Planting Kamut® Alfalfa and Clover

It’s only the beginning of May and we’re just finishing up planting our Kamut® grain. The same Kamut® grain we usually finish seeding in the middle of May. That puts us about two weeks ahead of schedule! We’ve even had all the expected hiccups like broken-down tractors, cultivators and drills. We were only stopped one day by rain and had no snow, thankfully, but there’s always that possibility.

As you may already know, our Kamut® wheat is our signature crop and we usually leave planting it for last for a number of reasons. As with most plants, in the field or in your garden at home, weather is a huge determining factor of when to plant and Kamut® seed is no different. It doesn’t need as much moisture as other grains, which is why it grows so well here on the dry northern Montana prairie. But it’s also why we wait until May to plant it because it will do better being a little late going into summer than some of our other crops such as peas or barley.

As with some of our other crops, we plant some of our Kamut® grain with alfalfa or clover. The grass seeder bolted on the front of our drill allows us to plant both at the same time. The grass seeder is made up of four much smaller seed compartments. At the base of these compartments are long, narrow tubes that drop the seed directly on top of the soil in front of the drills. At the same time the shanks plant the Kamut® seed, they also mix the alfalfa in with the moving dirt and the press wheels behind the drill pack the soil and provide the seed-to-soil contact necessary for good germination.

Alfalfa and clover are both small-seeded legumes which will not actually grow much the first year and therefore will not compete much with the cash crop. Clover is a biannual, which means it will only grow two years. Alfalfa is a short term perennial, meaning it will grow for several years in a row. So we’re actually planting the next two or three year’s crops at the same time. Like the peas we planted earlier in April, a rhizobium inoculant has been added to the alfalfa or clover seed which will colonize on the root hairs of the alfalfa or clover and create nodules on the roots. The rhizobium bacteria in these nodules will fix nitrogen from the atmosphere into a form the plant can use and also help replenish the nitrogen in the soil. So next year this field will be alfalfa and we’ll harvest it for hay. The year after that, we’ll till it all under as a green manure. If we are seeding clover, we will turn the clover into the soil next year as a green manure. Green manure is our primary soil building tool as well as aiding in weed and insect control, both of which are necessary for successful organic farming.

Just as important are the hardworking folks now helping me who are out in the field at dawn and heading home after dark. As in all endeavors, the value of good helpers can never be overrated.

So in conclusion, with most of the seeding now finished, we are off to a very early and hopeful start. Since I returned to the farm 37 years ago, I don’t think I’ve ever finished seeding so quickly. However, the back side of that situation is that we only had one rainy day in April which kept us out of the field. Although we are glad we had so many nice seeding days, many are becoming concerned with the lack of normal rain fall. Our subsoil moisture is still quite good but the surface moisture is gone and we now need a good rain to continue the wonderful start we’ve had during this growing season.