Help deciding on equipment purchases

I am trying to make some decisions on how to move forward both now and long term regarding how I will manage my orchard. Currently, I have only planted 1 acre of mixed fruit (apples, pears, jujube, pawpaw) on 18’ spacing. This will be their second summer in the ground so they are still pretty small with the largest being 6’ at the moment. This past fall I also began planting elderberries and aronia in between the tree rows with many more still to go in.

My main question relates to grass management. I did not and would rather not go back and install long rows of orchard plastic. I also do not want to spray weed killer. My plan, currently, is to build my own roller crimper out of 50lb CO2 tanks and angle iron though I have not decided on what to use to tow the crimper yet. I have seen a few examples of this online and it appears to work in the instances I have seen. This past season I actually hauled individual loads of mulch in my Tacoma and distributed to each tree with a wheelbarrow. I can continue to do this but I plan to expand the orchard to 3 or 4 acres and mulching each tree individually is undesirable (at 36 now so definitely will be less desirable when I’m >60). I do not own a tractor but do have access to a pretty new Kubota and an old John Deere (if more needs to be known about these I can get whatever questions answered easily).

So, finally, is using a roller crimper a viable option or should I look at a tractor attachment that applies/throws mulch to rows? If it seems a viable option I was considering purchasing a UTV to pull it through the field. I was also thinking that a UTV with a dump trailer would help me distribute mulch also but that just seems like a band-aid of sorts because it would still be a lot of back and forth to the mulch pile.

I can brush hog the grass but an advantage to the crimping is you have instant mulch and brush hogging would ‘waste’ the material. Any thoughts are appreciated. I’m sure there is stuff I’m not thinking of or left out. I don’t consider myself a farmer so I without a doubt don’t know all of the options out there.

Have you considered “weeder” geese? I have no personal experience; but in theory one can remove young grass and weeds with the plot receiving some manure. Plus you might get a few nice meals to boot!

I have thought about weeder geese and I’m not totally opposed to the idea but my problem is the neighbors dogs. Admittedly they don’t appear to be out/on my property as much since one of them bit me last year. I do not have a way to keep them off my property and I have never used electronetting which leads me back to the dogs. I’m not 100% certain they wouldn’t challenge the electronet and since I work off site it could be a bad situation with no one around to do anything about it.

Honestly I would like to try geese but I don’t know how to realistically implement that on my property at this time :frowning:

Adult geese are territorial and will stand up to small dogs with the dogs getting the worst of any encounters. Non-migratory Canadian geese manage to breed in suburbs throughout the Midwest after all.

Its an interesting idea, but have you heard of success with it on weeds? It sounds like the standard use is to roll down a cover crop like rye before it goes to seed. Here is something I found on the Rodale site for example.

Can I use the roller crimper to roll weeds?
I sometimes get questions about using the roller/crimper as a tool for weed control. For example, a farmer might want to use it to roll a weed-infested field. Unfortunately, if it sounds too good to be true, it often is too good to be true. This is the case will the idea of rolling weeds; the weeds are merely knocked down by the roller/crimper, not killed. They will spring back into action and compete with crop plants. This is especially true for perennial weeds. Our system is designed to work with annual and winter annual cover crops, such as rye, vetch, annual clovers, peas, barley, or buckwheat. We roll these plants just as there are completing their life cycle – in effect killing them just a little bit early. In this way, organic no-till works in cooperation with nature. By contrast, if you try to kill a summer annual weed, or perennial weed with the roller/crimper, you are really working against nature. You are asking the plant to die in the middle of its life cycle, before it has time to reproduce. No weed worth its salt is going to lie down and die before it has reproduced.

We are experimenting with a zero turn mower discharging the clippings into the row. So far it has worked well and I am building a layer of organic matter in the row that helps control the weeds.

In the past I mulched the blueberry rows by loading the mulch into a compact pickup truck and throwing several grain shovels of mulch on each bush. As I get older, throwing mulch out of a pickup truck is becoming more difficult and we hope to substitute the discharge from the zero turn for the mulch.

Millcreek makes a line of side discharge mulchers that are used by large growers, but they are expensive. Also, side discharde flail mowers are available, but they are expensive and require a lot of tractor hp. Here is a video of one.

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Mill Creek

I had to check out the row mulchers that blueberrythrill mentioned, above. The Mini model 204 looks pretty cool. I can only imagine the price tag. So if money were not an issue, this would save on labor.

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So are you using just a regular mower (zero-turn) or does it have an attachment too?

Just a zero turn but the discharge side is toward the row.

I am in a very similar situation. My long term goal is NOT to own a tractor, so I will go the UTV route. As far as rolling and crimping, scottfsmith is right it is best done when a pure a stand of rye grass is terminated before it goes to seed. My approach will be to tarp the rows to establish a stale seed bed, then sow into it rye. If successful it should shade out any remaining weeds the come up during the season.

