If you have ever visited a Sod farm you will see a perfectly level surface of lush fields of grass. No dips or puddles, no rocks or clumps. The land is just perfect for growing healthy Sod. This does not however occur naturally, what you get out of the land depends on what you put into it.
Choice of Sod Cutter
There are three basic types of Sod Cutters:
- The Manual, “kick-plough” type: This type of sod cutter depends on the user for all its power. As the name suggests, you kick it to cut the sod and continue until you get the row finished.
2. The Tractor-Mount sod harvester: This unit is very efficient, but also too large and expensive for the average sod farmer just starting out.
3.The Self-Propelled / Walk-behind Sod Cutter: Is the most common in use today. You will want to choose a sod cutter with front-drive wheels that are actually self-driven, versus models where the wheels are only friction driven or not driven at all. The drive wheels are one of the hardest-working items on a sod cutter, therefore, it is important to look for models with larger, wider wheels.
The Protea SOD460 is used extensively by sod farms throughout Africa. It has become known as the “Rolls Royce” of walk-behind Sod Cutters. Fitted with a very powerful and robust 8HP/9HP engine with a 6:1 reduction gearbox, the machine should be able to cut 1500m² – 2000m² per day depending on the condition of the ground.
The soil must be thoroughly tilled, raked and cleared of rocks and vegetation before seeds can be planted. A layer of compost is spread to fertilize the soil with the nutrients required for turf to flourish. The land is then tilled once again to mix in the compost and loosen the existing soil even further. It is then crucial to ensure that the ground is level. If you attempt to grow Sod on an uneven surface, it will cause issues when you irrigate the grass, as there will be pooling in certain areas causing the grass to be overwatered thus encouraging rot.
Thorough preparation of the land will also extend the life on the various parts of your Sod cutter that take the most strain, like the blades and the side arms.
Seeding and Care
Now it is time to plant. Sod farms typically grow their sod from seed blends or hybrid sprigs. Once seeds are planted, it can take anywhere from 10 months to two years to cultivate turf before it’s ready for harvest. This involves an intensive regimen of watering, mowing and fertilizing,
It is easier to cut sod when the grass has been mowed to a manageable height. The Sod Cutter will be easier to operate, it will be easier to see where you have cut strips of sod and it makes the sod itself lighter and easier to transport.
Water 24 – 48 hours prior to cutting the sod. This will moisten the soil, making it easier for your sod cutter to do its work. Dry soil can result in blade slippage, poorly cut sod, and a much more difficult job for handling your sod cutter. By watering 1 or 2 days in advance of cutting sod, you will create optimal conditions for cutting sod.
Adjust the sod cutter blade height to remove sod grass along with at least 3/4″ – 1″ (2cm – 2.5cm) of topsoil. Cutting sod at this depth has the following benefits:
- Creates a level ground for future seeding.
- Removes grass and weed roots along with sod, preventing grass and weed regrowth.
Remember to disengage the blade of the sod cutter from the soil before making turns.
The myth that Sod farming depletes topsoil
Sod production is viewed by some people as a form of strip mining and a waste of natural resources. An immediate impression is that topsoil is depleted with each harvest. The facts do not substantiate these concerns. The lower portion of harvested sod may appear to be soil, but it is really a leafy portion attached to a thatch/root layer that normally measures 1/2 to 1/4 inches thick containing a bit of soil. Sod production improves farmland soil by adding organic materials and nutrients. Grass roots are continually developing, dying off, decomposing, and redeveloping. Organic matter keeps soil microbes active and improves soil chemical and physical properties. Research has shown that when sod is harvested, most of the grass root system is left in the soil. It was found that sod fields contained an average difference of 1.9% more organic matter. It was also found that sod production fields increased in organic matter with time. Assuming that a 6″ depth of soil on an acre weighs 1000 tons, then this represents 19 tons per acre return to the soil. Based on a five-year study, it could be concluded that the sod operation had added the equivalent of nearly four tons of organic matter to the soil each year.
Skaradowski, S. and W.M. Sullivan. 1995. The Effects of Commercial Sod Production on Soil Dynamics. American Society of Agronomy. Madison, WI. R.I. Agricultural Experiment Station #3186.
Skogley, C.R. and B.B. Hesseltine. 1978. Soil Loss and Organic Matter Return in Sod Production. University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI FIVE MYTHS OF USING SOD