Nick & I expected a relaxing day in the greenhouse or office, or at least cleaning out the barn or something. But after going over our to-do list & the crop plan, we looked out the windows of the office (no rain) & said, let's get OUT there! It's only really possible to plant or work the soil while it's totally dry (because of compaction issues), and knowing that there is rain on the way gives anything we plant in the ground a good watering-in.
We want to have every row that does not have existing cover crop on it to be planted in cover crop as soon as possible... this keeps the soil from washing away in rainstorms, adds extra organic matter, and any legume will also add nitrogen to the soil. This of course only works if we aren't planting a cash crop in it immediately. Basically if something's going in after June 1st, we have at least 40 days of growth until we have to till it under to prepare for the new planting. So we researched a little about what cover crops we could throw in. Rye & oats are out because they grow pretty slow. Clover too. Beans are frost-sensitive. But we did have some old bags of fava beans (10 yrs old!) and some rapeseed (Canola!), both of which grow pretty fast.
So we rototilled the rows (Dave did, with the new tractor) and because it wasn't a large area (only 4 rows), we seeded the favas & rapeseed by hand, the scatter method! We were closely followed by the chickens, who normally gobble up all the hacked-in-two earthworms, but this time were gorging themselves on rapeseed. We then rolled over the seeded rows with the Brillion seeder (normally you put seed in with this, but we just used the rollers to press the seed into the soil a little bit).
Pictures to come, as soon as Nick gets back from the City with his camera!
We also seeded rye into a few rows that are getting really late-seeded crops, since they'd have more time to grow.
Most of the fields are currently in Rye & Vetch, and they are both pretty winter hardy-- they are not killed by hard frosts. Vetch is a legume, and of course we know that adds nitrogen to the soil. But how does the plant really do that? Through a process of beautiful symbiosis with a bacteria called Rhizobia! (from the Greek words rhiza = root and bios = Life) These little guys establish themselves inside root nodules of legumes. The rhizobia cannot independently fix nitrogen, and require a plant host. Check out these nodules!
The rye & vetch growing in most of the fields is getting tall from all the sunshine & spring weather! I imagine how tasty all of this will be for my sheep!
Speaking of tasty, I had a salad for lunch with some spring dandelion greens picked from the edge of a field. This delicacy gets bitter later in the summer when you see those pesky yellow flowers, but early on it is quite tender. And it's one of the most nutritious foods ever! Check out these facts:
In one cup of chopped fresh dandelion you get:
- 10% of yr daily calcium
- 9% of yr daily iron
- 32% of yr daily vitamin C
- 112% of yr daily vitamin A
- 2g of protein
- 12% of yr daily fiber
- potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, vitamin E, thiamin, riboflavin, B-6 and folate
It is a general tonic, is good for the liver and the kidneys, & stimulates digestion.
Some people think dandelions are too bitter, but I've found that eating a strong yummy goat cheese or feta crumbled on them really helps. Mmmm.
Well, back to work. We covered up the onion fields with "Reemay" row cover cloth, to conserve moisture & help repel pests. We also covered the seeded beds of greens with it too, to keep out flea beetles. We unroll the huge fabric in the middle of a field, and then stretch it out so it's completely flat & the wind won't take it up like a huge sail. On the edges, Dave puts sandbags down every 12' feet or so to hold it in place.
We raked, pulled, & piled up old stalks & grasses in the flower garden, and then set them on fire! Dave prefers burning mostly because it's easier than composting all that woody material, it destroys the weed seeds, and it adds potash, which is kinda like a fertilizer. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potash
I don't know about it though. Burning debris is an age-old tradition in the country, but seems to me that just letting it compost would add a lot more to the soil and add less pollution to the air. But we sure did clear up that garden quickly. Dave then rototilled it (after the fires were out) & now it's all ready for seeding or transplanting flowers into!
We also cleared up the old asparagus stalks & burned them in piles. I can't wait until they start pushing up their tender green shoots!
At the end of the day, Nick & I were ready to stop working. But Dave was still all-enthusiasm, as usual. After a quick inventory of all our implements, he took a list of needed parts (bolts, cotter pins, rototiller blades) to the tractor store, & set us up washing out the old stinky bins from the root cellar. It was pretty cold & overcast, and that water was damn cold. Nick was jumpy because he was getting on a train to NYC to see his girlfriend in 2 hours. We did it quick, then quickly took hot showers.
What a long week!