My hopes is in the following years it will be much easier to manage with that heavy mulch layer of terminate rye. From that point on rotate a number of cover crops and blow the the cuttings into the trees for additional mulch. Time will tell. I look forward to following your progress and I will keep you abreast of mine.

I use a regular rotary mower to chop up weeds and prunings in the row. During pruning, we throw them in the rows and I come down with a rotary mower to chop everything up. It does a decent job by my standards, though it does leave lots of stick in the rows.

A flail mower will completely chop it up, but they are very expensive. Rotary mowers are much cheaper and do a good enough job for me. Of course they don’t blow the material in the rows, but leave it in the aisle ways. It makes a lot of racket with the mower, but a good rotary mower will easily tolerate it. A good rotary mower will mow down a 3" tree.

Sometimes the piles of prunings are so high I have to run down the rows in reverse. Also, sometimes it takes a second run down the rows to chew everything up good.

Rotary mowers will mow weeds down with ease.

my rows are similar. i get several dump truck loads of wood chips delivered and i use the dump on my small tractor to put piles every 10ft. or so along the line. then i just rake it out so the whole line in-between the trees is all mulch 4in. thick. i replenish every spring. if grass starts to invade i just hit the edges with weed killer. still might be too much work on your scale. I’m only on a acre. but at least your not shoveling it. been doing it this way here for 5 yrs. also rarely need to water this way.

i upgraded my troy bilt 20hp lawn tractor with a oregon heavy duty mulching blade from Amazon. the metal is 2xs thicker than the oem blade. it cuts thru my bulging tree roots with ease as well as smaller branches and pine cones. and doesn’t need sharpening every year. its worth the extra if you want something that will chew up stuff well.

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Please let us know how the crimped rye works.

I have noticed a big difference in weed problems between my rows that were heavily cover cropped before I planted the trees and my other rows. Rye has some natural herbicide properties that helped with my weed control.

I really like buckwheat too because it grows so quickly you can get multiple crops for weed smothering and soil building. Unfortunately, bees Love buckwheat so it does not work where insecticide is applied to the orchard. Its easy to generate and incorporate tons of organic matter into the soil without shoveling anything if it gets done before the trees are planted.

I have used rye grain as cover crop here for many years.
And often plant a late garden into rye that has been rolled flat.
The important thing when doing this is to get rid of perennial weeds befor seeding the rye,
Usually I do this with a tractor drawn rototiller, killing weeds and incorporateing rye seed in early fall , and fertilize to get a good stand.
Usually I do this in crop fields. Gardens, it will head out at 7 ft tall. I usually roll it at 3ft. To get it ready to roll again later.
This kind of combs it, getting it all laying in one direction .
If allowed to lodge randomly by say a wind storm , there will be open spots, losing the future weed control , mulch, effects.
If it turns out essentially weed free and combed in one direction by rolling, I will set plants staight into the rye for a late garden, often it will remain weed free and mulched for the rest of the season, with no further maintanence.
When it works, it works very well, nothing could be easyer.
If it is weedy when time to roll I will incorporate it and do something else.
I have also done this in rows of young fruit trees with good results.
Older trees I have not, due to root damage that would occur in preparing a seed bed. Low branches , etc.
As to how to knock it over,…
in small areas rolling a barrel works.
Large areas…
dragging a peice of pipe with tractor
A brush hog with the pto shut off
A grader blade turned around backwards
A rototiller on tractor with pto shut off
Driving a ATV over it

I said set plants into it above, this is because many small seeds will not sprout in rye straw , due to its allelopatic effects.
This is one reason it makes such good mulch
Weeds often won’t sprout.
Large seeded vegetables corn , squash , bean …often will grow well, as will transplants

Thanks for your insight. Just what I was looking for. I have a young orchard and will be using this method in building organic matter in the rows. with a good mulch I will make use of the aisles. One question is there a method for seeding the rye other then tilling it in? I don’t have the means to do that at the moments. I can seed it then cover it with straw if I had to I guess.

Getting a good stand of rye without incorporating the seed can be difficult .
Birds and rodents will eat much of it.
And what does establish may not make it through the winter.
I recommend burrying the seed.
That said. The best I have done on top of the ground.was to soak the seed in water for a day, and sow broad cast befor several days of rain

I am on a small scale at this point with 20 trees in two rows. Any low impact options other then rototilling? If i had to use a tiller to get a solid stand that might be what I have to do.

Making seed balls with clay may work on a small scale .
Mix clay and seed together , press through a screen (? ? ) 1/2-1inch
To make cookie cutter seed balls, clay is cheep. But maybe labor intensive. A lot of labor for something like rye ?
You still have to eliminate weeds…

Maybe @fruitnut will comment here as I think he has experience with agronomic crops