When it comes to planting seeds for grasses, most farmers rely on seeders or planters. That is because grass seeders are far more efficient than manually throwing seeds. They save time, save money, and improve yields. 

Before you invest in a grass seeder to plant your field, it is important to understand exactly what a grass seeder is and when to use one. Below, we explore the topic in full, so you can find a grass seeder that works for your farm. 

 

Seeders Explained

Put simply, drill seeders or planters are mechanical devices that sow seeds. They do this by positioning and burying seeds at specific depths appropriate to the seed type. 

There are several drill seeder types, but they all accomplish the same goals. 

Seeders ensure the even distribution of seeds while minimizing waste. This saves farmers the back-breaking work of manually seeding their fields. It also ensures they don’t lose seeds to birds and other animals. 

Before seed drills, when farmers tossed seeds by hand, somewhere between four and five seeds successfully germinated out of every twenty to thirty thrown. That amount of waste is far from ideal, especially in today’s world, with the cost of grass seeds easily getting out of control.  

Placing the seeds at the correct depths in an orderly row makes germinating seeds an efficient process, and the grass is more likely to grow evenly. Farmers don’t have to worry about patchy areas where seeds don’t sprout the way they should. Instead, they gain full coverage across large swaths of land. 

On top of that, grass seeders tend to be easy to use. Farmers simply attach them to the back of a tractor and drive the fields. There’s extraordinarily little labour required. 

Seeders provide control and efficiency. They make the hard job of farming much less labour-intensive. It is why seeders have been used in one form or another since ancient times.

 

Grass Seeder History 

Of course, ancient people weren’t using the mechanical seeding machines we use today. They didn’t have electric motors or gas-powered tractors to help their work. However, they did use seed planter tools that accomplished the same goals as modern farm equipment.

Anthropologists have found that ancient Babylonians used dribbling sticks or planting sticks as early as 1400 BCE. These were sticks cut so that seeds flowed down their shafts and onto the ground as farmers walked through the fields. The farmer would then use their foot to cover each seed with dirt. 

In truth, planting sticks like the Babylonians used were probably present in agricultural communities throughout the world, even before 1400 BCE. It wouldn’t take much for farmers to invent them, and they would have made growing crops a much more efficient endeavour. So, it makes sense that the Babylonians weren’t the first to figure out a planting stick. 

In the 2nd century BCE, there is also evidence of Chinese agriculturists using early seed drills. Theirs were more advanced than the Babylonian dribble sticks. Their seeders attached to an ox-driven cart and took care of both planting and covering each seed without using the farmer’s foot.  

Despite the early use of seeders in some parts of the world, however, it wasn’t until the 1700s that Europeans caught on to the idea. In 1701, Jethro Tull was credited with creating one of the first modern grass seeders. 

His horse-drawn drill used a rotating cylinder cut with grooves. Above the cylinder sat a seed hopper. The seeds flowed into the cylinder, down the grooves, and into small funnels. 

At the front of the seed drill was a plough that cut furrows. Seeds from the funnels landed in the furrows as the horse pulled the plough forward. Behind the plough was a harrow that pushed soil over the seeds. 

As you’ll see, modern planter machines aren’t vastly different from Tull’s original design. However, they take advantage of a few modern technologies that make the process more efficient.

 

Seeder Parts

Though there are several distinct types of grass seeders, most of them have the same general components. Understanding these parts will help you make the best decisions about what planter equipment will work best for your farm. 

  • Seedbox or hopper – The seedbox or hopper holds the seeds that the seeder will distribute. Seedboxes come in three standard configurations: standard, legume, and native grass or fluffy seed. 
  • Seed tubes – Seed tubes connect to the box or hopper and deliver the seeds through the ground openers and into the prepared furrow. 
  • Ground openers – Ground openers or disc openers dig the trenches the seeds go into. On a no-till drill, the ground openers will be strong to cut through untilled vegetation and thick sod. 
  • Gauge wheels – Gauge wheels set the appropriate depth for the seeds. 
  • Covering device – Covering devices or closing discs cover the seed with soil as the seeder moves through the field. 

 

Standard Drill Seeders

Standard drill seeders or box drills rely on gravity to function. These common planters usually place seeds in rows between six and eight inches apart. 

A pair of discs called “V openers” cut the soil to form a shallow trench or farrow. As the drill moves forward, the hopper turns, allowing seeds to fall into seed tubes and then into the farrow. Press wheels follow in the back of the machine, lightly compacting the soil over the freshly dropped seeds.  

Though common, box drills traditionally weren’t considered the best option for planting grasses in large areas. That’s because they were slower than air seeders, which we’ll discuss below. 

However, modern box drills may rival contemporary air seeders, and more farmers are using them to plant grasses and fall cover crops. These newer box drills offer larger hoppers and faster operation. 

In general, standard drill seeders are still best for seeding smaller pastures or planting cereal crops like grain, oats, and rye. 

Pros 

  • Allow for precise placement of seeds
  • Tend to be minimal maintenance machines
  • Don’t require much horsepower to pull
  • Tend to work with a wider variety of seed types

Cons

  • Slow compared to other seeder types 
  • Usually smaller than other seeder types
  • Require tilled soil 

When to Use

Use box seeders for seeding tilled soil in smaller pastures or for planting cereal grains like oats and rye. 

