Bluebird Grain Farms

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Emmer emerging at Big Valley

Most all of the Methow’s spring birds have returned, so far as I know. It isn’t hard to know when the house wrens return! This year they arrived the first of May, and have been the voice I wake to most every morning now. Truth to tell, there are far worse things to wake to than the sound of birds. The myriad of morning bird sounds might just be my favorite aspect of spring. The tanagers are now busy building nest in their favorite elderberry bush below the house. As are the Bullock’s Orioles, also late arrivers. The Lazuli Buntings love playing in the emmer hulls scattered about our garden. Perhaps the most distinct sound of all, however, or one I favor as much as any, is the whipped-up crescendo of the Common Snipe, which I can hear morning and evening from our porch as they “helicopter” into the sky from the wetland down the road that I can’t even see! But I hear them, and have watched them with joy many a time doing their peculiar, determined spring mating dance. The last hold-outs: poorwhills and knight jars will soon be coming.

Spring surely rushed in on us this year. The first of May left the rather reticent and cold beginning of this spring far behind. Since, we’ve had about as nice of a May as I can recall:  Lots of ground water, lots of sun and warmth, a couple rains and really not much wind. Wow, what more to ask? The fine weather has enabled me to go full on with field work and planting.  Despite the later beginning, I’m on track to have all our farro in by the time this goes to press. This will be about as early as I’ve had all our grains sown.

I was able to get one field of farro planted right on the cusp of last month’s full moon. This is a split field – half einkorn farro and half emmer farro. Both grains are in their two-leaf stage, and soon will hit their 3-leaf stage. The other fields are all up except the final planting. In fact, given the good soil moisture and the heat some of the emmer shot out of the ground 5 days after sowing! One simply cannot overestimate the power of a seed.

                               Pre-planting cultivation

Our cover crops will go in soon to finish up the spring planting. The chickling vetch I’ll drill first, and then later in June I’ll put in buckwheat. I think I’ve finally dialed in the tine-weeder and I’ve harrowed our early grain plantings with it. Next, I’ll top-dress the young grains with the feather meal/calcium blend and soon follow with our first round of fish and sugar so we get maximum benefit by adding the biology and trace minerals of the cold-pressed fish. Following this, at some point I’ll begin our irrigation. Then, then… the growing season. My favorite part.

Confucius said: ‘the best fertilizer for any soil is the footsteps of the farmer.’ Depends on the farmer I suppose. I try not to do a lot of farming from my truck’s windshield and get out on the fields the best I can. Still, one tends to second guess every move in this farming game. The real measure is what one ends up with as far as quality come harvest, and also what is left in the soil for nutrients – a tricky balance without question.

For instance, the compaction that just one raindrop can cause is fairly amazing. With this in mind I really try and use our supplemental water judiciously. Always, I like to let the young plants fight for themselves. By this I mean it is important for young grains to tiller on their own and stress a little so that their root systems develop and develop to better “mine” for minerals. Of course, the minerals have to be there. This year with plenty of moisture a couple inches down, it is hard to say when I’ll begin irrigation. When the plants hit their 3rd leaf phase is my best guess, as much to apply the fish as anything.

Whatever we did last year sure worked as far as the quality of our farro. I’m most pleased with how it continues to clean and we certainly have been cleaning a lot! Emmer farro has been a hot item for all, so it appears judging from the orders rolling into the granary. It has been a juggling act, more so than usual, as we not only process and mill various custom orders, but also clean up seed stock for planting. I think we’ll let out a sigh when all the seed is where it safely should be: In Mother’s womb!

The wildflowers were full on but already beginning to fade as the light lengthens and we head toward the summer solstice. That fast, so it seems. The Forest Service is prepping us for summer by making sure we get use to a little smoke as they touch off “controlled burns” in various areas around the valley foothills, and beyond. The substantial snowmelt combined with some pretty warm nights have brought the rivers and streams right up to flooding in many areas. Nature rules; all one needs to do for a reminder is to look at the tributaries of the mighty Columbia these past weeks! How does a single fish survive!?

School will soon be out. The long June light will soon ring true. I hope all who read this find some time to enjoy the new beginnings of the season.

Yours, Farmer Sam