The start of the new farming year has begun. It's a time of optimism when the seeds from last years harvest are planted again to multiply up for harvest in about 11 months time.
We usually start planting, or drilling, up on the hill, as the soil temperature there cools down faster in the autumn. The crops need to get established before this happens to optimise their yield potential. We then move down the hill to the heavy land, where the soil is more clay, to get those fields planted before the weather breaks. We have to delay drilling in some fields to get a weed called black grass to germinate so that we can spray them off with glyphosate before we plant the crop. This has to be done as black grass is a tough weed, and is resistant to many of the herbicides we can use in the crop. The more we can remove before planting, the better. One of the things we have been trailing this year is a Cross Slot drill. The idea of this drill, developed in New Zealand, is to cut a slot in the soil and plant the seed just under the surface on a little ledge and then fold back down the little flap of soil sealing the seed just under the surface. The drill is shown above planting directly into a standing crop of mustard. That's another part of the story.
Our soil is a living organism and using this planting technique helps to keep the soil in the best health that we can get it. Think of it as a natural environment. Our landscape was once covered in trees. Seeds fell from the mother tree and were not really cultivated in but rather mulched in with falling leaves. That is what the drill is trying to mimic. Low disturbance, slotting the seed under the surface. This should in time reduce the amount of herbicides needed because the soil surface is not being disturbed so weed seeds will not germinate. It also helps feed the worms in the soil by not mineralising soil carbon. It also saves a lot of diesel in establishing the crop, all good for the environment, and the bank balance!
In the picture above a worm hole can definitely be seen. These worms take the organic matter from the surface down into the soil profile redistributing the nutrients to the rooting zone. These worm holes have been known to go down 6'. I've been watching out for these much more recently. The small piles of give away crop residue, hide the entrance to the underground world of these 'night crawlers'. These channels provide fantastic drainage for surface water, stopping runoff to keep nutrients and pesticides in the field. We just need more of them, which will come with less disturbance and more time. Did you know that ploughing kills 50% of the worms in that plough zone and every cultivation afterwards can potentially kill off a further 25%.
This is our current drill direct drilling into another cover crop mixture. This mix was of mustard, phacelia and fodder radish. The soil structure is fantastic with fabulous roots creating a fine tilth that should hold moisture and encourage a very good establishment of the winter wheat we have just planted. The experiment continues!