Minnesota Farmer

Not this year!
April 22, 2018, 1:53 pm
Filed under: agriculture, cold, Corn, Farm, farm life, Minnesota, planting, Trees, weather, winter

April 15 was the first day crop insurance covered newly planted corn here in Southwestern Minnesota.  Has anyone here started planting corn yet?  Not this year!  This year we had just received 7 inches of snow on April 14.  In years past some of my neighbors would have planted some of their corn before April 15, not this year!

April 22 is the first day that the University of Minnesota recommends planting corn here in Southwestern Minnesota.  Will we be planting corn on Monday?  Not this year!

This year we still have snow in the fields.

This year a field like this where the snow is mostly melted is hard to find in my neighborhood.

This year a field tree line has a lot of snow on the down wind side where snow piled up when the north winds blew the snow around.

This year groves of trees have 4 feet or more of snow piled up in them which will melt into the fields for a long time yet.

So when do I hope to start planting corn?  Who knows.  It will not be this month.  My hope is to start planting by the normal last day of planting on May 10.  If I have to wait to plant corn after May 20 we’ll have to change the varieties of corn I plant.  This year may yet go down in the books as the latest I have planted corn, but I do not know the answer to when I will start planting yet, all I can say is not yet.

Tree line trim
April 26, 2015, 2:36 pm
Filed under: Farm, harvest, Trees, wood heat | Tags: , , ,

We have several places on our farms where we have lines of trees to slow wind movement across the fields.  As those trees get older, branches will lean or fall into the field.  Usually I just go out and take out the branches that reach the farthest into a field.  This year I decided to do something a bit more drastic on our oldest tree line.


Branches can reach out into the field a long ways.  This means they are sometimes brushing onto harvesting and planting equipment.  The plantable area gets pushed away from the trees and the area between becomes a weed nursery.


I’ve been cutting the branches that lean into the field and harvesting the largest parts for winter’s fuel.  The smaller branches are pushed into a pile and burned.


When it’s done you have a clean area right up to the trees that can be cared for more easily.  The trees are also less likely to break in a wind or ice storm.


There is also more wood for the wood pile.

Still a chill

It’s April 23, the day the University of Minnesota says those of us who farm in Southwestern Minnesota should start planting corn, but there is still a chill in the earth and I will wait.

The last few mornings have found ice in the cats water dish.  Frost on roofs and grass has been obvious.  Stick a thermometer into the earth and it will show temperatures still in the 30’s.  This is not where I want my seed to be.

I have not as yet seen one dandelion bloom.  Crocus, tulip and other early bloomers are not yet budding.  Only my pear tree shows blooms, the apples do not, and few trees even show the smallest of leaves.  The trees tell me it is cold out there.

4/23/2015 pear tree in bloom

4/23/2015 pear tree in bloom

There were a few days over a week ago when we had some warm weather, then the insects were out, but most days are bug free.  Because there are no bugs there are no barn swallows.  Barn swallows swooping around eating insects are a sure sign that the ground is finally warm enough to plant.  Yep, all signs say it is still cold in that dirt.

So when will I start planting?  I’m not sure yet, but come Monday I’ll check and see how things are going.  Frost is finally out of the forecast, but temperatures are not all that warm yet.  Also rain is in the forecast for the next few days, that will also slow us down.  If we get into May and have not yet started planting then the calendar starts to come into play.  We need to get that corn planted by May 10.

Dirty snow


We’ve had a series of days with thawing temperatures and our snow is not white anymore, it’s very dirty.

Every snowflake has a bit of dirt in it, gathered as it forms, our snow here in Southwestern Minnesota has more than it’s share.  The winds of winter have been moving dirt along with the snow.  Now that it is melting, the dirt is left on the top.

