There are few inventions that have been as impactful on the human race as the moldboard plow. The efficiency it afforded allowed early farmers to cultivate larger areas and the improved drainage ability enabled them to plant crops earlier even in snow-covered regions. Earlier plowing devices consisted of merely a vertical cutting blade that cultivated narrow rows. The moldboard plow’s introduction of a horizontal cutting blade and rotation-inducing moldboard enabled complete soil turnover, effectively burying the prior year’s crop remains and bringing fresh nutrients to the surface.
The basic design of the moldboard plow includes a hitch, a beam, a coulter, a moldboard, and a share. The hitch connects the beam to the animal or machine pulling the plow. Attached to the beam is a coulter, which is the vertical cutting blade (round/disc or straight/knife designs are typical). At the bottom of the beam is the moldboard, which is a half-heart-shaped section of wood or metal with a concaved surface that creates the rotational force as the plow passes through the soil. Attached to the bottom of the moldboard is the share, slicing the soil horizontally to create a row of fresh-plowed soil known as a furrow.
For the purpose of breaking new ground, the moldboard plow is the most satisfying and body-saving piece of equipment. Hoes are good for small spaces, but can be punishing to use for even moderately sized areas. Rotary tillers are good for more shallow tillage, but are less effective for loosening subsurface soils unless they’ve been turned by a moldboard plow first.
Fall or Spring Plowing?
There has been much debate over whether it is better to plow in fall after harvest or to wait until springtime. Each method has its pro’s and con’s:
- Ability to add soil amendments that break down over time
- Controls insects by exposing them to winter temperatures
- Soil is ready earlier the following spring: speeds up warming/drying process
- Risks erosion of soil
- Ability to grow a winter “cover crop” to combat erosion
- Prevents compaction of heavier soils over the winter
- Delayed planting time if weather conditions are unfavorable
Seasonal timing varies by region, rainfall, and soil composition. Ultimately, the primary objective of all cultivation efforts is to create loose, highly-aerated, nutrient-rich, homogeneous soil. This ensures efficient air exchange, nutrient absorption, water drainage, and root system expansion.
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Author: Brad Turner