Sunday, February 10, 2013

Wind blown riches

Strong winds blow across North Dakota bringing its riches to our farm. Yesterday when we were snowshoeing, Dave and I noticed the thin layers of dirt in the snow drifts carved by the wind. The fields of the Red River Valley are flat and black. The farmers work their fields in the fall, leaving them ready for early spring planting, but also vulnerable to wind erosion. In a dry winter with little snow cover, the winds lift the rich, black soil from their fields, and slowed by our hills and trees, drop it on our fields.

We are grateful for the additional topsoil. Heavy rains wash our soil from the tops of our hills to the bottom. Winter winds help replenish the fertility of our hilltops. Of course, even the driest winter can’t begin to replace the topsoil erosion caused by a single heavy rain on bare ground. Twenty years ago, a heavy rain deluged a field green with four inch high corn plants set in long straight rows and stripped the hills of corn and fertility. When the rain stopped, almost a foot of soil had lodged against the fence at the bottom of the field. It will take centuries to replenish the loss.

We no longer plant corn. We grow alfalfa most years and oats in the years we must replant the alfalfa. Our topsoil losses are way down. We spread our manure on the hilltops both for its value as a fertilizer and for the organic matter it holds. We never work the fields in the fall. In fact, we try not to cut and bale hay in the fall. The foot high alfalfa plants trap snow, protecting our topsoil, adding moisture to our ecosystem, and on dry, windy years, harvesting the windblown riches from the Red River Valley. Today, the air is full of wind and snow. Drifts are forming all across the fields. There probably isn’t much topsoil in this snow, but the moisture will sink into the earth and the alfalfa plants will benefit.

1 comment:

  1. So generous of conservative North Dakota to donate fresh soil to your fields. The people of that state must be feeling flush with the fruits of fracking bounty. Tony