Posts Tagged ‘rain’

Spring Farming

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

truck parked near the creek

The creek crossing to our field

Ah, another May in the foothills and mountains with snow showers and temperatures in the high 30’s in store. I am getting the hang of this wait and see on planting rather than just planting by date. I am glad I discarded corn as a summer crop because if I wanted to harvest by early October I should have it in the ground now. Nevertheless, I think we can see rises in food prices in the future. In the meantime I’m happy for the additional rain because it will put more growth on my cover crop and help the grain crop fill out. One farmer’s setback is another’s benefit.

On the other hand, it could be in the 80’s next week. From what I read, these wide swings could get even wider with climate change. I am working towards adapting our food production to meet those changes. We’ve got a huge snow pack this year but only two years ago we were in near drought conditions for irrigation water and thousands of acres of farmland were taken out of production. Even in this year of plenty snow I can see how dependent we are. You may have read of the rupture of the Bear River Canal below Rollins Lake just recently. It was mostly noted in the papers as a temporary disruption to residential customers. However, my soil consultant in Sheridan farms rice and had already done all his field prep when the break happened and now cannot plant at all because the window will have passed by the time service is restored. It’s estimated that 2300 acres of rice will not be planted this year as a result of that break. It’s a mixed bag: some growers will be hurt, but that will give a price boost to the growers who do have water. Such is farming.

Conservation Tillage and Adventures with a Cantankerous Tractor

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

24 tons of compost being unloaded from a semi truckI’ve been trying for awhile to get compost and oyster shell lime for my fertilization program, as indicated by soil tests, and at the last moment the local fertilizer supplier for non-organic products agreed to rent me their spreader and the organic compost supplier was able to get me 48 tons of compost mixed with gypsum which was also needed in the fertilizer program.

As I was waiting for that to get delivered I got a window of dry weather in the middle of November so the ground was just barely dry enough to work.  I started on the acreage that would get the cover crop but it was evident that it would take four passes with a disc to get it smooth enough to plant.  (Editor: A disc is an implement with rows of steel discs that slice and turn over the soil from 3 to 6 inches deep that you pull behind the tractor.) At lunch on the third pass I shut off the tractor and when I went to start it diesel fuel squirted from the fuel system priming pump.  The rubber diaphragm had apparently gotten old and cracked…and it was a one-piece component that couldn’t be rebuilt.  I called the dealer—three days and $266 to get a replacement. I ordered it but watched the clouds build up for the next rain while the tractor sat in the field.

I got the tractor part and then had to wait 3 more days for the ground to dry again.  At that point the ten day forecast showed more rain on the way in a few days.  It seemed like I might have to choose between planting the cover crop and planting the grain but I gambled and decided to plant the cover crop.  It took me 15 minutes to put the new pump on the tractor and I was on my way.  The field was still kind of lumpy because it had been in pasture the previous year, so for the last pass I improvised a drag behind the disk.  I took two eight-foot forklift fork extensions and chained them to the back of the disc at angles so they wouldn’t plow up too much dirt [Editor: this is known as “ghetto farming”].  blue tractor and compostAfter some experimenting with angles they worked pretty well to break up clots and level the field.  Every farmer would like to have all the implements necessary but sometimes you have to make do with what you have.  I was on my last pass and the tractor died while I was driving.  It started again, went a hundred yards and did it again.  I reprimed the system with the priming pump, bled the injector lines to get any air out, and tried again.  Same thing.  In the end I concluded that the fuel pump in the tank had failed.  It was Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. and the dealer was closed, so I was out of business for the weekend.

