Planting season is well under way here at the farm, which means for about six weeks or so we’re out in the fields, sun up to sun down. We have a lot of fields to plant in a relatively short amount of time, so this time of year is particularly busy. But it’s also very rewarding. There are few things in the life of a farmer more satisfying than a freshly planted field. And just look at that big blue Montana sky!
But organic farming is different than conventional farming right from the get-go. We do not treat our seed with pesticides before seeding and we only till our ground to kill weeds rather than kill them using an herbicide.
We also don’t use fertilizers to help boost the soil nutrients before we plant. We don’t need to. Well-managed crop rotations keep the soil fertile and the pests at bay. But I’ll write more on crop rotations later. For now, suffice it to say, the only thing we’re putting in the soil are seeds. And honestly, that’s more than enough to keep us busy.
We use a drill, or seeder, to plant our crops here on the farm. A drill deposits seeds in the ground through several shanks that penetrate the soil. The tips of these shanks carve a furrow in the earth, creating something that looks like a small wave of soil. At the bottom of this furrow, the shank deposits a seed in the earth before the soil closes over it and the packer wheels at the rear press down the earth over the seed. Good seed-to-soil contact helps the seed to properly germinate. In fact, it’s not unlike planting a seed in your own garden.
However, we have one more job before planting. That is picking rock. And it’s as exciting as it sounds. My father used to say, “If the rock is the size of my double-fist or bigger, it’s too big.” So we make a pass through each field and look for rocks that could potentially damage our drill or the combine we use at harvest. It’s not a guarantee; the drill or the combine may find one we’ve missed. But it certainly streamlines the planting process once the drill is in the field.
And of course, planting is also dependent on the weather. I’m not saying a farmer’s only out planting in the sunshine with a Stetson on his head and a smile on his face. But we want to be sure our drill is able to do its job accurately and efficiently. Which means the soil can’t be too wet. If a field is too wet, the drill can become clogged and the planting depth can fluctuate. Not to mention, trying to pull a forty-foot drill out of the mud is something we prefer to avoid.
Regardless of the ups and downs, the long days and early mornings, this is an exciting time of year. It’s a time for renewal and growth. And I, for one, am looking forward to another productive and eventful season.