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Straw bales in the field

Plan “B”

Straw bales in the field

By Linda Halley | Today, a June Sunday morning, the rain feels like a refreshing drink of water–thirst-quenching and reviving. But, last month’s rain was like the deep end of the pool, requiring a constant paddling to keep head above water. It was too much of a good thing.

Rainfall totals, while above normal, were not eye-popping. It was the consistency and regularity of the precipitation that was punishing. Fields never dried out between showers, so tilling to prepare for planting had to wait, and wait, and wait.Straw-tedding

Finally, a break in the weather. We had five dry days out of seven. We literally made hay while the sun shone, plus we seeded, transplanted, staked and mulched. While we declared ourselves officially caught up with our work schedule, there were some jobs that didn’t get done due to wet weather, and now, were just not possible. Tilling in our “green manure” cover crop was one of such jobs.

Last fall we planted winter rye as a cover crop following the harvest of corn. Our goal with the rye cover crop was to grow our own fertility. Rye will sprout even in the cold, fall soil, growing several inches before December’s freeze-up. In early spring it re-grows so that by April it is a lush carpet, one foot tall. At that stage we planned to disk it back into the soil where it can release its nutrients, made by nature through photosynthesis.

But, best-laid plans can go awry. A farmer is wise to have a plan B. When the rye grew, and grew, undeterred by the cool and rainy days of April and May, we concluded it was just too tall to easily incorporate back into the soil. Instead we cut it down!

Under last week’s breeze and sun, the rye dried and turned from green to gold. We raked it and baled it and deemed it the best homegrown mulch ever. We laid it down in a thick mat between the tomato, squash and sweet potato rows. It will smother any pesky weeds that try to take root, and provide soft, clean footing during harvests. When the season ends we will till it back into the soil.

Ha! Plan B is just Plan A delayed by six months. Thank you sun! You came just in time.

Linda Halley is the General Manager of Gwenyn Hill Farm and having a Plan B is one of her most important responsibilities.

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