Alfalfa Field

Will the wheat come next?

I’m living in my camper on a golf course south of Quincy, WA. The golf course is in the middle of farmland. In fact, the golf course used to be a farm field. The irrigation circle (or semi-circle) is still used to water the fairways. Because of this, all of the trees in the middle of the course are very short.

It’s a weird setup.

Last year when I was here, I took walks with my camera quite often. (You can find some of my better photos in my Photo Gallery; click here for a slide show of my Washington shots.) I’m trying to get into the habit of doing that again. I walk along the edge of the golf course property. There’s a canal on the south side with rushing water. On the other side of the canal, there was a wheat field.

This year, it’s alfalfa.

I was surprised to see the change. The alfalfa was freshly cut — no more than a day or two ago. They cut in the shape of the irrigation circle (or semi-circle). It was difficult to get a good shot at the curves.

Alfalfa Curves

The alfalfa will be left to dry in the field for a week or so. Then they’ll drive through with a baler and gather it up into bales that are dropped on the field. Later, another piece of equipment will come by and gather up the bales. They’ll be transported somewhere and covered with tarps until sold or used.

Last year, I didn’t start walking around the golf course until late June or July. I suspect that they’ll plant wheat in the field when the alfalfa has been taken away. I’m not sure if it’s too late to plant that — other fields already have wheat crops that are quite tall.

But I’ll observe and learn and maybe report back here.

5 thoughts on “Alfalfa Field

  1. That’s a beautiful shot. Go back soon. Alfalfa is a perennial crop, but hay was very expensive last year (as you the former horse owner know all too well) so maybe it was a business bet. I love the smell of it.

  2. I’m sorry to be ignorant. But I don’t understand what it means to dry fields.(I’m just an ocean Miami girl). I would love to be in the middle of the field in a camper for a week or so, though. Sounds and looks very peaceful.

    • I’m here in Washington with my helicopter to dry cherry trees after it rains. Is that what you’re referring to? Or maybe it’s the idea that the freshly cut alfalfa needs to dry out in the field before it can be baled?

      Ignorance is nothing to be ashamed of, especially when you’re smart enough to ask questions that’ll eliminate that ignorance!

  3. Great photos. Alfalfa is a very productive crop (often yielding 3-4 cuttings a season, and is rich in nutrients). The flip side is that it requires a lot of irrigation and removes a lot of nutrients from the soil. In order to give the soil a break, alfalfa is usually rotated every 5-6 years with a different crop (wheat, red clover, corn, various grasses, etc.), hence the observed switch from wheat to alfalfa. I imagine the owner will stick with the perennial alfalfa crop for a few years now before switching back to wheat.

    As for Blanca’s question; any grass (but especially alfalfa) that is baled (compressed) before drying out is in danger of combustion and/or mold. Alfalfa is rich in nitrogen and, if baled wet and stored in big stacks the internal temperatures can get very hot. The hay will also have a tendency to mold and be undesirable for livestock. So the farmers will cut and windrow the alfalfa, wait a week or two, as Maria pointed out, then begin baling. If it rains within that waiting period, they’ll have to turn the hay with wheel rakes and extend the wait time.

    We used to cut ours with a sickle blade and allow it to dry all spread out before forming it into windrows with wheel rakes. It would dry faster, but it took longer to cut with the sickle mower and required the additional [raking] step so their was no significant time savings… it’s just all we had at the time. Later we worked with a self-propelled swather (also called “windrower”). Anyway, hope this info helps :-)

    • Fred B: Thanks for such an informative response. I didn’t realize that heat could be a problem — I thought it was just mold that they were trying to avoid. Having bought moldy hay for my horses — and having to throw it out — I could imagine the mold problem.

      One of the things I really like to do around here is overfly the fields — especially wheat and alfalfa — when they’re cutting and baling. It’s fascinating to watch from the air. For alfala, there seems to be three steps: cut into narrow rows, gather two narrow rows into one wider one, bale. They seem to have specialized machinery for doing all that.

What do you think?