quin8670
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Grass to garden (1 acre plot)

Hi Folks,

I'm new to the forum, so greetings everyone.

I am starting a 1 acre vegetable garden a couple hours southwest of Toronto, Ontario next spring.

There is currently grass on the land I will be using which has been grass for decades.

My question is, what would be the best method to get the garden ready for planting.

Should the work be done this fall or next spring?

I think 1 acre is just too big for taking the no dig approach because I don't think I have enough materials to go into it.

Is a rotortiller the best solution? Will the grass continue to come up? Will weeds be out of control?

Should the grass be removed with a sod cutter?

Thanks everyone for the help, I really appreciate it.

imafan26
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Re: Grass to garden (1 acre plot)

Hello and welcome.

If you are just starting out, I'd start with a smaller area and not one acre.

It is a good idea to start planning a garden in the fall for the Spring.

No till is actually a good way to deal with grass. You can do sheet mulching. Either use a sod cutter and turn the grass upside down or lay thick cardboard over the garden area. You can make a border for the garden to help keep the grass out. Unless you want a large plot for corn. It is easier to lay the garden out in beds. Make each bed about 4 ft wide and 10 ft long. 4 feet wide is about as wide as you can make it and still reach across without having to walk in the bed. 10 feet long with breaks between beds makes it easy enough to get to the other side without going through the bed. Pathways between the beds can be mulched or you can leave the grass and make the aisle wide enough to still mow it. It is a good idea to make the aisle at least wide enough to get your wheel barrel, cart and tools through it. I would build one bed at a time and add to it as time and your skills allow you.

The bed should be near a water source and it is a good idea to maybe put irrigation in the beds at the same time.

You should have a compost area near the garden. It will be easy to compost your residues and a source of good compost for the future.

The following link explains what sheet mulching is all about. Sheet mulching is an economical way to build a garden using a lot of materials from your house, kitchen scraps, leaves, newspapers, (neighbors leaves and kitchen scraps). If that is not enough, ask a few more friends or ask the local grocer if you can get their produce they are going to throw out anyway, coffee grounds and filters from coffee shops. If you don't have enough browns, you can always get a bale of hay.

https://extension.oregonstate.edu/lane/s ... osting.pdf

Plan out what you want in the garden and while you are stuck inside during the winter, you can do your research on each plant, its needs, days to maturity, and how many and how far apart they need to be planted.
There are apps for garden plans and some ready made plans.

Unless you are retired, and no one has planned your retirement for you, you have to decide how much time you have to spend working in the garden. You can't just plant it and forget it. You will need to spend some time every day on it, especially if you don't have an irrigation system and then there is the weeding, bug patrol, trimming, disease control, etc.

At first start with a few easy plants and then when you have mastered those add on. Add on additional beds when you have the time.

The first plants I would start with would be lettuce, I would only plant as many heads as you can eat in 10 days. Plant additional seeds and replace the heads as they are harvested. If you plant the whole packet you will have more lettuce than you can eat at one time. Kale and swiss chard are good because you won't need as many plants and they can be harvested more than once. Beets, carrots, cabbage, are other cool season crops. Herbs are good choices since they are expensive to buy and add so much flavor to dishes. Some of them can be kept in pots to overwinter. Choose what you like to eat, but take a chance sometimes and you might be surprised.

For short season growers, you need to have a greenhouse or basement or some indoor growing area to start seeds before transplanting them out. Peppers, tomatoes are usually started indoors in cooler areas. They don't like to go outside before the temperatures are over 70 degrees. The seeds don't even want to germinate in cool conditions.
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rainbowgardener
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Re: Grass to garden (1 acre plot)

Well, ordinarily I would agree with all of that. But presuming you are an experienced vegetable gardener and you are going to put the whole acre in to veggies (that is a TON of veggies, are you planning to sell to market?), then I understand it would be very difficult to come up with cardboard and other organics to cover an acre.

In that case I probably would start by tilling, but the typical garden rototiller would still take a long time to till an acre. I would guesstimate with a rear tine walk behind rototiller, two full days. With a front tine, more. And really you should till it (this fall) wait for all the weeds to sprout and till it again. So four 7-8 hr days of walking behind a rototiller in the sun*.... I don't know how young and hardy you are, but if it were me I would look in to renting some kind of small garden tractor with a disc plow.

