Baby Grass Seed Scouting

12 Nov

Yesterday was a beautiful day here in the Willamette Valley! And when you get beautiful days in November it’s usually the best time to go and look to see how the fields are doing.

We have planted a number of perennial ryegrass seed acres this fall, referred to often as “baby fields”. And as my husband Matt likes to say, “Baby perennial ryegrass is always looking for a way to die!” What he means is that when perennial ryegrass is just starting out it makes for a delicious meal for both slugs and geese, and when they attack they can decimate acres and acres in just a few days. So we often go out to make sure as it’s coming up that it’s being protected as best we can.

To tell you the truth as we headed out across the field it didn’t look very good. It just looked like a lot of open soil with no sprout. Which isn’t ideal when you’re trying to get a field to grow.

But we didn’t let it worry us too much. This field wasn’t planted too long ago and we knew that it should just be starting to sprout. So with a closer inspection, this field is actually doing quite well as it just starts to come out of the ground.

That’s what we call the start of being able to “row up” a grass seed planting. And the good news is that while we found a few slugs, the bait that we put out a week ago is still protecting the grass as it sprouts. And as far as geese it didn’t look like they had found it yet, so we will continue to scout for them as they fly over and more than likely also start to spot the rows of tasty grass.

We also saw a lot of worm castings which is a sign of good soil health. You can see in this photo all the small dry bits of soil, that is all from worm activity.

These fields will need to be protected through the winter from the slugs, geese, and kept clean from weeds that will inevitably sprout through the dormant and growing season. Before harvest next July we will be out scouting our acres every few weeks, if not everyday depending on the conditions in the fields. Today was a beautiful day to get this done, I’m sure my rain coat and muck boot wearing days aren’t far away though…this is Oregon after all!

It’s Nut Harvest Time!!

22 Sep

In the times of a pandemic, wildfires, flash floods and distance learning, we are also starting our final harvest of 2020. It is finally time to harvest hazelnuts at Kirsch Family Farms!

The filberts fall naturally from the trees when they are ready to be harvested. This year “naturally” meant they fell due to 50 mile an hour winds during a crazy storm we had a few weeks ago. Which brought wildfires and us being thankful our trees didn’t get burned to the ground.

Which led us to last week when we were thankful that the flash flood that came through skirted mostly to the west of us and didn’t float the nuts down into the drainage ditch. Meanwhile we are thankful that our harvester driver, (ahem…me) is super unreliable due to navigating pick ups and drop offs from 75 different places for my three children with this new “learning” that we’re currently doing because of the pandemic. Hoot our oldest son summed up life very well in this photo which is so far my favorite…I hear ya buddy…right there with ya!!

All dramatics aside, so far this year is looking good for our hazelnuts and we do actually have a ton to be thankful for. As for the rest of it, well…like many of you, we are ready for this year to be over!

When Voles Attack

11 Aug

Summer harvest is just about done this year on the farm. And while the stress of that time of the year is winding up, the beginning of the next crop year is starting all over again.

When we sat down last fall to make decisions surrounding our acres, we had no idea how much dirt we were going to have to work this year. But we have come up against a pest that is forcing our hand and is changing our plans. Many of our tall fescue fields are slated to stay in the ground 7-10 years. This year however we are taking out a lot of acres before that end date due to one small, tiny, seemingly innocent little pest; the vole.

Auggie was out “mice stomping” while we were cutting the grass. I was all for it, that is until he asked how we could preserve one so he could keep it. (Puke)

We have voles every year. More often they are referred to as field mice. They are a nuisance, something that we try every year to control with bait. But this year, two to three weeks before harvest, their population exploded in our fields, and they began to quickly eat our crop.

You can see holes like this all over our fields.

We estimate that our worst hit fields lost about 30% in yield. Other farmers said they figured around 50-60% of their seed crop was destroyed by mouse damage. I’ve even heard that some fields weren’t even worth the diesel in the harvester to harvest the field. Which is heartbreaking.

So we have made the decision to take out some of our worst hit fields and use our last resort for control; habitat destruction. In other words we will be working up these fields, destroying the colonies where the mice live, and setting back their population. Also hoping that the population peaked and will go down to normal levels, saving the fields that we left in for harvest 2021.

As a farmers we often face new challenges from year to year. A few years ago we had army worms marching across our fields eating aces and acres of grass in a matter of days. Other years we have seen slugs decimate fields during a wet fall. All these challenges come unpredictably, so they can be difficult to prepare for. Mix that along with weather patterns that can make control options limited, it can be a challenge to protect your crops.

I haven’t heard of any earth shattering ways to kill vole populations that live and thrive underground. Beyond hiring a clowder (yeah I googled it….that’s a group of cats) of cats or a kettle (also googled) of hawks we don’t have a lot of options. We have the bait that we have always used and will be using that as much as we can on fields left in for next year’s harvest. But many times our hands are tied because our tools aren’t effective enough or work quickly enough when pressure is that high. Another good reason why farmers need “tools in their toolbox” when it comes to pest management.

I’m sure next year we will find ourselves with yet another challenge. Maybe it will be something like grass seed eating zombies. You know, something that has more proven science about how to kill them. Unless zombies eat voles….hmmmmm.

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