Arnold Caylor is director of the North Alabama Horticulture Research Center in Cullman, Ala. (USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 7b). He uses conservation tillage systems to manage 30 acres of vegetables including tomatoes, peppers, cantaloupe, watermelons, sweet corn, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, brassicas, cowpeas and field peas, and perennial fruit including blueberries, bunch grapes and muscadines. Some of the center’s acres are USDA-certified organic. Here is the to-do list for the farm.
June through August
Plant vegetable cash crops and summer cover crops. In June, plant sweet potatoes. From mid-June onwards, harvest tomatoes and squash. From July onwards, harvest cantaloupes and watermelons. From June to July, harvest blueberries. From July to August, harvest bunch grapes. In August, tomatoes, watermelons and cantaloupes are finished: pull stakes, plastic and drip tape. Transplant brassicas. From August to September, harvest muscadines.
September through November
Plant winter cover crops as weather allows. The main winter cover crop is a mixture of cereal rye and crimson clover. Canola is used for insect and nematode pest control. Plant these cover crops into terraces to attract bees that will pollinate crops and improve crop productivity. Do equipment maintenance in September and throughout the fall and winter, if needed. From October to December, prepare compost windrows and turn them once or twice per week until windrow temperatures decline.
December through February
Order vegetable seeds and look for good deals on fertilizer and chemicals. Start tomatoes, peppers, cantaloupes, squash and watermelons in February. From late February to early March, prune blueberries, bunch grapes and muscadines.
March through May
Spread compost. From February through March, plant brassicas. In late March, shape beds and prepare them for plastic. Bed sweet potatoes and Irish potatoes. From March to April, terminate winter cover crops three weeks before cash crop planting. In early April, lay plastic, two to three weeks after bed preparation. In mid-April, transplant tomatoes, peppers, cantaloupes and watermelons. Plant sweet corn when soil temperatures are about 60°F. In May, plant summer cover crops. Plant an iron clay peas/sunflower mixture for nitrogen, biomass and cut flowers. Plant sorghum/sudangrass for biomass. Do not use herbicides. Instead, rely on cover crops for weed suppression. Continue planting summer vegetables and transplant sweet potatoes.