Saturday, October 15, 2016

Farm Bulletin: Autumn Field Choreography

Lest anyone thinks that the end of harvest season and the onset of winter leaves a farmer with time for bucolic meditations on the year's passing, contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm is here to set you straight about his own dance with Mother Nature.

Early on we had a tenant farmer with a split operation, some organic and a lot conventional. In conversation, he told us that he had to sit down with his father and figure out how they managed to grow winter dry land crops before the availability of the herbicides and synthesized fertilizers that are prohibited in organic production. His father told him it required careful timing, the land was fertilized and cultivated in late summer. The farmer then waited until the first of the autumn storms. It would dampen the ground and the unwanted winter annuals would sprout after a couple of weeks. A quick cultivation would kill the unwanted seedlings and then the cash crop seed is planted, usually in the latter half of October. If all goes well, the crop is remarkably clean because the freshly seeded crop grabs the space quickly.

There is nothing about that farmer's operation we would consider emulating and we extracted ourselves from the arrangement because his methods were hard on our land. Nonetheless, his father's advice made sense and we have followed it, mostly successfully, for 16 years. Of course, it requires weather conducive to the effort, and that isn't guaranteed. We cultivated and fertilized the ground in late September. For the last two weeks, we have been watching the weather forecasts with bated breath. Last week, the window seem to appear with the dry weather forecast for Saturday through Tuesday, and we knocked down the sprouting seed Saturday. Unexpectedly, it shut tight with the rain on Sunday, leading to a day of muttering and gritting of teeth. Fortunately, by Tuesday, the ground was dry enough to plant the red wheat, durum, barley and mustard. It was a long day, but looking at the forecast for the rest of the month, we were lucky to have been prepared to grab the moment. Now we will fret until we see the fields turn green as the crops sprout, but not too green indicating the Lazarus-like return of unwanted growth. Farmer thy name is worry.

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