 

No-Till Drills

No-till drills are like box drills or drill seeders in many ways. They place seeds in rows just like drill seeders and rely on “V-openers” to dig a furrow in the soil. However, unlike standard drill seeders, no-till drills don’t require tilled soil to work. 

Instead, farmers can mow the area before running a no-till drill, making planting that much easier.

No-till drills have a straight disc or coulter that slices through the seedbed. The “V-openers” follow the coulter to cut the furrow. Then the seeds fall from the hopper, through the seed tubes, and into the prepared soil, just like they would in a standard drill seeder. 

Because they have to cut through unprepared soil, no-till drills are usually much heavier than standard box drills. That means farmers need more horsepower to pull them. 

However, they have some major advantages. On top of making planting a nearly one-step process, they also don’t harm the soil structure as much as tilling and standard drill seeders do. For this reason, they’re preferred for soil conservation. 

Unfortunately, no-till drills can make it difficult to control planting depths, especially when you are working with small seed species. Their heavy nature means that sometimes they cut too deep, and farmers may have a challenging time germinating seed.  

Pros 

  • Farmers don’t need to till the soil before use
  • Doesn’t harm soil structure 

Cons

  • Require more horsepower to pull
  • Difficult to control planting depths

When to Use

No-till drills work in most situations, as long as the farmer has a large enough tractor to use one. Controlling planting depth with smaller seed types may be more difficult, however. A standard seed drill would be a better choice for these cases.

Air Seeders

Air seeders are large seed drills that use a hydraulic fan and its resulting air pressure to blow seeds into the soil. They work like this: 

  1. A hydraulic fan blows air into an airbox, creating pressure. 
  2. Pressurized air moves from the airbox into a series of seed tubes. 
  3. The hopper meters seeds into connected caps. The caps connect to the seed tubes. 
  4. The pressurized air in the seed tubes pushes the seeds into a toolbar at the back of the seeder. 
  5. As the seeder moves forward, a disc opener cuts a trench. 
  6. Seeds are blown from the toolbar into the trench. Then a firming foot pushes the seeds down. 
  7. Finally, a closing wheel throws dirt over the compressed seeds. 

If you’re more of a visual learner, try watching this video to see an air seeder in action. 

Air seeders are ideal for covering large plots of land very quickly. They’re easy to use and have very few moving parts. As long as there’s air pressure, they’ll work. 

However, they’re not the most precise. Blowing seeds by air means seed placement isn’t always perfect. Additionally, air seeders only work with small, round seeds. If a seed is too big, the air tubule will clog. 

Typically, air seeders are best for large farms where farmers plant small seed species across broad areas. For precise planting, they’re not the best tool. 

Pros

  • Can cover large areas quickly
  • Extremely easy to hook up and use 

Cons

  • Not very precise
  • Only work with small seed species

When to Use

Use an air seeder if you have a large space that you want to cover quickly with a small seed species. For larger seeds or more precise planting, a different type of seeder will work better. 

 

All-in-one Planter Machines

All-in-one planters can prepare the seedbed, plant, and cultivate in one go. The goal with these machines is typically to save time and fuel, but they tend to be small. As a result, farmers tend to favour them for wooded areas or to plant small food plots. They’re not as good for planting large swaths of grasses. 

That said, they do have their advantages. All-in-one machines usually come with several seedboxes that the farmer can switch out. You can use them to plant legumes one day and native grasses the next. 

The ground openers also tend to be customizable, so farmers can change their angle and adjust how deep they dig a furrow. In this way, farmers can retain most of the soil structure, depending on what they’re planting. 

Pros 

  • Prepare, plant, and cultipack in one pass-through
  • Saves time and fuel 
  • Customizable seedboxes and ground openers 

Cons

  • Small and not ideal for bigger farms or ranches

When to Use

All-in-ones aren’t usually ideal for planting grasses unless you’re only hoping to do so in a small area. Otherwise, they’re best for small food plots.  

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Investing in a grass seeder comes with lots of questions. Below, we answer some of the most common ones. 

What is a Seeder Used For?

Seeders plant seeds at a precise depth and metered rate. The alternative is for farmers to sprinkle seeds manually, which isn’t very efficient and leads to waste. 

 

What are the Advantages of Using a Seed Drill?

Seed drills help farmers distribute seeds evenly and at the correct depth without excess labor. This saves time and cost while improving overall yields. 

 

What are Planting Machines?

Planting machines usually refer to devices that prepare the soil, drop seeds, and cover them in one pass. 

 

What’s the Difference Between a Seeder and a Planter?

Many use the terms seeder and planter interchangeably. However, often, the term “planter” refers to a larger machine used in an industrial level farm. Of course, all-in-one planters are the exception as they usually refer to smaller devices that farmers use in wooded areas or on small farms. 

 

Final Thoughts 

Grass seeders, drills, and planters are the best devices for efficiently planting a large land area. They come in many types, including standard drill seeders, no-till seeders, air seeders, and more. Determining which type is best for your farm will depend on the type of crop you’re planting and how much land you need to cover. 

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