Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Real farming 101

Last week was another busy one for us on the farm.  The Harms' tenant farmer had just finished harvesting the corn off of the land around our house so we could finally start prepping our 10 acres for next year. Out of these ten acres we will be using 6 acres for pasture and 4 for vegetable fields.
Our original plan was to cover crop all 10 acres with rye and vetch to build up the organic matter and nutrients in the soil and let the root growth alleviate some of the soil compaction.  However since the corn did not get harvested until the middle of October we didn't want to take the risk of having all 10 acres of cover crop fail to germinate due to cold weather.  So we decided to plant just the 4 acres we will be using for vegetable fields.
Of course none of this went according to plan.  First we couldn't find nearly enough rye seed to cover 4 acres.  We needed 200lbs but ended up with only 125.  Because of this we could only seed 2 acres. 
Next we needed a manure spreader to spread some compost we had purchased from our neighbors' dairy farm.  Amazingly, our neighbors at South Pork Ranch happened to have one taking up space on their farm so they just told us we could have it!  We were excited to use it so we filled it up and drove it out to the field.  But as soon as we fired up the tractor's PTO (power take off) a vital piece of the spreader just fell off.  So much for spreading compost.  Next we used Mr. Harms' tractor and disc harrow to cut up the corn stalks and till the field.  That went smoothly but there was so much crop residue on top of the field that running the disc over it a couple times did not expose much soil.  For the final step of seeding the rye and vetch the plan was for us to use a couple of push seeders that we got for cheap at the Champaign Habitat for Humanity store.  As soon as we pushed them out onto the field we realized that wasn't going to happen.  The terrain was just too rough for the seeders to work properly.  So Emma and I spent the whole morning walking back and forth across our 2 acre field, tossing seeds out of a bucket.  Now we just hope the seeds actually manage to grow in spite of all the crop residue and the cold, having been planted so late in the fall.
Emma discing in the corn stalks with Mr. Harms' tractor and disc harrow
Rye and vetch seeds
Seeding our cover crops

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Making hay with Mr. Harms

Yesterday evening we finished making our first batch of hay!  But we could not have done it without the help of our next door neighbor and landlord's father, Herman Harms.  He has generously given us the use of his barn, his tractor and the 5 acres of pasture around his farmhouse free of charge.  Even more importantly he has been a constant source of help and advice since we first arrived here in July.  He has farmed this land ever since he returned home from serving in World War II, so it's safe to say he knows a thing or two about farming.
We decided last week to make hay out of the approximately 1 acre pasture behind Mr. Harms' barn because the weather forecast looked good and the grass was nice and tall.  On Friday we cut the grass using the side mounted sickle bar mower on our Allis Chalmers C tractor.  At first the bar kept getting clogged up but Mr. Harms helped us figure out how to adjust the height of the sickle bar so that it would cut smoothly.  On Saturday afternoon we used Mr. Harms' side delivery rake to rake the hay into windrows (linear piles), flipping the hay over so that it would dry evenly.  Then we flipped the windrows over on Sunday speed up the curing process.  On Monday afternoon, as suggested by Mr. Harms, we consolidated the windrows into several large piles in order to make collecting the hay a lot quicker and easier.  In spite of our protests Mr. Harms insisted on picking up a hay fork and helping us with this.  Then that same evening we began collecting the hay.  Mr. Harms pulled a flatbed trailer around the field with his tractor while Emma and I forked the hay.  We got half of it done on Monday and finished the second half on Tuesday.  We ended up with so much hay that it takes up almost half of the first floor of Mr. Harms barn, piled almost to the ceiling.

Emma making windrows

Mr Harms and Emma raking hay

Emma and Mr Harms harvesting hay