*Note that "walking behind" the rototiller really means something like arm wrestling it while it bucks and plunges!
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applestar
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Re: Grass to garden (1 acre plot)

I have no experience with this scale of gardening/farming, so these will be random thoughts gleaned from the internet. I'm just posting them as ideas that you may or may not have considered already.

In terms of no-till, the articles and videos I've seen for acreage sized preps that intrigued me is using a tractor and pulling an equipment that cuts and turns over strips in a grassy/weedy field. I can't remember if this equipment simultaneously plants seeds or if you have to go back and use a different equipment to plant seeds (I have vague recollection of word "plug" in the name/description)

Using this method, they sowed fast growing covercrop that would smother the existing vegetation. I believe this was done in fall so that winter kill would take care of summer/warm weather weeds. Then in spring, the field was crimped (that is such a cool machine I have fantasized about modified grass rollers for a small garden, but I suspect the weight is insufficient compared to big machines for the amount of crimping pressure that would be exerted) then planted.

I know I or someone else posted a PDF of a multi page article, but I don't have time to find it now. I think you can find most of this information on the Rodale research site. There is also another site that is a great resource and it's a three or four letter initial, but I'm drawing a blank right now. maybe someone else will think of it immediately and I would be like, duh!
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Re: Grass to garden (1 acre plot)

If I had to till an whole acre with a front time tiller, I might seriously consider suicide. Cause the tiller would surely kill my flabby 63 year old self.

On a more ernest responce, I'd look into a tractor tow behind plow and disc, or tow behind tiller. Renting or hiring it done is a more practicle starting point. Your first year fertilizing needs (after soil testing) could include up to a ton of lime and five tons of manure... And a second tilling in the spring.

I would not look for a rear tine tiller until after sod is broken up the year before.
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quin8670
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Re: Grass to garden (1 acre plot)

Thanks everyone for your very helpful comments.

I have access to a BCS Model 853 rototiller, which is a pretty heavy duty machine. But you are right tomc, maybe I should be considering heavy dutier options.

Rainbowgardener I am still under 30 :) , and I have some time this fall, so it could probably be done.

Applestar, yes a good cover crop that smoothers the existing vegetation seems like a good idea. Because even if one tills in one way or anther there is going to be lots of grass probably trying to spring back up.

Probably sensible to till in the fall, plant cover crop, till again in the spring. I try to minimize my tilling, but I think with such a big plot, I don't have too much other choice (since I don't have an abundance of organic materials to mulch with).

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applestar
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Re: Grass to garden (1 acre plot)

Where do you live?

Winter cover crops, especially grain, will need to be sown soon depending on what it is and how it will be used. According to my local agricultural agency, there is a time table-window between mid August to early October for various types of winter grains. Your schedule will depend on local climate conditions and pest insect population.
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quin8670
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Re: Grass to garden (1 acre plot)

I live two hours southwest of Toronto (Ontario), outside of London (Ontario).

Yes, something will have to go in the ground pretty soon if I plant the cover crop.

I'm still mulling it over though and open to additional input.

Thanks again.

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bryce d
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Re: Grass to garden (1 acre plot)

I turned over 1000 square feet last year, to plant this year. When I opened up my "10 square" I did it with a walk behind tractor, plow, and colter wheel. After I was done, and it took three evenings, it felt like I had wrestled a blue tornado. The first time you will want to have it plowed with a tractor. Nobody walks behind a tiller. Even after you have had the ground "opened up" You will still be wrestling with it all the way. Plan on grass trying to come up all next year. I'm finally getting things under control a year later. Next year should be really nice.
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quin8670
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Re: Grass to garden (1 acre plot)

Thanks so much everyone.

This is truly a very helpful place! wow! I'm amazed by the nature of this community.

I think at this point, if I had to do it today, I would get someone with a big tractor to do it and pay them for it, I don't think the cost will be very high. Then I think I will plant a cover crop (which one however I don't know, I'm still researching).

Final question...since I have never really done the whole breaking new ground thing before, would it be best to plant the cover crop on the whole 1 acre or to establish rows first (where I will plant veggies next year) and then seed only those rows with the cover crop?

Thanks again everyone.

I will definitely update you all on how this goes over the next few weeks.

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JosephsGarden
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Re: Grass to garden (1 acre plot)

For the past 6 years the size of my garden has been around 1 to 4 acres.

