Cover Image
close this book Soils, Crops and Fertilizer Use
View the document About this manual
View the document Acknowledgements
close this folder Chapter 1: Down to earth - Some Important Soil Basics
View the document What is soil, anyway?
View the document Why do soils vary so much?
View the document Topsoil vs. subsoil
View the document The mineral side of soil: sand, silt, and clay
View the document Distinguishing "tropical" soils from "temperate" soils
View the document Organic matter - a soil's best friend
View the document The role of soil microorganisms
close this folder Chapter 2: Trouble-shooting soil physical problems
View the document Getting to know the soils in your area
View the document Soil color
View the document Soil texture
View the document Soil tilth
View the document Soil water-holding capacity
View the document Soil drainage
View the document Soil depth
View the document Soil slope
close this folder Chapter 3: Basic soil conservation practices
View the document Rainfall erosion
View the document Wind erosion
close this folder Chapter 4: Seedbed preparation
View the document The what and why of tillage
View the document Common tillage equipment
View the document The abuses of tillage and how to avoid them
View the document Making the right seedbed for the crop, soil, and climate
View the document How deep should land be tilled?
View the document How fine a seedbed?
View the document Some handy seedbed skills for intensive vegetable production
close this folder Chapter 5: Watering vegetables: When? How Often? How Much?
View the document It pays to use water wisely
View the document Some common watering mistakes and their effects
View the document Factors influencing plant water needs
View the document Ok, so get to the point! how much water do plants need and how often?
View the document Some methods for improving water use efficiency
close this folder Chapter 6: Soil fertility and plant nutrition simplified
View the document Let's Make a Deal
View the document How plants grow
View the document Available vs. unavailable forms of mineral nutrients
View the document Soil negative charge and nutrient holding ability
View the document Soil pH and how it affects crops growth
View the document Important facts on the plant nutrients
close this folder Chapter 7: Evaluating a soil's fertility
View the document Soil testing
View the document Plant tissue testing
View the document Fertilizer trials
View the document Using visual "hunger signs"
close this folder Chapter 8: Using organic fertilizers and soil conditioners
View the document What are organic fertilizers?
View the document Organic vs. chemical fertilizers: which are best?
View the document Some examples of successful farming using organic fertilizers
View the document How to use organic fertilizers and soil conditioners
close this folder Chapter 9: Using chemical fertilizers
View the document What are chemical fertilizers?
View the document Are chemical fertilizers appropriate for limited-resource farmers?
View the document An introduction to chemical fertilizers
View the document Common chemical fertilizers and their characteristics
View the document The effect of fertilizers on soil pH
View the document Fertilizer salt index and "burn" potential
View the document Basic application principles for N, P, and K
View the document Fertilizer application methods explained and compared
View the document Troubleshooting faulty fertilizer practices
View the document Getting the most out of fertilizer use: crop management as an integrated system
View the document Understanding fertilizer math
close this folder Chapter 10: Fertilizer guidelines for specific crops
View the document Cereals
View the document Pulses (grain legumes)
View the document Root crops
View the document Vegetables
View the document Tropical fruit crops
View the document Tropical pastures
close this folder Chapter 11: Liming soils
View the document The purpose of liming
View the document When is liming needed?
View the document How to measure soil pH
View the document How to calculate the actual amount of lime needed
View the document How and when to lime
View the document Don't overlime!
close this folder Chapter 12: Salinity and alkalinity problems
View the document How salinity and alkalinity harm crop growth
View the document Lab diagnosis of salinity and alkalinity
close this folder Appendixes
View the document Appendix A: Useful measurements and conversions
View the document Appendix B: How to determine soil moisture content
View the document Appendix C: Spacing guide for contour ditches and other erosion barriers*
View the document Appendix D: Composition of common chemical fertilizers
View the document Appendix E: Hunger signs in common crops
View the document Appendix F: Legumes for green manuring and cover-cropping in tropical and subtropical regions
View the document Appendix G: Some sources of technical support
View the document Appendix H: A bibliography of useful references

Making the right seedbed for the crop, soil, and climate

NOTE: Seedbed preparation is very location-specific and varies with climate, soil type, crop, management level, and available equipment. Local farmers usually have good seedbed skills, so beware of tampering with local methods before thoroughly testing new ones.

