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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Growing Alfalfa~Part 1

My dad did it. John's dad did it. Piece of cake, right? We can do it too. Well, let me just say that it's a lot harder than it looks! When we bought the place, the alfalfa was old and overgrown with grass and weeds. So, the plan was to till everything under and sounded so simple...I'm still laughing at that one! This photo is one of the two fields to replant (2005).
Our plan for farming was to hire a custom farmer to do all of the machine work and we would do the irrigation...that part is still working great for us. Purchasing the equipment would have cost us more than what we paid for the farm!

So in the spring of 2006 as soon as the weather would allow, the fields were chiseled twice, disked twice, and then gone over with a rototiller type piece of equipment that would bring all the roots to the surface and kill them; at the same time, it makes a nice seed bed. The goal is to kill all of the existing alfalfa (you'll see why a little further along). This photo is the rototiller making the seed bed.

Now, you can't just plant alfalfa right away. The soil needed to rest and so we had to plant another crop first. Typically it would be a grain hay, and we chose oat hay. Once planted, it was water, water, and more water...we have 4 wheel lines for that.

Irrigation is really synonym for "irritation"...when we first started up the wheel lines, it seemed like there was more water leaking from all of the connections than out of the sprinkler heads. We worked for weeks slowly replacing all the worn out gaskets and bad sprinkler heads. Poor John had a daily list from me of what he needed to pick up at Harney Pump & Irrigation...they got to know us real well.

The other part of getting a new crop started is that the irrigation had to be changed 3 times a day because the soil just turned to mud and I'd be sinking up to my shins. It usually takes 1 1/2 to 2 hours each time to change the 4 lines...that's all I did...change irrigation.

It was so exciting to see our first little seedlings start sprouting up!!! WhoooHoooo!!! It only took 4 days. Once they started, they really took off. And the bonus was that once the seedlings had a root base, we could irrigate longer and we changed irrigation just twice a day.
Then it's finally ready to harvest!!!

Ok, by now it's the middle of July and with a short growing season, we're sitting pretty good to get the alfalfa in so it will be tall enough before the freezing temps start. The fields were disked over once to just rough it up a little and the farmer made a pass up and back down the first field. He got out of the tractor and asked me if I'd noticed all of the alfalfa that was growing...I hadn't...but, it wasn't a good thing. Old alfalfa is toxic to new alfalfa seedlings!!! We're so glad he was doing the farming, because we hadn't a clue.

Well, to resolve this, the only option was to spray to kill the volunteer alfalfa and plant another grain crop. Ok...if that's what we have to do. We chose triticale this time. It's higher in protein and cattle really like it. So, the triticale got sewed in and we were back to watering 3 times a day again!!! But, the seedlings came up pretty quick.

The triticale got up about 5-6 inches and then the cold weather hit. We were done irrigating, or being "irritated," until the next year. It felt like we were on vacation at that point!!! We watched the snow and cold on the fields all winter long looking forward to the next spring.

1 comment:

Kathleen said...

Very interesting. So much work! Looking forward to part 2.

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