Developing a Cover Cropping and No-Till Planting System for Small Scale Vegetable Farms Using the Two-Wheeled BCS Tractor

Progress report for FNC23-1397

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2023: $17,965.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2025
Grant Recipient:
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
Phillip Swartz
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Project Information

Description of operation:

Phillip Swartz - Farmer, Rancher, and Fabricator

I'm a sixth generation farmer raised on a Midwest corn and soy farm by my welder/fabricator father. I studied engineering at the University of Illinois and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Geology. Currently I work for a custom metal fabrication shop in Kalamazoo, MI.

My farming operation, Fresh Coast Farms, consists of rotationally grazing goats and chickens on 20 acres of diverse pasture. My wife, Chanterelle, and her sister, Sureau, began requesting my assistance with fabricating implements and tools that address specific issues they are experiencing while trying to improve efficiency and sustainable farming practices within their vegetable growing operation. My other farming enterprise,, is dedicated to the development and advancement of innovative and appropriate technology solutions for regenerative agriculture. I have already designed and fabricated a roller-crimper for the BCS two wheeled tractor.

Chanterelle Vogtmann-Owner, Founder and Head Grower at Silverbeet Farm LLC.

I have been working in agriculture for over 15 years. Learning primarily through hands-on experience, collaborating with mentors and fellow farmers and attending agricultural conferences and field days. I have knowledge and experience in a wide range of agricultural specialties including working in the commercial bedding plant industry, co-founding and operating a 20 acre certified organic orchard, cider mill and vegetable CSA, and founding and running Silverbeet Farm.

Silverbeet Farm is a 6 acre diversified vegetable and flower farm and family homestead established in 2016. We grow high-quality produce and plants for our local farmers market, CSA program, wedding florals and restaurant sales. Crops include but are not limited to heirloom tomatoes, winter squash, specialty lettuces and baby greens, culinary mushrooms, root crops and alliums and transplants. Our focus is on sustainable, holistic practices and soil health.

Sureau Vogtmann- Farm Manager at Silverbeet Farm LLC.

I have a bachelor's degree in Sport and Recreation Management with a focus on Outdoor Leadership and Education. I began working at Silverbeet in 2016 as a field hand and to help with farmer’s market sales and have been the farm manager since 2019. Some of the many farm responsibilities I am involved with include operating the BCS two-wheeled tractor, and collaborating on all aspects of crop planning, seed starting, planting, harvest, post-harvest and sales/distribution.


Currently, there isn't a viable solution or commercially available tool for small-scale vegetable farms to efficiently implement no-till planting into a roller crimped cover crop. No-till practices can be implemented at garden scale with hand tools and time-consuming physical labor or on large-scale farms using big tractors and technologically advanced implements.

Specifically, there does not exist an affordable or readily available no-till planting implement for two wheeled tractors such as the BCS. Some innovators, including ourselves, have developed roller crimpers for the two-wheeled tractor that will successfully terminate cover crops like cereal rye, however, we then face the challenge of planting tomato and winter squash seedlings by hand into a relatively hard seedbed. The potential labor saving benefits of using a roller crimped cover crop as mulch for these crops may be negated by the increased labor and time needed for hand transplanting into the hard seedbed

We believe that if a roller crimper and no-till planting system for the BCS two wheeled tractor was readily available to small scale vegetable growers, they would utilize those tools and there would be an in increase in adoption of cover cropping and no-till practices on vegetable farms. 


Project Objectives:


We intend to solve this problem by designing a no-till planting implement that fits two-wheeled tractors such as the BCS which are affordable and widely used on small farms. We will build upon the extensive research on roller crimping and no-till systems from organizations like the Rodale Institute.  We also plan to demonstrate the benefits by measuring soil health, recording labor inputs, and impact on quality of life. In order to do this we will establish two test plots for each year of the project. Plots will consist of two rows of heirloom tomatoes and two rows of winter squash, each row is 4’ x 300’. 

2023: 1st year tomato test plot will be prepared using the BCS and rotary harrow, tomatoes will be hand planted and mulched using organic hay or straw mulch. Winter squash plot will prepared using the BCS and rotary harrow, squash will be hand planted and then hand cultivated to control weeds using a Terrateck wheel hoe throughout the summer of 2023. We will  take soil samples from each plot to be tested spring and fall of 2023. 

2024 plots will be adjacent to the 2023 plots, one for tomatoes, one for squash. These plots will be planted with cereal rye and vetch mix in fall of 2023 to overwinter for spring of 2024. Spring of 2024 we commence roller crimping of the rye/vetch, and plant tomatoes and winter squash directly into the roller crimped cover crop utilizing the no-till planter we plan to develop. Soil samples will taken from these test plots evaluated in spring and fall of 2024. 

We chose heirloom tomatoes because they are an important crop for our farm. We think that they have the potential to thrive in a no-till cover cropped system and that this has the potential to save on inputs in terms of the cost of organic mulch/labor hours spent applying mulch and hand planting while maintaining the benefits of weed suppression, water retention, disease reduction and increased soil health. 

