Saturday, March 15, 2014

the lay of the land

So far in my farm planning, I have focused on the things I can largely control: the crop planning, equipment buying, greenhouse propagation (seed starting), marketing, and of course blogging. But one thing that I have very little control over, at least in the short term, is the physical land where I will be growing my vegetables. Yet that is one of the most important parts of my farm. So today, when I was finally faced with a warm, sunny Saturday and nothing in particular I had to do, I headed over to the farm to take a look around.
cherry blossoms outside the farm office

There are lots of things going on with a piece of land that can have huge impacts on a farm operation. How was it used in the past? What kind of soil does it have? How much sun does it get? How does the water drain? What kinds of weeds grow there? Is the topography rolling, sloped, or relatively flat? Are there frost pockets? How about standing water? What animals, insects, and other organisms live there? Getting to know a piece of land is as hard as getting to know a person. Maybe even more so, since it doesn't talk.

water erosion at the edge of my plot
I can find out some things by asking people who already work there. For example, I know that my plot was used by a flower grower last year, and before it was purchased by the district it was the site of a large evergreen tree nursery. I know the soil is categorized as a silt loam, which makes it potentially prime farmland, but it also has drainage problems, so it can be difficult to work early in the season. Many other things I will have to learn by paying attention and being observant throughout the year.

My plot is relatively flat at the top, but has a slight slope as it moves south. That slope could present some erosion problems, but it's also south-facing, so it might turn out to be a good place to put my heat-loving crops like tomatoes and peppers. Even though we've had lots of sun and very little rain in the past week, the soil today felt like a hard ball of clay when I squeezed it. Seems like it could take a while, and a lot more dry weather, before it can be tilled up and made into beds for planting.
Canada thistle, already scheming to take over my farm!

The cover crop is looking great--it's noticeably taller than last time I was there--but some weeds are also showing their heads. One that I will be keeping a close eye on is the noxious weed Canada thistle. I've been warned that the property has an infestation, and it's even in my contract that I have to keep it under control on my plot. Already those nasties are showing their heads, mostly in the parts with the least cover crop and the most disturbance, like where there are tractor tracks or channels from water erosion.

Next week, I'll be able to learn even more about my plot when we have a meeting with Nick Andrews, a soil specialist from OSU Extension. We'll all get soil tests taken last fall from our individual plots, and we'll work out a fertility plan for the coming year. I'm looking forward to learning even more about the lay of my land!
lush cover crop

No comments:

Post a Comment