We went into winter with dry topsoil.  Then the normal process of freezing soil squeezed more moisture out.  When our prairie winter winds come the soil starts to move.  Most of that soil doesn’t move far.  It falls behind some bit of plant material in the field or a low spot between dirt clumps.  Other bits may blow as far as the road ditch or a grove of trees.  Some little bits will stay airborne and help to start new snowflakes and rain drops.  It’s all part of the process of wind rain and snow.

Farmers in our area have come a long way since the dirty thirties.  Back then when you plowed ground you left it “smooth as a babies bottom.”  Smooth soil moves easier.  Today, farmers take pride in keeping winter soils rough with plenty of plant material sticking up.  Many will not till fields so they can help hold their soil.  We are well aware that soil is hard to replace, we need to keep it in place so our children can earn an income here also.

We’ll have white snow again before winter is over, it’s only January and there is lots of winter left.  Still I enjoy seeing some of that snow melt before spring, I just don’t like dirty snow.

Hedge row

This morning it was hedge planting time.100_3048

The hedge on the west side of the building site needs to be replaced says wife.  I never did mind the mix of hedge plants, a few red twig dogwood and lilac with a few others thrown in randomly, but wife did not like it.  Lately the dogwood had been looking a bit scruffy and the lilac had been showing dying branches so the old hedge went out.  I did get to keep the bush on the corner, I’m not sure what it is, and a few lilac on the south side but that was it.  So now what to replace it with.

A call to the nursery and the suggestion came back with something unexpected.  They suggested 4 flowering crabs and a grouping of spruce on each end.  We talked it over, looked at the space we had and decided on a group of three crab on the south corner with a Back Hills spruce at the south end of a row of Chinese lilac with 3 more spruce on the north end.

It was chilly outside, 30 degrees, when we ventured out to plant.  The north wind chilled us for a bit, but as we worked the coat came off and the plants went in the ground.  By noon the job was done.

We ended up a few lilacs short of a complete hedge, but the next time the nurseryman comes by he will drop them off.  The lilac may even be tall enough to catch some snow this winter, but I’ll put up a snow fence to help them.  In a few years they will not need help.  Can’t wait to see how they turn out when warmer weather comes back.100_3049

Ash wood and locust
June 16, 2014, 9:28 pm
Filed under: Farm, Trees, wind, wood heat | Tags: , , , , , , ,

When I ran out of trees to cut for my wood pile this spring I was about two cords short of my goal.  It is always best to have some place to put the wood cut after summer storms.  Today finds me cutting two ash trees and a locust that came down in Sunday’s storm.  Ash is one of the best woods you can find in this area for winter fires, but that locust is not far behind.  The problem is that locust is very heavy at this time of year.  Lots of water in the wood.  It’s going to take time to dry them out for winter use.100_2702

Summer storms are always hard on trees.  Although winter winds can whip around at a trees branches the leaves are not present to catch the wind.  Now with trees full of sap and a full head of new leaves there is a lot to catch the wind.  The two trees that came down fell towards each other and left a mess of crossed branches to work through.  They also came down on some other small trees.  If I can save those small trees we will have something to fill in the space left by broken trees.

Now we have had more wind and rain and I can see several small branches down.  I’m sure I’ll have more clean up to do.  So I’m now adding some ash and locust to the wood pile, oh, and some maple, walnut and a few other chunks from wind broken trees.

5/27/14 Crop progress

Planting got off to a late start here in southwest Minnesota, but I still managed to get our corn and soybeans in the ground at a relatively decent time.  The spring was cold here until just recently.  Now the weather has turned hot and muggy.  We have missed the showers that came to our area in the last week and could use some rain for the surface area but subsurface moisture is good.

The tress are telling the story of how cold our spring was.  Although maple and ash trees are now fully leaved out trees like walnut, locust and catalpa are still slow to push their leaves out.100_2698You can still easily see through this catalpa into the maple behind it.

