Homemade plastic mulch layer

jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)April 28, 2013

Finally had sometime to work on the plastic mulch layer this weekend. I added the roller and two guide wheels to keep it from digging in too deep. While i need to do some fine tuning, it looks like it is going to work!

Is it perfect, no. Is it faster than laying it by hand, heck yea! I still need to add some heavy springs to pull the rear covering discs down to maintain better soil contact and finish the drip tape laying attachment.

I made 4 or 5 minor adjustments while laying this test strips, the final adjustment dialed it in pretty close in the upper left.

Same rows, done by hand 3 years ago.

Once I get it finished, i will post a video.

Jay

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TomatoesAndThings(7A)

Does the plastic stay tight enough hanging like you have it? Most of the ones I've seen have two rollers that the plastic sits in. This way the roll doesn't get out of control and there is plenty of tension on the plastic laying it nice and tight.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2013 at 2:28PM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

I have a new 4000ft roll for the year but it is so heavy I don't even want to start! I did learn at least to put a heavy pole through things like that and put it between 2 cinderblocks and pull the material, rather than lay it down and push it all over. On Friday my mom and I did it together with drip tape and the 2400 ft roll of white plastic. But the black plastic is much heavier and a little wider. I think we have to find a longer pole and someone stronger to help get it on the blocks.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2013 at 9:58PM
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TomatoesAndThings(7A)

So you just staple your plastic down instead of holding it down with dirt?

    Bookmark   April 28, 2013 at 10:22PM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

The tension is ok, I wish it was a little tighter, but we will see what happens. When I stopped, it didn't unroll extra, it stopped too. I can almost reach back and stop it from my seat on the tractor. I can stop the drip, if that happens. I might have my oldest sit on a piece of plywood and stop it with a gloved hand if it becomes a problem.

Minnie, I actually found it was easier to just push the roll on the ground instead of pulling it out from it sitting on blocks. The wind can't get ahold of it so easy.

Jay

    Bookmark   April 28, 2013 at 11:20PM
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cole_robbie(6)

My grandparents have this one:

It uses a ground roller of pvc pipe with wooden plugs in each end. We had trouble with that roller last year. The machine has sat for several years, and I think the wood has swollen. Now the roller doesn't roll. These machines take such an involved understanding to keep them going, that I think you have to know how to build one just to be able to use one. I'd rather have a home-built one that works than an expensive one with problems, because either it works or it doesn't.

They also bought the tractor attachment that is supposed to pick up the old plastic mulch, and that thing never worked. The plastic tears before it will wind up. Maybe it would work with a thicker plastic, but that would be more expensive.

After this experience building your own mulch layer, you will likely be good enough with them to fix other peoples' broken ones. I bet you could buy broken layers for next to nothing, because people get so frustrated with them.

This post was edited by Cole_Robbie on Mon, Apr 29, 13 at 12:13

    Bookmark   April 29, 2013 at 12:09PM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

Cole:

That was one that I actually modeled mine after. I have never seen one in person, just pictures and youtube videos. I have spent lots of "Relaxing" time reading reviews and literature. I reverse engineered mine and tried to take into account the different ideas.

Your rollers are PVC and wood? I always though that was what they were made of, but didn't know. I was going to make mine that way until I found the steel roller.

I was also trying to build my press wheels to be spring loaded, but I kept having issues, so I just bolted the wheels solid. I may go back to that idea and work on it when I have time.

About used or broken ones, I have never seen a used one for sale in Kansas until last weekend. They wanted $2,500 for it. Looked very new. I probably have about $150-200 in this one. The most expensive item was the U-bolts.

About the plastic pick up attachment , did you run a sub soiler under the plastic before you tried to use it?

Jay

    Bookmark   April 29, 2013 at 2:22PM
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myfamilysfarm

I had a chance at one last year for $1700, didn't have the money or felt like I needed one that badly.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2013 at 3:22PM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

Several years ago, I had another grower offer me their old one for $500. I thought about it, but I didn't have a tractor at the time and he lived about 5 hours from me one way.