For a garden that size mulching is dead-on-arrival. Last time I figured cost it was somewhere around $50,000 and that's not counting the months and months of labor necessary to install it. For that kind of money and labor I'd be better off building a greenhouse. And little fussy beds don't work for me: the whole field gets returned to bare ground each fall.

In an ideal world I'd love to plow first to turn the soil upside down and bury a lot of the weed seeds and perrenial roots deep enough that they die or can't germinate... But I don't live in an ideal world, so when starting a new field I just till or disk With A Tractor. I really, really, really like doing that a couple times in the fall, separated by about 2 weeks.

I grow weeds as a cover crop. As long as I don't let the annuals go to seed I figure all's well. Tilling chops the perrenial roots up into smaller pieces which either die, or just sprout into lots of smaller/weaker plants. Most grasses in my area die readily, except for those with strong rhizome roots. They almost have to be raked out by hand. Bindweed is always difficult for me. It takes about 70 pounds of rye seed per acre to plant a formal cover crop. Wheat and/or rye seem to be about the only winter hardy cover crops that do well in my area. They grow a little bit all winter long and start strong in the spring. Weeds don't grow very well during my winters. If I were planting formal cover crops I'd plant the whole field in the fall, and then in the spring till up as much as necessary to plant the crops at their proper time. In the spring where possible I like to till about two weeks before planting so that the weed seeds can germinate, and then just before planting cultivate about 1/2" deep so that the germinating seedlings are killed, but more seeds are not brought up from deep underground.

quin8670
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Re: Grass to garden (1 acre plot)

JosephsGarden wrote:For the past 6 years the size of my garden has been around 1 to 4 acres.

For a garden that size mulching is dead-on-arrival. Last time I figured cost it was somewhere around $50,000 and that's not counting the months and months of labor necessary to install it. For that kind of money and labor I'd be better off building a greenhouse. And little fussy beds don't work for me: the whole field gets returned to bare ground each fall.

In an ideal world I'd love to plow first to turn the soil upside down and bury a lot of the weed seeds and perrenial roots deep enough that they die or can't germinate... But I don't live in an ideal world, so when starting a new field I just till or disk With A Tractor. I really, really, really like doing that a couple times in the fall, separated by about 2 weeks.

I grow weeds as a cover crop. As long as I don't let the annuals go to seed I figure all's well. Tilling chops the perrenial roots up into smaller pieces which either die, or just sprout into lots of smaller/weaker plants. Most grasses in my area die readily, except for those with strong rhizome roots. They almost have to be raked out by hand. Bindweed is always difficult for me. It takes about 70 pounds of rye seed per acre to plant a formal cover crop. Wheat and/or rye seem to be about the only winter hardy cover crops that do well in my area. They grow a little bit all winter long and start strong in the spring. Weeds don't grow very well during my winters. If I were planting formal cover crops I'd plant the whole field in the fall, and then in the spring till up as much as necessary to plant the crops at their proper time. In the spring where possible I like to till about two weeks before planting so that the weed seeds can germinate, and then just before planting cultivate about 1/2" deep so that the germinating seedlings are killed, but more seeds are not brought up from deep underground.
Thanks Josephsgarden. Now how would you decide between the tiller or disk? Is it really a question of if the terrain is rocky and the size of the plot? I think most people would use a disk for anything over 2 acres that may be a bit rocky, would you agree with this? When doing it for the first time are a few passes necessary or just one?

Thanks again.

imafan26
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Re: Grass to garden (1 acre plot)

Quin, how long have you been gardening and what are you planning to plant in your one acre plot?
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JosephsGarden
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Re: Grass to garden (1 acre plot)

I till everything because that's the equipment that is available to me. (Thanks papa.) I avoid tilling rocky ground wherever possible. Some of my fields have areas where the ground was disturbed to bury utility lines and the subsoil rocks were brought to the surface. I don't till or plant those areas. I have one field that is very rocky. By rocky I mean 4" to 10" stones, not small gravel. I would use disk-only in that field if available, I hate beating the tiller against the rocks.

In non-rocky ground I think that tilling breaks up ground quicker and easier. I remember disking taking 3-4 passes to break up sod that a tiller can do in one pass, but the disk covers more ground quicker.

I can till 3 acres in an afternoon for maintenance tilling. Breaking up sod takes me about 2 hours per acre.