We planted our first corn on May 4th.  That field was planted into strips that were worked last year and then just leveled a bit with the planter before planting.  This form of tillage works well in soybean stubble since there is little plant material to keep water or wind from eroding the ground.  The corn emergence here is good, although the ground is a bit hard. 100_2696You can still see last years soybean rows in the field.

Spring time soil erosion can be a problem on worked ground.  I was reminded of that again when I saw this.100_2697My neighbor worked his soybean ground last fall and again this spring.  Spring time rains running across the field have cut into the dirt and washed out some corn plants.  The erosion stopped at the property line when the running water got into the unworked stubble on my field.

We finished planting corn on May 10th.  That corn is definitely up and growing, but a bit smaller than earlier planted corn.100_2694The later corn was planted on a field that was corn last year.  The higher amount of crop material left by a corn crop usually lets me work that ground in the fall and spring.  Small corn plants do not do well if there is too much of last years corn plant left on the ground.  Also, we applied hog manure to this field last fall and the manure has to be worked in to keep it in place.  We will need very little commercial fertilizer to supplement the hog manure we applied.

I was very pleased to see that the soybeans we planted on May 21 were starting to emerge.100_2695Some of these soybeans went into dry ground and could use some rain, but most of the field is doing well.

So it goes, spring is off to a good start and summer will soon be upon us.  The alfalfa looks like it is ready to cut and a multitude of other tasks are waiting for me.  Time to get back to work.


Significant Shrinkage
March 20, 2014, 9:48 am
Filed under: Farm, seasons, snow, spring, Trees, weather | Tags: , , , ,

The weather has turned warmer but snow is not yet out of the forecast.  Nights can be frozen and sometimes even daytime highs may not reach 32 degrees, but the snow is melting.100_2644It seems as if we have lost two feet of snow in the deepest places.  Many tree lines and groves  hold three or more feet of snow yet.  The shrubs that hold this snow will be pushed down and may not come up again.  100_2643Our fields have lost most of their snow and now we have puddles in all of the low places.  Hopefully this will soak in and become water for our crops, but so far it is being held in place by the frozen ground.  Rivers and creeks are up with flowing water and many a waterway has funneled water down to area lakes.

Our snow pack has shrunk significantly, but there is much more that needs to melt.  We have about a month before we head to the field, hopefully the snow will be gone by then.


The art of the snow fence
December 2, 2013, 11:33 am
Filed under: Farm, Minnesota, projects, snow, Trees, weather, wind, winter | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Here on the northern prairie we know snow fences.  We have to.  When the cold winter winds start blowing around winters moisture the beauty of snow turns ugly.  That being said, there are good snow fences and poor snow fences.  There is an art to making a good snow fence.  Now I’m not saying snow fences are artistic, but that there is an art in the placement and building of a snow fence.100_2509Trees are natures snow fence.  Where they grow there will be snow deposited nearby.  A farmstead wind break, or a fence line of trees can stop a lot of blowing snow.  But trees or snow fences in the wrong place can be a disaster.

We had a non-prairie native move in near us a few years back.  They tried to put up a snow fence the way you would put up fences to keep livestock contained.  They had a line of snow fence on each side of their driveway about 5 feet out.  It happened to be a very snowy and blowy winter, and they had 4 feet of snow on their driveway anytime we got a whisper of wind.  Snow fences need to be placed back from the road 50 to 75 feet.  That gives the snow a place to pile up in the lee of the fence or tree line.

The best place for a snow fence is up wind of what you are trying to protect, but wind can be variable, so a long fence may be needed.  Our winter winds here in southwestern Minnesota are mostly from the north or northwest, but west and even south or easterly winds can blow in and deposit snow.  For us, snow protection is needed both north and west of the buildings.

We have a gap in the trees just west of our house that funnels snow onto our driveway.  Snow fences across that gap, or just up or down wind of that gap, can leave a good sized deposit of snow.  The snow is then stopped on the lawn, and not on the driveway.

