Preparing your field should be based around your particular conditions. Many fields that have not been worked for quite some time may require a deep plowing to begin, then subsequent disking and harrowing to smooth out the rest of the field. The end product of all of your field prep should be a soft soil that does not have any chunks larger than 1-2” in diameter. This will ensure a consistent fill in your beds when you form them.
We highly recommend having your soil tested for pesticide, herbicide, pH levels, and mineral content before planting or amending. Soil pH, mineral deficiencies, and residual chemicals from previous farm use may cause serious growth issues. Contact your local agronomist or land grant university extension service for testing options. Plants will grow best in soils with a pH between 6-7.
We suggest growers plant in rows with 4’ between plant centers and 6’ between rows for an early June field planting. This is optimal if using plastic mulch and drip tape with a waterwheel planting apparatus (or something similar). What you decide should be determined by your planting date, weed management program (i.e. the width of your implements), and harvesting equipment. If planting July 1 spacing can be cut to 3’ between plants and 5’ between rows or 2’ between plants and 4’ between rows for later dates. Many farmers also opt to leave an empty row every 8 or so to facilitate the harvesting process. If you have good soil, preparing the ground for mulch/drip tape and transplanting will be similar to the creation of fine seed beds for most other crops.
We recommend using a 2550 Rain-Flow Plastic Bed Mulch Former with a fertilizer hopper. This implement forms the beds to adjustable heights from 1-8”, lays the drip tape, spreads an even amount of fertilizer specifically in your rows, and stretches the plastic into position, making the field ready for planting. Drip tape is highly recommended for watering, with emitters spaced every 12-18”. If you have the equipment to refrain from using plastic mulch we highly recommend it, but without proper planning, weeding implements, or a large workforce, your fields may become overrun. Cover cropping is the best way to begin this technique.
Our plant nutrient program has had great success using about 75% dry amendments before planting, and 25% heavily filtered liquid nutrients, which we run through our drip lines. If putting the fertilizer directly in rows under plastic we recommend about 1000 lbs of all-purpose fertilizer per acre, and 2000 lbs per acre if broadcast spreading. We use Stutzmans Organic Nutri-rich 4-3-2 with 7% Calcium, but any fertilizer with similar numbers will suffice. If planting July 1 or later cut fertilizer needs in half. Ensure calcium is in your dry amendments for stronger plants.