Moldboard Plow 101

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Old Brinly PlowThere 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.

Moldboard Plow Diagram

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:

Fall Plowing

  • 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

Spring Plowing

  • 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

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4 Responses to Moldboard Plow 101

  1. I’m not sure how to exactly set up the moldboard plow… I have a sears Craftsman Garden Tractor and I have never done this before… HELP! I lost the instructions for assembly and I believe there was some information there. Does the landslide (sp) adjust deeper or at the same depth as the plow and coulter? I.m sure there are little adjustments I need to make!!!

    • Brinly Hardy says:

      Hi Phil, you should be able to find everything you need in the Operation and Adjustments sections of the manual found here. Let me know if you have any other questions.

    • Matt Harbert says:

      Phil,
      Did you get your plow setup?
      When you assemble the plow, you will find that the frog has no adjustment for the landslide. In fact my frog was misformed so I had to grind on my landslide, and reform my frog to get it to fit correctly. Perhaps this is why you had issues/questions.
      There are a lot of garden tractor events all around central and eastern US. http://www.weekendfreedomachines.com is a great place to find a local event to take your garden tractor and plow. Hope you catch the bug too!

  2. Matt Harbert says:

    Great picture of the 1963 John Deere 110 Round Fender garden tractor!

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