Soil gives plants their vital support
During the post-harvest stage, it is important to take certain steps for soil conservation.
During the crop-growing stage, up until harvest time, soils often become stressed, both in nutritional and energy terms, due to absorption of the nutrients that plants need for their development. Ensuring production continuity is a task calling for constant work and commitment from the grower, to always provide the most optimal conditions for production in the field.
During the post-harvest stage, it is important to take certain steps for soil conservation
It is important to indicate that soil is what gives plants their vital support. For that reason, after the harvest, the first thing that needs to be done is a soil quality analysis. Conducting this analysis requires sample taking, which refers to collecting and extracting the organic material present at the crop terrain surface. Sample taking always depends upon climate and soil conditions. It is thus recommended to extract samples when the soil has not been disturbed with work such as tilling. Samples can also be taken from the leaves of harvested plants. The healthier they are, the better the yield of the soil has been.
This process, though not strictly necessary, will provide a clear picture of the soil’s nutritional state, thus allowing treatments to be optimized.
Practices for Improving Post-harvest Soil Quality
Fertilization is nothing other than a re-composition of the essential elements for plant development.
In general, in a sterile soil with low nutrient levels, there is a shortage of elements such as Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), Calcium (Ca), and Potassium (K). This can be due to climate conditions or natural losses resulting from agricultural exploitation.
Nitrogen’s principal influence is on the reproductive and vegetative growth of plants. It also participates in the synthesis of proteins. As such, soil with low nitrogen concentrations will have an adverse effect on the nutritive composition of crops, generating deficiencies in the plants’ protein composition. Striking a correct balance of nitrogen in soils during the post-harvest season aids in developing optimal color, texture, and nutritional quality of vegetables. An excess of nitrogen, for its part, can be problematic. Research has demonstrated that an overload of nitrogen in the soil can reduce vitamin C content in leaf vegetables such as Swiss chard. It can also reduce sugar and acid content in fruit.
Phosphorus acts on plant cells and in the metabolic process, while also influencing the balance of nitrogen. It has been demonstrated that high concentrations of phosphorus in the soil help increase concentrations of sugars in fruits and vegetables, while also diminishing acidity. The correct amount of phosphorus to supply depends upon plant needs.
Potassium is no less important, since it contributes to the balance of water in the plant and to enzyme activation. High potassium levels in the soil tend to have a positive effect on the quality of vegetables, for example: an increase in vitamin C and concentrations of titratable acidity, and an improvement in color. It also reduces the incidence of uneven maturation in tomato fruits.
Calcium is involved in a plant’s cell-wall and membrane development. Calcium deficiencies in the soil have been associated with a number of post-harvest disorders, including apical rot in tomatoes, peppers, and watermelons; brown heart in endive; black heart in celery; and apical necrosis in lettuce, cauliflower, and cabbage. High concentrations of calcium can reduce these disorders.
Other post-harvest benefits include an increase in vitamin C content, longer shelf life, delay in maturation, increased firmness, and a reduction in respiration and ethylene production.
Irrigation, together with fertilization, is fundamental for post-harvest soil conservation. However, prior to starting irrigation work, the soil’s water status needs to be studied. It is also important to have detailed knowledge of the following crop’s characteristics, since certain species require hydration in greater or lesser amounts. Irrigation will help avoid denitrification, and a good irrigation plan might increase future crop quality.
Green fertilizers is the name given to all plants that are incorporated into the soil with the aim of restoring, contributing to, and improving the biological, physical, and nutritional conditions of the field. This process is often used in post-harvest soil treatment, allowing for large, easily decomposable volumes of organic material to be incorporated into the soil. The nutrients generated are also readily absorbable by the crops.
The principal species used in green fertilizers are Gramineae, Fabaceae, and Brassicas. Many growers also incorporate the herbage that grows together with the crop. The principal function of these fertilizers is to improve soil fertility by incorporating organic material. They also increase nutrient levels, especially nitrogen levels. They help maintain high water infiltration levels due to the combined effect of the root system, while reducing evaporation and erosion, thus protecting the ground from changes in the climate.
Crop rotation can also be used for post-harvest soil conservation. This process consists of alternating different families of plants with distinct nutritional needs. Such a technique seeks to minimize soil erosion, while reducing the appearance of weeds, diseases, and pests. Depending upon the species cultivated during the harvest, post-harvest time is ideal for introducing plants with distinct nutritional requirements, thus allowing the soil to recover from the organic stress produced by the previous crop.
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