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Re: Grass to garden (1 acre plot)

Definitely a large tractor and either PLOW or till it with a good rear end tiller. Then work it again after a couple of weeks. Start any time now. Shallow tilling either in the fall or spring just before planting gets any germinated weed seeds. Soil just broken up out of sod is usually very fertile the first year. Good luck.
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quin8670
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Re: Grass to garden (1 acre plot)

jal_ut wrote:Definitely a large tractor and either PLOW or till it with a good rear end tiller. Then work it again after a couple of weeks. Start any time now. Shallow tilling either in the fall or spring just before planting gets any germinated weed seeds. Soil just broken up out of sod is usually very fertile the first year. Good luck.
So you would not recommend a cover crop eh. If one is not recommending a cover crop over winter, then wouldn't it be better to break sod in early spring? Any thoughts?

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Re: Grass to garden (1 acre plot)

Hi quinn8670 - welcome to the forum. I'm a newbie myself.

My question is 'when does gardening become farming'?

I don't know. For myself, an acre would seem like farming whereas 4 x 8 (or so) beds, would be gardening. Even an acre of 4 x 8 beds would seem like farming to me. I could be wrong, but by that definition, it seems that you are looking to farm this acre. Either way, I'm glad to hear you are under 30 years old. That's a lot of work.

I think 'imafan' offered a well rounded and eloquent suggestion as to how to go about it one step at a time (the longest journey begins with a single step). I would only question hay as a brown. My understanding is (again, could be wrong) that hay was cut green at seed (and more nutritious to livestock) where straw is allowed to dry at seed, the seed extracted and the remainder is 'straw' (less nutritious, and a brown). Again, not an expert and would like to hear other opinions. Good job 'imafan'.

I'm editing in my source for the hay/straw question. https://www.helpfulgardener.com/forum/vi ... 9&start=12

I will also echo 'rainbowgardener's question. I mean, even if it all goes south, bad production from one acre will be more than you (and perhaps family) could consume. Market?

To farm, I think applestar, tomc, bryce d and JosephsGarden are giving you sound advice.

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Re: Grass to garden (1 acre plot)

I have broken up ground in the spring and in the fall. I much prefer doing it in the fall. Because in the spring the ground can be too muddy to plow/till for months after I would like to have the early spring crops planted. If I wait long enough for the ground to dry out enough to work, then I have missed the ideal planting times for some crops. I plant the earliest spring crops into fall tilled ground without reworking the ground in the spring, other than a shallow cultivation with a hoe in the rows.

If ground is broken up in the fall, then the plant material that was turned under is well composted by spring. It also gives more opportunities to kill the perennial and annual weeds. I prefer that. The more weeds I can kill with the tractor the fewer I have to chop by hand during the growing season. In my garden we have snow cover from early November through mid-March. I am lucky to get the fall tilling done a day or two before the winter snows arrive, so cover crops haven't worked for me. I could plant rye or wheat to good effect if I spent more effort getting everything harvested more timely. Even if I planted rye the day before the snow arrived, it would sprout under the snow and grow vigorously in early spring.

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Re: Grass to garden (1 acre plot)

To meshmouse. You are right straw is better than hay for a brown. Hay has more weed seeds too. greens and browns are sometimes a mystery to me. Fresh leaves are a green, but dried leaves are brown. Even if I add fresh leaves to the compost pile, they will be dry in a couple of weeks, are they then a brown?

I actually only used a bale once, in the beginning when I was still learning about composting, I did not have enough browns. I put the sticks and twigs on the bottom for the aeration but I had 90% greens from weeds, vines and shrubs. Needless to say, my pile sank really fast, was a sloppy smelly mess and unfortunately most of my weeds are the kind that will grow if you leave a node intact, so instead of cooking, the weeds actually grew in the pile. I did get some compost eventually, but it was not good at all for killing the weeds. I even had a large branch of the bougainvillea root in the pile. I luckily hauled it out before it became permanent. After that, I learned if I was going to compost certain weeds, I had to bag them first and make sure they were brown before opening up the bags and adding it to the pile.

I still don't have enough browns, so I mostly do vermicomposting instead. I take the rest of my clean greens to the garden where I volunteer and add it to the demonstration home composting bins. None of them get hot enough so they need clean inputs for a cold composting system. The remainder of my yard waste goes into the green waste recycling can.

