By Ruth Vaughan
In Part 1 of our newsletter, we explored the various farming practices that improve the soil and the environment. In this second issue, we discuss various useful tips on how to maintain flower production over time (without slipping into a dip in production). Be sure to have your thinking cap on and soak in the knowledge!
Production over time is a favorite graph of mine and is a common scenario on most farms. There is the initial honeymoon period / beginners luck on virgin soil, when all goes well and the plants are pumping, until, fingers crossed, the crop reaches maturity and maximum production. Then over time the production starts reducing until after a while, the production declines so much it becomes unsustainable and the crop is removed and replanted at vast expense. The yield gap is environmentally / economically and socially un-sustaining. Less farm gate return on income for higher inputs.
Sustainable Flower Production
In order to maintain the sustainable production period as long as possible, it is important to monitor the soil annually with a soil health check. At the very least, this should be a complete soil analysis, nematode analysis and a root inspection. CropNuts offers a full professional Soil Health Audit, so you can concentrate on core business.
Soil Health Audits re-adjust the calcium, pH and organic matter in soil, and identify any pathogenic or physical production limiting barriers that can be addressed to maintain peak production. Fertigation programs can be adjusted to ensure that there is no build up of excess nutrients in the soil (an environmental no-no). A common problem is phosphate and potassium build up in the soils – this affects production & soil structure and locks up other nutrients e.g. zinc and copper.
Annual Soil Health checks will keep your yield gaps to a minimum = maximizing your production and the number of years a crop can stay in the field, and minimizing fertilizer use and fertilizer waste. Soil Health Monitoring and Reporting demonstrates a commitment to sustainable horticulture.
Efficient Flower Irrigation
Cape Town is running out of water. Lake Naivasha almost dried up in 2007. Water is life, money, flowers, jobs, fish, tourism etc. Water is a shared and precious resource. All sustainability revolves around how water is used. While it is important to carefully control fertilizer use and treat and monitor effluent to NEMA standards, the most important thing is to use water responsibly and to be able to demonstrate responsible water use to the market.
There are a number of soil moisture probes that you can use to take the guess work out of irrigation. We have tried and tested many. We supply Aquacheck Soil Moisture probes. These are your eyes under the soil and continuously monitor moisture levels and temperatures every 10 cm down to 60-120 cm, giving real time soil moisture curve, that can be accessed anywhere.
This allows proper planning on the timing and amount of irrigation required for maximum root activity and production, and optimum water use. Aquacheck is very accurate, incredibly useful and a little bit expensive. But then, we have already ascertained that water is precious! Soil water probes generally pay for themselves in a few weeks from savings in fertilizer, pesticides, water and pumping costs, and give a tangible demonstration of water conservation and sustainable farming practices to the market.
The Downside Of Over-Irrigating
Excess water application is all too common. The soil surface can look dry, but be flooded below. Plants can wilt not just from too little water, but from too much water, no oxygen in the root zone, potassium or copper deficiencies, nematode damage or root pathogens. The normal reaction to wilting plants is to irrigate. Excess water leaches and as it moves through the soil it acts just like the venturi in a fertigation dosing unit, sucking all the fertilizers out of the root zone, causing low EC’s and hungry plants. A waste of water, a waste of money and an environmental hazard.
Grow with science, grow sustainability, monitor and be able demonstrate your sustainable farming!
For more information on Soil Health Audits and Aquacheck Soil Moisture Probes please contact:-firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ruth Vaughan is the Technical Director at Crop Nutrition Laboratory Services Ltd. (CROPNUTS). Ruth is also a contributing author to Kenya’s leading horticulture magazines such as the HortFresh Journal, HortiNews and Floricu