Thursday, July 16, 2009

What's New At The Farm? 7/15/09

I seriously wonder if we're going to get any summer weather. The temps seem below normal and the wet weather continues to hold on - hold on much longer than we'd planned on. If it weren't for these constant challenges it wouldn't be farming. Speaking of challenges this year has been more of a weed control challenge than the past few years. The constant showers and never ending days of cool, wet conditions make it ideal for weeds and diseases to thrive.

We rely primarily on mechanical cultivation for the majority of our weed control; it makes it harder when you can't get a tractor into the field for weeks straight. You can do more weed control on a good day than a crew can do in a week; that's why we like cultivation so well. Once the weeds are over a couple of inches tall they are really hard to kill; now other methods of weed control need to be used.

Methods like flaming - moderately effective on large weeds, small weeds are best. Organic herbicides like clove oil and vinegar are used with some success - thorough coverage is necessary. Hand weeding is a last resort as it's very expensive - good, but expensive.

We use mulching more and more each year. Last year we used 185 big round bales of hay mulch and this year we're looking at using 250 or so. To put it in perspective, 250 big round bales are equal to 5000 square bales. There are several issues with using so much mulch:

1. Expense of mulch
2. Labor to spread it
3. What to do with it once we're done with the field

Expense is one thing we can't do much about. We have a local farmer who bales what and when we want it and delivers it to the field. His bales are large and he's very accommodating to work with. I'm sure we could find some cheaper but we'd have to hunt around for it, may have to pick it up and may get some noxious weeds or unwanted additions to the hay. I know his fields and I know what grows there so I know what we're getting. We're also supporting a farmer right near Johnny's so we're doing the local thing.

Labor to spread it. Having a lot of people makes short work of spreading 250 bales of mulch hay. We will have invested around 160 man-hours in the spreading of 250 big, round bales in a total of about five acres. This may seem like a lot of hours but it's less than half a week for the crew. That's gives 5 acres of total weed control for the entire season for a minimal investment.

What to do with it once we're done with the field. Three years ago we left the two fields untouched until the following spring. The mulch protected the soil from fall and winter erosion. We spread compost and plowed it down. The tomato crop was short that year; the hay breaking down robbed the tomatoes of the nitrogen they needed. Two years ago we raked the mulch off and prepared our ground as usual. Seemed like a waste of organic matter, so this year we spread pelletized chicken manure on the mulch and plowed it down. In theory, as the mulch breaks down it will tie up the nitrogen from the chicken manure and not from our crops we planted. So far, so good.

Until next week, Brian


Anonymous said...

I'm a huge fan of straw or hay mulch. I am lucky to have laying hens, and I turn them into the fall garden to scratch and clean up, and deposit some high nitrogen chicken manure to help with the hay breakdown.

BUT, I built some raised this year, and don't want to let the chickens in there, so can you tell me what ratio of pelletized manure you used per square foot? And does Johnny's carry the manure in small quantities?

Thanks, Ali (another Maine gardener)

Brian, Farm Manager said...

We use 1000 pounds per acre which translates into 2.5 pounds per 100 square feet or a 1/2 ounce per square foot. A four by eight foot raised bed would require one pound fertilizer.
Johnny's currently does not sell pelletized chicken manure; we bought ours at Paris Farmers Union.