Thursday, July 17, 2014

"knee high by the fourth of july" - not my corn!

corn, 2nd week of july
After the custom-planting disaster earlier this year, my corn crop is late, but growing well.  This is an organic seed and being raised using organic techniques -- no herbicides, not pesticides, sunlight, soil, manure, rain.  
The goal of this crop is to provide high-quality winter feed for dairy cows.  

The challenge last year for the corn that I raised was that the weeds got away with the crop;  this hasn't really been a problem with this corn so far. there's a few weeds, but at this point it's clear that the corn is ahead of them, and they probably won't matter much.  Below you'll find two picture-pairs, taken two weeks apart.  

two week growth

There are a few weeds here and there, but the corn grows very fast and will shade out the majority of them.  I'll watch the growth and see if I need to plan on some sort of cultivation schedule, but so far so good.  

Looking at the corn plants, it's clear that one of the corn planters isn't working correctly; there are gaps and bunchs of corn in about 25% of the rows.   I think I know which one it is (I started planting going in one direction, and one of these rows isn't very good) so I know where to start on the fix.  

two week growth
This corn is planted on ground that had corn on it last year.  I did put out water from the manure lagoon, but I have to say I'm pretty curious how the corn will do.  This is cow corn -- the intention is to grow it and then chop it up and ensile it.   This is about 10 acres total; I'm expecting something like 200 tons of this corn silage this year.  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Making the first hay

The alfalfa I planted earlier this year is now 24-30" tall, and is at the "1/10 bloom" stage of its growth.  That's a new term that I learned from this publication from Kansas State University, that talks about when to cut alfalfa and what the different growth stages mean.
This is the 100% alfalfa seeded area
 This is my 2nd attempt at growing alfalfa, and this one is going pretty well.  The plants look good, no sign of any issues at all.  And they're thick enough that they've crowded out most of the weeds.   There are still some weeds, but I suspect that once this is hayed that the alfafa will drown out any remaining weeds.  Part of my cutting at this stage is motivated by a weather window, and part by a desire to cut the weeds down before they go to seed, to cut down on the number of weed seeds available for the future.

This stand is organic; no herbicides, no pesticides.  Sunlight, soil, manure, rain are the ingredients.
100% alfalfa seeded area
 I am noticing some differences in overall fertility in various parts of the field.  I'll take some samples from those areas and make a note of the results for next year.  Generally speaking though, I'm happy with the growth and I think this will make fine alfalfa hay.
Individual plant stalk
 One thing I noticed when I was mowing this, was that I could feel the wheel ruts from planting.   I plowed and then disked, and then seeded the ground, and the seeding step depressed the soil under the tractor tires.  So the ground is subtly corrugated.  This is a bit of a problem -- the cutter can handle 6-7 miles an hour, but the washboard effect from the planting tire tracks makes it a rough ride.  So next time I'll make sure that the ground is as flat  as I can make it.  It's fine as hay ground, but smoother would allow me to work faster now.
alfalfa/grass test plot
 The alfalfa grass isn't as luxuriant a grow as the pure alfalfa.  The hope was that by adding grass to the mix that it would help the alfalfa by competing with weeds, and in the final bale, the grass would provide more fiber in addition to the nutrition from the alfalfa.   In this area, planted within a day of the pure alfalfa, the stems are 2-4" shorter.  It'll make good hay still... but I don't notice a difference in the number, type or quantity of weeds.   It's a bit cheaper seed mix though; grass seed is about 50% the cost of alfalfa seed, so I figure I saved $40 or so an acre.   Duly noted.
I'm going to let this go to full bloom
This is a multi-year experiment.  I'm going to allow a portion of each test area go to full bloom before harvesting - that means that the root system is very well developed.  I'm going to look at the winter survival and next years growth to see if there's any difference between that and stands that I harvested at 1/10th or 25% bloom.

So I like the look of this crop, but how good is good?  Only way to tell is to have it tested, and that's on the list.  For me, it gives me some feedback on how well the crop will serve in its intended purpose -- premium feed for dairy cows -- and it'll make it easier to sell to horse people.

The grass and alfalfa should produce something like 2 tons per acre across a couple of cuttings.  That means that I'll probably end up with somewhere north of 100 tons of hay.  The problem around here isn't growth - we have good soil and good growth.  The problem is haying weather.

  I'm going to bale this in small square bales this year, somewhere between 60 and 80lbs per bale, so somewhere between 2500 and 3000 bales total.  In this area alfalfa sells for $20 per 80lb bale, retail.  If I can make my bales look like the eastern washington hay I think that they'll sell well.  And I don't have transport costs, so the margin will be a bit better.

It's my intention to bale and stack this hay starting friday morning, and hopefully have it in the barn that evening.  For this first baling I've only cut 6 acres.  

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Shake & rattle

Noticed my rototiller was a bit out of wack after running between the rows of pumpkins.  As with most of my equipment, I buy it used if I can find something that will work, and I've gotten pretty good at fixing stuff.  (disclosure:  I'm not actually the one fixing this one, my brother Bryan who's a lot better at metalwork than I am is actually doing the lions share, but same idea)

 The biggest problem that this rototiller has is that the three point hitch is bolted on, and not welded.  And in this case, whomever did the initial assembly didn't use the right sized bolts for 4 of the 8 bolts.  Since it was loose, all of the bolts were damaged by shaking.  The attachment points were also a little bent, and so the maul was used to provide the right spacing and the rods to provide alignment, and a couple of straps were welded on to tie it all together as aligned.
 The errant bolts were found, removed, and the right sized bolts and lock washers installed.
 on both sides
I used to use equipment, and then make a note to myself "gosh, I should fix the three point on that rototiller".  What always happened is that i'd forget about it until I needed the implement again, and I'd go to find it broken.

So what I do now is to make sure that before I park the implement it's in good working order in all respects; what's wrong with it is fresh and I can get to it relatively easily instead of trying to recall what the issue was 6 months or a year ago.  Particularly for implements that you only use once a year or for a portion of a season and they sit there for the rest of the year.

With this implement; check the oil level in the transmission, grease it, make sure that the parts are in good working order and pressure wash it is the routine before parking it for the year.   The pressure washing isn't really neccessary... but it is if you want to inspect the equipment.  Particularly things like plows and rototillers -- stuff can get hidden under the dirt and you won't know about that crack or defect until the thing breaks.  Better to catch it early.

The repairs on this particular tiller cost about $30; a little bit of flat stock, 8 bolts and washers and nuts, about 20 minutes of time.  And it's good to go for another year.