April – ever the month of change. On the coat-tails of the wettest spring in years last year, this April is proving to be even more so. Living in what is still classified as a semi-desert climate, as we are here in the Methow, abundant water is always exciting. This spring is proving to be exciting indeed when the seasonal freshets all run true and little potholes that are often dry brim-over and the wildlife seem to rejoice.
Some might call it a delayed spring – others a late winter. Regardless, the first half of April showed no signs of giving in to spring, instead clinging to winter tooth and claw. There were days of the usual biting wind, most nights stayed in the 20’s, and then a rain/snow storm arrived about the second week that proved almost too miserable to go out in! Alas, as I write, glory be… Three days in a row of 70 degrees, full sun, nary a breeze and my oh my is the countryside flowing green! Just now, the aspen are popping, the bunchgrasses are jumping, bluebells, yellowbells, and spring beauties are suddenly accompanied by the signature balsam root.
Two weeks late is a good estimate on the season, if one could ever call Mother Nature “late.” Later than what we may have been used to. Wherein our first hummingbirds just arrived – (two weeks late!). The swallows showed up today; the migratory bluebirds have moved on and now the nesters have arrived. Grouse pound the hillsides with their swollen chests and necks; geese fly every which away. Fact is, just before the last big storm – or last we’d had – I watched flight after flight of geese heading north on a southerly wind. Only to turn back around! The next day: Rain and snow. Then a couple days later, the weather cleared and Sandhill cranes could be heard day long and the geese finally got straightened around and most all have gone north.
In the fields, we got going a little earlier than last year, only to be shut down for several days. Alas, with the first sustained high pressure for a long while and the accompanying climbing temps, we are rolling. On some of our heavier cropped fields last year that are going back into grain, we’ve had to lightly disk to break up the surface and “ wake up” the dormant leftover straw that we’d applied digester to last fall. We follow the disking with a culti-packer, which both grooms then firms back up the seedbed. As well, the culti-packer spreads around the straw so the fields truly do look “mulched.” There is plenty of subsurface moisture so we’ll easily be able to sow seed right into the germination zone. 10 days ago the soil temperature was 43 degrees FH, today, it is up to 57 and plenty warm for grain to germinate.
The combination of mulching and the lighter use of our tine-weeder, plus a good start for earlier seeding is this year’s strategy for weed suppression and a healthy crop-stand. I’ll let you know how it worked in September! On our fields coming out of seasonal cover-crop last year, instead of disking we run the field cultivator since there isn’t the straw residue to manage. We are doing this as some earlier; deeper rooted weeds had begun before we could safely get on the fields without causing compaction.
The rock picking is always good in the wind and wet ground! Finally, we’ve gained on most fields in this regard. Some fields where we’d been picking 6-8 tractor bucket loads, this year we were down to only 3! Still others have some stubborn spots left, but we wouldn’t want to get too out of practice so this is okay.
The ground that was in later cover crop last year will be our first to plant. Fact is, I’m hoping to have some acreage of both einkorn and emmer in before the months end. Anything before May, I consider a fairly early seeding up here in the wilderness. Plus, I believe we have a full moon right about now – always a great time to sow. From there, we’ll keep rolling with our emmer. Also, we’ll be putting about a third of our acreage into spring seeded cover crop, as we do most every year. .
Our winter wheat experiment seems to have been relatively successful so far. We put in an older variety of both hard red winter wheat, and a hard white winter wheat on our Alkire fields – about 22 acres total. Lo – it survived! This is good testing ground as Mazama holds snow as long as anywhere here, and often we hear about “snow-mold” issues in conventional Ag. This doesn’t seem to be have been the case with our wheat. Then again, we do not use Anhydrous Ammonia for fertilizer… a whole other topic.
Our fertility is always something we’re working on, particularly in the higher magnesium soils. Again, we will be putting soluble potash and calcium rock blend in-row with the grain. This year after the grain is about 2 leaf stage, we are going to try something new by “top dressing” the crop – going over the crop with a spreader wagon and flinging feather meal which is fairly high in Nitrogen. Next, we’ll feed a couple rounds of good old fish through our pivots for biology and trace minerals, and next… hopefully step back and admire!
Last year’s grain continues to amaze me with its quality and clean out. And so, we hope for something similar this year. As you will read in Announcements, we’ve had a little turn-over in staffing here during our busiest time of year yet we’ve managed to keep up in the granary and its swift pace. This time of year gets complicated because Bluebird is both a processor AND a producer. The juggling act can get even more interesting as tractors become tied up and less available up at the granary where they live all winter. We can use all 3 tractors in the fields this time of year, yet always need one here to process orders, load freight etc. We’ll get it done, not to worry!
Meanwhile, enjoy these last cooler nights (I’ve built a fire in the stove every morning this month). And ease into the warmer days and gathering light of this season of rebirth!
Yours, Farmer Sam