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Why All the Fuss about the Dust?

8 Oct

This time of year (mostly on social media) I hear so many complaints about the dust.

  • Why do they have to create so much dust? 
  • I can’t breathe, why the dust? 
  • Why do they have to work the ground to death?
  • Why don’t they cover crop? 
  • What about no-till farming?
  • Why, Why, Why??!!

Then this great (and timely) piece written by Tiffany Harper Monroe came out in the Eugene Register Guard entitled “From Dust till Dawn”. 

“As more people move into rural areas, it’s important for everyone to remember that farms and ranches are not just bucolic backgrounds. They are hard-working operations raising food and foliage, and sometimes that means there will be the associated dust, noise, smells and slow-moving farm equipment on the roads.”

I get it, I work in the dust and dirt and there are days where my teeth are gritty with it and my clothes are saturated.  So I want you to know that I’m not arguing that the dust isn’t annoying, but I am asking for a look at the bigger picture and hear another perspective.

This was after a particularly dust filled day transplanting cabbage.

It seems so simple from the outside looking in, straightforward answers and solutions, but when I try to sit down today and write down why we do all that we do and why it happens to create dust, it’s overwhelming.  Because the answers aren’t simple and straightforward, it’s a complicated web that reaches from our farm and across the world.

To make one thing very clear, my answer is not, “Well that’s how we have always done it.”  Also my answer is not, “I don’t know.”

FIELD & SOIL ROTATION
On our farm, one reason we till the soil (which often creates dust) is simply because of the crops that we grow.  We raise seed crops and vegetables on the soil that we till.  To do this our soils need to be rotated.  Rotating, which is done often by tillage helps in many ways.

  • Reduces our pest populations (mice and slugs)
  • Gives us a chance to kill unwanted weeds and plants without pesticides
  • Bring last years volunteer seeds to the surface so you can get a sprout and have a naturally occurring cover crop through the winter
  • Reduces disease pressure in the soil profile
  • Allows for more organic material to be put back into the soil
  • Gives certain parts of the soil a break while different crops are being cultivated

SEED GERMINATION & EROSION CONTROL
Working the soil is important because as we work it down into a seed bed, the seeds that we plant this fall will grow better and grow larger plants before the rains start this winter; helping with erosion. If you were to plant into subpar conditions, it’s really hard for the seeds to get up and growing.  It also can leave areas where the seeds don’t germinate at all, leaving space open for weeds to come in.

WEED CONTROL
Why do we care so much about weeds?  Well in any cover cropping, no till, earth saving book you read, at the end of the day, one of the most important factors is your ability to get clean seed to plant.  We provide that seed, and walking through a field to pull unwanted grass species isn’t fun. and isn’t cost effective.  So the better the seed bed of soil when you start, the better seed we can offer for whoever plants it – one with minimal weeds.

BEYOND JUST OUR FARM & OUR SOIL
As you can see my answers go beyond our farm and just our soil, the crops that we are growing in many cases are heading out as “clean seed lots” to be planted in no-till fields across the US.  They are heading out to re-seed pastures and be used as cover crops to protect topsoil.  When these crops grow on our land they are sequestering carbon.  The environmental benefits to what we are doing are huge, the dust, while unfortunate, is part of that picture too.  The whole ecosystem of agriculture that starts on farms across the US, is bigger and more complicated than one tractor in a field creating small particulates that frustrate some folks driving through the beautiful countryside.  It’s not about how we’ve always done things, it’s about how we are moving forward to continually find ways to make our soils healthier while continuing to produce some of the highest quality seed and food for folks across the map.

I encourage you to read Harper Monroe’s opinion article, it carefully spells out some of the other reasons that we do what we do on our farms.  It includes some great points regarding field burning and additional environmental benefits that farmland here in Oregon provides.

It seems so simple this “dust in the air” issue.  But I am asking you to open up your mind beyond “the fuss about the dust” and see that there is a complex system at work here.  I agree with Harper Monroe,  “The more we keep encouraging communication and building relationships between urban and rural residents, the more we will see that Lane County (and Oregon as a whole) is a place for all of us.”

The Transition Period: From One Crop Year to the Next

29 Aug

Being a diversified farm, like many in the Willamette Valley, usually means that this time of year you’re in a fairly steady pace of transition.

It’s the clash between crop year 2018 and 2019 which often looks like a lot of open dirt fields, a lot of dust, and a few crops left to pickup.

We have crops that have been harvested, fields that have been worked down ready to be planted, crops that are just starting to mature and some that we won’t even look at harvesting for another month or more.

This field is ready to be planted to tall fescue. Tall fescue is perennial so we will hopefully leave this field in for many years, meaning this will be the last time we have to work the ground and have open soil here for years to come.

It’s one of the reasons that I refer to this “season” of farming as triage. Everyday is different. Everyday is a look at the weather, check the fields, look at the soil, make a plan kind of day. Rarely is there an autopilot project, which makes management this time of year tiring and stressful.

Fields for grass seed planting this fall need a seed bed that is smooth as a dance floor. We have worked this soil about 7 times to get the field worked down to be ready to plant. There was also a ton of organic matter from the clover last year that has been worked into the top soil.

Today Matt and I are out in the orchards picking up drip tube from our hazelnut trees. These will be harvested around the end of September through October. The water on the squash has also been turned off and now we wait for the drying down to begin before they come get the seeds. And finally radish seed just got harvested yesterday and will head to the cleaner today.

Then more ground work and tractor time, more planting and prepping to start this whole crazy life of farming again for another year! This year has proven so far to be pretty good, hoping that trend continues as we close the books on 2018.

More Hazelnut Trees in the Ground

28 Nov

If you live in Oregon you have been seeing a major change in the landscape of the fields throughout the I-5 corridor.  Thousand and thousands of little hazelnut trees have been planted the past 10 or so years.  And here at Kirsch Family Farms, the landscape is also changing.

This is a photo of our first planting of Jefferson trees in 2010.

We have older hazelnut orchards of Barcelonas, planted in 1990.  We also have some newer varieties, mainly Jeffersons.  And this year we put in a third variety called Wepsters.  The reasons for our plantings and even the delay in plantings until more recent years has a lot to do with disease management and pressure, and a lot of great work done by Oregon State University to help us with those issues.  But it also has to do with timing of harvest, early or late fall can mean the difference between a dusty (preferred) harvest and a muddy mess of harvest.  And also how much land we want to take out of production for a number of years, to then leave in a permanent or basically permanent cropping system.

What you are seeing here are the newly planted trees.  Too small to really see the tree itself.  It is surrounded by a protective tube to keep it safe from the sun, and has a bamboo post next to it to give it more strength.

This year we planted the Wepsters right behind our house on a small field that was soon to be, I guess you could say “tree locked.”  Meaning with all the orchards being planted around it, there wasn’t going to be much room for getting larger equipment needed for grass seed or grain production.  Case in point, our combine header was rubbing tree branches as it made its way back harvest the wheat.

These are the first rows marked out for our new planting of hazelnuts.

So we decided it was time to plant a few more trees.  We had a neighbor come and mark out the rows using GPS.  Then at the cross-hairs we planted a tree.  Most of the trees were Wepsters (the main variety), with a mix of pollenizer trees as well.  (Hazelnuts can’t pollenize themselves so you plant pollenizer trees throughout the orchard).

These newly planted trees should start to produce nuts in about 4 years, and we hope they will produce nuts for another 4 generations!  Farming is an industry that is always changing and evolving, and the type of crops that you plant in the ground is no different.  It will be exciting to see these trees as they grow literally right in our backyard and seeing a little bit of that large scale “changing of the farming landscape” up close.

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