Having an accurate planter for row crops on animal powered farms is important not just because it makes planting easier. Having straight rows also makes it easier to weed using draft animal power. A year ago I began working on planter prototypes with Obali Robert (Uganda) and Araujo Mazambane (Mozambique) at Tillers’ farm in Scotts. We looked at a variety of historical planters in the Abbey Tool Collection, and finally decided to focus on a planter with a seed plate that rotates vertically.
The vertical seed plate was in line with the ground drive wheel, allowing us to use bicycle sprockets and chains, which are readily available everywhere, to rotate the seed plate.
In October I took one of our prototypes to Madagascar for field testing. There was some concern that there was not enough accuracy in plant spacing. Some seeds were falling out of the seed plate hole and back into the hopper. Earlier we had looked at a planter used in West Africa that had a seed plate turning on an axle 45 degrees from horizontal. However, it used machined bevel gears to change the rotation angle, and we had been reluctant to use parts that could not be locally made or replaced. Then I came across some pictures of old wooden gears online, and wondered if we could make our own gears using round steel rods for gear teeth.
In December I welded up a set. They seemed to turn OK and I packed them in my suitcase to take to Mozambique. John Sarge and the workshop staff in Mozambique all helped to come up with a planter that utilized the gears and turned the seed plate at a 45 degree angle. Having the seed plate at an angle allows gravity to hold the seeds in position until they reach the drop point for planting. We made a metal jig in Mozambique to hold the teeth in position during welding.
This spring we made another similar planter in Uganda. The Tillers staff in Uganda recently sent me some photos of additional planters, showing they are capable of producing them on their own. In early July, another planter was made and sent in pieces to Madagascar with John Sarge and Rob Burdick.
If you would like to see the planter, stop by the farm sometime, 10515 East OP Ave. in Scotts, MI. If you’d like to support our staff in Lira and see more planters in action, contact Ryan DeRamus at Tillers.