My wife and I have owned rural property for more than 25 years. Our land consists of rolling hardwood hills interspersed with a mix of small fields. We enjoy improving the habitat for wildlife by providing food plots and clearing trails and openings in the woods. We’ve been rewarded for our efforts with a variety of wildlife visiting our property, such as deer, wild turkeys, ducks, geese, coyotes, foxes, and even the occasional black bear. Also, a large variety of songbirds and pollinators frequent our land, which greatly enhances our time spent outdoors.
When we first purchased our land, it hadn’t been worked in many years. The fields were choked with weeds, only one road led to the property, and no trails were between the fields. We didn’t own equipment, such as tractors, tillage equipment, or seeders, and in the first few years, we used our all-terrain vehicle (ATV) and some improvised attachments to clear fields and plant food plots. Over the years, we added a compact utility tractor and some tillage equipment, but we also learned that you can establish and manage food plots with a limited budget and smaller equipment.
Many tasks are required to establish a food plot or develop a new pasture: Weeds and grasses need to be eliminated, fields need to be plowed or tilled, and the field or pasture needs to be seeded. Seeding a field can be as simple as walking through it with a bag and scattering the seed by hand. You can also use an all-in-one implement to break the ground, plant the seed, and compress (or “pack”) the seed with the soil. Seeding equipment may be pulled by ATVs or utility terrain vehicles (UTVs), but depending on the size of the field or pasture, it may require a tractor. Let’s take a look at some of the options and uses for seeding implements for smaller properties.
As I mentioned before, a lot of seeding equipment options are available — even on a limited budget. Granted, in recent years, innovative technology has been used to develop some dynamic all-in-one equipment for seeding, but some methods that’ve been around since the prairies were first broken are still valid today.
If you’re interested in seeding a small area for a food plot of less than an acre, you’ll still need to kill any competing weeds by spraying an herbicide or by using a carefully controlled burn of the plot area. Spraying can be done with a hand or a backpack sprayer. Once the plot area is showing signs of a die-off — usually after two weeks — you’ll need to expose the soil to seed the area. This can be accomplished by using a garden tiller, or even by dragging the area aggressively with a relatively inexpensive harrow behind an ATV.
Once the soil has been exposed, you can broadcast the seed by hand, or use a hand-held or push rotary lawn spreader to distribute the seed. After the seed has been broadcast, make sure it has good contact with the soil. This can be accomplished by pushing a lawn roller over the soil, or by dragging a small section of woven fence with something weighing it down, which will help with seed-to-soil contact and improve the chances of germination.
Planting with ATVs and UTVs
ATVs and UTVs can take your seeding projects to a new level. Equipment manufacturers have designed implements to take advantage of the four-wheel drive capability of these units — especially in the development of food plots — and their ability to access hard-to-reach areas on your property. ATVs and UTVs come in a wide range of styles and prices, mostly based on horsepower and the unit’s features.
As I mentioned earlier, the only piece of equipment I owned when we purchased our land was an ATV. I soon found it indispensable for tasks such as spraying and disking fields or pulling a broadcast spreader for fertilizing and seeding.
There are cost-effective, individual implements that’ve been designed for ATVs and UTVs. The most common are disk harrows (used to break up the soil), cultipackers (used to break up dirt clods and prepare a seedbed), and seeders that are rear-mounted in order to broadcast soil amendments and seed.
If you have a tractor or plan on purchasing one for your property, seeding your fields or pastures will allow you to expand the size and diversity of your projects. A variety of seeders are available for both the tractor and the ATV/UTV market, and they fall into two categories: stand-alone or all-in-one.
Stand-alone seeders, also called “planters,” are implements used for planting a variety of seeds. They require the seedbed to be prepared for seeding before the planters can be used. The planters come in many sizes, but for most small-property owners using a compact tractor, a 60-inch width is adequate. These planters use the tractor’s three-point hitch to operate the unit. The unit consists of a large box — some planters have multiple boxes — that holds the seed that funnels into the individual seeding tubes. These tubes can control the rate and size of seed. The planter has multiple “coulters,” which are disks that can be adjusted for depth, and that cut a groove for the seed to drop into. Once the seed drops into the groove cut by the coulter, a metal plate covers the seed with soil.
