2 ACRE expansion, tilling & succession planting

gardenlover(z5/6 OH)March 19, 2006

I've got a lot of questions floating around in my head, I hope I don't confuse whoever reads this post!

What is the best way to manage succession planting on 2 acres of land, one 5x100' bed planted every week?

I have an old Ford 8N tractor that I use to plow and disc, and in the past my neighbor has brought over his John Deere with a 5' tiller attachment to run it through the plowed/disced bed a couple of times. This worked great when I only did 4 beds. Now that I'm looking at a lot more beds planted one at a time, I'm not about to bug the poor guy every week!

My husband suggested plowing & discing the entire 2 acres, then having my neighbor use his 5' tiller on all of it. Then each week when I want to plant one 5x100 bed, he said my little 5hp walk behind tiller should do fine since the ground has already been broken.

I said it sounded great, but what about all the weeds that would go crazy in the unplanted, broken ground while it waited to be planted? The erosion?

What is the best way to manage succession planting on 2 acres? What equipment do I need?

Sorry, I know this is goofy!

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There's no such thing as a goofy question. But, we're all guilty of giving goofy answers sometimes -- I think.

I love that you have a Ford 8N. We also have one; and, we love it. Alright. I will admit that it is a love/hate relationship. But, sometimes that is the way it is with this equipment. We also own a Case.

With the Ford 8N we disc, cultipack, and drag before planting. We also have a walk behind tiller that we sometimes use between rows or tilling small sections. I do use the word we loosely because I'm not the one abusing my body behind the tiller. It's not to say that I don't because how much do those bags of soil weigh anyway? Oh, and how much does a crate full of planted and watered lily bulbs weigh?

I do have some questions, however, before I could answer some of the ones you have posed:

1) Why are your beds 5" wide?

2) What flowers you planning to grow?

3) What are your markets for said flowers?

4) Are you direct seeding or planting plugs?

5) What are your plans for controlling weeds?

Two week intervals for succession planting is the method used by most large scale specialty cutflower growers. I don't believe I know anyone who succession plants weekly. And, as I mentioned, we need to know what you plan on growing in order to better answer this question because some flowers you'll be harvesting the entire plant.

And, I hope that wasn't too much laller, laller, lallering on my part because I have been doing alot of that lately. And, that I blame on too much time spent with the lily bulbs. They can't communicate. That may be a good thing.......


    Bookmark   March 19, 2006 at 1:18PM
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I don't understand...if you only planted one 5 foot wide bed 100 feet long each week, you'd be planting a two acre patch for 160 weeks. Not enough information to give you any real help.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2006 at 1:23PM
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gardenlover(z5/6 OH)

Yes, it is a love/hate relationship with the 8N. It is currently torn apart. Was leaking oil badly, and had no power. Found out the block has a big hole in it. Some guy in Indiana is supposed to rebuild one of his engines for us.

to answer your questions flowerfarmer,
1. Beds are 5' wide simply because that's the width of my neighbors tiller.
2. Sunflowers (mostly), amaranthus opopeo, zinnias, anise hyssop, daisies, and any other annuals I decide to order.
3. Florists, farm market
4. Direct seeding
5. Hoe, Hoe, Hoe - which probably isn't reasonable since I am going bigger this year, right?

Like I said, we plow, disc & harrow, but on new (clay) ground, the soil just isn't broken up enough for planting seeds. I suppose we'll have to break down and buy a rotary tiller for our 8N, but hubby says it won't work because it isn't a live pto. Dad says it will work, just lower it to the ground and let out the clutch to get it started moving. I don't know - they can figure it out.

Anniew, those are just some general figures to get an idea of the space I'm dealing with. Only 2 acres, and only little bits planted at a time. As I go along, some spaces will probably be cover crops, while others are flowers.

This is just my second year with flowers, and on a little larger scale. I just have a lot to learn here.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2006 at 2:26PM
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We are well acquainted with clay soil. So, I understand what you are saying about having the ground broken up enough for direct sowing of seed. You may want to stay on the good side of your neighbor with the JD. We've heard the tiller attachment on the back of the Ford 8N is too hard on the pto. Actually, I think you already have enough equipment.

