The way vegetable rows are arranged in the field depends on how much
space a crop needs, as well as the seeding, transplanting and cultivation
equipment to be used. Row spacings that give the highest yield for particular
crops may not be suitable for cultivating weeds or for promoting air circulation
to prevent development of disease. They may not be the best when it comes
time to harvest, either. Extension publications list a dozen or more different
row spacings that optimize the yield of various vegetables, yet many
growers use just one system of arranging plants in order to enhance the
efficiency of field operations. Ideally, the arrangement of rows conforms
not only to tractor wheel spacing, but also to equipment used to form beds,
set transplants, control pests, and harvest the crop, resulting in a production
system that's suited to the farm from start to finish. Here are examples
of planting systems from 3 different farms.
David Trumble, of Good Earth Farm in Weare, NH, grows 40 species of
vegetables on 3 acres of land to supply the 80 families in his Community
Supported Agriculture program. In the past he used many different row spacings
and a lot of hand labor in an effort to optimize the yield of each crop,
but found that this approach actually hurt his yields because without mechanization
his weed control wasn't very effective. Now, using a 2-row transplanter
and an Earthway push seeder, he plants everything in double rows, 24 inches
apart, on flat ground. Before planting, cover crops are turned in with
a heavy disk harrows. Then the seed bed is prepared with a Perfecta II
field cultivator, making a pass every 2 weeks, which knocks back weeds
until all the crops are planted. A John Deer high clearance tractor with
tires on 6 foot center is used to pull the transplanter and to cultivate.
Shortly after planting, a belly-mounted basket cultivator is used for the
first few passes, then home-made sweeps are used when the crops get bigger.
This way weeds are controlled within a few inches of the crops so the only
hand hoeing is right in the rows. This system saves David hundreds of hours
of planting time and weeding time over his old method. Since he has no
irrigation, it also helps that he's able to plant a lot of crops quickly
when the soil moisture is just right, and by getting all the plants in
fast he can get started early with cultivation.
Paul Harlow and Dennis Sauer raise 60 acres of vegetables at Harlow
Farm in Westminster, Vermont. To enhance the speed and efficiency of field
operations in order to meet the demands of wholesale markets, the
dozen or so crops they raise are grown on a 2 row/2-bed system. After cover
crops and manure are incorporated, raised beds are formed, 2 at a time,
using an International Hydro with tires spaced 88 inches on center. Large
listers throw up a ridge of soil, which is later run over with sets of
Lilliston rolling cultivators to kill weeds and smooth the surface. Then
a pair of bed formers press the ridges into beds that are 32 inches wide
at the top. The tractor is fitted with narrow tires to avoid breaking down
the edges of the beds. Each bed gets planted with 2 rows of crops, 14 inches
apart. Direct seeded crops such as carrots, beets, parsnip and turnips
are sown with a Stanhay precision seeder. Transplanted cabbage, lettuce,
peppers and kale are set using a 4-row Lannen transplanter. Transplants
are pulled to the field in large custom-built carts that are parked at
either end to reduce travel time back and forth to the greenhouse. Six
people can set 5 to 6 thousand plants per hour this way.
Cultivation after planting starts with Lilliston rolling cultivators,
mounted on the back of a Kubota high clearance tractor that works one bed
at a time. There are 2 gangs in the middle of the rows and one gang on
the outside of the rows behind the tractor. Hilling sweeps work the sides
of the beds. This combination provides hilling action that leaves a crown
of soil which buries weeds around the plants. Once the plants have sized
up, a 4-row cultivator is used which covers 2 beds at a time. It has 8
shanks with ‘tender plant hoes' mounted next to the rows. These hoes have
an upright guard to protect the plant, and a knife which is parallel to
the soil surface and cuts weeds just below the soil surface. Properly adjusted,
this unit can cultivated an acre in one hour.
David and Chris Colson of New Leaf Farm in Durham, Maine, grow 4 acres
of vegetables primarily for direct sale to restaurants. After plowing
under winter cover crops, the soil is fertilized with mineral nutrients
and disk-harrowed before 4-foot wide beds are formed 1 to 2 weeks later.
Lettuce and leafy greens are grown in 3 rows per bed, with 16 inches between
rows and plants staggered across the bed. Broccoli, peppers, and tomatoes
are grown in double rows 24 inches apart on the bed. Summer squash and
winter squash are grown in a single row per bed.
Transplanting is done with a homemade unit pulled by the Kubota high-clearance
tractor with a creeper gear. The transplanter is set up on a tool bar with
2 seats facing backward, one on each side of the 4-foot bed. Narrow, 1-inch
shanks are set on a tool bar to open the appropriate number of furrows
per bed into which the seedlings are placed by hand. Transplants are carried
on a rack in front of the workers. About 1200 plants per hour can be set
A few weeks after transplanting, a basket weeder cultivates close to
the crops grown in multiple row crops. When these crops grow large, and
for the single row crops, cultivation is performed with shovels between
the rows and half-sweeps next to the rows.
As you see, there isn't a single recipe for row spacing to enhance efficiency.
Have you got a planting system that really works well?