100% homegrown

Tue Nov 15, 2011 1:25 pm

A field is required. Through the generosity of a field manager, I have access to about 3,000 square feet of irrigated healthy soil to grow barley. It's not too sandy and it doesn't have too much clay. It has a moderate amount of organic content, derived from a compost addition every other year. One third of the field intensively grows corn in the summer, followed by a winter cover crop of legumes and oats, which is plowed under. The other two thirds may have had the same rotation in the past, but are coming off of a winter of growing chickpeas followed by a fallow summer.

Last week the entire field was disced by a local ranch. The discer is a big device dragged by a tractor -- it's two big rows of steel discs that cut into the soil, and each disc has a metal bracket extending to the side. They simultaneously chop up whatever was standing in the field and churn up about 8" of soil. This has a different effect on the soil than plowing, but I'm not sure how -- perhaps someone else knows?

I followed with a shovel to dig out the corners of the field that the discer missed. Then I began making 14" East-West rows to hold barley seed. The soil is loose in most parts of the field, and this job is easier than it sounds. Still exhausting, though, about as intense as jogging, and I can go for an hour and a half at a time before my arms turn to jelly, getting 800 square feet done in one go. Should be finished tomorrow! I use posts and nylon rope to keep the rows straight, measuring tape to keep them even.

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I ordered 2-row Conlon seed from http://www.johnnyseeds.com and a mix of harvested malting barley seed adapted to Colorado from http://coloradomaltingcompany.com I expect disease will be big problem, based on the advice I received from a plant breeder at UC Davis who is attempting to create a California-adapted malting barley cultivar. So, I want as much diversity in my seeds as possible, in case some are better suited to the area than others. I'll seed part of my field with the single cultivar and part with the mix.

I'm planting all spring 2-row, now in November, as soon as the field is ready. Fall-sown Spring barley is how we do it in California. Apparently, winter barleys achieve their frost-resistance, in part, through delaying flowering until after a long period of cold temperatures. If you don't expect any freezing during the winter, then choosing a winter barley will only delay harvest time. It does freeze here in Palo Alto, but it's only a few nights a year, and only a degree or two below 0 C. Things get colder in Davis, where all the local barley knowledge comes from, so I'm confident about sowing spring barley in the fall.

In planning: a technique for seeding. Any advice here is much appreciated! I don't have a seeder, so I'll have to do it by hand. Any ideas to avoid the pain of planting 45,000 seeds? I'm thinking of dragging a metal rod across each row to dig a 1-2" trench, then following with a PVC tube with funnel attached to top, pouring seeds into funnel. Then cover seeds by dragging a metal chain along rows, followed with packing by foot.

Another option would be to build a makeshift seeder. The least desirable option is to spend $90 on a real one. Any advice here?

Last year's work: Planted 11 hop rhizomes in my backyard. Ordered from freshops and picked up locally at MoreBeer. The quality was very poor, and only five survived! This spring, I expect cones from one plant each of Cluster, Chinook, Columbus, and Glacier. A Goldings plant grew anemically last year, so I'm not sure if I'll get cones from it. I left the bines up so they could feed the roots as much as possible, but they're dying now. This is the Cluster:
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Depending on the yield of the barley, I'll get enough for anywhere from 0 - 20 batches of beer. I'm setting my expectations low, because from what people tell me, this is hard. If I can get enough barley to survive aphids, scald, stripe rust, and yellow dwarf virus, get it all threshed, malt it without any fungal growth, kiln it without destroying enzymes, then get enough hops to balance 5 gallons of beer, I will be more than happy.

There's a brewer, Mark VanGlad, who did everything except the malting at a commercial scale.

Why do this? Same reasons we brew, brothers and sisters. Because we can!
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drummstikk
 
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Re: 100% homegrown

Wed Nov 16, 2011 8:04 am

drummstikk wrote: The discer is a big device dragged by a tractor -- it's two big rows of steel discs that cut into the soil, and each disc has a metal bracket extending to the side. They simultaneously chop up whatever was standing in the field and churn up about 8" of soil. This has a different effect on the soil than plowing, but I'm not sure how -- perhaps someone else knows?


A plow has a heavy blade that slices vertically and horizontally, and then flips that section of sod to the side. A second plow blade will flip another section into the space vacated by the first. In this way, a new field can be turned under, putting the grass and sod underground and exposing fresh dirt.

