In a previous president’s note, I discussed the Kerr Center using plastic mulch on our horticulture farm. Last year (2016), we were unable to get into the field to plant from mid-April through the end of May due to wet conditions.
In the past, we have used a walking tractor (BCS in this case) to prepare the field. One advantage of the walking tractor is its small size, which allows it to be used when the fields are too wet for a tractor. It also tills in smaller rows, so you can plant more on a tighter spacing. Various equipment attachments increase the walking tractor’s versatility, at a lower cost than most tractor equipment. However, one disadvantage can be the inability to prepare a site for planting in a timely manner.
In the spring of 2016, we only had a two-day window in April when it was dry enough to prepare the soil. This is where equipment choice comes into play. Two days to prepare the location using the walking tractor and laying down the plastic mulch became a problem. The walking tractor could have done the work, but not in the time frame we needed.
This year we used the ranch tractor to prepare the beds. We mowed down the cover crop using a commercial riding lawn mower. A brush hog behind the tractor could have also been used.
We disked twice…
…tilled twice with a rear-mounted tiller…
…and then put down the plastic. This amount of tillage was necessary to break up the cover crop and incorporate it completely, allowing us to put down the plastic.
This work could have been done with the walking tractor, but it would have required more time. It rained on Monday, and more rain was forecast for Friday. By Thursday, the field was still a little too wet, but dry enough to till. We completed the work listed above – as well as assembling the mulch layer, adjusting it, and putting down the plastic – in six hours.
With the plastic down, we can plant in the rain if needed. The weeds won’t get a jump start on us, so we are not facing the same problems as last year. On Friday, it did rain all day. The plots are muddy, and if we had only cut down the cover crop and tilled, we would not be able to get into the plots for at least a week. Using the riding tractor and equipment allowed us to get the work done in a one-day window.
I don’t know how the crops will do this year, but at least I feel we have the freedom to plant earlier and not need to worry about finding the correct time to prepare the planting site. Now all I need to do is wait until the soil warms sufficiently for us to plant.