Buildings can also funnel snow between them.  Anyplace the wind is compressed into a narrow space there will be less snow, but just down wind there will be large drifts.  A snow fence just up wind from that gap, not in the gap, will stop a lot of problems down wind.

We had a neighbor whose house was set just wrong for wind one winter.  The snow came around the grove of trees and deposited on the east side of the house.  Snow was piled to the second floor windows.  In this case a snow fence was needed where they could not put one since a major highway runs just west of the house.

100_2532A snow fence does not have to be solid.  Wood slats or plastic with holes in it will work better than a solid wall.  You are slowing down the wind so that it will drop it’s snow.  It does not need great height either since the ground drifting snow is what you are trying to stop.

Your posts need to be at least a foot taller than the finished height of the fence and can be placed from 5 to 8 feet apart depending on wind conditions and soil type.  I prefer to place my posts for the snow fence in late fall while the ground is still unfrozen.  If I did not do this, the winds will push my fence and the posts over before the snow comes.

Once the ground freezes I can hang the fence.  I leave a bit of room under the fence for the wind to clear out the snow.  This actually allows the snow to pile higher downwind of the fence.

Whenever possible, I like to anchor the ends of my fence on trees.  A tree has a much better grip on the earth than a little steel post.  If you cannot anchor on a tree, guy wires should be placed at each end of the snow fencing run. These guy wires should be run parallel to the fence and be secured to posts driven into the ground.  The guy wires should run from the top of the post by the fence to the base of the anchor post.  It is best to have holes in the posts to run the guy wire through.  Do not skimp on the guy wire.  The end anchor posts and attached guy wires are critical to the longevity of your snow fence.

I like to wrap my snow fence ends around the end anchor post or tree.  I then use a rebar to “stitch” the end of the fence to itself.  This also works for stitching two pieces of plastic snow fence together.

The snow fence must be placed on the up wind side of the posts.  This means the wind will help hold the fence against the posts.  It also allows you to use a lighter duty strap to hold on the fence.

I use a U shaped steel post that is at least 7 feet tall and plastic zip ties to hold the fence to the post.  If you place a piece of 1×2 or rebar on the up wind side of the fence the zip tie will press the fence into a U shaped posts and strengthen the bond between post and fence.  You may have to inspect your fence periodically during the winter to make sure the zip ties are still holding.

As I said, putting up a snow fence of any type is an art.  I have seen some really nice snow fences made out of split rails also.  The type of snow fence you need is dependent on so many factors.  You can make them permanent with trees, semi-permanent with heavy materials or temporary with lighter weight materials.  Some aspects are the same, and others different.  Either way, if the winds are blowing snow into the wrong place, a properly placed snow fences can keep at least some of the snow out of your way.


30 days: Cut a tree, plant a tree
November 20, 2013, 11:28 am
Filed under: Fall, Farm, harvest, Minnesota, planting, Trees | Tags: , , , , , ,

Fall is an excellent time to be cutting wood for the winter, as long as it gets six months to dry, or it is already dead.  It is also a great time to plant trees.  So I did.100_2500

It seems that I always have trees that are dying around here, and their space must be filled.  Our yard lost a birch tree last winter and I did not get the space filled until just now.  The tree is a flowering pear.  It’s leaves are a dark red green and while it has great flowers in the spring, it produces little or no fruit, just right for our yard.

I have been trying to keep many different tree varieties in our yard.  When I moved here the place was elms and ash with a few maples.  Dutch elm ended the life of our elm trees so most of the trees replaced were green ash.  Now with the Emerald Ash Borer moving into Minnesota I am planting other trees whenever I can.  We have a wide variety so I should never be without trees to slow the prairie winds.  Fall is an excellent time to plant trees.  I hope you are planting your share.

So there you have it, day 20 of the 30 day challenge.  I already know what eight of the remaining subjects are going to be, I should be able to finish this challenge off.  Hope you are enjoying finding out what farmers do after the harvest is over.