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A disc has a series of circular concave plates. A plowed field will usually be disced to break up the soil more before planting. Additionally, a field that has been used to grow crops recently doesn't need to be plowed, and will often just be disced to make the soil easier to plant, as well as incorporate any manure or other organic material spread on the field.
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While it is possible to turn sod with just a disc, it would require many more passes, and much of the grass and roots would still be all over the surface of the field, meaning that seeds being planted may end up stuck in a clump of grass and not germinate. Basically the plow turns the sod over, and the disc works it to a plantable state.
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Re: 100% homegrown

Wed Nov 16, 2011 2:59 pm

spiderwrangler wrote:A disc has a series of circular concave plates. A plowed field will usually be disced to break up the soil more before planting. Additionally, a field that has been used to grow crops recently doesn't need to be plowed, and will often just be disced to make the soil easier to plant, as well as incorporate any manure or other organic material spread on the field

Gotcha! That explains why my field was only disced. It was essentially a bare field with just a little crop residue remaining from previous crops.

I finished making 14" rows yesterday:
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And I discovered an Earthway seeder in a shed, complete with seed plates useful for barley!
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This hand-pushed device cuts a furrow (you can set the depth), deposits seeds, closes up the furrow with a dragged chain, and presses down with a wheel to pack the soil around seeds.

It's not perfect, and each scoop of the seed wheel actually deposits several seeds -- but if you're pushing fast enough, they get spread out to roughly 1 seed per inch. This solves the seeding problem.

Plan: As soon as the neighboring fields are raked (they were recently seeded with a cover crop), which will happen tomorrow, the entire field will begin to be irrigated. I'll wait a few days for weed seeds to sprout, then spray with Roundup. Then, Friday or Saturday, I'll fertilize and plant!
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Re: 100% homegrown

Wed Nov 16, 2011 7:49 pm

Does the seed drill you are using have the ability to switch out plates? Normally a planter will have seed boxes that feed down to a rotating plate that is driven by the wheel. These plates are variable and will have different sized and spaced slots that will allow for the planting of different crops. For example, a corn plate will have slots sized for a corn kernel and be spaced out a certain number of inches to provide enough room for the developing plants. One for barley would have a much smaller slot for the kernel, and likely have different spacing requirements as well.
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Re: 100% homegrown

Thu Nov 17, 2011 7:10 am

spiderwrangler wrote:Does the seed drill you are using have the ability to switch out plates? Normally a planter will have seed boxes that feed down to a rotating plate that is driven by the wheel. These plates are variable and will have different sized and spaced slots that will allow for the planting of different crops. For example, a corn plate will have slots sized for a corn kernel and be spaced out a certain number of inches to provide enough room for the developing plants. One for barley would have a much smaller slot for the kernel, and likely have different spacing requirements as well.

This is what I was going to say. You don't want to push faster, because you will just throw dirt all over the place and do a poorer job. Since the feed mechanism is driven by the turning of the wheels, this won't really solve your problem either. What you want to look for is a plate specifically for barley, or wheat/oats would probably work fine, too. Also, just to help, those chains are really light-weight and don't really work that well to cover the seed with dirt. Something to keep your eye on. Going slower may help with this, too.
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Re: 100% homegrown

Thu Nov 17, 2011 11:07 pm

Cody wrote:
spiderwrangler wrote:Does the seed drill you are using have the ability to switch out plates?


Yep, I'm using the one that's closest to barley, but it's not perfect. If you push slowly, it deposits 3-4 seeds in a pile, then a 3-4 inch gap, followed by 3-4 seeds. If you push quickly, the time it takes for the seeds to fall down from the hopper is about equal to the time it takes to traverse 3-4 inches. So, the seeds get spread out into a more or less uniform distribution.

If you push fast, it's definitely not as controlled of a situation as going slow. I wouldn't say dirt flies everywhere, but it's harder to push in a straight line. I think a crooked line of seeds will be better than planting several seeds right on top of each other, followed by a big gap with no seeds. I practiced with some malt.

