Frost Seeding Tips

– Mark Landefeld, OSU Extension Agriculture Educator, retired, Monroe County

Round bales had been fed here and the area was very rough from unusually wet conditions. Paddock before being lightly disc and drug one morning when the overnight temperature was 24°F.

Last week we discussed how this year many producers have more than normal amounts of pasture that has been moderately to heavily tracked-up by livestock due to the extensive wet soil conditions. Many of these pastures can use a little help in recovering by adding grass and or clover seed to these fields. Spending a few minutes to calibrate your seeder will help you get the desired amount of seed on the pasture. This will be particularly helpful if you have large areas needing seeded.

Calibrating a hand held seeder or broadcast seeder mounted on an ATV is not too hard to do. You will need a scale to weigh the seed, a few plastic bags, a measuring wheel or tape measure and maybe a calculator to help with calculations.

First we must determine the average width our seeder will spread the seed. Grass seed will not throw as far/wide as clover seed because it is lighter and fluffier. So if you plan to seed both types of seed, a calculation for each will be needed. Spin a little seed from the seeder (with no wind blowing) and mark the outer edges where seeds land with flags or stakes. Measure the width and write it down (the hand seeder I’m using throws grass seed in a 10 foot swath). Next, determine the pounds of seed per acre you want to apply and multiply that number by 16 to determine the ounces per acre needed. (Ex. 5 lbs./A x 16 oz. = 80 oz./A)

Adjust the seeder opening for correct amount of seed to be delivered.

For calibration purposes we only want to use a small amount of seed and acreage while determining the correct size opening to set our seeder. I use 1/32nd of an acre for this calculation. To determine the amount of seed we need for 1/32nd of an acre, take the 80 oz. ÷ 32 = 2.5 oz. seed needed. An acre is 43,560 ft2 therefore, 43,560 ÷ 32 = 1361 ft2. Since my seeder throws grass seed 10 ft. wide (the number we wrote down before), 1361 ft2 ÷ 10 ft. = 136 ft. linear feet. This is the distance I need to use for calibration of this seeder.

Knowing the weight of various seeds is important for calibration.

Weigh out a few (4-6) 2.5 oz. bags of seed for the calibration. Measure 136 ft. in a pasture and place flags at each end. Estimate the size opening needed for your seeder and set it. Close the bottom, pour one of the 2.5 oz. bags of seed into the seeder and align yourself with the flags. I always begin a few feet before the first flag, to get my average walking and cranking speed, and then as I pass the first flag I open the seeder to the preset opening and proceed to the second flag (do the same if using an ATV). Adjust your seeder opening size, if needed, so you run out of seed just as you pass the second flag (that’s why I weigh 4-6 bags).

Now your seeder is calibrated and should be delivering 5 lbs. of seed per acre as long as you keep the proper spacing width and speed as you make passes back-and-forth in the paddock. I have found that taking just a little more time to place a few markers in the pasture really helps keep me on track. Depending on the size area to be seeded, more than one row of flags and stakes may be helpful. With the measuring wheel, start on one edge where seeding is to begin, then place a flag or post every 10 ft. (the width my seeder throws seed).

This is the same paddock as the top picture. Areas in the paddock were disc while the ground was partially frozen to negate compaction issues that would have occurred if disc later in the day when temperatures warmed back into the upper 30’s. Note the white posts and yellow calibration flags.

Alternate color of flag and posts for 80-100 ft. in width. I use two different markers or flag colors because it’s much easier to tell which marker I am heading toward after the initial pass. (Note: keep the same flag and stake pattern if using more than one row to minimize confusion during the seeding process). Once the area is seeded, move flags and stakes, if needed, to the next area to be seeded.

The time is right for Frost Seeding and repair of torn-up paddocks. Calibrate your seeder and get the seed on the ground so good soil to seed contact is made with the freeze and thaw cycles in the next few weeks. You’ll be glad you did!