Time to think ahead for the next season of vegetable production

No matter the season, there is always something to do when it comes to agricultural production, and the fall is a good time to get some of next season’s work out of the way. Doing work now will give you more early season flexibility next year.

Now that the 2011 production season is finished for most vegetable growers, it is time to take a leisurely look toward 2012. While the weather is still nice – by Michigan standards anyway – it is possible to get some tasks out of the way now at a less hectic pace than what you will have next spring. Below is a list of activities that could be done over the next three to four weeks that might give you a jump on next year’s activities.

Soil sampling

Soil sampling now will help not only you, but also the soil testing lab. Most soil samples are sent in the spring, resulting in high volume and a slower turnaround time. So if you send it in now, you may get your results back sooner.

Sub-soiling

Many sites develop a compacted layer just below the plow zone. This can happen even in coarse, sandy soils. These areas can often be identified during the growing season since plants in these areas generally are the first to show signs of water stress. A soil probe or soil auger is helpful in a final determination since the compacted layer has greater resistance then the soil layer either above or below. Sub-soiling through this layer will break it up and allow deeper root penetration and access to more water, which will lead to better performing plants next year.

Sub-soiling should be done only if the situation has been identified and the sub-soiler set to just below the compacted layer. Care should be taken to not drive over sub-soiled furrows. Sub-soiling can also be done on fields where the rye cover crop has already been planted with only minor disturbance to the rye growth.

Fall plowing

Not many vegetable growers do this since most vegetable sites are coarse-textured or organic soils and growers want a winter cover crop to protect the soil from wind and water erosion. Fall plowing is generally done on clay-based soils so the freeze-thaw cycle can break up the clay, but if you have a site that is hard to get to in the spring due to wet soil, then try fall plowing. It might save you some time in the spring and allow for an earlier planting of that site.

Lime applications

Fall is actually a good time for applying lime that will be worked in when the site is eventually plowed. Lime does not travel quickly through soils, so having it on prior to rain and snow melt can help move it through the soil. This is especially true on a perennial crop like asparagus. Lime recommendations are made for the top 9 inches, so if the soil will not be worked, consider lower than recommended rates so the extra calcium will not increase the pH to the point that it causes potential micronutrient problems.

Preordering supplies

This one is a little more difficult since many supplies can fluctuate in price between now and next spring. If you feel you are a good judge of how prices change and you think they are at a low point, then you might want to make the decision to get plastic mulch, drip tape, fertilizer, seed, packing materials and other supplies.

Take advantage of these last few weeks of nice weather and get a jump on next year, because I am sure that just like every year there will be unexpected challenges, and it will be nice to have some of the work already out of the way.

For more information on commercial vegetable production, contact MSU Extension senior vegetable crops educator .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 269-944-1477 ext. 207.

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