March 2019 - 32

An introduction to row-spacing, growing culture
Like Indiana Jones tenaciously
searching for the Holy Grail, similarly
I, for years, have questioned vegetable
farmers, searching for the one true
row spacing. With so many possible
configurations for tractor-tire spacing,
bed-top size, number of rows in a bed,
and inches between rows, I felt there
had to be one configuration to rule
them all. One day I posed the spacing
question to a grower in Massachusetts
who replied, " Well, it depends on what
you are growing. "
And this perspective opened my eyes
to the many factors that should play a
role in choosing a configuration and
made clear that there is no one true
row spacing, but just ones that best fit
each farmer's situation at that time.
In the years since my interest began,
I have tried out many configurations
and made observations in university
research plots and my own plantings.
I have visited with farmers around
the world observing myriad spacings
and row configurations. In addition, I
have designed weeding machines for
growers of all types of crops and seen
the implications of row configuration.
In Europe they would call this term
of row configuration - one's culture.
As in, " this tool is suitable for carrot
cultures on beds with 45 cm rows. "
Such a broad term of cultures I think
accurately reflects that the spacing
and row configuration on which you
grow has a large effect on your growing
style - more than determining your
culture - it is your culture. Semantics
aside, your bed size, rows per bed and
spacing between rows determines
many aspects of your cultivation
- seeding, weeding, applying plantprotectants
and harvest.
Your row configuration necessitates
Figure 1: This diagram shows a three-row configuration, with rows spaced 15 inches apart. You can see how three rows allow one to
grow plants at one, two or three rows without significant adjustments to planting or weeding tools. On the left bed with all three rows
of plants, the dotted lines show where two more rows could be placed, in order to plant five rows within the same configuration (five
rows would be for quicker-growing, smaller plants like radish). Bed-top is 42 inches wide, leaving enough shoulder space between the
tires and outside rows. Tires (blue ovals) leave tracks 18 inches wide.
the type of equipment you need - and
choosing correctly from the beginning
has high stakes when realizing the
amount of money that you will invest
in machinery suited specifically to
your spacing. Switching configuration
often means significantly re-tooling
your machinery, at significant expense.
So I thought it worth our time to
share my reflections on choosing
a culture, as well as sharing the
perspectives of some experienced
growers. This is a big subject, and I may
devote the next few issues to exploring
the options in some detail. Won't you
come along? As my training in the
classics has taught me - I thought we
could start with some first principles,
and from there look at examples.
Now far be it from me to give you
some rules of thumb, but I am going to
give you some rules of thumb.
1. I highly suggest using three rows
with the middle row centered on your
bed. On a smaller hand-scale this is
less important, but it can make all the
difference by reducing the needed
equipment to a minimum. Here's what
I mean - three rows allows you to plant
all three rows (for smaller crops like
Camera Guidance
beets, lettuce and carrots), just plant
the outer rows (for medium-sized
crops like brassicas), or just plant a
single middle row for larger crops like
tomatoes and zucchini (see Figure 1).
Realize that with this three-row
configuration you can plant all
configurations (one, two or three
rows) with the same planter or
transplanter without adjusting it,
and you can cultivate with the same
cultivator - the only adjustment being
dropping or raising a sweep in the
unplanted row(s).
2. Choose a configuration that leaves
enough shoulder space between your
outer rows and the edge of the bed.
What looks right on paper may not
work in the field - during repeated
tractor (and foot) passes, the edges of
your beds will be worn down. At the
time of harvest, what started the season
as a 48-inch bed top will likely be
reduced by 4 inches on either side so
that your two outside rows will be near
your compacted tire tracks. Account
for this reduction of shoulder space
when choosing your configuration. Of
course we all want to fit more plants on
our land and give those plants as much
space as we can, but if your outer rows
are too close to the edge of your bed
two problems will arise: Your tractor
tires and implements will be contacting
and breaking the foliage of these outer
rows, and your weeding tools will have
less loose soil to work on the shoulders
of your beds and be less effective.
3. In choosing a configuration,
think about the big picture of your
farm and identify your limiting
factors. The spacing that is right for
your farm may change over time as
your farm changes. For example, if
enough land is your limiting factor,
you'll likely want a tighter spacing
that produces the most yield in the
smallest space. Whereas if labor costs
for weeding are your limiting factor,
you'll likely want a wider spacing that
is conducive to mechanical cultivation.
There are many farm attributes that
inform which configuration is most
appropriate (and we'll discuss them in
better detail later on).
I will let you cogitate on this food
for thought until next time, when we
will continue our exploration through
exposition of the implications of one's
culture. VGN
Finger weeder
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March 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of March 2019

March 2019 - 1
March 2019 - 2
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