Saturday, May 31, 2014

Almost Ready to Start Harvesting the Wheat and Growing Crabgrass

It's the time of year when I start pacing back and forth, getting more and more antsy because it's getting closer and closer to harvest.  The trucks and combine are all  ready to go (or at least I hope they are), the wheat has almost dried down all the way, and now it's just a matter of waiting until the moisture level of the grain drops low enough.

There's only a couple of hundred acres to combine, but it always seems to rain sometime during harvest (so you have to wait a few days for the moisture levels to come back down) or something breaks down, so I like to get it cut as fast as I can.

It might just be me, but during harvest it always seems like I run and run and run and run until I'm finally done and then everything comes to a full stop.  Or, it's like going a hundred miles an hour all day long with the engine and wind roaring in your head, and then locking up the brakes and coming to a screeching halt surrounded by a deafening silence.  

In a little bit over a month the wheat has gone from just starting to head out to full maturity and drying down.

Almost, but not quite ready to cut
 The grain has filled as much as it's going to fill and when I do a quick threshing of a head by rubbing it with my hands I get a little pile of grain in the palm of my hand, it's nice and hard when I bite down on it, but it needs to drop in moisture just a little bit more.  Now, I just need a few gazillion more of those little grains hauled to the elevator and I'll get my yearly wheat paycheck.  
Ten thousand more of these and you could bake a loaf of bread
What really has me excited at the moment is a little bit of green grass that's starting to grow in the wheat.  It might be hard to tell from the picture I took, but that little bit of green is some crabgrass that's just germinated because we happened to get a little bit of rain this week and hopefully it's going to turn into enough hay to feed my cattle for a winter or two.  As soon as the wheat is harvested, the crabgrass will get more sunlight and it will really start growing.  If I decide to bale some wheat straw, it might grow even quicker since it won't be shaded by all the chaff and straw (I don't like to bale straw, but with the current drought conditions, some bales of straw are cheap insurance in case I can't bale enough hay this summer).

Last year, we had a late wheat harvest (last week in June) and more moisture, the crabgrass went from germination to 3 feet tall in 5-6 weeks, and I baled somewhere around 3500 lb. of crabgrass hay per acre.  This year, the wheat should be harvested earlier, and the crabgrass has already germinated, so I might get close to the same amount of hay baled if we get a little bit of rain this summer (even if I only get half the yield, I'll be satisfied).
Crabgrass just starting to grow in the wheat
  Crabgrass is an amazing grass, it's a little drought tolerant, it grows fast,  makes great hay (it's related to millet and has relatively high protein levels), and comes up as a volunteer stand if it's managed correctly (so I don't have to buy or plant any seed).   The crabgrass stubble also seems to have some sort of allopathic effect on ryegrass (which is a yield-robbing weed in wheat).

Of course, the same things that make crabgrass so productive and easy to grow are also what makes some people think it's just a weed, so I've only seen a handful of people locally growing it for hay or grazing.  Crabgrass can be a weed problem when I grow sorghum or if I grew soybeans (pre-emergant herbicide will fix that), but the hay can be more profitable than the sorghum and it's usually a heck of a lot easier to grow.

I also tend to look at crabgrass as an easy cover crop, I don't have to do anything (except maybe fertilize it) and I can grow a lot of biomass (almost as many roots as above ground grass), bale some hay, also graze it, while controlling ryegrass a little due to the allopathic effects.

There's a lot of things in the world that I still don't understand, but I can't understand why more people don't grow crabgrass in a continuous wheat growing area.


  1. My former neighbor would have heartburn reading this post. He dumped gallons of chemicals on his lawn to control crabgrass and spent hours crawling around on all four digging up anything not grass. He even gave me the card for his lawn care guy once when he thought I wasn't doing enough to care for my lawn. I don't miss him. I'm a low maintenance kind of grass guy and crab grass really fills in the bare spots fast.

    1. A couple of years ago, I went to a land auction a few miles away from the farm and talked to a guy that was looking to buy some land so he could start raising some cows after he retired.

      He wasn't so sure about buying this farm because there was so much crabgrass growing in the wheat field that he thought the whole farm must have been "neglected" or abandoned for quite some time, and the way the grass was so tall and "overgrown" in the pasture also worried him to no end. According to him, it was going to take a heck of a lot of work to whip this sorry piece of ground back into shape.

      When I told him that my cattle loved to eat crabgrass hay and that tall, overgrown grass usually led to fat cattle, he gave me a funny look like he didn't understand a word I said.

      I'm guessing he would have liked your former neighbor.

  2. I sure do like living nowadays, where there is a heck of a lot less labor involved in making flour or cornmeal. I was thinking about that yesterday when we made some microwave cornbread.

    My rabbits love it when I bring them 'weeds'. I love the fact that I didn't have to plant them, and that they thrive without any help, hold the soil in place, feed the soil, and many of them are more nutritious than anything I could grow intentionally (from what I've read).

  3. One summer, I tried to harvest a small block of wheat I'd planted in the garden just to see how much work it was (I think I had just read Robinson Crusoe or something so I was training myself just in case I ever found myself stranded on a deserted island). It was doable to hand harvest that wheat, but I'd have to be on a deserted island to ever do it again or the price for wheat would have to skyrocket to astronomical levels.

    Another time I planted some OP corn, hand-harvested it, and and then threshed it, which convinced me that I'm going into the corn-growing business when I wash up on a beach like Robinson Crusoe. Field corn is almost doable on a small scale, and I almost bought a small grain mill/grinder to turn some of that OP corn into cornmeal.

    Personally, I think people would appreciate and value their food more if they grew some of their food at some point in their lives. Very few people would complain about the price of bread if they had ever harvested a small plot of wheat by hand.

    I still spot spray for weed once in awhile in my pastures, but they don't bother me as much as they seem to bother some people. Last year, I had a thick patch of weeds in the corner of a field I was baling, I didn't think the cattle would ever eat that weedy, junk hay, but I went ahead and baled it just to get as much off of the field as I could. When I was done baling it, that hay was almost all horrible stemmy weeds like marestail, burdock, etc, and it had a strong pungent "weedy" smell.

    I had a spot in a pond spillway that was turning into a gully, so I hauled it over there, carefully stacked it along the part that was eroding, and was pretty sure that the cattle would leave those bales alone.

    As soon as the cattle saw those bales, they attacked them and ate them to the ground in a few days. There was green grass growing all over that pasture and there was something about those weeds that they just had to have (it might be minerals, etc.). As a bonus, all that concentrated hoof action around those bales also fixed my gully problem.

    So, I stopped worrying about weeds in the hay. A lot of weeds might be a problem, but a few weeds might be good.