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EALTHY soil is the foundation to all
horticultural, viticultural and agri-
cultural production and its proper
care and maintenance is critical.
But since soils vary dramatically between
regions, it is necessary to know what it is and
how to maintain and improve it.
All soils have four main components: min-
erals, water, air and organics -- and the con-
tent of these can be determined by testing.
In existing and established orchards and
vineyards, with straight lines of trees and
vines, it is the soil in the inter-rows that
growers must be concerned with to improve
their production results.
The management issues facing growers can
include weed control, soil compaction,
degraded soil structure, low soil fertility,
poor water intake and use efficiency, soil ero-
sion and the control of pests.
Any one of these can have an effect on the
quantity and quality of production.
Managing the inter-row areas in orchards
and vineyards has been the subject of debate
for years: to grow a cover crop, cultivate,
deep rip and aerate, chemically treat or sim-
ply keep them bare.
Most orchards and vineyards are set-up
with drip irrigation for more efficient water
use to contain root growth to prescribed
areas. However, years of research has shown
that roots will travel significant distances
into the inter-row areas in search of more
moisture and unused nutrients.
With different problems, the dilemma fac-
ing growers is how best to treat the different
problems that may exist.
If it is simply a matter of poor moisture
intake because of hard pans created by the
use of similar size tractors and equipment
(wheel tracks) travelling the same paths with
every operation year-in-year-out, the solu-
tion could be deep ripping.
Alternatively, sometimes gypsum or animal
manure can be used as a means of breaking
up the hard pan while, at the same time,
adding vital nutrients to the soil.
There are more than a dozen deep tillage
plough brands on the market.
The use of inter-row cover crops has
become increasingly popular in recent years,
but it is a practice that requires some addi-
tional equipment and time, it can involve the
use of a disc and/or cultivator, a rotary hoe
and/or mulching machine, a seeding
machine and equipment for dealing with the
crop when it starts to mature.
Options include incorporating into the soil
as green manure, turning it into fodder by
cutting and baling, or simply slashing it and
leaving it on the ground as moisture-con-
Not only does green manuring build up
organic content in the soil, it also encourages
increased worm activity which in itself is a
sign of a well-aerated and healthy soil.
Soil health determines food quality
Management of inter-rows crucial
Green manuring builds up organic content
About 12 deep tillage plough brands on the
Mulch keeps soils cooler
MULCHING and/or green manuring the
open spaces in an orchard or vineyard,
although different in their processes
and invariably requiring different
machines, is all about caring for the
Mulching keeps the soil cooler in the
summer and warmer in the winter, thus
maintaining a more even soil tempera-
ture, while at the same time reducing
moisture losses through evaporation.
Mulching also helps prevent unwanted
weed growth, reducing the requirement
for other weed control measures includ-
ing cultivation and chemical spraying.
Mulch can improve the soil structure. As
the mulch decays, the material becomes
topsoil and adds nutrients to the soil.
Mulch helps prevent soil compaction
and reduces the risks of wind and water
erosion thus improving the absorption
and movement of water into the soil. It
also helps in keeping heavy rain from
splashing soil and/or soil-borne diseases
onto lower leaves and fruit, particularly
While mulching is generally about
looking after the surface of the soil with
some incorporation using a machine,
green manuring deals with the complete
incorporation of unwanted surface
material, including prunings.
There are two lines of thought on slashing
between row of trees in an orchard and the
inter-rows of vineyards. A simple slash method,
where the cut material is left as surface mulch,
and another where the material between the
rows is cut to a lawn-type fashion. The benefits
of the first method include time and effort
savings and help conserve moisture while at
the same time act as an anti-erosion treatment.
There are risks for both: the first creating an
ideal situation for harbouring pests and
diseases and, with the second, ongoing time
and effort in continuous cutting.
with David East
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