I now understand the reason for 5' beds. Is there a reason for only planting one 5' x 100' bed per week? Not really knowing your operation, I can see direct seeding a bed of sunflowers, a bed of Benary's Giant zinnias, a bed of Oklahoma zinnias, a bed of cosmos, a bed of larkspur, a bed of bachelor buttons, a bed of millet, a bed of broom corn for your sunflower bouquets, a bed of bulb plantings, a bed of snapdragons, a bed of amaranthus, a half bed of sweet annie, and half bed of ammi, etc. And, that's only 6,000 square feet in production not counting paths. But, I also don't know the size of your markets.

And, you mentioned mostly sunflowers. How many sunflowers and zinnias are you selling or planning to sell per week? I ask this question only because that information is a must as we tend to work backwards in planning how much to sow.

Do you have perennials or plans for perennial plantings?

We have several acres in production during the season, and find hand weeding and hoeing is just a fact of life in flower growing. With a hands on approach, insect damage and disease can be controlled before too much damage has been done -- in most cases -- hopefully. And, that is what I tell myself when I'm out there weeding those beds, and sweating, and gnats flying about my head. Ahhh. I can't wait.

We have been growing specialty cutflowers for market for 7 years. And, we're still learning. One never stops learning.


    Bookmark   March 19, 2006 at 8:08PM
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gardenlover(z5/6 OH)

I was afraid the 8N couldn't handle a tiller. Which brings up another question - Cultipacker. I don't know anything about this implement. What exactly does it do? If I got a cultipacker, would it prepare the seedbed enough along with plowing, discing and harrowing, so that I wouldn't have to bother my neighbor with the JD?

As far as how many plantings per week (or every other week), that has me stumped. Last year I just jumped right in planting without a real plan. It somehow worked out (thanks God), but not a real steady supply that I hope to work out for this year.

I'm only looking for about 250 saleable suns per week. I know that you have to plant a lot more seeds than 250, thanks to grasshoppers, cuke beetles, germination, etc. About 100 zinnias. See, I just have no concept of this part of the planning. Knowing how many to plant every other week to plan to have a steady supply of XX amount each week.

I'm concentrating on annuals, I have a VERY SMALL planting of perennials - daisies, purple coneflower, russian sage.

Thanks for all your help so far, flowerfarmer. I really appreciate it!!!

    Bookmark   March 20, 2006 at 9:03AM
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The cultipacker breaks apart the large clumps created by disking. Then, we use a drag to smooth out the soil. It's ready to plant with plugs or direct seeding at that time. So, if you can locate a cultipacker, I don't imagine you'll need to ask your neighbor with the JD.

Which sunflowers are you planting?

Do you need the 100 stems of zinnias from one day's harvest? Or, is it throughout the week?


    Bookmark   March 20, 2006 at 5:59PM
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gardenlover(z5/6 OH)

1. Sunbright Supreme (Did excellent last year)
2. Sunny (Did excellent last year)
3. Procut Orange (Did OK last year - I'll just use it for the 1st cuts. Lemon, I won't grow again.
4. Procut Bicolor (I thought I'd give it a try)

Any comments/suggestions on the varieties?

Approx. 100 zinnias throughout the week. In a perfect world, 50 in the beginning of the week, and 50 towards the end! I know there's no way to be so exact with these things - that's where I get the brain cramp when deciding how many to plant - and when - and how much space it will take.

Just FYI, I've been doing some research on using a tiller with the old Ford tractors. Seems the general consensus is what you said, hard on the PTO, the tractors go too fast to use with a tiller, etc. But, I did find out that some of them were equipped with a special transmission that has a creeper gear. The guy said you can put it full throttle in creeper gear, and you can get off the tractor and walk faster. Anyhow, the PTO speed still runs the same speed, while the tractor barely moves. Apparently it tills pretty good. I just thought that was interesting.

