08 April 2009

The Melt

It began with the mist. It was like living in a rain forest, without the heat. The evaporation of the snow has been hanging around in the atmosphere and coming back down as rain showers. March was cold and sunny, and so far in April, we've barely seen the sun for all of the moisture. It's been a quick melt, staying above freezing for almost a week, and our last few feet of snow has finally been reduced to slush and water. Lots of water.

Our water garden... under a foot of water by the time the sun poked out in the afternoon yesterday. I could see my stinging nettles in the perennial herb bed just loving the flood, and I'm anxious to see how the kale, chard, leeks and of course garlic, have overwintered under the heavy mulch. Hopefully the kale and chard will produce some early greens before going to seed, and I'm also hoping for some seed from the wintered leeks.

Water was gathering in the fields and around the house and barns like we have never seen it, running in streams, searching for the lowest point. Our manure piles along the garden became dikes, and for a few hours, we had a pond at the front door. Don't fret, no basement to flood, and we are safely on blocks 3 feet above ground.

The barn became an island by evening, our first year we realized that we needed to dig a mote around the front of the barn, we had not expected spring melts like this. So now there is a channel for the water to run around behind the barns and out into the low spot in our Northern pasture.

It was great to finally see the sun after so many days of mist and rain.

By morning, most of the moisture had been soaked up by the thawing ground, except our usual spring ponds. This one in the north pasture and grain fields is a favorite of Canada Geese and American Black Ducks. A pair of geese flew in this morning, 12 days earlier than last spring, gleaning the remains of last year's rye and wheat fields. We had up to nine geese and five ducks last year, the pond sticks around through April, into mid-May even. Looking forward to seeing who shows up this year.


Chiot's Run said...

How exciting. I know you've been waiting for this day.

Anonymous said...

I have been reading your blog for a while now with great interest. We are "off-grid" have a couple of gardens and raise a few animals. I'm very interested in producing more of our own animal feed and also grains for us. We are going to try hulless oats this year. The information I've found says to plant in early spring but didn't list at what outside/soil temperature was best. Can you tell me when you plant oats? We live in western Wyoming - 6000 ft. elevation. Thanks! Marcia in Wyoming

Freija and Beringian Fritillary said...

Chiot's, we even got to play in the dirt and see how the garden soil looks this year. But only for one day, then we got another foot of snow! Still working on melting the fresh stuff now. Poor man's fertilizer, and good to bank up the moisture in the ground.

Marcia, great to hear from you! I really recomend growing feed grains, even before growing grain for the house. If you have the space to store it in shocks, or loose like we do, it is quite easy to harvest, and needs no threshing, the animals do it themselves. But it is also very rewarding to bring grains into your own kitchen.

As far as your question about when to plant your oats, we had to give it some thought because we live at 300 ft, and have never farmed at that elevation. Oats can be planted before the last frost. As soon as you can work your ground, basically, you can plant your grains. They can handle a light snow fall as well.

Another way to figure out your planting date is to look up your variety's length to maturity. Probably somewhere around 110 days. You will need to harvest the ripe grain before any heavy frost, below 30F. So make sure you get your grains planted in time to reach full maturity. They can handle frost in the spring, but the seed heads will be damaged by frost in the fall. It looks like you have the same length of frost-free days as we do, 100-120 days, which is just enough to ripen grains, but not much wiggle room in the spring to get them planted, which is why spring floods can be such a disaster in Northern regions, like the Dakotas for example. But in a garden, you have a better chance of getting your grains in because you are not using heavy equipment over wet ground. We got our grain crops off last year, when no other large farm could because of the rainfall. You may be able to get your grain planted before any of the local grain farms for this reason, that you can get over your ground, either broadcasting, or with a seed drill, earlier than a tractor. So don't wait until the local grain growers are planting, if you can work up a tilth, go ahead and plant.

We've never had any problems with pests in our grains, but check to see if your region does, and be sure to watch out for rust. Google some pictures on grain rust, so you know what you are looking for. Wheat and oats, especially hulless oats, are more suceptible than rye or barley. If you spot any rust, remove it immediately. Most certified grain seed is rust resistant, but check to make sure that you've got a short-season, rust resistant oat strain.

Let us know how you go with your grains this year, we'd love hear what techniques you use for small scale grain production. Thanks for writing!