There’s a lot of preparation involved in planting crops – many are self-evident, some are not. Here’s the steps we go through each season (not necessarily in the order presented).
First, we prepare the ground. This actually begins the previous season. Of greatest benefit is if you are able to prevent weeds from setting seed by pulling or chopping them off before they bloom. Easier said than done, when you’re in mid-season harvest frenzy. Next, we till under the crop residues and plant cover crop, or let lie fallow over the summer.
At the end of the summer, the rank growth is tilled under, and planting beds are prepared. We’ve already written about this process in an earlier post, Preparing the ground.
Somewhere in between the end of the previous season and the bed preparation, we decide what crops and where we’re planting, and place our seed orders. This is a lengthy, complicated process, best accomplished with two people, or duirng the dog days of summer when all you want to do is sit inside in air-conditioned comfort. We compare seed offerings among companies to choose, firstly, certified organic seed. Then, if we have a choice, either the cheaper or the ‘better’ seed (sometimes we have a better experience with a particular seed supplier for a certain variety). Secondly, if we can’t find organic seed, then we must use untreated seed. Treated seed and non-organic starts or bulbs are prohibited. No exceptions! Now all this, while choosing varieties that we expect will do better here, keeping in mind that US seed catalogs are targeted toward temperate zone growers. We are in what is techincally termed ‘subtropical’, but we are more tropical than ‘sub’, so our variety choices are tempered by that knowledge.
When all is complete, it’s time to plant. Oh, but wait! What about climbing crops? Ah, yes… they need support. We trellis our tomatoes (which are 99% indeterminate heirloom types), and many of our beans (heirloom pole types). Our ‘soil’ is basically solid limestone rock, so we use construction-grade, medium-duty rebar which we install in the ground using a ground rod driver with a bit of help from a sledge hammer. The rebar forms the foundation for the trellising.
For pole beans, we string 2 strands of wire along the rebar, and then weave bamboo poles into the wire for the beans to climb. For tomatoes, we tie up metal square mesh wire fencing material, and either tie or weave the tomato plants into the trellising as it grows.
Finally, we set up the irrigation. We use drip tape irrigation for the veggie crops, and microjet sprinklers for the tree crops. Because we till the veggie planting areas, the irrigation lines must be taken up at the end of every planting season, and reinstalled at the start of the new season. We try to reuse lines and tapes whenever possible. However, we always have to replace a good 30% of the old tapes due to cuts and leaks.
When the irrigation is all laid out and tested, we plant.
Next post: planting methods.