Temperatures are warming up and soil lovers in South Dakota are excited to dig in and plant. This includes farmers firing up their tractors. Vonda and Ken Schulte are a farmer/gardener pair from Geddes who enjoy growing healthy food in the field and in the garden. Vonda is a cook at the local school so she makes a point to connect with kids on a regular basis about how food gets from the farm to their plates.
We asked Vonda and Ken a few questions about what goes into their planting season, and Vonda gives us instructions for making seed tapes.
When do you start thinking about what to grow and how do you choose your seeds?
Ken: I start planning right after harvest and watch what the seed companies offer. I look at what worked and what didn’t the year before, as well as what current genetics are available in our area.
Vonda: The seed catalogs start coming around the first of the year. I begin making lists and getting ideas then. I usually visit my local seed store that sells in bulk and has a great variety of seeds to try. I like to get just the right amount of seed I need so I don’t waste it.
What will you plant?
Ken: I plant wheat, corn and soybeans on about 1,000 acres. We rotate crops each season to maximize soil health and better manage pests.
Vonda: I plant a wide variety. My garden includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, all different kinds of potatoes, lettuces, spinach, arugula, herbs, rhubarb, cucumbers, zucchini, beans, melons, squash, pumpkins, strawberries, raspberries, kale, leeks, okra, beets, onions, garlic, peas, peppers, radishes and kohlrabi, just to name a few. I also love to mix in flowers around my garden.
How do you prepare the soil for planting?
Ken: We use minimal tillage or don’t till at all. Minimal disturbance is good for the soil. I also do soil testing so I know exactly how much fertilizer to apply on each acre.
Vonda: I really don’t do too much, just clean off some debris from winter, but I really don’t disturb the soil too much. I have it set up so I never walk in places I plant. There are four 5-foot beds with walkways in between so the soil stays heaped up and is ready to dig into. I fertilize it well and add some mushroom compost or cocoa shells.
When will you typically start planting?
Ken: I start when the soil temperature is warm enough for the crop I’m planting. That’s usually around 50 F, which is typically the end of April. I don’t want to start too early because crops may not survive a cold snap, and replanting is expensive.
Vonda: Mother Nature is in charge. I start some of the cool crops early and, if something happens, I replant.
How long does it take to plant your garden/farm acres?
Ken: It usually takes me 30 days to plant, but it depends on the weather.
Vonda: I plant in stages throughout the growing season. I love planting cool crops again in the fall.
How do you take care of the seeds after planting?
Ken: I use herbicides to help control weeds and make sure the crops get off to a good start. The cool thing about our technology is that we’re able to precisely apply exactly what’s needed and in the right amount to help our crops grow. We monitor and scout the crops throughout the season to determine what additional care might be necessary, such as insecticides, fertilizers, fungicides, etc.
Vonda: I fertilize the plants with a mixture from our local co-op. Then I mulch everything with grass clippings.
What’s your favorite part about growing food?
Ken: I like harvest, especially during a good year. I take pride in growing healthy crops that are used in South Dakota and shipped all over the world.
Vonda: I enjoy everything about gardening. Each step is fun for me. I also love eating and sharing my produce, learning new techniques and trying new products. It’s fun to quiz the kids at school about something I brought in from my garden and help them to learn a little bit more about where their food comes from.
Another way farmers and gardeners are alike: They love being outdoors and getting their hands dirty. Unfortunately, spring weather can be unpredictable so here’s a great DIY project to share with your gardener friends the next time you’re stuck indoors.
Make Your Own Seed Tapes
Seed tapes make planting easy because they come loaded with seeds that are appropriately spaced. According to Vonda, making your own seed tape is easy, looks nice when the plants come up and can be done any time. Here’s how she does it:
- Take a roll of toilet paper and roll it out.
- Read the seed package for appropriate spacing.
- Put a small dot of Elmer’s glue on the paper.
- Drop your seed onto the dot. Let dry.
- Roll it up and mark it.
- When it’s time to plant, dig a trench, add water if soil is dry, lay the paper in, unroll it and cover with dirt.
Learn more about the similarities between gardening and farming here. If all this talk about fresh produce has your mouth watering, here are a few recipes to try out: