Talk to me about field crops

Discussion in 'Gardening & Plant Propagation' started by turtlehead, Jan 10, 2007.

  1. turtlehead

    turtlehead Well-Known Member

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    I'm interested in playing with growing some field crops this year, probably for chicken feed but also potentially for our own consumption if it works out well. I'm considering corn, wheat, and oats to begin with.

    The corn I'm going to grow near my garden in a three sisters configuration.

    The oats and wheat, I'm not so sure about. I'd prefer NOT to plow with the tractor because I'd like to avoid fossil fuels and I've read that tilling destroys structure, increases erosion, and eventually eliminates the topsoil. I don't know if a tractorless approach is realistic, though.

    The site will be a cleared but unmanaged field, probably was a hay field or cattle field in the past. It's got a variety of grasses and weeds in it, and was bush hogged this summer so there are still some brambles that will try to pop up but the saplings have been hogged down.

    Here are two things I'm considering:

    1. Broadcast seed in February. I've read (but can't find anything on it now) that if you do this, the freezing/thawing cycle creates heave which will work the seeds lightly into the ground. Germination rate is less than if you actually planted the seeds but it's a method that leaves a small footprint on the environment. My main concerns with this are that the seeds might wash or blow away or get eaten by birds. Also the seeds might just lie there and never germinate.

    2. Seed balls. You make balls of seed and mud and toss them into the field. The mud encases the seed and retains moisture, which of course helps germination. Also the mud ball won't wash or blow away nor will it get eaten by birds. I think this method will be very time consuming.

    Does anyone know of a method to plant a field crop such as oats or wheat without the use of a tractor?
     
  2. dcross

    dcross Well-Known Member Supporter

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    How much are you looking to plant?

    Are you going to do anything to supress/kill what's already growing there? How do you feel about Roundup?
     

  3. Paranoid

    Paranoid Homebrewed Happiness

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    i'm partial to corn. it's the easiest thing there is to grow, and when it comes to the harvest, it stands head and shoulders above the competition.

    also chickens just love corn, and you dont even need to crack it.

    so for ease of life, i vote corn.
     
  4. Terri

    Terri Singletree & Weight Loss & Permaculture Moderator Staff Member Supporter

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    I tried the broadcasting method: I got very poor germination.

    I tried the soil balls. Germination was better, but not good enough. I decided that our springs were too dry. This might not be a problem for you: I hear that soil balls have worked well in Japan. According to Masanobu Fukuoka, you can make enough soil balls in one day to seed a few acres. It IS a boring job, however!

    Here in Kansas, germination is better if the seeds are buried. You live in a different climate, so you might have different results.
     
  5. turtlehead

    turtlehead Well-Known Member

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    Just enough to figure out what we're doing, this year. Half an acre each of wheat, oats, and maybe something else like amaranth or barley. This is just a figure-out-what-we're doing-before-we-go-whole-hog endeavor.

    I haven't put a lot of thought into how I will get rid of what's already there. I won't use Roundup (shallow hand dug well) but I have considered putting pigs there and letting them root it up. Other suggestions are welcome!

    Thanks, Paranoid. We are going to grow corn in a three sisters fashion, so it's good to hear your vote for corn. Any ideas about wheat and oats? That's what has me boggled at the moment.

    Terri, this is exactly what I was looking for. It seems you have already done my experiments for me! We have very wet springs and so dryness shouldn't be a problem for the soil balls. Fukuoka is exactly who I've been reading about :)

    When you tried broadcasting, what time of year did you do it? Do you get frost heave in Kansas? I'm counting on the heave to cause the seeds into tiny crevices in the earth. If you don't have a lot of moisture you probably don't have frost heave so maybe that would have something to do with your germination rates (I'm hoping, anyway).

    Have you found something that works that you're satisfied with? If so, I'd love to hear about it!
     
  6. dcross

    dcross Well-Known Member Supporter

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    So you're looking at an acre and a half or so, with established grass and weeds.

    Without herbicides, I'd get pigs in there NOW! Unless your ground is frozen:) Restrict their space and move them as they get it well tilled. Wait a little bit for everything to sprout again, then hoe/smooth it.

    Wheat and oats I would just broadcast, they shouldn't need heaving(not that it would hurt) as long as there is plenty of moisture. Raking or rolling after spreading the seed would help too. A hard freeze after they've sprouted might kill them, I'm not sure. I would try to plant them around your last frost date.

    If you want, you can plant alfalfa or clover or grasses with the oats, for pasture/hay or green manure for the corn next year.

    Another way would be to plant the grain in rows so you can hoe in between them.

    Plan on lots of weeds.
     
  7. Bearfootfarm

    Bearfootfarm Hello, hello....is there anybody in there.....? Supporter

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    Cold will kill oats but not wheat. If youve got moisture it will germinate from just broadcasting. If you want a good crop youll need to till it to help get rid of the weeds. You dont have to do it deeply, but getting the seed in direct contact with soil will make a BIG difference in germination. A disc harrow does a good job.
     
  8. turtlehead

    turtlehead Well-Known Member

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    Yup, that's about what I'm guessing. It's very flexible and rough. This is just an experiment to see what happens.

    This is the *exact* same solution I came up with over the weekend. I read up on pigs and fencing and brought it up to my husband, who shot it down due to the smell. The plot I had in mind is very close to the house. I have another area I could use but need to figure out hauling water for the pigs before I proceed.

    The ground is anything BUT frozen right now. We've had 50 and even 60 degree days - insanity, I tell you! It's so water logged that it's hard to walk without slipping and falling. A freeze is on the way though.

    Might do that. I was going to play with a couple of "food plots" for deer/turkey anyway. I may make my own food plot mix instead of getting a commercially prepared mix.

    I am WAY too lazy for that! :D I'm leaning toward letting a couple of feeder pigs clear the land, then planting oats or wheat or a pasture mix that I can harvest for chickens and rabbits. Then feeder pigs again to clear that out and get ready for the next year.

    I need to ponder the watering situation.
     
  9. turtlehead

    turtlehead Well-Known Member

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    If I don't come up with a reasonable way to get water to pigs so that pigs can do my tilling for me, then what would I need to till the ground mechanically? We have a tractor but no implements (well, a loader and backhoe).

    I realize that is a totally stupid question but I've been searching and reading and I'm still confused about what all the implements are and in what order they are used. Can you (or someone) explain to me:

    plow
    disk vs. tooth vs. chisel
    harrow
    cultivate

    Also, what would I need to do just to prepare a neglected hay field and plant it with oats or wheat or a food plot mix?

    It might be smarter for me in the short run to get some used implements and figure out whether I want to bother with oats and wheat. Then if that's a go I can figure out the pig thing.
     
  10. anniew

    anniew keep it simple and honest Supporter

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    Turtlehead,
    Maybe since you aren't sure if this is something you want to do in the future, rather than buying implements, hire a local farmer to plow/till it this year.
    Ann
     
  11. dcross

    dcross Well-Known Member Supporter

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    A plow is a primary tillage tool, what you use on new ground, which is what you have. There's moldboard plows(turn the ground over and have lots of adjustments) and chisel plows which pull big teeth through the ground, no adjustments.

    Moldboard plowing:
    http://lib.colostate.edu/research/agbib/images/CSUarch_AG6-plowing.jpg

    Then you follow with a secondary tillage tool, usually a disc or field cultivator/harrow(they have lots of other names) they smooth the ground after the plow and get it ready for seeding.

    Discing: http://reveg-catalog.tamu.edu/images/07-Site-Prep/06-Disk Harrow.JPG

    Cultivating can be the secondary tillage between plowing and seeding, or it can be tilling between the rows after planting.

    http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/science/images/cultivating.jpg

    Since this is an experiment, I would stick with corn, it's the one grain that really works well on a very small scale. And I wouldn't spend much money on it:) You are going to have to do something about the weeds after it's planted though, which means either a hoe, a rototiller, or a cultivator.
     
  12. hillsidedigger

    hillsidedigger Well-Known Member

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    One of garden sites was basically a sloping back yard of about an acre that had been a forest. The trees were cut and the stumps bulldozed about 25 ago and the 'Yard' was seeded once and bush-hogged about twice a year for the last 25 years resulting in a stand of fescue and clover (with some briars).

    For 4 years now I have been establishing planting rows with a shovel and hoe which amounts to tearing up a strip about 2' wide, ripping to 8" deep and then hoeing a planting row along the center, the rows are centered at about 6' and I leave a patch of grass and clover about 3' wide between the rows whcih is mowed with a gasoline pushmower.

    The first years establishment of the planting rows is hard work, but in succeeding years its a breeze to rip up those strips of land (if the soil is damp or wet, difficult when very dry). I have had good success with corn, barley, soybeans, sunflowers and typical produce crops and plan to start doing wheat sooner or later, maybe this year. No pesticides have been used and many 50 pound bags of Black Kow are used.

    It can be done with just an hour or two a day (year round average).
     
  13. turtlehead

    turtlehead Well-Known Member

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    anniew, That is a good suggestion and one I've been considering. I've kept a lookout all summer and everyone around here seems to graze any decent land they have (it's very hilly and rocky). Some do a little haying but I haven't seen any farmers growing crops. The parcels flat enough to get a tractor on are so small they're not much good for crops, I guess. I'll ask at the feed store tough. Those guys are a wealth of information.

    dcross, no wonder I was confused. The term "cultivator" all by itself is a nightmare :) I didn't realize about weed control, either. Thanks for that info.

    hillsidedigger, we had actually considered including some grains in our kitchen garden last year but didn't have the space for it. We do plan to expand the garden this year but still won't have enough space for grains (well of course there is space but we are choosing to grow other things there). Perhaps next year. It's good to know you've had good success, particularly with barley and corn.

    Thanks for all the ideas and input, folks. I certainly have lots to mull over now.