I commute to my fields so I eventually called a mechanic who lives nearby and had him find a new pump and install it for $500.  I was back in business by Tuesday morning, but the forecast was for more rain by Friday. I was just about done preparing for the cover crop so I went ahead and planted it and then started disking the field for the grain.  I had a hard time getting the stalks from the bell beans mixed into the soil and so went over the field twice, fearing that the grain drill (planter) wouldn’t cut through the trash.  At that point I could see that I really needed to start spreading compost.  Thursday morning I got the lime spreader and started trying to put on the three tons per acre that was the minimum.  Well, the compost was so wet it wouldn’t go out of the spreader consistently.  I had to stop about six times per load and climb up on the spreader with a fence post and knock it down.  By the time I got twenty tons on it was already noon.  I knew I wouldn’t get any lime spread if I didn’t let go of my goal of thirty tons of compost.  The lime I had was old and proved to be very difficult to load.  After spending thirty minutes loading, which should have taken ten, I found that the lime was even worse to spread than the compost.  It took me an hour to get that out of the spreader.  By that time it was 3:00 p.m.

I gave up on the lime and got my seed and started planting.  The soil condition wasn’t great—kind of ridged and too soft—but there wasn’t much choice.  I didn’t bother to save any leftover seed after I finished each variety of grain.  I just ran it out onto the ground.  I finally finished planting at 8:00 p.m by the light of the moon.  I’d never had any headlights and never needed them before, so I was lucky it was bright out.  I tarped the drill and tractor, put away the seed, and went home.  As it turned out it didn’t rain until late morning Friday so I could have spread more compost but there was no way of knowing.  The rain set in and never stopped for any length of time through December.  At this point there’s no way to know how the crop will turn out.  A few areas flooded and won’t grow anything but most of the crop is coming up pretty well, though the weeds are doing better.  There will be a lot of grain cleaning to do after harvest.

Moon photo courtesy of Zmtomako

May Farm Update

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

As you will all have noticed, it has been a very cold spring with lots of rain. That has done the winter grains lots of good because they were very late developing. As of early April the red wheat and barley were well headed out but the white wheat and oats had lots of stalk but no heads. The rye was barely a foot-and-a-half tall and no heads. Two weeks later the white wheat, and oats were fully headed with a bumper crop and the rye was double in size. As of last week the rye was about half headed. Unfortunately, the heirloom white Sonoran wheat had been knocked down a lot by the wind since the stalks are so tall. Modern wheat varieties tend to be short-strawed for that reason. Late rain also really helps the weeds, particularly wild radish, so there will be the usual long cleaning job this year.

flowering mustard cover crop with a blue sky above it

The rain also really worked for the oats, bell beans, peas, vetch cover crop I put on half the fallow ground. I finally disked it down when it was chest high on me at 6’4″. I am hoping that the crop will provide enough nitrogen for the grains I plant this fall. It would save a considerable amount of money and time, but there is a time lag before using it, I’m not sure how that will turn out. The purple vetch, triticale mixture I planted at the Bierwagen farm in Chicago Park also was nearly the tallest Chris Bierwagen had ever seen there.

Planting of dry beans in Wheatland is a month behind schedule. The soil has just been too wet and cold and now rain is predicted for Monday night. This crop is a joint venture between me and my host there, Jim Muck. It isn’t a disaster if we plant by June as long as rain doesn’t come too early in the fall. I had hoped to plant quinoa first in Chicago Park, then amaranth, then corn but that soil was still too wet to work on Thursday. In the meantime I’m working on my corn planter swapping various used parts, and my antique harvester that I plan to use for the amaranth and quinoa. I’d like to test it on the small plantings of oats, barley, and rye in June as well.

My son who works in the social networking world is helping me set up my website for online sales of products. You can already sign up for the CSA there. He is also setting it up for me to blog. This is a new world for me, but most small farmers are seeing the value of these electronic connections in marketing so I’m grateful for his help.

For those of you who have been receiving my emails over the last couple years where I have documented my difficulties in making a small grain operation work, I want to report that I am currently in the black. A fair amount of that money should be counted towards my loss and labor last year, but there is still some left over. If I don’t have too many expensive repairs this year I expect to make a small profit. This is good in the short term and the long because someday I hope to hand this over to somebody younger. Sorting out what works for CSA share members and for me is an ongoing project and the CSA is the lynchpin for profitability. Let me know what you like or dislike about what’s in your shares and how the whole thing works. Recruit your friends too.