Sunday, February 12, 2012

Black fields

Eight of our fourteen acres are tillable.  For those who don't live in the country, tillable acres are those that have been, or very easily could be, used for growing crops.  Before we moved here nine years ago the tillable acres had been in a corn and bean rotation.  I knew right off the bat that continuing to use herbicides on our land was a no-go, so I started searching around for a farmer who would be willing to do something different.  I found a neighbor willing to put in alfalfa, and I gave him a good deal on the rent as long as he didn't use any chemicals.

We had that alfalfa for eight years.  This is a long time for one planting.  You could tell that we had stretched it--the density was down and weeds were coming in thick along the edges.  One way or another, we had to break it up.  Last summer I found another farmer willing to till it up and plant winter wheat.  One season of wheat, and then we could either put it into alfalfa again or try a pasture mix.

The farmer tilled it up early last September.  August had been pretty dry, and the clay loam clumps lay heavy and dark on the ground.  All we needed was a little rain to soften things up, and then the tractor could go over it again, breaking up the clumps and smoothing out the soil.  Only, we didn't get any rain.  At all.  Nothing in September, and nothing in October.  By that time it was too late to plant anything.

So, we still have a field of black clay surrounding our farmhouse.  With virtually no snow this winter, I shudder to think of the topsoil we are losing.  And we're still in a drought, with no signs of precipitation anytime soon.  The repeated freezing and thawing we've had is just starting to soften the clay--if you really jump hard the clumps will break apart under you feet.

We're still planning on planting wheat or perhaps oats this spring.  No chemicals, though.  Which may mean a weedy crop come harvest time, but the land rent is still cheap so that should make up for a bit of lost production.

I just hope we get some rain or snow sometime soon.


Kathy said...

This drought is making a lot of the farmer nervous. I overhear them talking in groups at the local elementary girls BB games. On our farm, we've had no measurable precip since last July. Our neighbors just to the east a couple miles had a bit more rain than we did. The black soil is really blowing around all the county.

It would be really cool!!! to have your own organic wheat from your own field. When you store the wheat berries whole, they will last for quite a while. So you can have freshly ground ww flour. If you get a crop-- can I buy some from you?

Also-- you may be eligible for certified organic, since you can 'testify' that no chemicals have been used for that many years.


Mama Pea said...

I think this wonky winter has thrown a lot of us out of balance. We've never experienced so little snow here in the 38 years we've lived in northern Minnesota. My stomach starts clutching when I think of the spring forest fire danger looming ahead unless we get one heckuva lot of snow in February and March. My field garden has a light covering of snow but my raised bed have been bare most of the winter. Not good.

Ladytats said...

this will be an interesting cropping year after the last several wet years. we started a new alfalfa field this past fall, and no snow to insulate the baby plants. it will be interesting to see how much winter kill has occurred. planning a communal garden this year with the neighbors. so hope there is some moisture happening soon. can't really water any of the garden, as the hoses would have to cross 2 driveways. can't have that when the tractors and other stuff is moving around. all our fields here in ND are black too.
good luck with your 2012 garden and crops

Erin said...

Was that picture taken recently? Ohmigosh with no snow cover it's really strange to see and worse to think about farmers' crops this coming year. I sure hope you get snow soon, and plenty of SLOW, STEADY rains in early spring - you certainly don't need any downpours washing that stuff away and flooding the area.

Jo said...

Kathy -- I'll check into the wheat thing with Leon. No reason why we can't keep some of that for ourselves.

Mama Pea -- Oh, I hadn't considered the forest fire danger! Scary indeed. Even more reason to fervently wish for rain.

Ladytats -- I hope your alfalfa does well! Once it gets established, it seems to survive drought very well. Depends on your soils, of course.

Erin -- I took that photo the day before I posted. Yes, slow and steady rains are what we need! Flooding is the last thing we want right now, yikes!