Rain, rain go away, come again some other day.
So far the January blues have been more grey than blue. I call this Dutch weather, where we don’t get wet, but don’t stay dry either. Just like Amsterdam.
With all this damp and dull weather, farmers aren’t pushing the panic button just yet. It’s January, and our cooler weather that periodically dips below the freezing point is keeping all plant growth dormant. Soybean and corn, this area’s most widely planted crops, won’t be planted until the weather warms up this spring.
Winter wheat, our third most grown crop is also dormant. And in spite of the fact that some local wheat fields look like rice paddies, wheat won’t resume growth until the soil warms up.
Farmers generally like moist soil in winter. We had plenty rainfall in November and December and we will likely get more snow and rain in February and March. Farmers depend on winter weather to replenish moisture levels that hopefully go deep below the surface.
By springtime, after April showers, farmers want reprieve from the rains so they can get their equipment on the fields in order to plant seed. Operating equipment on muddy soil is not wise due to the risk of compaction.
If soil is saturated in spring seeding is delayed and yields are likely to be reduced. Wet soil is slow to warm up in spring, resulting in inconsistent and late germination. If seedlings remain wet through spring, roots remain shallow, become lazy and may be unable to penetrate deep into the soil in search of moisture during the hot summer months.
Once plant growth has begun, saturated soil can drown the crop because roots have no access to oxygen. Compacted wet soil forces air out of the pore spaces between the grains of sand and soil. The problem is compounded in areas where soil is clayey with its tiny soil particles. Sandy soil, with larger sized particles has larger spaces between grains, resulting in better soil drainage.
Saturated soil is as much of an issue for home gardens as it is for those sitting on a hundred acres. Don’t plant seeds, rototill, or trample in your vegetable garden until spring mud is gone and soil is only slightly damp. Rather than overwatering, allow your soil to dry out to encourage roots to go down deep in search of moisture.
If your soil is consistently wet, consider moving the garden to higher ground. Alternatively, build up the soil level so excess water runs off. If there is a low spot, ditch or drain nearby, consider installing a perforated tile to improve drainage.
The best solution for those troubled with compacted soil is the addition of organic matter. Adding compost, peat moss or manure to your soil will do double duty by improving soil texture and adding valuable nutrients.