Sunday, July 1, 2007

My life as a dirt farmer

As an experiment this year, I rented a 13-acre field that had been used for silage corn production since Jimmy Carter was president and decided to produce two crops on it. The first crop will be harvested as silage for winter feed. It's a blend of forage oats and field peas. Once the they're harvested, I'll seed one half of the field with turnips and the other half with kale. I'll fatten lambs on these brassicas this fall and see whether there's any difference in rate of gain, forage production, and economic yield between the two. This experiment is partially funded by the USDA's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program.

I had the field plowed and disked by a local farmer. I had the fertilizer dealer blend the seed in with the fertilizer and it was spread with a bulk truck. After that, I rolled the field with a cultipacker. Here's how the field looks on July 1, 55 days after planting. I would have liked to have harvested the field at this stage for the best forage quality, but because I am at the mercy of custom operators, it's currently scheduled to be harvested on July 9. Let's hope for good weather.

The whole seeding process happened about a week later than I would have liked (again because I relied on custom operators), and as a result the seed went down into very dry soil. Cultipacking was difficult because the soil, which is very light, often rolled in front of the roller, burying the seed rather than pressing it into the soil. Where this happened, germination was thin and the plants didn't do a very good job of supressing weeds as shown in the photo on the left.

However, in places where the seed took well, the crop is thick, lush, and well over three feet tall. Weeds don't stand a chance, as shown in the photo on the right.

Here's the stage of maturity on July 1: oats have started to head out, and the field peas just starting to bloom but have not produced any pods yet.

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