The range of activities that can be classified as forming part of cultivation is broad. From hacking away with a hoe at weeds in one’s vegetable patch, through animal-drawn ploughing and harrowing, and motorised rotary tillers, up to the largest ground-working implements on large commercial farms.
In general terms there are two distinct phases to cultivation, both of which are aimed at giving the crop one is growing the best possible chance to survive and thrive. Thus, before one plants the crop, whether by seed or seedling, the first phase of cultivation is land preparation.
Preparing Your Soil
For this is the time during which one can adjust the nutrient content, acidity level and general condition of the soil to best suit the crop one plant to plant.
This is done by spreading whatever it is one deems necessary, and in whatever quantity one requires, upon the soil, before working it into the ground to a depth suitable for the roots of the crop to be planted.
Preparing Your Ground
A second phase to this initial activity will be to prepare the ground for planting, either by smoothing the surface of the field or by preparing whatever contours, ridges etc one deems necessary.
But once the crop has been planted and begins to grow and next phase in the cultivation process kicks in, namely ensuring that the plants in one’s crop have the maximum chance of survival by removing any unwanted growth, ie weeds, that sprout and compete with the crop for nutrients and moisture.
Within the broad description of cultivation, therefore, there are a number of different activities ~ and devices ~ that one can employ to achieve one’s aims.
Choosing Your Tools
Much will depend on the size of the land you wish to cultivate, what you hope to grow, and your soil. And, of course, what you use by way of implement or machine will depend on your budget.
To begin with, and also if your soil is depleted, you will want to turn it over to loosen it, remove weeds, stones and roots and to work in manure, fertilizer and soil conditioner and organic matter.
In a small garden setting this is best achieved with a garden fork pushed in to the depth of its tines, followed by a good raking with a steel rake to ensure a smooth surface and soft tilth for planting. Thereafter, any small weeds that emerge can be removed by hand or by gentle and careful hoeing.
For larger areas a small tractor with a plough will be more useful, to achieve the depth (about 15 to 20cm) required to loosen the soil and turn in the necessary material.
In very dense soils this will inevitably result in hard clumps of earth, which will need breaking up if anything like a smooth planting surface is to be achieved. For this an offset disc harrow may be necessary, possibly even followed by a tractor-drawn rake.
In softer soils a tractor-drawn cultivator, with two or more rows of narrow tines offset in relation to each other to ensure full coverage of the soil being worked, may be all that is necessary to break the surface, uproot any growth and incorporate fertilizer and organic matter, while leaving a smooth planting surface at the same time.
For certain crops and styles of planting a further working of the field with a ridger may be desired, to raise up rows of soil on which the crop is planted and leave inter-row furrows for irrigation, and for the tractor’s wheels etc.
This is part one of a six-part series on Cultivation. To ensure you don’t miss out on the rest of the series, subscribe here to receive our Feature Newsletter at the end of the series.
Part Two: How To Plough
Part Three: How To Prepare Perfect Soil
Part Six: Planters For Seed And Seedlings