When crops are finished, it's time to clean up the fields and let them rest before the next season is upon us. Tomato strings and stakes must be removed, and, after the last crops are mowed, the plastic mulch and drip irrigation tape must be picked up.
Tractor-pulled “lifters” loosen the buried edges of the mulch, making the task a bit easier. Next, the bedsplitter”, does just what it says: splits the beds open, allowing easier access to the drip tape. The crew picks up the plastic mulch and irrigation tape by hand, a grueling job in early summer. Both the mulch and tape are rolled up and thrown into dumpsters.
The soil is then disced to mix in the leftover crops and weeds so that they may be broken down by soil microorganisms. Unlike many other parts of the country, growers here rarely use a deep plow, unless they need to cut through a plow pan or another heavy layer of soil. Our sandy soils are loose and usually turn easily, so we really just need to cut up the plant material and mix it in. During the summer rainy season, we also till or use a light "scratcher" to destroy the weeds seeds as they germinate.
Most summers the ditches between the fields (or blocks) must be cleaned out with a backhoe, and sometimes the blocks must be graded and/or leveled.
We believe in the benefits of cover crops, but our production schedule makes it difficult to plant them. The most common one used by local growers is a sterile (non seed producing) sorghum/sudangrass hybrid - it is just a tall grass. This crop grows quickly in the summer heat and adds a lot of organic matter to the soil when it is tilled in. It can take up fertilizers that are left in the soil and store them so they are not washed into the water table during the summer rains. That protects the environment and saves some fertilizer nutrients. We are constantly trying to find tropical legumes that will work as cover crops for us. So far, Sunn hemp grows the best.
Since we don't have time for the cover crops, we add organic matter to our soils by applying compost on most of our fields - at least 20 tons per acre. This compost is "made" on our farm from horse manure, produced by the many horses which over-winter in our area. We benefit from so many winter horse farms and training facilities in the area, because horse manure combined with wood chip or pelletized straw bedding makes a great compost. It’s brought to the farm by dump trucks, usually between December and May. It is put into a long windrow (about 12' high by 15' wide) and turned with a front end loader when time permits. Ideally, that is every week for the first month, and then every 3-4 weeks for the next several months.