These tools are very useful and unbelievable labor savers, but the price of new ones is a hard pill to swallow, especially for a small farm like mine. That is why I spend time building my own of everything (or trying to!) I also enjoy the challenge of doing it.

Jay

    Bookmark   April 29, 2013 at 4:26PM
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henhousefarms

Jay -

Where did you find your U-bolts? The ones I can get locally are pretty much junk and stripped out if tightened too much. Good looking build - I'm a little envious.

Tom

    Bookmark   April 29, 2013 at 6:25PM
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cole_robbie(6)

That's funny that you have looked at the same machine. I don't think of it as any great engineering feat. It looks like 2-3 guys made it in a pole barn shop. The ground roller is 4" white pvc. The plugs on the end look like they might have been made by hand on a lathe.

It was my grandparents trying the pick-up attachment several years ago. I don't know what you mean by sub-soiler. They found it to be easier to just drag a field cultivator down the row and make a pile of trash at the end.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2013 at 10:29PM
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Rio_Grande

Good to see this, I am in the first quarter of building mine. The front is a row shaper with adjustable height and if I can figure it out adjustable sweep on the blades. I haven't got mine done yet but feel they a are not a complicated machine.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2013 at 11:04PM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

Tom:

I got my u-bolts from my local Case implement dealer. They get them from the Landpride factory (about an hour away). They were harden steel. Probably could have gotten them from somewhere else, but they had them in stock.

Rio: I would love to see some pictures, do you have any?

Cole: I know how much I paid for my u-bolts, over half of the cost of those buckeye mulch layers has to be in u-bolts!

    Bookmark   April 30, 2013 at 12:31AM
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Rio_Grande

I have my mock up pix, but after Wednesday I should have some shakedown pix.
I do have a question on the bottom roller. Yours is stationary, and that was my plan, I wanted to ask do you think there would be any advantage to it being spring loaded? I bought roller bearings for the ends of the rollers I hope I don't regret making it turn that easy. I don't know how to post pix yet.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2013 at 12:53AM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

Yeah Jay it is easier to push the other way but I had two people and a calm day. Still had some problems though. Today I got the onion area plasticked.

I did this myself and pushed the roll along, putting rocks and staples down as I went. It was windy enough to get it good and weighted well. There is a wind tunnel effect right in the corner there all the time.

I plastic all paths to keep weeds down. I was going to do grassy paths like Lucy's but hub wouldn't give me the old mower and gave it away instead. He couldn't understand what a mower does in a garden. The weeds and the wind in my field are beyond excessive. I have said it before but cannot stress it enough!

    Bookmark   May 1, 2013 at 11:55PM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

Rio:

The original idea was to make the roller spring loaded so it could go up and down, but for the sake of time, I scrapped the idea. I have all the pieces to make it that way, but I need to use this now. Maybe I will see what happens later this summer.

I think it is a good idea, I just didn't take the time to make it work. My roller does have bearings, so I think you have a good idea.

Jay

    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 1:21AM
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Rio_Grande

I didn't get near as fae today as I wanted but I did acomplish some. I know what you are saying about needing to use it now, I am in the same boat. We just got some nice days and will be tilling tomorrow. I gotta get this thing done!
I am making the shaper pan adjustable and that is causing some issues. I may weld it solid tomorrow and forget the adjustment idea.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 2:04AM
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myfamilysfarm

A subsoiler is like a very deep chisel plow. Old-timers used to run the subsoiler thru the field to help prevent compaction and help deep drainage. Daddy used to use it every 5-10 years in the farm fields.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 12:55PM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

Cole:

Sorry I used the wrong words, I guess I was tired. Instead of saying subsoiler, I was thinking mulch lifter.

"These lifters typically have coulters that run beside the beds to cut any weeds or plant residue and loosen the soil, followed by one-sided blades that run under the cup and under much of the bed to further loosen the soil and lift the plastic mulch. Guides on the back of the blades lift the plastic in the air to allow the loosened soil to fall off."

Here is a link that might be useful: Mulch lifter

    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 4:21PM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

I was just reading about planting potatoes in plastic. I might as well try it given my weeds.

Today the winds were so aggressive from the worst direction, so I pulled a hose out and watered the plastic to keep it down.

