Spring Planting

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I am not a spring planter. There’s too much risk involved: can you get into the field when it’s dry enough, but will it be wet enough for seed to germinate? Will there be enough rain at the right time afterwards for the plants to grow? The advantages for spring wheat, though, is that you can fit a cover crop in the same field beforehand and mechanically rid of weeds and the cover crop before planting. Depending on where you are, winter planting may also water log seeds or foster diseases in the roots and plants. Diseased crop or no crop? Take your pick.

This back and forth of whether to winter or spring plant has gone on for centuries. The passage above comes from a book written in the 1940s. Same story.

What’s tricky for California farmers seeking winter and spring wheat is that those names don’t really apply to us. You know that an East Coast winter is very different from a West Coast winter. Winter wheat refers to an East Coast-style winter. The wheat needs cold in order to germinate well, and we don’t get that cold on the California coast. It means we should probably winter plant spring wheat.

But here I am trying to plant spring wheat in April…without irrigation. I’m planting in Petaluma where it rains through April and has experienced slightly more predictable weather timing than other places I’ve farmed. Note that I said timing and not intensity. This year’s been pretty intense rain wise, with houses shifted from their foundation. I hope it’s saved some of that for April!

Right now it’s all about field prep. Getting everything mowed and ready at the right time. Again, you want to be able to get into the field when it’s dry enough, seed when the ground is still moist enough, and do this before a good rain to help with soil contact and settling. This may in some ways be like being pregnant. You know generally when to expect, but the exact timing is unexpected and no matter how much preparation went in you still end up scrambling.