With October fast approaching, it’s time to think about putting down a veggie patch for those delicious summer veggies like pumpkins, squash, beans and watermelons. Small scale horticulture is the domain of these tractors, so let’s dust off your rotary hoe and get busy!
First thing is to pick out a spot with good sun and get about preparing it. Have a think about the size of your patch. Ideally, you want to measure it out so that the rotary hoe can travel between the rows for scuffling weeds as they emerge. The accepted wisdom is to also space the establishing rows to be able to pass under the belly of the tractor for watering, spraying and chipping hard to get weeds. The type of earth will dictate to a large extent what preparation needs to be done, but the easiest thing to do in the first instance is to hit it with some Roundup.
If your soil is very clayey, move in with your ripper to roughly cultivate the soil and break up clods and clay pans. This will also bring up undesirable roots and rocks that can be removed prior to rotary hoeing. Next add plenty of organic matter. Chook and cow muck are full of vital nutrients and are a great source of organic matter to improve the soil structure.
Assess whether lime, gypsum or horticultural blend fertiliser applications are necessary. Gypsum can assist in breaking up clay. It will also prevent the newly formed seed bed form cracking and setting. It’s also a good source of sulphur. Lime can be used to sweeten up acidic soils and unlock nutrients already present. Your local produce store can probably organize a soil test, but as a rough rule of thumb use a handful to the barrow-load as far as application rates are concerned. In recent years, zeolite based soil conditioners have come onto the market. The fine crystals are able to lock up some of the more volatile nutrients in the soils and make them available to the plant. Some of the better brands have other mineral wetting agents that, combined, give magnificent results. Another positive is that because there is better nutrient and water utilisation there is better yield and less erosion and seepage into waterways.
Before you are ready to hoe it in, it is wise to throw the grease guns and spanners over your hoe and inspect the blades. You might also consider turning-in your wheels to their narrow setting so that the hoe is in line, or slightly proud of the tractor’s rear track. Adjust your speed and depth to create the desired seed bed. It might be a good idea to leave some or all of the plot fallow. This lets the ameliorating effects of the manure and gypsum to do their work. It will also allow weed seeds to germinate. Simply hoe them back in before they flower. This will exhaust the seed bank and save you using chemicals to control weeds. By staggering your plantings, come harvest time, a more constant bounty can be enjoyed over a longer period.
You can rotate your veggies with manure crops like peas in winter and sorghum in summer that you can hoe back in. They are great for adding organic matter, nutrients and improving soil structure. Rotations like this are also important in breaking the life cycle of disease pathogens and undesirable insect pests. Intensive cultivation will, however, take its toll on on fertility and particularly, the soil structure. If space permits, it’s a good idea to rotate your garden to a fresh patch of dirt.