March is finally here and things are picking up on our operation. My husband and I own and operate an organic grain farm 15 miles South of Malta (4M Farms) and lease additional acres approximately 50 miles from our place. We grow Kamut (www.kamut.com) and wheat mostly, but have grown specialty crops like flax and lentils. We’re technically a first generation farm, but both Cliff and I come from farming/ranching backgrounds.
Everything we grow is certified organic through the Montana Department of Agriculture. It’s been challenging growing organic crops as the timing of everything is crucial. We cannot spray any chemicals on our fields and use tillage (plowing with chisel) and cover crops as a way to help control weeds.
*Big Bud tractor hooked to chisel used for tillage
Generally, depending on the equipment we are using we let the weeds come up in the Spring and till them under so we can get a good kill on them. Then we get the seed bed ready, which means we till very shallow and try to even the field as much as possible before we go to the next step. When the seed bed is ready we plant the crops using a Concord Air Drill. It reminds me of a big octopus because of all the hoses sticking out everywhere.
*Big Bud tractor pulling Concord Air Drill
In addition to planting cash crops (crops grown to sell) we also plant additional crops such as yellow sweet clover for green manure. The sweet clover puts nitrogen back in the soil, which is taken when a crop is grown and harvested. Planting green manure is a very important part of organic farming. Ideally, we start getting fields prepared and seeding done by June 1st and start harvesting around September 1st. Between planting and harvesting, we till fallow fields (those without crops growing in them) to control weeds and haul harvested crops throughout the year. For example, right now we are hauling our 2016 crop to our buyers as they call for it.
*Cliff Merriman loading Winter Wheat to haul
After harvest is completed, we lease our grazing out and cows graze on all of our fields. This helps put fertilizer on (cow manure) and increases the overall health of the land. Wildlife graze year round and we use conservation practices with the farming to help keep as much wildlife around as we can.
Well, that was the down and dirty of our organic operation. Every year is a new experience and I’ll keep sharing what we do and learn with all of you. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!!!