Keeping the soil where it belongs…

This morning we woke up to a lot of rain. I mean a lot of water everywhere.


Lots of water after a 5 inch rain. Unusual in December in that the ground is not frozen.

Since nearly all my neighbors rip or chisel their corn stubble and don’t use cover crops, I was curious to see what the landscape looked like. So I went out and took some pictures of full road ditches, water flowing across tilled fields, and Alleman Creek out of its banks.

The rain started yesterday, Friday, December 12 in the evening. By 3 pm yesterday, the 13th, the nearest KCCI Schoolnet weather station had recorded 3.22 inches of rain. At about the same time, I put up my new rain gauge (I had put mine back up Friday night, but it was leaking because on Saturday morning there was nothing in it.) When I checked my new gauge about an hour ago, I had 1.8 inches in it. Therefore we have mostly like had about 5 inches of rain in the last 48 hours. Remember also that our ground is not frozen at all. Normally our ground would have been frozen by now and the rain would have all run off. Since the ground is not frozen, it is soaking in to some extent, but 5 inches is a lot of rain, so the soil cannot take all of the water at once.

There is where our conservation practices come in. We have 4 terraces, 6-8 inches of winter rye cover crop, no-till tillage system, and buffer strips. All of these practices contribute to less soil erosion on a day like today.


The roots of our winter rye cover crop are one reason that our farm retains more rain water, releasing it more slowly into Four Mile Creek watershed.

How much of this sudden runoff would cover crops and no-till prevent? That is a good question. Research shows that those practices will increase water retention on the land, thereby slowing down the runoff from heavy rains.

KCCI is also predicting the following:

“Fourmile Creek is forecast to rise above flood stage midday Monday, topping 12.6 feet or 0.4 feet above flood stage. It’s expected to be in decline by this evening.”

Source: KCCI weather viewed at 10:58 am December 14, 2015.


Rye roots

Today I had a look at the roots of the cereal rye on my farm. We have 6-8 inch growth on our cover crop so it is interesting to look at the growth below the surface as well.


Rye CC after 8 weeks

After harvest the cereal rye cover crop is growing well. We’ve had a long warm fall allowing the rye to continue growing once the corn canopy is gone.

cover crop, conservation

We have about 6-8 inches of rye growth each place I checked on the farm.


By the time planting time rolls around next May, this rye cover should be up higher than the corn stubble. Our intention is to keep the soil covered all winter which helps to prevent erosion, to retain nutrients on the farm rather than see them enter the watershed, and to increase our soil organic matter.

Cover crop has a robust start

At 28 days after aerial seeding, our cereal rye is looking good under the corn canopy. I have not checked all over the farm; this is some of the best coverage I have seen in the places I have checked.


Cereal rye cover crop 28 days on.

Moon magic


Lunar eclipse, September 27, 2015 about 8:15 p.m. in Iowa.


Lunar eclipse, September 27, 2015 about 8:30 p.m. in Iowa.


Lunar eclipse, September 27, 2015, about 9:10 p.m. in Iowa.

Cover crop is growing and the hay is in the barn

Nine days after we aerial seeded cereal rye into standing corn, the rye is 2-3 inches tall already. The 2.6″ rain we had a day after we seeded certainly helped the germination of the rye seed.

Nine day old cereal rye is growing well under the corn canopy. After harvest next month the rye will continue to grow until a hard frost. The it will stay dormant over the winter and begin growing again next spring.

Nine day old cereal rye is growing well under the corn canopy. After harvest next month the rye will continue to grow until a hard frost. Then it will stay dormant over the winter and begin growing again next spring. Cover crops benefit the soil by (1) increasing organic matter, (2) sequestering a percentage of the nutrients so they don’t end up in our watershed, (3) cover the soil over the winter which helps to reduce topsoil erosion, and (4) compete with weeds in the spring.

With the Dylan’s help we put 187 bales of weedy alfalfa in the barn on Sunday. Brian and Zach and my brother all helped wrangle the bales. We started at 5 and finished by 7 p.m.

We made 187 bales off of five acres. This is the first year for this field. We expect 3 good cutting next year.

We made 187 bales from five acres. This is the first year for this field. We expect 3 good cuttings (crops) next year. We seeded about 10% orchard grass with the alfalfa. The alfalfa is known as a 7th generation potato leaf hopper resistant variety. This is important since the alternative is to spray an insecticide like Sevin, which kills all insects in the field, both beneficial and harmful.

2015 cover crop is on…

For the 4th year we are seeding a cover crop. This morning our local crop duster, who has adapted his plane to aerially seed cover crops, flew the cereal rye on to Mike’s corn. There are 4 good reasons for the cover crop practice: (1) the rye increases organic matter in the soil, (2) the dormant rye keeps the soil covered during the winter months to help prevent topsoil erosion, (3) the rye may help out-compete early weeds next spring, and (4) the rye sequesters (retains) nutrients (N,P, and K) in the soil that could otherwise run off into our Four Mile Creek watershed. Some portion of these nutrients is then available to the crop in the following year. As the saying goes, we don’t want to farm naked. Keep the soil covered all year round if possible.


Todd’s Flying Service seeding cereal rye into our standing corn on September 4, 2015. If you look carefully, you can see the rye seed dropping from the seeder below the biplane wings.


Heading west for another run across the standing corn on September 4, 2015. We are applying about 100 lbs. of cereal rye per acre. There are 56 lbs. of seed in one bushel of rye, so we are applying about 1.5 bushels to the acre. The rye seed germinates as the corn crop matures and then when the corn is harvested, the rye continues to grow until it goes dormant over the winter. In the spring the rye turns green again and then we spray it with herbicide so that it will not compete with the new soybean crop next year. The soybeans are then planted directly into the rye stubble.


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