I finally sort of came to a generalization that nitrogen rich manures, fresh leaves and fruit are greens and carbon rich dried leaves, stems and roots are browns. It works for most things, but there are still some of those gray areas.
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freedhardwoods
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Re: Grass to garden (1 acre plot)

Lots of good info here. I would listen closely to what JosephsGarden and jal_ut recommend. Both have had large gardens for several years.

I have a quarter acre garden and spend about 4 hrs per week taking care of it when I'm home on the weekend except during harvest time. This past weekend I spent 20 hours picking, shucking, washing and cutting 118 quarts of corn. That was from 1700 sq ft. An acre is 43560 sq ft.

As JosephsGarden said, when you are gardening on a large scale, you just can't use the methods that the small gardeners use unless you have a money tree to pay for the labor and materials.

Here is a thread that has lots of useful info - https://www.helpfulgardener.com/forum/vi ... =4&t=58966

I do have a plow, and even though I have never used it in my garden, I am not totally against using one. To turn grass into a garden I think a moldboard plow would work well the first year. I use my tiller for tillage and weed control quite extensively because it allows me to do a lot of work in a short time.

Most farmers don't even own a moldboard plow. Many years ago many started using vertical tillage to get away from the "plow pan" their fields had developed. The last farm I worked on (3000 acres) used 1 pass with a ripper, 1 pass with a field cultivator, and sowed wheat as a cover crop in the fall. In the spring, 1 pass with a field cultivator would tear out the wheat and prepare the seedbed. This video explains vertical tillage and how it improves soil and crop or vegetable yields - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwG4hqtn0VA

Another cover crop that is just recently becoming popular to help with deep tillage is Ground Hog Radish. It grows 18" to 24" deep and breaks up the plow pan. In the spring, it breaks up easily in spring tillage and rots quickly The farm I mentioned above has started using it instead of wheat.
GROUND HOG RADISH 1.jpg
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GROUND HOG RADISH 2.jpg (48.87 KiB) Viewed 1089 times
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meshmouse
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Re: Grass to garden (1 acre plot)

When ever I start a new bed (4 x 8 or so) from grass, I prefer to do it pretty much like JosephsGarden does, only with a spade instead of a tractor.

imafan26 - I agree with everything you said. I don't want to hijack this thread so I'll eventually meet up with you in a more appropriate one to ask my questions. And, thanks.

freedhardwoods - That's some radish. What becomes of it? How does it taste? Kinda looks like a big dikon.

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Re: Grass to garden (1 acre plot)

meshmouse wrote:freedhardwoods - That's some radish. What becomes of it? How does it taste? Kinda looks like a big dikon.
I added to my post a few minutes ago. You don't eat it. You just work it in the ground in the spring.

meshmouse
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Re: Grass to garden (1 acre plot)

thanks freehardwoods - good to know. still amazing.

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applestar
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Re: Grass to garden (1 acre plot)

:D it's a completely different toolset and vocabulary.

I don't research into those too closely because I don't think I'll ever work on areas of that size and scale, but it's always fascinating to me because I'm amazed and intrigued by the ingenuity that have been applied to engineering and making those tools and machines, and the history that goes with their development.

I get a catalogue from place calked Garret Wade and they had a set of toy agricultural machines in last year's Christmas catalogue -- I think a tractor and attachment machines that are probably models of some of the ones that have been mentioned.

Still, there are some equivalents like I grow daikon too. (Not the super sized ones like those, however.)
I harvest some (leaving holes in the ground) and leave others in the ground. Normal winters get cold enough that they freeze and rot away so I don't have to till them in.
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jal_ut
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Re: Grass to garden (1 acre plot)

My goodness an acre is a lot of area to plant garden crops.
May I suggest that to break up sod, a good mold board plow on a 60 HP tractor does a nice job.

When you say tractor, what size can you get? A tractor around 60 HP with a six foot roto-tiller does a great job too. A smaller garden tractor on that much space will work yer buns off .

How rocky is the plot? Yes a disc would likely handle the rocks better.

In any event, it takes at least two workings to kill grass. After you till or pIow, plan to wait two weeks and till it again. You can be assured that there will be many weeds germinate in that two weeks if there is enough moisture, and the second tilling will get loads of weeds too.
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