Tuesday, April 11

Farm Vocabulary: Seed Drill

Like any field of specialization farming has it's own lexicon. As a geek I'm used to tossing around terms that put a glassy-eyed look on the faces of others. Sentences such as this are commonplace during my normal day:
On one of our 8 Linux LPARs we have a PHP-based application that gets data from a MySql database which has an ODBC connection over the VLAN to the DB2 database on the OS/400 side.

Now the shoe is on the other foot. I'm fighting off the deer-in-the-headlights look as my wife is in her element. When Jennifer and I first met the current owner of the farm they quickly broke into farm parlance. I, the unindoctrinated, stood by and started to consciously use skills I remember learning in elementary school. I listened closely to try and get meaning from terms I had never heard based on the context in which they being used. The more times they said something, the closer I felt I became to understanding.

Bruce, the current owner, told us that he drilled oats into the pasture and he planned on harvesting it in late May or early June. He offered to drill whatever we wanted back in after he harvested the oats. The discussion continued down the path of a good pasture crop for horses but at this point I wasn't entirely sure I grokked the concept of the seed drill. My first idea of what a seed drill is and how it might operate seemed pretty inefficient (think one guy, power drill, bag of seeds, and ten acres). You can see in the picture that the oats (while still very small in the picture) are fairly regularly spaced and in nice, neat rows. It would be a lot of work to drill them in one at a time! Obviously, it's not done this way.

I found this useful wikipedia article on the seed drill:
The seed drill was invented in the West by Jethro Tull in 1701: It allowed farmers to sow seeds in well-spaced rows at specific depths. Prior to this farmers simply cast seeds on the ground, by hand, for them to grow where they landed (broadcasting). Some of the broadcast seeds were cast on unprepared ground where they never germinated, germinated prematurely only to be killed by frost or died from lack of access to water and nutrients.

This invention gave farmers much greater control over the depth that the seed was planted and the ability to cover the seeds without back-tracking. This greater control meant that seeds germinated consistently and in good soil. A further, very important consideration in the days before selective weedkillers was the ability that drilling afforded, to hoe the crop during the course of the growing season.

Over the years seed drills have become more advanced and sophisticated but the technology has remained substantially the same. The first seed drills were small enough to be drawn by a single horse but the availability of steam and, later, gasoline tractors saw the development of larger and more efficient drills that allowed farmers to seed even larger tracts in a single day.

Recent improvements to drills allow seed-drilling without prior tilling or otherwise preparing the soil. This means that soils subject to erosion or moisture loss are protected until the seed germinates and grows enough to keep the soil in place.

So I've got one term in the bag, and we'll be talking more later about what we decide to drill back into the land.

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1 comment:

Hal at Ranch Ramblins said...

And here I thought Jethro Tull was so "seventies"!