Thursday, March 29, 2012

What's New at the Farm? Fields Need Some TLC

Sometimes I sit here and thoughts flow so easily that writing this column isn’t a challenge. Today isn’t one of those days. Last week was 81°F and signs of spring were everywhere; today it’s 34°F and snowing and all the little signs we saw are hiding out of sight now. Now 81°F in March isn’t the norm but it was nice for a few days; getting rid of the snow banks, and seeing all the signs of spring after a long winter. It was definitely an odd winter, for sure.

As we get closer to spring, we are in the final stages of planning where all the different crops are going to be planted. While we added some more acreage this year, there are a couple of projects that need to happen before we start using some of this land. One field I rented consists of 12 acres that was last turned under in the 60’s. It was planted to dry beans back when there was a strong market for them. The next 45 years the field was hayfield, managed for grass production by several local dairy farmers.

To say the soil is run down is an understatement. The grass, what there is of it, seldom reaches more than a foot tall. Part of that is due to poor fertility. The other part is the fact the field hasn’t been seeded down in many years and annual blue grass is the predominate grass in the field now. Annual blue grass seldom grows very tall and isn’t good for a whole lot. We used to call it June grass because if you didn’t harvest it in June it would go by and be of no food value. Annual blue grass is a good indicator plant of poor soil in pastures.

Good, productive hay fields managed for grass production need to be reseeded every few years. The nature of harvesting the hay whilst the grass plant is trying to set seed defeats the natural reproduction of the grasses. Therefore, the preferred grasses eventually disappear and are replaced by grasses that don’t need care and attention in order to thrive.

Anyway, I plan on applying a liberal amount of compost and plowing the whole field down. After plowing, lime will be spread to increase the pH of the soil. Then we’ll seed it with buckwheat to help break down the sod. After one crop of buckwheat, we’ll seed oats and clover and maintain that for the rest of the growing season. This tillage will give us an idea of how many rocks are out there. Next spring we’ll start all over again.

The other field has had drain tile installed in it to help us get on it earlier in the season. Our planting plans for this field includes tomato and pepper seed productions, the pumpkin and gourd trials, and some extra crops to see how they do. A liberal application of compost, turned under, will help bring up the organic matter content of the soil. A limited amount of drip irrigation will be used if it becomes dry enough to warrant it. Next year we’ll put a more diversified selection of crops there.

I continue to look for land suitable for growing vegetables in central Maine. Many dairy farmers are using all the available land locally so finding suitable land becomes more of a challenge. People often call Johnny’s with land they would like to see in crops; I look at each plot carefully and have rented many parcels over the years. Many of the fields have changed hands since I first rented them, so only I know the reasoning behind their names. Jack’s field is now owned by Dave, the Higgins field isn’t owned by the Higgins’ anymore and the Hall field is now owned by the Westin’s. The big, new field is still the big, new field. The Movie Palace (store and pizza place) is long gone but the name of that field endures.

The days of large farm acreages going up for rent or sale are pretty much limited now. Many, many farms have been broken up into smaller parcels as interest in farming waned over the years. Houses have been built in many spots where there were pastures and fields before. Lots of acreage has been planted in trees or trees have grown in from the fence rows creating small patches of woods here and there. Good land is a finite resource; do what you can to preserve it.
Until next week, Brian

No comments: