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Monday, November 19, 2012

Common Knowledge or Science?

Another question from one of my Facebook followers and I got My Farmer to help with the answers!

Lisa asked, "First, let me say I am completely farming illiterate. I would really like to know how farmers know when to perform the functions of farming (ie: planting/sowing, harvesting, tilling, not tilling, burning a field, watering). Is it all passed down from generation to generation, or more trial and error? How much stock do you take in the Farmer's Almanac?"
First of all I want to say that I am so happy that I have those of you that are "farming illiterate" following me on Facebook and reading my blog.  That is exactly why I do this.  If you haven't noticed, I don't sell advertising on my blog which means I am making no money doing this.  I spend the time writing, so you know where your food comes from and how it is raised and if you have a question I can help you find a honest answer.  So thank you for following me especially if you don't know everything about what we do!!
Some of what we do is passed down from generation to generation, but honestly today most of our decisions are based on science and research.  Some decisions are somewhat personal preference and what works with your labor force and mindset.  Let me explain and try not to bore you to tears.
Let's start with corn planting.  Corn is one of those crops that is very dependent on temperature above and below ground.  We try not to plant corn until the soil temperature is at least 50 degrees.  If the soil is cooler than that, the seed will not germinate and will likely lie in the soil and rot.

Tilling and not tilling.  This is one process that is probably determined more by tradition than anything else.  We practice no-till farming which means we do not work or till the ground at all before we plant the next crop.  There are a couple other farmers in the area that farm this way, but most still farm similar to the way their fathers did.  My farmer has a degree in Agronomy and believes it is best for the health of the soil, earthworms and soil microbes.  We also see the benefit in reduced chemical and fuel usage.  

Harvesting.  The basis of determining when to harvest a crop centers around the moisture content of the grain and not the actual plant.  When grain is harvested and stored in a elevator or grain bin it cannot have excessive moisture.  Simply put it will spoil, large fans and heaters can decrease moisture some but there is no substitute for wind and sunshine to dry a crop.  Farmers must also harvest their crops before they get too dry.  If the grain gets too dry, it will shatter out and fall to the ground before the combine can harvest it.  This is good for the field mouse, but not the farmer.  -The Farmer
Burning.  Most crops do not require old dead material to be removed by fire; however, there are a few grass crops that can have tremendous benefits to having the old material being removed. For instance in the tall grass prairies of the Flint Hills, fire has become an important tool in managing encroachment of brush and trees.  These prairies developed under centuries of fire in their ecosystem.  Only recently has human intervention disrupted this process.  Now we have more residences in rural areas that need protection from wild fires and with these homesteads come fence rows, shelter belts and other areas that provide seed to infest native prairie with trees.  -The Farmer

Watering.  We personally do not irrigate our crops actually there are very few in our area that do, but my friends in California irrigate their almond trees.  Would you believe that their computer tells them when to turn on the water?  They have sensors buried in the ground that tell them when the ground is getting dry and tells them when and where to direct the valuable water. 
Farmer's Almanac.  To be completely honest, I don't remember the last time I read a Farmer's Almanac.  The Farmer and I were in a store the other day and laughed at the number of options there were for an almanac-I think there were 5 different ones in one store.    

I hope this answers your questions, if not ask me some more on Facebook.  I need some help on what to keep writing about.  I have ideas, but would love to answer your question if you have one!

-A Kansas Farm Mom