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How to Prepare your Soil for the Growing Season

photograph of farmland with a sunset in the background

Calling all farmers, gardeners, and growers! The much-awaited growing season will soon be just around the corner. But hold your horses, there's a whole lot of groundwork to be done before we can start planting. Get ready to dive in and make this season your best one yet!

Incorporate Cover Crops

Cover crops are planted to cover the soil rather than for the purpose of being harvested. They slow erosion, improve soil health, enhance water distribution, help control pests, and more! After the cover crop has dried out on the soil surface for a few days, the next step is to incorporate it into the bed. There are various implements that can be used for plowing the cover crop, but the objective remains the same. It is important to fully integrate the mowed cover and root masses into the soil. This allows the soil to properly break down the materials and prevents vigorous cover crops from regrowing. The incorporated cover should be given 3 to 6 weeks to decompose before preparing the beds for sowing and transplanting.

Use Silage Tarps

Silage tarps, also known as bunker covers, are large plastic sheets originally used to cover silage during fermentation and storage. More and more farmers are embracing silage tarps as a means to reduce tillage and prepare planting beds without the need for heavy equipment. These UV-treated polyethylene tarps can create a stale seed bed in as little as 3 weeks. By suffocating and killing weeds and cover crops, and heating the soil, the tarps promote the germination of weed seeds which rapidly perish due to anaerobic conditions. Beneath the tarp, worms and decomposers thrive, incorporating nutrients from weeds and cover crops into the soil. The result is a ready-to-plant, stale seed bed, making this system particularly beneficial for permanent bed systems.

Build Beds

Once your cover crops have decomposed or turned into mulch, and your soil is ready for sowing seeds or transplanting, there are countless methods and tools available to create an ideal environment for your crops. In addition to selecting tools that suit your personal work style, it is crucial to design the beds in a way that aligns with your farm plan. The dimensions of the beds, including width and length, should be determined by considering the tools, the landscape, and the crop plan. By ensuring manageable bed sizes, you lay the foundation for future success. Consistency in bed length and size facilitates easier planning and often leads to more thoughtful and effective crop rotations.

Soil Testing

Before you start any type of preparation, it’s important to know what kind of soil you’re working with. Different plants have specific nutrient requirements and pH levels that they thrive in, so conducting a soil test can give you valuable information about how to best prepare your land for the upcoming season. Different organisms exhibit varying levels of activity throughout the year, resulting in a unique portrayal of the soil from season to season. Conducting a soil test in the fall and the spring helps gauge the farm's vitality and offers a snapshot of the current condition for crops, allowing for nutrient enhancements or modifications as summer approaches.

Soil Drying

After conducting a soil test, it’s time to start prepping your land. One of the first things you need to do is ensure that your soil isn’t waterlogged. Waterlogging can limit root growth and make it difficult for plants to absorb necessary nutrients.

It’s best to wait until the ground has dried out enough so that when you squeeze a handful of soil, it crumbles instead of forming a ball. To dry out soil quickly, you might consider adding compost to absorb the extra moisture. Aerating the soil is another option that can speed up the drying process. Aerating the soil also helps with root growth and water distribution.

Using LandGate for Land Planning

LandGate's free property reports for landowners provide a holistic view of a property's unique attributes (topography, soil types, floodplains, wetlands, etc.) that can be used for analyzing and getting the most from your property. Our LandApp tool takes this one step further with custom map creation features and data layer filters to help you manage and plan your agricultural land activities. You can learn more about LandApp here.


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