The Berta Rotary Plow, a love story.

The Berta Rotary Plow

2 years ago I bought a Grillo 85D walk behind tractor from Earth Tools and customized it with (the now standard) Lombardini Diesel.  Along with it I purchased a Berta Rotary Plow.  This implement alone was 40% of the price of the tractor, but the ability to turn under sod and cover crops as well as to form beds seemed worth it.  I’ve posted some shots in the past about what it can do, here are some more.  It is an InCREDIBLY invasive tool – it inverts and overly fluffs all the soil in the top 14″ and is the antithesis of no-till; its essentially mechanized double digging.  But if you want to break ALOT of eggs to make a wicked good omlet, its your toy.   Making the 20 potato beds for this years field trials will mean that the rotary plow will get a serious workout.  Here are some of the results from today:

This is the starter trench - just like with a moldboard, you start in the middle and work out.

The cover I am turning under is a winter rye planted in November 2009.  3-6″ top growth.  Here is the bed about 35 minutes later:

Imagine doing this by hand! Appropriate Technology.

Wrestling a 300# beast with a 12″ wide propeller inthe earth is not always as easy as it sounds, so the trenches can get a bit wonky if you hit rocks or soil compaction (center left).  Here is what another 30 minutes with a shovel cleaning up the lines will do, and a further 30 minutes laying down 1.5 yards of chips on the right:

Gorgeous. Witness the steps down the middle sowing the center path between the 30" beds, but also the overly fluffiness. Should be rolled prior to seeding.

Since I was on a roll and the Lombardini was all warmed up I cut myself two more on the other side of the small Hoopty:

No finish work, this is Berta Plowing in the Raw. A bit over 1 hour from surveying to this.

4 down!  Again, the beds are 6′ wide with 2′ of trench in between.  The beds are sized to be fit a Johnny’s Low Tunnel at the ends of the season over 2 30″ beds an a 1′ center path for weeding.  The 2′ trenches are being filled with wood chips are time allows, but it is a crap ton of chips.  – one of these 85′ paths will take over 5 yards of chips.  That is half a dump truck load! On the upside, this 65×95 plot is getting over 10,000#’s of fresh organic matter for the worms and fungi to feast on.

Here is a shot of the Berta breaking sod last year for a community garden:

The sod was chisled with the tiller first (hence the thatch showing). The Berta tends to "roll" rather than cut on really established sod. Tilling it first helps.

And a shot of turning under a field of mixed cover crop:

When they say one pass they mean: ONE PASS.

Cutting these 25-30 beds is a lot of work and I am beating the crap out of the soil.  The plan is to never touch these beds again with the Berta Plow – these beds are to be permanent, mulched, and at most only lightly tilled to clear debris as needed.

End goal?  to make my beloved Berta obsolete and end up with a system like this.

In the mean time, my Berta and me are getting it done.

Be the Change.

7 Responses

  1. I’m extremely jealous of your rotary plow.

    Fascinating as always. What are you planning on mulching with at this scale? Plastic? I had a lot of issues with slugs from straw mulch. Now I either use cedar chips (as available) or plastic membrane with pavers. Funnily enough, *only* weeds would grow in and near my (non-cedar) woodchip mulch edge, and I had to add a tremendous amount of urea for a season to fix a bed that got mixed with that wood chip edge when I expanded. I had really alkaline soil, so it probably ended up improving things, but it was a lot of work and espense. Also, are you inoculating your woodchips with anything interesting (e.g. oyster mushrooms) by chance?

    Any irrigation plans? Thanks for posting!

    • Plastic is out of the question for mulch – I don’t mind covering beds with plastic as I can get 3-5 years from it, but the mulch is a one use and too much for my conscience.

      We will be doing the potatoes and onions with the straw bales from my Ghetto Cold Frame and when that runs out, I will be switching to straw from the prairie. The winter squash will be getting 1 yr old leaves. Lettuce and spinach get nothing do to how fast they go in/out.

      I had 4 plugs of wine cap mushrooms left over from some tubes I am doing (post when I get time) so about 12′ is inocculated.

      Slugs MAY be a concern, but we have lots of frogs and toads so fingers crossed. More concerned about voles actually.

      Irrigation will be drip tape as needed. Hoping to not need it much what with all the swaling and mulching, but until the mulch saturates I am watering with well water.

      Rotary plows and walk behind tractors could be a great option for cooperative
      ownership. If several market growers each had Grillos or BCS and they each owned one or two implements it would be much more reasonable. As it is I am in for $5000.


      • This guy gets five years from 1.5 mil mulch, and it sounds like he could get even more if the rotation didn’t call for pulling it out.

        But I agree, plastic can be problematic.

  2. To clarify, what are you planning on mulching on top of the bed, not alongside.

  3. I know I shouldn’t, but…WANT.

  4. Re shared ownership there are always a few potential problems that come to mind: needing to use @ same time and how to deal with repairs, and potential for spreading soil borne diseases and pests.

  5. […] 1000# of cargo in my trailer.  Have I mentioned I love my car?  So, even saving 5 gallons for the Grillo to till the acre, we still have enough oil to drive over 1750 miles towing all those squash and […]

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