Waiting for rain tomorrow, which will sprout weed seeds. Then spraying with Roundup and planting, Sunday or Monday.
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Re: 100% homegrown

Fri Nov 18, 2011 9:04 am

So the reason it deposits 3-4 seeds at a time then a gap is because you won't get 100% germination of your seeds. The gap is necessary for proper nutrition of growing plants so that they have enough room to spread out. I would stick with what the plate gives you. If you need to thin your crop, you can, but more than likely it will take care of itself. It's better than having a 1-2 foot gap in between plants when 3 or 4 in a row don't germinate, which happens. Farmers who are doing 100+ acre fields don't mess with it, and it looks like your plot is large enough that you'll get decent production out of it. I'd just leave it alone and worry about getting straight rows. Those will be easier to irrigate and easier to harvest.
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Re: 100% homegrown

Fri Nov 18, 2011 11:28 pm

Cody wrote:So the reason it deposits 3-4 seeds at a time then a gap is because you won't get 100% germination of your seeds.
That's true, they won't all germinate. But the lot of Conlon seeds I have was tested at 89% germination. So, it's not so few that doubling or tripling up the spacing makes sense. The plate is not designed for barley, and it's not really supposed to be grabbing more than one seed at a time. I'm kind of throwing this together here, hence the hack of pushing the Earthway faster than you're supposed to (I'm only talking like 2.5 to 3 mph here, a brisk walk).

I'd just leave it alone and worry about getting straight rows. Those will be easier to irrigate and easier to harvest
You're right -- and I promise to keep the rows straight. If it's a compromise between zig-zag rows and evenly distributed seeds, I'll choose the straight rows. They will be a huge advantage, both if I ever need to do spot irrigation with a hose, and if I need to weed.



I thought the plan would be for the field manager to begin irrigating via those posts you see in the photo by Thursday, when the neighboring field's cover crop seeds were raked in. I talked to him today, though, and he said that since rain was forecast today and Sunday, we would wait. A sensible decision for conserving water and managing the whole field. That's why he's the field manager. But I need my weed seeds to sprout now so I can kill them, so I can plant barley!

It was 3pm and still no rain, with only a 65% chance of rain forecast tonight, so I decided to just spray what weeds the field had and plant barley seeds ASAP. The herbicide is Roundup (glyphosate) -- a glycine analog that prevents amino acid metabolism, mixed with diquat, which destroys plant tissue on contact. I mixed a blue dye in with the herbicides so I wouldn't walk on an area I'd already sprayed.

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I didn't spray areas without any growth, because glyphosate and diquat only work on growing plant tissue. Plus they both break down quickly in soil from microbial action. You don't want to dump them straight into a water supply, so any excess has to go in a low place in the field to be decomposed, not down the drain.

Anyway, it's well into the night right now, and still no significant rain shower! It looks like the field won't go through a round of pre-seeding irrigation to let weeds sprout. I've got to plant soon, because if I wait a week for weeds to germinate, then spray them again, I'll be pushing my heading date into late March. I've got to be out of the field in May-June for corn to come in. Damn the weeds -- it's time to seed!



Extrapolating from measurements made by some dudes with an Earthway at the Virginia Association for Biological Farming, running the seeder down 14" rows will result in 43-47 pounds of barley seed / acre. On a commercial farm, people typically seed closer to 100 pounds / acre, but there are a few reasons I may want to plant less densely.

  • There are trees and bushes to the west and south of my area. My corner of the field is shady, which (along with the field manager's awesome attitude and benevolence) is why I'm able to use it -- the corn people don't even bother to plant it some years. The seeding recommendation of 100 lb/acre is based on picturesque Dakota plains, not a corner of Northern California woodland. Planting too densely can actually decrease yield if the plants are stressed and compete for resources.

  • Planting over the winter will give the barley plenty of time to send up multiple shoots. It's called tillering, and it's a process of barley growing laterally in a dense tuft. It can mess up your rows, but if the plants are old enough to tiller, you don't care. The rows were there to facilitate weeding during the early stages of growth, and by the time tillers show up, the barley plants typically have grown tall enough to form a canopy, outcompeting weed seeds for light.

So, here's the plan: I'll plant 2/3 of my field at 43-47 lb/acre, and 1/3 at twice that rate. For the doubled rate, I'll just go over each row with the seeder twice. I'll choose the sunniest, most fertile area for the higher seeding rate. I really don't know what to expect, and I could imagine either seeding rate producing more than the other. (I'll do this experiment instead of trying different cultivars of 2-row, which was the previous plan.)
Last edited by drummstikk on Sat Dec 03, 2011 5:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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