Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Meanwhile, back at the buckwheat...

Remember the buckwheat? We had so much rain after that day, I wasn't sure what would happen to it. This has been such a cool soggy summer here, unlike everywhere else in the country. However, just a few days after the Seed Stomp the little seeds rallied and germinated like mad, allowing us to clearly see why farmers invest in mechanized seed spreading equipment.

However, machines aren't much good at building community spirit, nor do they provide great potluck meals for after the seeding, so I think we will still incorporate the social side of things into cover crop seeding for now. Which doesn't stop me from coveting one of these:

I love super specific tools, and farming can justify an endless array of them. Still, the toss-from-a-bucket-and-walk-it-in technique worked:

It was interesting to see results of the variation in spreading and stomping techniques- some rows were very evenly spread, some were incredibly thick in spots, and completely bare in others, some we must have just completely overlooked, and others it looked like someone just dumped the bucket out all in one place. I name no names. We all just need a bit more practice...

Things were progressing nicely, but then:

The Elk Herd Discovered The Buckwheat.

Which was actually the point of the whole exercise. You see, we hope to apply for funding assistance from the NRCS for several farm infrastructure improvement projects, one of which is to build an elk exclosure fence. If we wanted official funding assistance we had to demonstrate that

1. We are an agricultural operation, and
2. We have a pest problem.

The sowing of almost an acre of cover crop helped to establish the first point.

The second point was proved when I went out to check on the buckwheat fairly soon after it sprouted and found the field stomped all over, with great clumps of plants pulled out of the ground and then spat out again. I think at first the elk weren't quite sure what to make of buckwheat, but they pretty soon developed a taste for it.

Our friend Mark, who volunteers the the Wildlife Center of the North Coast next door to us, managed to document the second point for us, catching the perps In the Act.

They've been decimating the plot all summer long, and what they didn't destroy, lack of irrigation and some Very Hot Days (in and among the coldest, wettest summer in recent memory) did the rest.

It's a bit of a let down- we are expecting our sexy new BCS walk-behind tractor (it's Italian! So Stylish!) to arrive any day now which will allow us to till the buckwheat under and get a winter cover crop sown, but there is hardly anything left to till under. Except weeds. If you look closely, you will notice that the weeds are the only green thing in the picture.

At least we know something will grow there.

We need to get our winter cover crop sown very soon. It's hard to do that knowing that it is just going to meet the same fate as the buckwheat, but we can't leave the soil bare. Hopefully funding for the fence will be available sometime in the Spring, so we might actually be able to get something growing back there for next summer. Something besides weeds, I mean.

I have to spend a bit of time with our soil test results as well, and figure out how much lime we need to be applying to start shifting our ph, among other things. This is just the start of the soil building process, and I know it will take several years of attention before it is balanced enough to support growing annual row crops productively, but you've got to start somewhere.

Hopefully we'll have the damn fence up by the time our soil ph reaches neutral!

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