Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What's New at the Farm? Spring is in the air, but working the soil must wait

Spring is here finally and we’re ready. The birds are coming back in droves, the grass is getting greener with each day and the fields are drying out nicely.
In the past week I’ve spotted swallows, killdeer and one lone Great Blue Heron. On my way to Johnny’s each morning I can check on the progress of two pairs of Ospreys building their nests. There’s one goose at the pond; I assume he’s calling for a mate. The starlings are busy building nests around the home place and as the ice is out of the pond, the ducks are getting ready to nest.
The fields are firming up nicely and I can walk across most of them without sinking in too much.  It’s tempting to drive a tractor out in the field and get started in field prep. But it’s too early and getting out there too early can be detrimental to soils in many ways. How you say? Glad you asked.

Working soil that is too wet causes the soil to lose its structure. The soil will pack soil particles tightly, leaving less room for water and  air to penetrate. This compression forms tight clumps of soil that become “rocks” upon drying and are difficult to remedy at this point. This is called compacted soil. We all try to avoid compacting the soil as it makes it very difficult to grow crops there once the soil has become compacted. Roots find it hard to penetrate as do gardening tools and equipment. Water absorption is greatly reduced so this spot will easily become a wet hole in subsequent seasons making for an even later tilling date than usual.

To remedy this situation tilling large amounts of compost in and planting cover corps will help break up the compacted layers of soil. A crop with a long taproot would be best – Sweet clover comes to mind right off quick. Of course the best plan of action is to avoid tilling until the ground is dry enough to work anyways. Yes, I know it’ difficult to wait, especially after such a long winter, but it will pay off in the long run.

If you need something to keep you outdoors and busy until it’s time to get in the garden, there’s always lots of spring chores to be done. It’s a good time to dig out those garden tools you put away last fall and check for wear and tear. Time to check and replace the lawn mower blades and belts, check your garden hoes and replace heads and handles as needed. And sharpen them; nothing works better than a sharp hoe. There’s always plenty of raking; that’s one of my favorite spring chores. There’s almost nothing better than spending the day with my old steel lawn rake, raking up dead grass and leaves and getting the grounds ready for the upcoming season.

The flower beds all need a good raking and adding some compost would be good before the plants start coming up too much. Installing tomato cages over the taller plants like delphiniums and Hollyhocks will be much easier now (on them and on me) than once they start to fall over. I’ll add more compost to the planters and window boxes and get some fresh paint on them as soon as the weather cooperates.

Last year I learned that I better get all these chores done in April because come May, between Johnny’s, all the chickens and ducklings and bass fishing, I don’t have much extra time to do the before mentioned tasks. There seems to be little time between the winter blahs and seed planting time, but at least it’s at the beginning of the season. We can all look forward to sunny, warm days and green grass and flowers and soon the long, cold and snowy winter will be but a distant memory.

Until next week, enjoy the season,

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