Thursday, April 7, 2016

It's planting season - and a pleasant surprise

View from the tractor seat - disc'd areas to rght and left, undisc'd straight ahead
I'm now past the risk of a frost for the rest of this year and so I'm working up the ground that I'll be planting this year.

The field in the picture grew corn last year, and the stalks and husks are still there.  Running a disc harrow over them chops them up and increases the contact with the ground so that they break down faster.  It also kills the weeds that are just starting to sprout.
john deere 210 disc harrow - what I'm using today
After I've got all of last years crop residue chopped up I'll look at the ground and spend a couple of hours grading any holes or divots or high spots that the floods this year (or pigs rooting!) left me with,

Then I'll wait a week or so, for new weeds/undesirable plants to sprout, and I'll go over it again with the disk to kill them, and depending on how many show up, I may wait another week for another pass with the disc.

After the weeding I'll go over the whole thing with a ripping plow.

A ripping plow is a 1/2" thick piece of steel in a C shape.  My ripping plow has 4 tines on it, spaces about 2' apart, and the tines are 4' long.  You drag this plow through the soil leaving 4 narrow furrows that go very deep - to aerate the soil and improve water penetration.  With the grading and ripping done, I'll do a final assesment of the soil and probably plant.

I do the discing in preference to using some sort of herbicide.  It's fast; about 10 minutes an acre, and it's pretty easy to see where  you have and haven't been; easy to trac the progress.

the pleasant surprise was that an area that I thought hadn't worked out last year - did work out!

In the crop plan (picture below) the area that I list as "grain corn" I planted alfalfa in last year, but with the drought and conditions, I never got a stand of alfalfa that I liked, and wrote it off as a loss.

A loss that really hurts because the alfalfa seed itself is $4/lb, and with the ground prep and seed costs and labor it was a loss of a few thousand dollars.  Stung.
So today was the day for discing, and I had just finished the 'new stand alfalfa' area, and was heading over to the grain corn, and noticed some green growth below the dead weeds from last year.  What grows on your land tells you what your land is like - some plants like acid soil, some base, some like fertile, some marginal.  So I got out of the tractor and walked up to the growth and... it was alfalfa!  lots of it!

So I walked the whole field, and while there are patches where there's no alfalfa (I'll spot-plant them) most of that area actually has a respectable stand of alfalfa in it.   As near as I can figure, with the lack of rain all last summer and then cold weather most of the seed just went dormant, sprouting this spring.  I put down 20lbs/acre, which is a relatively heavy seeding, and I'm happy to say that it looks good for the majority of that area.  

So now I've got to figure out what I'm going to do with $1900 worth of alfalfa seed that I purchased this year.  Alfalfa seed this year is $4/lb - orchard grass seed is $3.70/lb -- for 30 cents more a pound, I'm planting alfalfa where I would normally plant grass this year.  Just gotta figure out where that's going to be now.  

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