Do you grow cover crops? If so, what kinds do you find does best to nourish the soil for flowers? (if its not a trade secret)

    Bookmark   March 21, 2006 at 7:11AM
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Your selection of sunflowers looks fine. You don't, however, have Sunbright on your list. And, there is a new ProCut this season called Yellow Lites. Also, ProCut Bicolor is a nice one for later in the season. Benary's has a new pollenless, single stemmed with a 55-60 day crop time called Solara. We've also grown Double Quick. Finally, we also like the Sunrich Series for growing here in the Midwest.

My husband was raised on a farm that grew crops; and crops grow in rows according to him. Our zinnias aren't grown in beds. We grow them in 100' rows with 38" between rows. These plants get so bushy that even with this spacing we sometimes have trouble getting down the rows to harvest them. We now grow many of our flower crops in beds -- except, of course, sunflowers and zinnias.

To give you an idea about what sort of harvest to expect from zinnias: a 100' row should yield 1500 stems over a 6 week period. If you need to know more about succession planting, I'll look up that information.

Regarding the tractor: If anyone had told me 10-15 years ago that I would be talking about a tractor on a forum, I'd have thought they were crazy. My background is in marketing; and, I was an analyst for a large pharmaceutical company. One of my sons had a chronic illness which lasted 7 years. I quit my job to stay home with him. Summers were usually pretty good for him. However, the other three seasons were not. Long story short -- that is when this business was born, and we started growing flowers for market on a small scale. We think that we are very, very lucky people.

Back to the tractor. According to Mike Madison, the Ford 8N typically has 4 speeds. But, sometimes these tractors have been fitted with a reducing gear which is called a 'Sherman transmission' to give 8 gears. If you plan to use a rototiller with an 8N, that is what you'll want.

There's no trade secret on the cover crop. Last year Joe, the gardenguru, posted the following for cover crops in the Midwest. That is the practice we use. And, here it is:


BOP-BOP-Rye is an acronym for a cover crop mix of Buckwheat, Oats, and field Peas. Each of these ingredients is mixed in equal quantities by weight and sowed at the rate of one pound per 100 square feet.

The first sowing is in earliest spring after the area is scalp-mowed, and then the newly-sown seed is irrigated to germinate and grow (assuming minimal or no rains).

When the flowers appear on the buckwheat, the crop is mowed close to the ground.

A second crop is seeded immediately thereafter, either into the clippings of the first crop or the first crop is tilled under, graded level, and then the second seeding is made.*

The second crop is also mowed at its bloom time.

This is followed by a crop of winter rye sown in mid to late fall.

This is the standard formula. Joe also liked adding sunflowers and mustard to the mix (1/4 of each by weight compared to the full weight of the others).

This mix not only "smothers" the ground, hence not allowing room for any weeds, it has an allelopathic effect -- actually chemically suppressing weed growth, at the time of production as well as later.

*Till the material in if you plan to create an "intensive" bed afterwards (flower bed, vegetable bed).

Hope this helps.


    Bookmark   March 21, 2006 at 9:28PM
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Here's my first post! I have a small farm in SW Wash. I grow flowers and vegetables on about 4 acres. My tractor is a Ford 9n (very similar to the 8n). I have a reduction gear in it and it is an English made Howard gear. It is a little more common than the Sherman gear. Most Sherman's are not a reduction gear but they are a gear for higher speeds for travelling. The Howard I have allows a person to go really slow. If you ever tried to rototill without the tractor in reduction gear, you better hang on and expect to need a chiropractic adjustment at the very least. I have made the mistake briefly a few times and it is scary. The tractor just flies forward and the tiller bounces on the ground. I have river bottom soil and it still won't penetrate. Just a word of caution!


    Bookmark   March 27, 2006 at 11:53AM
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gardenlover(z5/6 OH)

Welcome Josh! Thanks for the information on the tractor gearing! I appreciate it!

Flowerfarmer, if you visit this post again. Thank you so much for all your help and information. Also, do you recommend a book, or a website for looking up what harvest to expect from a 100' row of different flowers, such as the zinnia info you gave me? Thanks!

    Bookmark   March 30, 2006 at 9:45PM
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