Sunday, April 6, 2014

Watching Grass Grow

I figured that everybody was probably sitting on the edges of their seats, or pacing back and forth in anticipation waiting for an update on how my wheat was growing, so I decided to go out and take some pictures so nobody would have to explain why they wore a groove in their floor with a bunch of apprehensive pacing. 

Just to jog my memory, here's a picture taken about two weeks ago.

23 March 2014

 Even though it's only rained a little less than 2" since last October, and we got a gullywasher of a rain that totaled about 0.10" (that's a tenth of an inch) soon after that first picture, I think the wheat looks pretty good so far.  I changed my landmark stake but it's in the same spot, it's impossible to tell, but the wheat is about 6" tall at this point.
6 April 2014
 While I was taking pictures, I also took a picture of a garden/test spot where I've spread bio char for a couple of years, along with a thick compost application about 4 years ago and some fertilizer a couple of times. 
Wheat in Bio Char - 6 April 2014
If I was running some sort of official trial on bio char, what little data I have would be thrown out, but my unofficial assessment is that I'm seeing some significant results from the bio char in this small test.  The wheat is almost 10" tall in this spot, and has only had a little 18-46-0 fertilizer applied this spring compared to the field that had 90 lb of nitrogen applied this year. 

For what its worth, this spot has also been sprayed with glyphosate to control weeds and bermuda grass a few times over the years.

About 5 years ago, I planted about 2 acres of conventional canola to see if I could figure out how to grow the stuff, and quickly learned that conventional canola is almost impossible to grow around here and there is a reason they came out with RoundupReady canola.  Even though some steers ended up grazing that field of canola and I was hesitant to try growing it again, I had a little seed left from that experiment and I have been using it little by little as a cover crop in my gardens.  In the garden, it's a relatively easy crop to grow, and in the spring all those yellow blooms are out there with their siren calls trying to tempt me into trying once again to grow it on a larger scale.

This year, we had an early freeze (mid-October?) which killed a lot of canola, then we had a lot of days with single digit lows that killed most of the surviving plants.  To remind me why I hadn't tried to grow it again, I took a picture of my entire "crop" of canola in the garden.   I'm glad I didn't plant an entire field of canola last fall.
My Entire Canola "Crop"


  1. Glad you posted the update. I can sit down and relax for a spell now.

    When I saw your canola picture, I thought it looked like what I call mustard weed. I googled it and found out that canola was bred from a family that includes mustard. It also said that America produces 7 to 10 million metric tons of canola seed per year. Who knew?

    1. That canola plant is just starting to bolt and it will end up being about 2-3 feet tall, about 2-3 feet wide, and covered with little yellow flowers from top to bottom. When they are blooming, you'll see those fields of yellow here and there.

      Canola is related to turnips, mustard, cabbage, etc. and at harvest the seeds look almost the same (which is one of the problems I have with growing it, it might be a bear to get it into the bin of the combine).

      I did a little searching and according to this webpage:
      Oklahoma was the second largest producer of canola in 2012 with 161 million pounds out of a total U.S. production of 2.4 billion pounds. I never would have guessed that Oklahoma was that high on the list.

      It's an interesting crop, would work well as a rotational crop with wheat, but I just need to figure out how to grow and harvest it.

  2. That's neat, to see the comparison with the biochar/compost. I wonder if it is the additional moisture-retention, nutrient-retention, or other mysterious properties that are the reason... or a combination of all of the above.

    1. I'm pretty sure that the biochar helps a little with water retention, because I can walk in the garden a lot sooner after it rains than I used to be able to.

      Besides that, I can't really prove what is going on with the biochar, but just from looking at the areas I've used it, it seems like it has improved those spots.

      I haven't put any compost on this spot since the initial thick covering about 4 years ago, so I'm not sure if what I'm seeing is just from the compost.

      I've spread fertilizer (ammonium nitrate and 18-46-0) in this spot a few times over the last 4 years, but the rate is about what is spread in the field. So, I don't think the difference is due to a higher amount of fertilizer.

      Up until about 5-6 years ago, this spot was part of the wheat field for at least 40 years, so the difference isn't because it's hasn't been farmed in the past.

      I've used glyphosate as a burndown herbicide in this spot the same as the fields, so the difference isn't due to any herbicide applications (although I've read that biochar can help clean up herbicide residues from spills, etc.) .

      Besides the compost application 4 years ago, the only real difference is the biochar I spread last fall and the fall before that.

      This garden/test spot is about 2000 sq.ft., and the first year I spread biochar on half of the area, then planted wheat, and let it grow until June. To my eye, I could see a difference in the wheat in the biochar area, the heads of wheat looked slightly bigger, and I had a little bit of lodging (lower levels of K can sometimes cause that) in the untreated area.

      But the difference was so slight, that I asked a couple of people if they could see any differences to make sure I wasn't seeing something that wasn't there. Without being told which area was which, both people said they thought the biochar treated area looked better. Academic types would dismiss this sort of informal trial, but I was convinced that the biochar was doing something beneficial.

      So, after that long winded response, I'd have to say that it's likely a combination of all of the above.