Here is a link that might be useful: plastic potato growing

    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 9:17PM
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derock_gw

Minnie, I thought the same thing last year, only I tried planting under heavy straw mulch with drip tape.

The potatoes grew great. Unfortunately, the voles found this an ideal environment to thrive also.

At least 50% of my crop had a serious enough gnaw marks that I could not include them in my CSA shares.

So much for that experiment. Back to conventional practices for potatoes.

Deane

    Bookmark   May 3, 2013 at 8:08AM
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kelise_m

Minnie's link reminded me...I've looked into mulch layers in the past and the farm equipment sites seem to indicate that you need a BIG tractor. Our Kubota is 24hp and, according to what I read, would be too small? How big is your tractor Jay? Is it having any trouble power-wise? The only beds I'm forming with plastic like your by-hand picture are my sweet potatoes, and that is way too good of exercise, I'm glad I only have 100 feet! The other heat lovers get used "lumber wrap" laid on the ground and stapled as needed. Lumber wrap is what covers the units of lumber when they leave the sawmill. It's heavy duty woven plastic, white on one side and black on the other. It comes in 4-5 ft widths and 25-60 ft long. For those of you without husbands in construction, you could probably get it at the lumber store. It works great and is way way easier to pull up at the end of the season. Downsides are that the winds catches it easier than the other plastic mulch that is tucked in everywhere, and it takes more room in the garbage at the end of the season. But free is a good price!

    Bookmark   May 3, 2013 at 11:48AM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

Kelise:

I have a Kubota B7100 4wd. It is in the 16-20 HP range. The 4wd really makes pulling things much easier! It hasn't pulled very hard at all. In fact, my 4 foot finish mower pulls much harder. Maybe I am running much faster with it too!

Here is a picture of my little time saver!

I need to get my Sweet Potato plastic down ASAP. I will have slips coming in a week or two and we had snow on May 2nd!

Once I get everything up and running correctly, I will post a video.

Good idea on the lumber wrap. Use what is available to you!

Jay

    Bookmark   May 3, 2013 at 2:59PM
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cole_robbie(6)

The dirt scoop that makes the raised bed is the reason mulch-layers require a big tractor. You can lay mulch without the raised bed, or just form a bed first with another tractor.

I saw an old 1947 Ford 8n tractor for $1200 this week. It would be a perfect companion to a smaller modern Kubota.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2013 at 4:17PM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

I am planning on using my disc hiller to make the raised beds first, for my sweet potatoes, then run the mulch layer over the top of them. I hope it works! I need to test it out, but it is way to muddy to even try.

Jay

    Bookmark   May 3, 2013 at 4:37PM
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cole_robbie(6)

I learned last year that there are a lot of little tricks that help. What we did wrong is till the ground poorly and then let it dry out completely. That turned all of the clods of clay into sharp rocks that made the plastic catch and rip. You're supposed to till well and then lay the mulch very soon afterward.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2013 at 11:28PM
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myfamilysfarm

The size of tractor does depend on what type of ground you are working, clay needs a larger tractor versus sand. Just if you didn't realize it.

You should never work the ground when too wet. A good way to tell is to grab a handful and squeeze it. Then bound it up and down on your hand, if it stays a clump, it's too wet. If it breaks about, it's time to work the ground. Be sure to grab that dirt from the wettest spot. I've seen my dad and granddad do this since I was little (back in the 1960s).

If you work the ground too early, then you end up with 'cloditis' (what my dad called it) and you will end up working that ground 3-5x as much to get it make into workable ground. Lots of wasted gasoline/diesel.

Marla

    Bookmark   May 4, 2013 at 10:53AM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

I finally got my drip attachment finished up and took it out for a test run.
bu
It is a very simple set up, the tape comes off the roll, straight down the tube. I cut out the back of the tube,put a small bolt through the sides with a white piece of pipe to act as a roller, then there is a wedge (piece of angle iron) welded on the front. I can adjust the depth with the two bolts.

Currently, it in the middle of the bed, but I can move it to either side. I think I am going to make two of them so I can put two drip lines down at once. I would just need another roll of drip tape.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2013 at 10:18PM
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