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

Project Overview

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


  • Agronomic: rye, vetches
  • Vegetables: cucurbits, tomatoes


  • Crop Production: continuous cropping, cover crops
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, carbon sequestration
  • Pest Management: allelopathy, mulches - killed, mulches - living
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil analysis, soil microbiology, soil quality/health

    Proposal summary:

    There is not currently 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 from proposal:


    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.


    Design, fabricate, test, and improve a single row no-till planting unit to be used with the BCS two-wheeled tractor.

    Continue testing and improving our roller crimper implement.

    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. 

    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.

    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. 

    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.




    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.