Tuesday, 3 January 2012

2012 and beyond

Everyone should be thinking about food production for 2012 and all the way through to at least early 2013. Depending upon the severity of a normal winter, some crops should probably be already in the ground. Those with animals will have made plans for their feed for the remainder of the winter and obviously grass leys, or permanent grazing, will be there for those with the need for grazing next summer, although places with mild summers and some rainfall can successfully sow leys in the spring. Autumn sowing is essential in this part of Portugal and mine went in during September and October. Perennial kitchen crops such as asparagus and some herbs will be available, but a few annual vegetable crops should also be under way, and perhaps annual crops for livestock too. Asparagus will be the first crop ready for harvest – sometime in February depending upon overnight frosts. Some spears began appearing before Christmas, but overnight temperatures were too low and they perished. I could cover some plants and force them, at the same time protecting them from damage, but I prefer to let plants grow naturally.

For yourself and any family members you supply, do you know what you used in 2011? Not exactly the number of cabbages or carrots, etc., just a rough approximation. Do you have a record of the varieties you sowed/planted of each vegetable and the quantity? Also a note of whether you had sufficient to harvest or too many? If not, make an effort to record the information in 2012. Weather records are most useful things to have too. If you do not already have them treat yourself to a late Christmas present of a max/min thermometer, rain gauge and soil thermometer – and keep the information they give you. I make a daily check and record it in a diary then transfer the figures to a spreadsheet every few days. To the side of the current year’s figures I keep a summary of each month’s figures for previous years. It is not a big task for anyone with even restricted computer ability – like me. Remember that to be consistent you should read the temperatures at the same time each day. Official weather stations usually do a 9 a.m. check local time, but I find half an hour later suits me best, and I believe consistency is more important than sticking to 9 a.m. Soil temperature is particularly useful for knowing whether seeds will germinate if sown into the open ground. A rising temperature for three or four consecutive days, all over the minimum needed of course, is essential for good germination.

I will be growing more winter pulses than last year if the present reasonably dry weather continues and permits me to prepare the ground and sow. I am fairly well forward with making a couple of olive groves ready for sowing. These pulses will be complemented by a slightly increased area of maize next summer. I can reduce the amount of purchased concentrates for livestock this way. I am also planning to plant an additional 40 or so olive trees. I have not marked out the planting sites yet just done a rough calculation, and will place a provisional order of 20 each of Cobrançosa and Cordovil do Castelo Branco for supply in April. The trees will be an extension of the area I planted last year, so the rows are already there to be extended and I will fill up the space to the boundary fence. This will still leave us a few short of 500 trees. The area to be planted has been used for forage or cutting crops for the goats, and I removed the temporary separating fence and ran the scarifier through. The extra grazing that I will have available in future reduces the forage crop needs.

Part of the new leys will provide a hay crop and I will have a carry over from last year’s oats, the summer maize/black eye pea mix and Sudan grass. I like to have a good supply of hay left over each year. I have not had grass hay since 2005 due to needing to graze the limited amount of leys I have had, but annual winter and summer crops have kept me supplied. I prefer leys to annual hay crops, not just for the work reduction, but because I am sure that all land should have a rotation of leys and cropping to remain productive. The build up of organic matter in the soil during a grazed ley phase is better than any other method I have come across. For example the two areas that I have made into olive groves since I purchased this property had two completely different treatments. The first grove planted had eight successive summer and winter purpose grown green manure crops whilst the later planted one was in a grazed grass/clover ley for the same period. The green manure crops increased the soil organic matter content from 2.7 to 3.0% and the ley raised its soil from 1.3 to 4.5%.  This ley was cultivated out prior to planting the new trees because stock would simply eat the trees. It will be a few years before it is back to grass.