Frost-Seeding Cover Crops

pre-dawn seeding

We bought an ATV a couple of weeks ago for two main reasons: to get around to the far-off parts of the farm to check on things, and to frost seed. “Frost seeding” is broadcasting a crop (usually a cover crop – medium red clover in this case) during the time in  early spring when there is a lot of freezing and thawing. There are several reasons for doing this:

  • Reduce compaction by driving on frozen ground with a light vehicle instead of a heavier tractor pulling an implement.
  • Limit injury to the main crop (in this case, wheat) – it is much less fragile when it’s frozen.
  • Allow the freezing and thawing to work the seeds into the ground, avoiding the need for rolling (and saving more fuel and compaction).
  • Get a jump on the weeds! (The earlier the cover crop starts growing, the more effective it is at out-competing those unwanted, unloved plants on the farm.)

In order to get the seeding done while the ground was still frozen, we got up at 5 and started work as soon as it was light enough to see on the farm.  I drove the four-wheeler back and forth along the rows at 5 mph while my dad followed me with buckets of clover to refill the seed hopper on the broadcast seeder. Five layers was just the right amount of clothing to wear at that time of day.

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It worked like a charm!  By 8:30am, we were almost done.  After one stop for a seed refill, though, I heard a little rattle in the front of the four-wheeler.  “Hm.  Better ask Dad about that when I get back,” I thought.  No such luck – a quarter of the way back from the far edge of the field, the machine just stopped.  Huh.  Bummer.

We managed to shift back into neutral and towed it to my uncle’s toolshed, where our friend Butch, a small-engine doctor extraordinaire and the kind of guy every farmer should know, took a look at it.  The prognosis was not good, so we trailered it down into town to the ATV hospital.  When they got her all opened up on the operating table, it turned out that the situation was even more dire than we’d thought:  the engine had previously been cracked open and patched back together with silicone caulk just well enough for us to test-drive it, buy it “as is,” and use it for about four hours.  Major bummer.  It’ll cost us about half the purchase price to have it repaired.  Stay tuned for the name of one Southern Illinois establishment from which you should NEVER PURCHASE AN ATV.

In the meantime, the sun had come up and started thawing out the ground.  We couldn’t drive over the wheat without risking injury to it.  We only had about 2 acres left to seed, and we really just wanted some completion and satisfaction (and to not get up that early again soon!).  So we dug out the hand-broadcaster, and I walked the rest of the way at a steady pace, cranking out clover seed and shedding layers of clothing as I went.


It took almost as long to do those 2 acres on foot as it had taken us to seed the previous 18 by machine, but it sure was worth it to get the job done!


One response to “Frost-Seeding Cover Crops

  1. Hi Molly,

    We’ve been frost seeding too! Bummer about the ATV.

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