We chose winter squash because research shows that it does well in organic no-till systems and we believe that having beds in our test plot that are manually/mechanically cultivated will be valuable in terms of comparing soil test results and manual labor inputs. 

Due to the constraints of the two-wheeled tractor in terms of weight, horsepower, and traction we would like to design two different implements for no-till planting.  The first will be adapted from ground driven no-till components such as row cleaners, wavy coulter, subsoiler, and rolling basket to create a small tilled furrow for planting. The second unit will incorporate a modified PTO mini-trencher that substitutes engine power for traction power possibly creating a more user-friendly experience.


  1. Design, fabricate, test, and improve a single row no-till planting unit to be used with the BCS two-wheeled tractor.
  2. Continue testing and improving our roller crimper implement.
  3. Trial the implements with cereal rye and hairy vetch mix cover crop + cash crop systems and evaluate how these fit into the vegetable crop rotation and the impact they have on labor input, soil health factors, and quality of life.
  4. Share our findings with the community and other farmers through an on-farm educational demonstration day, social media outreach, photos, and videos of the research.
  5. Publish detailed and easy to follow plans for farmers to fabricate their own roller crimper and no-till planting implement for a two-wheeled tractor.
  6. Continue discussions with Earth tools Inc. When consulted they indicated that there is considerable interest from small scale farmers in a no-till planting solution for two-wheeled tractors.


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Materials and methods:

The project began on this field in Fall of 2022 when we plowed approximately .25 acres of old hay field followed by the application  and disc incorporation of the following materials:

  • 50# potassium magnesium sulfate 
  • 50# pelletized gypsum
  • 70# rock phospate
  • 50# microhume 
  • 50# kelp
  • 400# pelletized chicken litter from Herbrucks poultry ranch
  • ~32 yards of composted and forest inoculated wood chips


This area was then seeded with 100# cereal rye, 10# Austrian winter peas, 5# red clover, and a mystery legume (most likely old alfalfa seed) which was lightly disced for incorporation. We chose this mix because we needed the cereal rye for the crimped down mulch in Spring 2023 season and the legumes were added because we had that seed on hand and wanted to get some nitrogen fixation if possible. Also, it has been well documented that multi-species cover crops perform better than a single species. This cover crop germinated and grew several inches of top growth before going dormant during the Winter of 2022-2023. In Spring of 2023 the cover crop was allowed to grow. There was an extremely dry stretch of weather from early May to Mid June and the cover crop did not produce as much biomass as expected.


On May 8, 2023 Phillip drove to Fennig Equipment in Coldwater, OH to pick up no-till components to be used in the project.

On June 4, 2023 we commenced termination of the cereal rye. In the half of the field where we are conducting this grant project we used the BCS to flail mow two beds. These beds were power harrowed with the BCS on June 9.



On June 10, 2023 the remainder of this half of the field was roller crimped with our BCS two wheeled tractor because we wanted to see how effective the roller crimping would be at this time.


On June 16 we used the trenching implement for the BCS to make a planting trench in the mowed/tilled cereal rye beds. This was to help us learn how to use the implement and gain insight into how it might be used as part of a no-till planting system. We also did some weeding with the Terratek wheel hoe. We applied ~20# pelletized chicken manure and pound of kelp per bed. We planted winter squash seedlings in one bed and tomato seedlings in the other bed. 



We followed this by mulching a bed of tomatoes and cultivating a bed of squash to record our time for these tasks.

We took soil samples on July 11 from the areas that were not amended this season. Soil conditions at this time were still severely compacted from the lack of rain.

On October 11 we took another soil sample from the non amended parts of the field after adequate moisture had replenished the soil.

From October 11-13 we brought our herd of goats into the field to graze the cover crops: on one half of the field we had a very nice stand of medium red clover that had come through the roller crimped rye mulch and on the other half of the field we had planted a summer cover crop blend by discing it into the standing cereal rye.

On October 25 we disced the .25 acre field and seeded it with one bushel of cereal rye and 6 pounds of hairy vetch seed. We used the cereal rye to provide the biomass for the roller crimped rye and the hairy vetch was used to provide nitrogen fixation.

The cover crop put on several inches of top growth before going dormant in the winter of 2024. 

Participation Summary
3 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Up until this date we have been continuing to document the project progress via photos and videos to be used for production of the field day brochure, social media posts, and final educational material. This spring and summer we will begin and complete the following list of education and outreach objectives.

April 2024: Advertise the farm field day through digital and physical publications using the variety of media collected to date.  

May-November 2024: Documenting the project's second season.

June 2024: Conduct field day with on-farm demonstration of the roller crimping of overwintered cereal rye and hairy vetch. Demonstration of no-till planting system using our implement. Share and discuss project findings thus far. Provide field day participants with a brochure and request a brief survey be completed regarding the project's potential impact on quality of life.

November 2024-January 2025: Complete and publish the how-to guide for fabricating the no-till planting unit with necessary information about parts and design considerations.

January 2025: Complete and Submit final SARE report and share any final or updated findings on social media and with local conservation district and extension offices.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.