If you are looking to produce the highest amount of maize with the lowest possible input, the most effective method is known as Conservation Agriculture (CA), which is known in some populations as “Farming God’s Way”.
The features of this method are:
- Minimal tillage. YOU SHOULD NEVER USE A PLOW, so no draft power is needed to prepare your fields. Instead of compacting or disrupting the soil’s natural structure, you make precise planting holes in a consistent pattern throughout the field.
- Mulching to retain the soil’s moisture and to protect the soil from erosion. You should never burn vegetation covering the soil. Similarly, avoid leaving the soil bare, because moisture will be lost and erosion is more likely to occur. Instead, graze, cut, or slash the plants and previous stover, allowing it to spread more evenly above the soil.
- Precise, high-quality plant spacing. Plan out your field and measure where each planting hole will be for the best overall distribution.
- Precise distribution of fertilizer and seed. Broadcasting seed and fertilizer on to the soil can be wasteful, and often results in poor soil-seed contact, lost fertility and ultimately lower yields.
- Planting in early- to mid-November, or immediately after the first measurable rainfall of the applicable growing season to ensure even germination and make the most of the rainwater.
- Thinning out/removal of weaker germinated plants, maximizing yield.
- Maintain disciplined, regular weed control. Weeds steal the moisture that your crops need.
The following is a step-by-step guide to non-mechanized Conservation Agriculture:
Step 1: Early in winter months preceding your growing season, plan the layout and crop rotation of your land. Determine the amount of land that will be used, and calculate how much fertilizer and seed will be required. If you plan to sell the maize upon harvest, have a general plan for where it will be marketed, how it will get there, and for how much you expect it to sell.
Step 2: Start preparing your land as planned, during the dry season and well before the predicted start of the rains. Control weeds throughout the process. A steady workflow over the course of several weeks will ensure that you are ready at the proper time. Cut the grass, stover, and weeds and lie them evenly over the soil as mulch. Precisely measure out the appropriate spacing with measuring sticks; alternately, you may use two stakes joined by a string with knots at the distance where each planting hole should be dug. Those holes should be at a distance of exactly 60 cm by 75 cm. Use the diagram below as a guide.
Step 3: Apply basal fertilizer requirements before the rains begin. A soft drink or beer bottle top can be used to measure out the amount of Compound D fertilizer for each hole. Cover the fertilizer with a small amount of soil to ensure there is no contact with the seed, which would cause chemical burn. If you don’t have access to fertilizer or can’t afford it, you can use a full cup of well-composted manure in each hole.
Step 4: Plant immediately after the first measurable rainfall. Select a variety of seed that suits the typical rainfall received in your region. In dry areas, use short-season varieties; only choose a long-season type if you have access to irrigation or you are in an area of very high rainfall. When necessary, each of the holes can be watered by bucket, watering can or hose and left to settle. While the soil is still moist, place three seeds in each hole in an evenly-spaced line, with one pip on each side and one in the middle. Cover the seeds using the soil piled next to the hole to create a level surface, with heavy soil clods or stones covering the seeds. Leave the mulch cover intact between the holes. It is best to complete planting in one day, to encourage even germination and later, an even crop canopy, which will help shade out any growth of weeds.
Step 5: The first round of weeding should be completed two weeks after planting, and done with a minimum of soil disturbance. Hoe weeds when they are small. In addition, remove the weakest seedling from each hole two to three weeks after germination, which will leave an average of two seedlings per hole. If only one seed germinates in a hole, all three seedlings can be left in the adjacent hole.
Step 6: After the maize plants are well-established and have grown to the three-leaf stage, ammonium nitrate (AN) fertilizer should be applied. Your field should be weeded both before and after top- dressing, because you do not want weeds to use up and grow from the fertilizer intended for your crop. A soft drink or beer bottle top can again be used to measure out the AN, with one measure of AN for each planting hole. AN must be applied to wet soil, so it is best to apply it just before or after it rains. Apply the AN at a distance of 5 -10 cm from the plants, and do not let the fertilizer touch the plants. On sloping ground, the AN should be applied to the soil above the planting hole.
Step 7: Harvesting between March and June will prevent grain loss due to birds. After the cobs have been removed, leave the remaining stover lying in the field, which will protect the soil and improve its quality. Leave roots in the soil to break down and further improve the soil’s structure. Slash any weeds immediately after harvest to prevent seed production. Finally, prepare holes in the same position as the previous season; these holes can be reused, with minor repairs, for your next growing season. Soybeans, sugar beans, and peanuts are appropriate legumes to rotate with maize.