Friday, July 22, 2011

Mud Creek Farm's very own grain!

Yes, it's hot out. Sweat starts dripping off our faces around 7:20am and doesn't stop until 8pm. We drink several gallons of water a day. We've been getting up at 5:30am to get the harvest done before noon. Meanwhile, we are trying to plant all our fall broccoli and cabbage, and keep them watered enough to survive. The lower field we're planting into has 400 foot rows, which seem to go on FOREVER when you're kneeling in the middle of them drenched with sweat, sticking tiny seedlings into the dirt. The soil is like hard chunks of concrete, baked in the sun, without any rain to soften them. The earthworms have gone far underground, seeking the deep moisture left from the spring. The rye stems, which we plowed under in this field several weeks ago, are still completely intact, sometimes looking like mulch straw in the soil.

We often grow winter rye as a cover crop, to add organic matter into the soil during the times when we're not growing a vegetable crop on the ground. Instead of harvesting it, we plow it under just when it's at its height of growth. Basically we are composting right on the field-- but composting needs moisture to activate the little critters (fungi, earthworms, bacteria, etc.) that decompose the rye straw and turn it into rich soil organic matter. No rain = no composting. The hard soil chunks and the dry rye straw just sit there until there is moisture. So we put up with harsh planting conditions, hoping that our little cabbage seedlings are strong enough to hold on. We keep them on life-support: our 400 foot drip irrigation lines provide enough immediate moisture for their roots to venture down into the deeper subsoil, where they can access more hospitable conditions. We blanket them with row cover, which keeps the moisture in and the cabbage moths out.

But here's the exciting news from last week: we are grain farmers now!

We had a back field of about four and a half acres (across the street), which we planted to winter rye last fall, to prepare the ground for future vegetable crops. Until May, the field had standing water from our incredibly wet spring, so we couldn't plow it, or even bush-hog it, until it got to be five feet tall. The rye started "heading up"... and Luke and I took a walk through the field a few weeks ago, discussing what we should do with the field. Luke is a baker... and he got an idea in his head.

Our neighbor Jack, who farms a few miles down the road from us, grows corn, soybeans, oats, hay, and wheat. He is always extremely helpful, stopping by at just the right moment when something is broken, and always having the right tool back at his barn to fix it. We asked if he would harvest our rye for us with his combine. He said sure!

Here's a few photos from the exciting morning. As he entered the back field, I noticed the humorous contrast between this huge green machine and our eggplant field.
Once in that great big sea of golden grain, I quickly realized that this was indeed the tool for the job. He got the whole field done in less than an hour-- imagine how we would have done it before machines like this!

We all crowded around to watch his first few passes!
I climbed up in the hopper to see what it looked like-- our very first grain harvest!
We ended up yielding about eighty bushels.
Jack even baled the straw for us. Now we're more than just vegetable growers-- we're grain farmers.

Luke plans to make a whole lot of rye bread. Check it out Small World Bakery's booth at the market in a couple of weeks!

(Neighbor kid Gracie enjoying a few raw turnips)

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