Most seeders have the ability to adjust the planting row width to meet the specific spacing need for the type of seed you’re planting. They also have the ability to seed more than 10 rows at a time. Some seeders have the ability to adjust the depth a seed is planted, which offers the option to try different seeds, such as corn, beans, oats, grass seed, and food plot mixes. Some seeders are only designed for specific seeds, such as corn and beans, and don’t have the ability to plant grasses.
Some stand-alone seeders are designed to be used by an ATV or UTV. These seeders have many of the same capabilities as the tractor-based seeders, but tend to be lighter and plant fewer rows because of the limited pulling capacity of the ATV or UTV.
The popularity of planting food plots has created a new style of seeding implement that’s capable of performing multiple field preparation and planting tasks with one pass. These all-in-one seeders combine a disk system for breaking up the soil, a seeder to dispense the seed, and a cultipacker to break up dirt clods and establish good soil-to-seed contact after seeding. Because of the weight of these combined tools, a compact tractor is probably best suited to handle pulling the seeder. However, several models are designed for larger ATVs and UTVs.
Although designed mainly for food plots, these all-in-one units can plant pastures, large gardens, and even lawns. One of the best features of these implements is that they can be used in a no-till or minimum-till environment. This simply means that although you should use herbicides to kill weeds before planting, in some instances, it’s not necessary to do any additional field preparation before using the seeder. Some all-in-one seeders do require the planting area to have some tillage done to be effective, but even with having to do some basic tillage, they still eliminate the multiple steps required when using a stand-alone seeder.
There are many models of all-in-one seeders by different manufacturers, but they all tend to have the same basic components, with varying sizes and models. The size of the units range from 3-foot models meant for ATVs to 10-foot, 150-horsepower, tractor-rated models. For smaller-property owners, the 4-foot models are a good selection, because they can be pulled by a smaller tractor or, in some cases, a large ATV or UTV, and they’re easier to maneuver in more confined spaces.
The majority of all-in-one units use groundspeed to operate. The front of the unit closest to the tractor or ATV is usually equipped with a set of cutting disks that allow users to adjust the cutting depth and angle of the disks. These disks are used to perform the initial soil disruption. Directly behind the front disks may be a secondary row of disks that function to break up additional soil for a finer seedbed preparation. Mounted above the frame is the seed box, which holds and distributes the seed. Once the seed drops down to the soil, a section of drag material covers the seed with soil, followed by a heavy cultipacker bar that levels and firms the seedbed.
The ability to control the cutting depth of the disks lends itself to more uses and versatility. By using a shallow cutting depth with the disks, overseeding pastures and lawns can be accomplished without completely disturbing the pasture or lawn composition.
Overseeding lawns or buffer strips on rural property is sometimes necessary because of heavy traffic or drought that can kill desirable grasses and allow weeds to grow. You can always take a basic approach to overseeding by dethatching or aerating your lawn, and then using a broadcast spreader to distribute the grass seed. This basic seeding will work, but tends to be much less effective than using a more automated method.
As mentioned previously, all-in-one seeders are great if you’re reseeding pastures or larger lawns. If there are smaller areas around buildings or buffer strips for erosion control, or if you just want to invigorate your existing lawn, you can rent mechanical slit seeders at home improvement stores that make overseeding more successful and less labor-intensive.
Mechanical Slit Seeders
Mechanical slit seeders are self-propelled and are roughly the size of a large garden tiller. They have a seed box located on top of the unit, and they’re equipped with vertical cutting blades that slice through the thatch of the existing turf, creating a miniature furrow that the seed drops into. A roller bar then covers the seed in the furrow, ensuring soil-to-seed contact. Another benefit of using mechanical seeders is that they tend to need less grass seed to be effective. These units are quite heavy and require some physical exertion to be turned and operated, especially on uneven ground.
If you have a small piece of land, keep a large garden, or want to plant some food plots for hunting, there are several inexpensive options for seeding. Whether you decide to seed by hand or use a small implement, you can find alternatives to the large, expensive equipment you might be more familiar with in order to get the job done.
Equipment for Less
Buying seeding equipment isn’t inexpensive. Some of the stand-alone seeders start at $600 for small two-row seeders, and can run over $4,000, depending on size and capability. All-in-one units start at about $4,000, and can run over $10,000 for the large tractor-based units.
Hardware stores, implement dealers, and large home improvement stores sometimes have rental units available for all types of seeding equipment. If you find that you only need equipment occasionally, renting it may be a more cost-effective alternative.
A regular Grit contributor, Tim Nephew lives in rural Minnesota, where he owns and maintains 80 acres of wildlife habitat.