What Kind of Seedbed?

There are basically 3 types of seedbeds: flat beds, raised beds, and sunken beds. The best type to use depends much more on the particular climate and soil conditions than on the crop.

Flat Beds

Flat beds are used where water availability is adequate and there are no drainage problems. In some areas, crops like maize, sorghum, beans, and potatoes are started out on a flat bed; as the season progresses, soil is thrown into the crop row to mound up the plants; this is called "hilling-up" and is done to control in-row weeds, provide support, and improve drainage. (Potatoes are also hilled up to keep the developing tubers covered with soil.) Hilling-up only works with plants that have enough stem height and leaf clearance to tolerate partial burial.

Raised Beds

Crops can also be grown on raised-up beds or ridges. They are especially advantageous for clayey soils under high rainfall or wherever else drainage is likely to be poor. They can also be used in many other situations. Where crops are furrow irrigated, raised beds or ridges are essential so that the water can flow down the furrows between them.

Height of raised beds: Raised beds are usually 10-30 cm high. The best height depends mainly on soil texture and moisture considerations. For example, raised beds are often 2030 cm high on clayey soils under high rainfall where poor drainage is likely to be a problem. On coarser-textured soil under the same conditions, bed height might be 15-20 cm. When raised beds are used in drier conditions, a bed height of 10 cm or leas may be best to avoid excessive moisture loss due to evaporation from the exposed sides.

Width of raised beds: Typically they are 100-130 cm wide.

Raised beds may have several advantages:

• Much better drainage compared with flat or sunken beds.

• They provide a double layer of topsoil, because they're made by dragging in topsoil from the surrounding alleyways. (Because of this, they're also likely to be looser than flat or sunken beds.)

• In temperate regions, raised beds warm up more quickly in the spring, which may benefit cold-sensitive crops and even permit earlier planting.

• Plants on raised beds are easier to reach when doing hand operations such as weeding and thinning.

Raised beds usually aren't a good choice during the dry season, because they dry out more quickly than flat or sunken beds; also, water tends to run off them and be lost into the alley-ways. These disadvantages can be partly overcome by mulching the bed with straw or rice hulls, making a lip around the bed's edge to reduce run-off, and by reducing bed height to 10 cm or less (see Fig. 4-4).


FIGURE 4-4: Two types of raised beds. Bed A is best suited to high-rainfall areas. Bed B has a lip around all 4 sides which helps prevents prevent water from running off (helpful in drier conditions).

Sunken Beds

In dry regions, especially on sandy soils with low water-holding capacity, vegetables can be planted in sunken beds (i.e. shallow basins) about 100-130 cm wide and 2-5 cm below the surrounding soil level. Sunken beds conserve water much more effectively than raised beds for 2 reasons:

• Sunken beds don't have the exposed sides of raised beds from where considerable moisture can be lost by evaporation.

• None of the applied water is lost by runoff.


FIGURE 4-5: A sunken bed. Depth shouldn't exceed about 4 cm.

One disadvantage of sunken beds is that some topsoil is lost in the usual method of construction. (They're made by pulling off soil from the bed area and placing it in the surrounding alleyways). This probably won't affect crop growth, as long as the topsoil is of normal depth let least 15 cm) and enough compost or manure is added. Here are 2 ways of building sunken beds without sacrificing topsoil:

• First take off the topsoil, and then replace it after removing enough subsoil to sink the bed enough.

• Make a "pseudo" sunken bed by mounding alleyway soil around the bed's borders. This will work well in clayey soil, but border dikes made of sandy soil may wash out when the bed is watered.

One variation of sunken beds is furrow Planting in which crops like maize, sorghum, and beans are planted in the furrow bottom between two ridges where soil moisture is higher and less easily lost. Soil can then be thrown into the furrow as the season progresses to control weeds and improve drainage if rainfall increases.