow for two years before it dies, so every two years we need to re-seed the fields. This year we stepped into a little more high-tech than normal!

We were able to put our John Deere Gator to good use to get this job done. We pooled resources with some farmer friends to get this whole contraption built. We co-own the seeder (the black can on the back of the gator) with some family, and we borrowed the GPS guidance system (the thing that looks like a flood light on the top of the Gator, and the small black box in the windshield) from some very good friends. (We let them use the Gator and the planter to re-seed their fields, too.)

planting with the Gator

First things first, Farmer Doc filled up the planter with red clover seed.

load clover seed
Red clover seed is very tiny – about the size of poppy seeds.

red clover seed
This is the bottom of the inside of the planter, looking down from the top. We can manually adjust how far those two holes open and how much seed comes out at once.

closed planter
Because the seed is so tiny, we only need to open the planter just a teeny tiny bit.

open planter
The seed drops out of the bottom of the planter onto this paddle wheel.

dispensing clover seed
Then the wheel spins around really fast, and flings the seed out. The seed will go about 10 feet to either side of the Gator, so we can plant a 20-foot wide section at a time.

planting clover seed
It’s very similar to re-seeding your lawn – we don’t need to actually “plant” the seed, just sprinkle it over the top of the ground. Nature (and a bit of rain) takes care of the rest!

This is the GPS guidance system. Farmer Doc told it that he wants to plant in straight mode (there are no funny curves or ditches in the middle of our field), and where he started. It will tell him if he is going straight by the yellow lights. Yellow in a straight line is good. If he starts moving off the straight line, the lights will turn red and light up to the right or left. That’s how Farmer Doc knows that he’s off course and needs to correct a little.

GPS guidance
The GPS can also tell us where to start the next pass down the field. Because the planter throws seed for 10 feet to either side of the Gator, we want to plant in 20 foot rows. Farmer Doc will cover the first 10 feet on the first pass, and the second 10 feet on the second pass. In the photo below, you can see where the tire tracks are to the right of the field where he started, and where he’s headed back to the other end. Ta da, 20 foot rows!

planting 20 foot rows
In the video below, you can’t see the red clover seed being planted (it’s way too small and moving too fast). But if you listen carefully, you can hear it! It sounds like sleet hitting the ground, or bubbles in your soda popping as the seed falls to the ground.

(If you can’t see the video in your email or reader, you’ll need to click through to the website.)

Frost seeding red clover

This is called “frost seeding” because we want to still have another frost before spring officially starts. Red clover seed actually needs to get really cold before it can start to grow. (Lucky for us, we planted this on Sunday 2/17 and got two good frosts within the next week!) We will still need to fertilize the hay fields this spring so the grasses have plenty of nutrients to grow.

This spring and summer, the newly-planted clover and the fescue will grow again, and we’ll harvest it for hay to store. This will keep our ladies fed, fat, and happy through the fall and winter!


  1. Cool! like the Video.

  2. Thanks! I had to try a few times to get it... Farmer Doc almost ran me over once because he was trying to stay in straight lines, and I was in the wrong spot!

  3. We very much had fun with it! Too bad we had to take it apart and give the GPS system back. Thank heaven for good farmer friends!


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